March 12th, 2013

RIP, Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist

It’s amazing that Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist managed to live past the year 1944, much less live long enough to die in his bed at the age of ninety.

A brave man and the last surviving member of the Valkyrie plot:

As a 22-year-old German army lieutenant, Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist volunteered to wear a suicide vest to a meeting with Adolf Hitler and to blow himself up along with the Nazi dictator.

The assassination didn’t come to pass, but von Kleist went on to play a key role in the most famous attempt on Hitler later that same year, and was the last surviving member of the group of German officers who tried and failed to kill the Fuehrer on July 20, 1944…

Von Kleist came from quite a family, too:

Von Kleist’s father, Ewald von Kleist, was an early opponent of Hitler even before he came to power, and was arrested many times after the Nazi dictator took control in 1933. The elder von Kleist famously traveled to England in 1938, the year before World War II broke out, to try and determine whether other Western nations would support a coup attempt against Hitler, but failed to get the British government to change its policy of appeasement.

Despite his family’s opposition to the Nazis, younger von Kleist joined the German army in 1940, and was wounded in 1943 in fighting on the Eastern Front.

During his convalescence, he was approached in January 1944 by Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, another officer from an aristocratic family, and presented with a plan to kill Hitler. Von Kleist had been chosen as the officer to model a new uniform for Hitler, and von Stauffenberg proposed that he wear a suicide vest underneath, and detonate it when he stood next to the dictator.

Years later von Kleist remembered explaining the suicide plot to his father, who paused only briefly before telling his 22-year-old son: “Yes, you have to do this.”

“Fathers love their sons and mine certainly did, and I had been quite sure he would say no,” von Kleist recalled. “But, as always, I had underestimated him.”

The suicide attack plan never came to fruition.

Months later, however, von Kleist was approached again by von Stauffenberg to take part in what would become known as the July 20 plot — for the day in 1944 that the assassination was attempted — which was brought to the big screen in 2008 in “Valkyrie,” starring Tom Cruise as von Stauffenberg.

Von Kleist was supposed to play a key role as the person who was to carry a briefcase packed with explosives to a meeting with Hitler. In a change of plans, however, von Stauffenberg decided to plant the bomb himself.

Von Stauffenberg placed the bomb in a conference room where Hitler was meeting with his aides and military advisers at his East Prussian headquarters. Hitler escaped the full force of the blast when someone moved the briefcase next to a table leg, deflecting much of the explosive force.

Von Kleist remained in Berlin, charged with overseeing the arrest of officers and officials loyal to Hitler in the city.

But when news spread that Hitler had survived, the plot crumbled and von Stauffenberg, von Kleist’s father, and scores of others were arrested and executed in an orgy of revenge killings. Some were hanged by the neck with piano wire. Von Stauffenberg was shot by firing squad.

Von Kleist himself was arrested, questioned at length by the Gestapo, and sent to a concentration camp, but then inexplicably let go and returned to combat duty.

Following the war, von Kleist founded the Ewald von Kleist publishing house, and became involved in public education on security issues and trans-Atlantic relations. In 1952 he founded the independent defense affairs association known as the Society for Military Studies, and the European Military Studies magazine in 1954.

His widow says he didn’t want “anything big” for a funeral.

[NOTE: I’ve written about the assassination attempts on Hitler before, here.]

22 Responses to “RIP, Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist”

  1. parker Says:

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention. An amazing life story.

  2. jms Says:

    Good stuff. On the lighter side, it reminded me of a certain future history of failed assassination attempts on Hitler that’s worth a chuckle.

  3. Oldflyer Says:

    What a heroic story. Someone should have traveled Europe soon after the war, and collected all of these stories of heroes, and published them under one cover.
    I am sure there are thousands that will go untold.

  4. Oldflyer Says:


    I have been laughing with my family over the idea of Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher. The idea of Cruise as Von Stauffenberg is even more ludicrous. Or am I just out of touch with the concept of heroic figures–even imaginary ones?

