Aside from being the single man in history to make several (and one very famous) attempts on the life of Adolf Hitler, Claus Von Stauffenberg was a unique guy.
Born in 1907 to Prussian aristocracy, Stauffenberg was playing the cello, reciting Shakespeare, and taking an interest in Catholic theology
by the age of exactly 12. Had he made a career out of any of these three, his fate would have been less cruel. Claus Von Stauffenberg, though, was a born soldier.
Ultimately becoming a General Staff officer in the German Abwehr, Stauffenberg and his brothers Berthold and Alexander still made considerable time for poet Stefan George, and were part of his "Secret Germany", a quasi-mystical poetic cult of sorts which worshipped George as "Master, and the three brothers were were prophesied by the poet manque as the future leaders of the Fatherland. Goethe, Holderlin, Rilke and Nietzsche were heralded as the predecessors of the movement. The problem with the entire affair was that George was not very talented and his literary salon was composed mostly of teenage boys.
Despite George, the slow but sure rise of the Third Reich (which, like most Germans, Stauffenberg initially welcomed and his inevitable participation in nearly all of Germany's military campaigns, Claus Von Stauffenberg always retained an odd detachment from his surroundings and a sense of self which was very strong.
The sheer wealth and richness of not only Stauffenberg's life, but the life of his wealthy and somewhat sheltered family--his career as a decorated soldier in the Wehrmacht, his prestige as a model, and as head of the General Staff office--makes his brutal death in front of the Bendleerstrasse in Germany a surreal and bizarre turn of events.
Stauffenberg was aware of Germany's imminent defeat, yet as early as 1942 he was making some quit imprudent remarks about the Fuhrer: "In August 1942 Stauffenberg told Major Joachim Kuhn, a close friend, that the treatment of the Jews and other civilians was monstrous, *that Hitler had lied about the cause of the war*, and that he had to be removed. He then shouted: "They are shooting Jews in the masses. These crimes must not be allowed to continue!"
Then in in another outbrust which later got him arrested, news of more atrocities sparked Stauffenberg to scream in front of SS and general staff alike:"Does not one German soldier have the courage to shoot that pig?"
Attempt after attempt failed; Stauffenberg was regularly seen carrying a "remarkably plump briefcase" (as Albert Speer put it) to three different meetings in Hitler's "Wolf's Lair" in Prussia. Once Hitler did not show up: the second time Stauffenberg's incompetent superiors instructed him to not to set the fuse, and the third time the bomb exploded and by sheer chance did not kill Hitler.
Even in the face of the Gestapo's considerable wrath, Stauffenberg did his best to get the coup de'etat to to succeed. In a most fortunate turn of events for Stauffenberg, probably, a General Staff officer involved in the plot turned on the other plotters and had a handful of them, Claus included, shot on the night of July 20, 1944.
Why? Why was such a priviliged and wealthy figure in the German army who would certainly never have been charged with war crimes choose to sacrifice his life, the life of his family and friends, in an attempt so tenuous and fraught with uncertainty?
The answer, I think, lies in Stauffenberg's unbelievable bravery, sense of common decency, and Christian background. Without these things he may indeed have been a terrifying force for the Third Reich. He could no longer stomach what was going on around him. Peter Hoffmann here gives the definitive biography of this heroic man who embodies perhaps the most inspiring example of "what might have been" in history. A must read.