German President Joachim Gauck, right, attends a July 20 wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler at the courtyard of the Bendler Block, a part of the German Defense Ministry, in Berlin. (Markus Schreiber / AP)
BERLIN — Germany on Sunday honored a group of Nazi-era officers who tried to kill Adolf Hitler 70 years ago. The plot — portrayed in films such as the 2008 Hollywood movie “Valkyrie” — helped establish a principle under which German soldiers today are encouraged to defy orders if they would result in a crime or violate human dignity.
In a somber ceremony, President Joachim Gauck called the July 20, 1944, bombing of Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair headquarters in Eastern Prussia a “significant day in German history” for showing the world that there were Germans who opposed the Nazi regime.
“It was from this legacy that the newly founded Federal Republic, once it belatedly recognized the significance of the military resistance, was able to draw legitimacy,” Gauck said.
Hitler survived the bombing and was able to continue his military campaign to conquer Europe and eradicate the continent’s Jewish population for another year.
Four officers including Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg were executed without trial within hours of the failed assassination. Some 200 supporters were killed later or driven to suicide.
While the July 20 conspirators were among the most prominent examples of German resistance against the Nazis, historians have sought in recent years to highlight other, lesser-known men and women who opposed the regime.
“Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg has become a symbol of the resistance. The broader public hardly knows the names of the many others,” said Linda von Keyserlingk, a historian at Germany’s Military History Museum in Dresden, which recently opened a new exhibition about the July 20 plot.
Earlier this month Germany’s Foreign Ministry honored Ilse Stoebe, who worked at the ministry during the war and tried to warn the Soviet Union of Hitler’s plans to attack it. She was executed in 1942.