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    Oldflyer: I saw the movie. He wasn’t good, but he wasn’t bad, either, considering he was miscast, and the movie itself wasn’t very good (confused and confusing about some of the important plot elements and motivations):

    Cruise is actually an excellent actor. He was extremely good in “Born On the Fourth of July” and “Rainman.” He had a much more difficult role than Dustin Hoffman in “Rainman,” but Hoffman stole all the thunder because he role was more virtuoso. But Cruise was extraordinary in that movie.

  6. parker Says:

    A moment of levity:

    Enjoy with pastry.

  7. Oldflyer Says:

    My prejudice is showing Neo. Everytime I see the little fellow, I hearken back to Top Gun when he portrayed a Naval Aviator that I would have grounded in a heart beat, and probably court martialed.

    He may be a good actor, but I just don’t know how he could adequately portray the 6’4’/250lb Jack Reacher. Maybe my beef is with Hollywood more than the smirky boy, but he is emblematic of the Hollywood culture in my mind.

    He was good in Rain Man.

  8. parker Says:

    Tiny boy was also adequate in the Last Samurai.

  9. Gary Rosen Says:

    Like others not a Cruise fan but really liked Rain Man. Excellent movie, both funny and touching.

  10. blert Says:

    I thought that Cruise stole the movie: Rainman.

    His role was much, much, more demanding — in terms of range — and in terms of self-humiliation.

    The ‘movie problem’ with Valkyrie is that the true tale is too complicated — and that a modern audience can’t be compelled to sit through all the scenes required to establish character and motives.

    You’d end up with a ‘Heavens Gate’ budget and no audience.


    The Naval Aviator role — the final battle — was a direct lift of O’Hare’s Medal of Honor exploits during WWII — which became the basis for naming the Chicago airport upon his death.

    So, no matter how weird the last fifteen minutes seems… it’s virtually a docudrama of what actually happened. The obvious difference being props vs jets and 40+ years of time.

    The rest of the Top Gun stuff is not too far off the mark — in terms of egos, rivalries… not so much the singing and dancing.

    The whole romantic angle was filmed as a second effort — and stuffed back into the script — because screen tests showed that the gals hated the all-guy drama.

    Of course, the romance was absurd.

  11. DNW Says:

    Neo writes,
    ” … he movie itself wasn’t very good (confused and confusing about some of the important plot elements and motivations) …”

    Kind of difficult to explain the motivations and conflicts of
    – a privileged and devout Catholic aristocrat,

    – faced by an almost metaphysical evil with which he had cooperated,

    – one which was still embraced the majority of his compatriots,

    – and the solution to which was imagined to be what his religion would in principle call murder,

    when you wipe those details away for the sake of Hollywoodizing the story.

  12. DNW Says:

    ” … still embraced BY the majority”

  13. NeoConScum Says:

    Incredible bravery and moral fortitude by the men of July 20, 1944. Thanks for this salute, N-Neo, as I had no idea that Von Kleist(the younger)was still alive. God Bless them and their memories.

    A mere 25-years(to the day)later a couple Yanks named Aldrin & Armstrong landed up yonder.
    On Tom C: Take a look at Michael Mann’s ’04 thriller,”Collateral”, and enjoy Cruise as a very bad man. ‘Fraid I’ll never see ‘Reacher’ as I’d have to avert my eyes(and ears)from Tom doing Jack. NOT.

  14. Oldflyer Says:

    Blert, I would love to know your credentials for asserting that the rest of Top Gun was not far off the mark in terms of egos, competition, whatever.

    My complaint, as a 25 year Naval Aviator was that the Cruise character painted a false and demeaning view of Naval Aviation in exactly those aspects.

    I guarantee you that no Carrier Ready Room would have tolerated that personality for long; much less admired it.

    When squadron mates fly, their actions are intertwined. The guys that must fly together would not put up with hot dogging that endangers their own lives. (Over the years I lost three friends due to mistakes in tactical formation maneuvers; there is no room for mistakes, much less showboating stunts.).
    As I said, I would have grounded the Cruise character in a heartbeat for his antics.

    Maybe I missed something, but I cannot see any similarity between Top Gun and Butch OHare’s exploits in World War II.

    Not all Naval Aviators agree with me about Top Gun; but, they are sometimes mistaken in other things as well.

  15. artfldgr Says:

    It was all for naught thanks to feminists, neo liberals, progressives, etc.

