Last Hitler Conspirator Dies: von Kleist Volunteered to Kill Hitler

Image: Last Hitler Conspirator Dies: von Kleist Volunteered to Kill Hitler Hitler conspirator Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist. (AP Images)

Wednesday, 13 Mar 2013 10:26 AM

By Alexandra Ward

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Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist, a man who once offered up his life in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, died Friday at his home in Munich. He was 90.

As a 22-year-old German army lieutenant, von Kleist volunteered to wear a suicide vest in a meeting with Hitler. The plan never panned out, but von Kleist did help with the most famous attempt on the Nazi leader's life in 1944: the July 20 plot.

Masterminded by Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (played by Tom Cruise in "Valkyrie," the 2008 film version of the plot), von Kleist was tasked with carrying a briefcase filled with explosives into a meeting with Hitler. Von Stauffenberg decided at the last minute to plant the bomb himself, but Hitler escaped the blow's full force.

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Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist was arrested and sent to a concentration camp, but was later allowed to return to combat duty. He was the last surviving member of the group of German officers responsible for the July 20 plot.

Born July 10, 1922, in Pommerania, an area of northeastern Germany that is now part of Poland, von Kleist entered a family with a long history of serving in high-ranking military positions. His father was an early Hitler opponent and was arrested many times after the Nazi leader took over in 1933. He was eventually arrested and executed.

After the war, von Kleist founded the Ewald von Kleist publishing house, the Society for Military Studies, and the European Military Studies magazine.

In 1963 he created what would become the annual Munich Security Conference — a forum that still today brings together the world's top diplomats and defense officials for talks on global security policy.

In 1991, von Kleist was awarded the U.S. Department of Defense's Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the highest honor a civilian can earn.

A friend of von Kleist's for three decades, U.S. Senator John McCain paid tribute to his long life.

"I learned a great deal over the years from Ewald's wise counsel and statesmanship," McCain told the BBC. "I enjoyed the great pleasure of his company and the privilege of his friendship, for which I will always be grateful."

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