March 19

This Day in History

World War II

Mar 19, 1945:

General Fromm executed for plot against Hitler

On this day, the commander of the German Home Army, Gen. Friedrich Fromm, is shot by a firing squad for his part in the July plot to assassinate the Fuhrer. The fact that Fromm's participation was half-hearted did not save him.

By 1944, many high-ranking German officials had made up their minds that Hitler must die. He was leading Germany in a suicidal war on two fronts, and they believed that assassination was the only way to stop him. According to the plan, coup d'etat would follow the assassination, and a new government in Berlin would save Germany from complete destruction at the hands of the Allies. All did not go according to plan, however. Col. Claus von Stauffenberg was given the task of planting a bomb during a conference that was to be held at Hitler's holiday retreat, Berchtesgaden (but was later moved to Hitler's headquarters at Rastenburg). Stauffenberg was chief of staff to Gen. Friedrich Fromm. Fromm, chief of the Home Army (composed of reservists who remained behind the front lines to preserve order at home), was inclined to the conspirators' plot, but agreed to cooperate actively in the coup only if the assassination was successful.

On the night of July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg planted an explosive-filled briefcase under a table in the conference room at Rastenburg. Hitler was studying a map of the Eastern Front as Colonel Heinz Brandt, trying to get a better look at the map, moved the briefcase out of place, farther away from where the Fuhrer was standing. At 12:42 p.m. the bomb went off. When the smoke cleared, Hitler was wounded, charred, and even suffered the temporary paralysis of one arm—but was very much alive.

Meanwhile, Stauffenberg had made his way to Berlin to meet with his co-conspirators to carry out Operation Valkyrie, the overthrow of the central government. Once in the capital, General Fromm, who had been informed by phone that Hitler was wounded but still alive, ordered Stauffenberg and his men arrested, but Fromm was located and locked in an office by Nazi police. Stauffenberg and Gen. Friedrich Olbricht began issuing orders for the commandeering of various government buildings. Then the news came through from Herman Goering that Hitler was alive. Fromm, released from confinement by officers still loyal to Hitler, and anxious to have his own association with the conspirators covered up quickly, ordered the conspirators, including two Stauffenberg aides, shot for high treason that same day. (Gen. Ludwig Beck, one of the conspiracy leaders and an older man, was allowed the "dignity" of committing suicide.)

Fromm's last-ditch effort to distance himself from the plot failed. Within the next few days, on order of Heinrich Himmler, who was now the new head of the Home Army, Fromm was arrested. In February 1945, he was tried before the People's Court and denigrated for his cowardice in refusing to stand up to the plotters. But because he went so far as to execute Stauffenberg and his partners on the night of July 20, he was spared the worst punishment afforded convicted conspirators—strangulation on a meat hook. He was shot by a firing squad on March 19.

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