    The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) wants its white VISTA volunteers who work with low-income, racially diverse public schools to examine the “privilege” their Caucasian race confers on them.

    DPI’s Web site suggests that white people “wear a white wristband as a reminder about your privilege, and as a personal commitment to explain why you wear the wristband.”

    The document — written by a diversity resource center in New Jersey — also suggests that white people ask themselves questions, such as: “How do I ignore privilege? What am I doing today to undo my privilege? How do I fool myself into thinking I am powerless?”

    since i grew up in a slum, do i have to wear the juden patches too? i didn’t have a privileged childhood as i went to school with all the minorities, and worked hard to pass a test to get into Bronx science… dad was a refugee of a man who forced people to wear various patches too, not just juden (though only half of the victims are considered oppressed and get social justice benefits from the state in the US)

    i wonder if huxley would agree making the scapegoats wear patches like juden is a bit like germany? after all, he said no no no, as others did…

    CNN’s Erin Burnett proclaims that accepting (i.e., promoting) anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism is part and parcel of the sacred (to liberals) notion of Change:

  16. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “The elder von Kleist famously traveled to England in 1938, the year before World War II broke out, to try and determine whether other Western nations would support a coup attempt against Hitler, but failed to get the British government to change its policy of appeasement.”

    I believe there were earlier opportunities to eliminate Hitler, proof positive that the sooner reality is faced and appropriate action taken, the less harm that results.

    I agree that Cruise was miscast as Jack Reacher, I saw the movie and taken on its own merits, it was IMO average at best. More importantly, it bore only a vague resemblance to the Reacher series. Since the author Lee Child had creative control, I suspect he viewed it as an opportunity to cash in, hopefully he will insist upon more creative integrity in any future movies.

    I consider Cruise miscast in his typical roles as a hero, in the 2004 movie ‘Collateral’ he plays a bad guy and is, IMO outstanding. He’s much more convincing as an amoral ba***rd. If interested, be forewarned however, Jamie Fox is the hero and given his now revealed racism…

    Off topic; ‘white privilege’ is a ‘guilt trip’. The only PC way for whites to escape accusation of it is to embrace the leftist mantra, which is the entire point of the meme.

  17. G Joubert Says:


    With Cruise’s character in TG they were trying to capture the ego and maverick nature of naval aviators, traits commonly seen in these folks to the point that it’s practically a stereotype. That was my take on it. They did go over the top with the characterization, but, hey, that’s Hollywood for you. They gotta sell tickets, especially to teen-aged boys.

    As for the ego snd maverick stereotype, think John McCain. He fits perfectly. Even now, in old age, with his flying days long behind him.

  18. jms Says:

    Here’s what happens to “maverick” flyboys in real life.

  19. JJ formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    Oldflyer said, “Not all Naval Aviators agree with me about Top Gun; but, they are sometimes mistaken in other things as well.”

    This is one old Naval Aviator that agrees. “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots. But there are no old, bold pilots.” Grandpa Pettibone, I think? Teamwork in the sky requires discipline and headwork not hot-dogging. One reason we won the air war in the Pacific. The Japs wanted to do battle like knights of old, Navy Air pilots stuck together and used the Thach Weave.

  20. Don Carlos Says:

    There is in these comments an undue focus on Tom Cruise, to the depreciation of the Von Kleists, father and son.
    Thus is the domination of Hollywood in our thinking manifest.

  21. Oldflyer Says:

    You are correct Don Carlos. Sorry I took it off topic; but obviously Tom Cruise’s portrayal of aviators in Top Gun touched a nerve.

    Joubert illustrates why. He has bought into it. For info McCain was not a widely respected aviator. If his Dad and Granddad had not been Admirals, he may have never made it out of the Academy. He did not personify Naval Aviators. (As I said, I rubbed elbows with the genre for 25 years.) McCain was a perfectly adequate POW, and is an adequate stereotype of a politician.

  22. neo-neocon Says:

    We probably all agree on the von Kleists and their courage.
    So people may be less likely to comment on that as they are on something on which they disagree—such as Cruise.

    Although I see that most of us are not Cruise fans, as it turns out.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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