Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff: Wikis


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Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff
27 March 1905 – 27 January 1980 (aged 74)
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1976-130-51, Rudolf-Christoph v. Gersdorff.jpg
Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff
Place of birth Lüben, Silesia
Place of death Munich, West Germany
Service/branch Reichswehr, Wehrmacht, Order of St. John, Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe
Years of service 1923–45 (military), 1952–63 (chairman, Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe)
Rank Generalmajor, chairman
Unit Abwehr, Army Group Center
Battles/wars World War II, Invasion of Poland, Battle of France, Operation Barbarossa, Eastern Front, Battle of Normandy, Falaise pocket
Awards Iron Cross First Class
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Großes Verdienstkreuz (Great Cross of Merit)

Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff (March 27, 1905 – January 27, 1980) was a military officer in Germany’s Weimar-period Reichswehr and Nazi-period Wehrmacht. He attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler by suicide bombing, and he discovered the mass graves of the Katyn massacre. In 1979 he was awarded West Germany's Bundesverdienstkreuz (Federal Cross of Merit).


Early years

Rudolf Christoph von Gersdorff was born in the garrison city of Lüben in the Prussian Province of Silesia during the time of the German Empire. He was the second son of Captain (later Major General) Baron Ernst von Gersdorff and his spouse Christine (née Countess von Dohna-Schlodien). He attended schools in Lüben and joined the Reichswehr as an officer cadet in 1923. He received his initial military education in Breslau at the Kleinburg Barracks, where his forefathers had for generations served in the 1. Schlesisches Leibkürassier Regiment “Großer Kurfürst” (First Silesian Life Guards Cuirassier Regiment “The Great Elector”), later (post-1918) renamed the Reiterregiment 7 (Seventh Cavalry Regiment).

In 1934 von Gersdorff married Renata Kracker von Schwartzenfeldt (1913–1942), co-heiress to the rich, Silesian von Kramsta industrialist dynasty, with whom he had one daughter.

Military career

In 1926 von Gersdorff was promoted to second lieutenant, and in 1938 to Rittmeister (cavalry captain). The following year he graduated from the Prussian Military Academy in Berlin. In 1939 von Gersdorff’s unit was deployed in the Wehrmacht’s invasion of Poland, and he was subsequently in action as a general staff officer in the Battle of France.

In 1941, for Operation Barbarossa, he was transferred to Army Group Center, where he served as intelligence liaison with the Abwehr. His cousin Fabian von Schlabrendorff had arranged this as a means to bring von Gersdorff into the resistance group active under Colonel Henning von Tresckow.[1]

In April 1943, while he was an Army Group Center intelligence staff officer, von Gersdorff by coincidence discovered the mass graves of the Katyn massacre, which contained the remains of over 4,000[2] Polish officers shot by Soviet troops in 1940.

In 1944 von Gersdorff was transferred to the Atlantic Wall. Later that year he was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross for his planning of the escape of the main German force from the Falaise pocket. In 1945 he was promoted to Major General, and was later captured by the Americans; he was released in 1947.

During the war, von Gersdorff was decorated with some of the highest awards bestowed on German soldiers, including the Iron Cross First Class, for his performance of duty under fire and extraordinary bravery.

Conspiracy to assassinate Hitler

After becoming close friends with leading Army Group Center conspirator Colonel (later Major-General) Henning von Tresckow, von Gersdorff agreed to join the conspiracy to kill Hitler. After von Tresckow’s elaborate plan to assassinate Hitler on March 13, 1943, failed, von Gersdorff declared himself ready to give his life for Germany’s sake in an assassination attempt that would entail his own death.

On March 21, 1943, Hitler visited the Zeughaus Berlin, the old armory on Unter den Linden, to inspect captured Soviet weapons. A group of top Nazi and leading military officials—among them Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, and Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz—was present as well. As an expert, von Gersdorff was to guide Hitler on a tour of the exhibition. Moments after Hitler entered the museum, von Gersdorff set off two ten-minute delayed fuses on explosive devices hidden in his coat pockets. His plan was to throw himself around Hitler in a death embrace that would blow them both up. A detailed plan for a coup d'état had been worked out and was ready to go; but, contrary to expectations, Hitler raced through the museum in less than ten minutes. After he had left the building, von Gersdorff was able to defuse the devices in a public bathroom “at the last second.” After the attempt, von Gersdorff was immediately transferred back to the Eastern Front where he managed to evade suspicion.

Prior to the July 20 Plot, von Gersdorff also had hid the explosives and fuses that another conspirator, Wessel von Freytag-Loringhoven, managed to procure from the Abwehr’s cache of captured British weapons and which Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg was to use in his attempt to kill Hitler. Miraculously, and thanks to the silence of his imprisoned and tortured co-conspirators, von Gersdorff was able to escape arrest and certain execution. As a result, he was one of the few German military anti-Hitler plotters to survive the war (another example was Axel Freiherr von dem Bussche-Streithorst).

Later years

After the war, von Gersdorff tried to join the Bundeswehr, the armed forces of postwar West Germany. Despite his distinguished record and medals, his attempts were opposed by Hans Globke, the powerful head of the German Chancellery and confidant of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and a number of former Wehrmacht officers in the Bundeswehr who did not want a “betrayer” in their midst. He was thus unable to restart his military career.

Von Gersdorff later dedicated his life to charity in the Order of St. John. He was also a founding member of Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe, which he chaired from 1952 to 1963.[3] In 1979 he was awarded the Großes Verdienstkreuz (Grand Cross of Merit),[4] one of the eight classes of Germany’s only state decoration, in recognition of his accomplishments. A riding accident in 1967 left him a paraplegic for the last twelve years of his life, during which he wrote and published his military memoirs. Von Gersdorff died in Munich, Bavaria in 1980 at the age of 74.

See also


  • Moorhouse, Roger. Killing Hitler. Jonathan Cape, London: 2006. ISBN 0-224-07121-1, ISBN 978-0224071215.
  • Fest, Joachim. Plotting Hitler’s Death: The Story of German Resistance. ISBN 0-8050-5648-3.
  • von Schlabrendorff, Fabian. Simon, Hilda, translator. The Secret War Against Hitler (Der Widerstand: Dissent and Resistance in the Third Reich). Westview Press, September 1994. ISBN 0-8133-2190-5.
  • von Gersdorff, Rudolf Christoph Freiherr. Soldat im Untergang (Soldier During the Downfall). Ullstein Taschenbuchverlag, November 1982. ISBN 3548340083 (ISBN ), ISBN 978-3548340081 (ISBN ). (German)
  • Jacobsen, Hans-Adolf, ed. “Kaltenbrunner-Berichte an Bormann und Hitler über das Attentat vom 20. Juli 1944” (Kaltenbrunner’s Reports to Bormann and Hitler on the July 20, 1944 Attempted Assassination) in Spiegelbild einer Verschwörung (Reflections of a Conspiracy). Busse-Seewald Verlag, 1983. ISBN 3512006574 (ISBN ), ISBN 978-3512006579 (ISBN ). (German)


  1. ^ Short biography of von Gersdorff on the website of the Memorial to the German Resistance.
  2. ^ Assembly of Captive European Nations, First Session, September 20, 1954-February 11, 1955, Organization, Resolutions, Reports, Debate; p118
  3. ^ Chronology entry stating that von Gersdorff gave up the chairmanship of Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe after serving for eleven years, on the organization’s website.
  4. ^ Chronology entry stating that von Gersdorff was awarded the Großes Bundesverdienstkreuz, on the organization’s website.

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