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Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager, 1917-2008

Catholic Nobleman, Forester, Knight of Malta, Plotted to Kill Hitler

Philipp Freiherr (Baron) von Boeselager, the last surviving member of the conspiracy of anti-Nazi German officers, has died at 90 years of age. The freiherr‘s background and upbringing were distinctly Catholic. The Boeselagers are a Rhenish family with Saxon origins in Magdeburg. Philipp was the fourth of eight children and was educated by the Jesuits at Bad Godesborg. His grandfather had been officially censured by the Imperial German goverment for publically taking part in a Catholic religious procession.

Boeselager had most intimately been involved in the March 1943 plot to assasinate Hitler and Himmler when the the Fuhrer and the SS head were visiting Field Marshal Günther von Kluge on the Eastern Front. Boeselager, then a 25-year-old cavalry lieutenant under the Field Marshal’s command, was to shoot both Hitler and Himmler in the officers mess with a Walther PP. Himmler, however, neglected to accompany Hitler and so the Field Marshal ordered Boeselager to abort the attempt fearing that Himmler would take over in the event of Hitler’s death, changing nothing.

«Each day Hitler ruled, thousands died unnecessarily — soldiers, because of his stupid leadership decisions. And later, I learned of concentration camps, where Jews, Poles, Russians — human beings — were being killed.»

«It was clear that these orders came from the top: I realised I lived in a criminal state. It was horrible. We wanted to end the war and free the concentration camps.»

Boeselager later procured the explosives for the famous July 1944 plot (the subject of the upcoming film “Valkyrie“), under the cover of being part of an explosives research team. He handed a suitcase with the explosives on to another conspirator. When the bomb exploded in Hitler’s conference room, Boeselager and his 1,000-man cavalry unit made an astonishing 120-mile retreat in under 36 hours to reach an airfield in western Russia from where the aristocrat would fly to Berlin to join the other conspirators.

At the airfield, however, he received a message from his brother (Georg von Boeselager, a fellow cavalry officer who was repeatedly awarded for his consistent bravery on the battlefield) saying “All back into the old holes”, the code signifying the failure of the coup. Even more astonishingly than his swift retreat was his return, with his unit, to the front quickly enough not to raise any eyebrows. As a result, he was not known to be part of the conspiracy and escaped the gruesome tortures and executions dealt to many of his fellow conspirators.

After the war, his role in the plot was revealed and Philipp von Boeselager was awarded the Legion d’honneur by France and the Great Cross of Merit by West Germany. He joined the Order of Malta in 1946, eventually co-founding Malteser Hilfdienst, the medical operation of the German knights of the Order, and helping coordinate German pilgrimages to Lourdes.

The greater part of his post-war years was spent in forestry, and Boeselager served as head of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Deutscher Waldbesitzerverbände (the coordinating body of private and cooperative forest-owners) from 1968 to 1988. Coincidentally, he was succeeded in that post by Franz Ludwig Schenk Count von Stauffenberg, the son of the July ’44 plot mastermind.

This post was published on Monday, May 5th, 2008 9:14 pm. It has been categorised under Church Germany History Military Nobility Order of Malta and been tagged under , , , , , , .
Robert Harrington
6 May 2008 10:14 am

I think his son is the Grand Hospitaller.

Death Bredon
7 May 2008 11:11 am

Memory Eternal!

Addison Bond
9 May 2008 8:29 am

Umm … 91 actually, Mr Cusack.
I am forced to add that neither Baron v Boeselager, nor his fellow noble officers who were unendingly plotting to murder their Fuehrer (or at least unendingly assuring us that they were so plotting), ever actually had enough courage to simply step up and shoot the man down.
Not even Stauffenberg was willing to sacrifice his life by simply staying behind and seeing that the briefcase stayed put.
And the story that Himmler’s absence made Boeselager’s one attempt abortive is simply absurd: without Hilter the rest of the gang were nothing, and it is the Army which would have taken power. Himmler as the new Fuehrer? The idea is a joke to anyone who knows anything of the internal dynamics of the Third Reich’s leadership.

Andrew Cusack
9 May 2008 11:35 am

90 actually, duly corrected.

Perhaps Mr. Bond could prove his point about Himmler by explaining to we, the uninitiated, the internal dynamics of the Third Reich’s leadership.

Addison Bond
10 May 2008 4:44 pm

It is really very simple:
Adolf Hitler was Fuehrer and Reichskanzler. All power and all authority was in his hands. The other members of the Party and administration were of no account, and that includes Himmler. Yes he wielded great power, but always with and under his Leader. Strike off the head and the body, in this case the Party, will die. The one overwhelming force in the Reich is the Wehrmacht, which detests the SS and Himmler. The idea that the Waffen SS and its 30 divisions would have been a match for the Army and its 300 is derisory; besides, many in the SS were privately contemptuous of their boss, and would not have lifted a finger to help him assume total power.
Who then would have emerged as Fuehrer? Nobody, that’s who.
The Army would perhaps have allowed Goering to take over (he was popular with the people) as an interim figurehead for themselves, with the understanding that peace was to be sought with the West while the Soviet Union was weakened as much as possible in the time still remaining.
Himmler would have been arrested, tried, and shot, not having posed even for a moment a real threat to the Wehrmacht’s crushing predominance of weaponry and personnel.
So, Kluge was wrong. A “clever Hans” he may have been, but weak and vacillating too. A great pity it was, and for all of us.

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