Ludwig Beck
Overview
 
Generaloberst Ludwig August Theodor Beck (29 June 1880 – 20 July 1944) was a German general
General
A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given....

 and Chief of the German General Staff
German General Staff
The German General Staff was an institution whose rise and development gave the German armed forces a decided advantage over its adversaries. The Staff amounted to its best "weapon" for nearly a century and a half....

 during the early years of the Nazi
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 regime in Germany before World War II.

Originally a supporter of the Nazis, he broke with Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 and eventually became a major leader within the conspiracy against Hitler
German Resistance
The German resistance was the opposition by individuals and groups in Germany to Adolf Hitler or the National Socialist regime between 1933 and 1945. Some of these engaged in active plans to remove Adolf Hitler from power and overthrow his regime...

. He would have been provisional head of state
Head of State
A head of state is the individual that serves as the chief public representative of a monarchy, republic, federation, commonwealth or other kind of state. His or her role generally includes legitimizing the state and exercising the political powers, functions, and duties granted to the head of...

 had the 20 July plot succeeded. When the plot failed, Beck chose to commit suicide with a pistol.
Born in Biebrich
Wiesbaden-Biebrich
Biebrich is a borough of the city of Wiesbaden, Hesse, Germany. With over 36,000 inhabitants, it is the most-populated of Wiesbaden's boroughs. It is located south of the city center on the Rhine River, opposite the Mainz borough of Mombach...

 (now a borough of Wiesbaden
Wiesbaden
Wiesbaden is a city in southwest Germany and the capital of the federal state of Hesse. It has about 275,400 inhabitants, plus approximately 10,000 United States citizens...

, Hesse
Hesse
Hesse or Hessia is both a cultural region of Germany and the name of an individual German state.* The cultural region of Hesse includes both the State of Hesse and the area known as Rhenish Hesse in the neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate state...

) in Hessen-Nassau, he was educated in the Prussia
Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

n military tradition.
Encyclopedia
Generaloberst Ludwig August Theodor Beck (29 June 1880 – 20 July 1944) was a German general
General
A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given....

 and Chief of the German General Staff
German General Staff
The German General Staff was an institution whose rise and development gave the German armed forces a decided advantage over its adversaries. The Staff amounted to its best "weapon" for nearly a century and a half....

 during the early years of the Nazi
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 regime in Germany before World War II.

Originally a supporter of the Nazis, he broke with Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 and eventually became a major leader within the conspiracy against Hitler
German Resistance
The German resistance was the opposition by individuals and groups in Germany to Adolf Hitler or the National Socialist regime between 1933 and 1945. Some of these engaged in active plans to remove Adolf Hitler from power and overthrow his regime...

. He would have been provisional head of state
Head of State
A head of state is the individual that serves as the chief public representative of a monarchy, republic, federation, commonwealth or other kind of state. His or her role generally includes legitimizing the state and exercising the political powers, functions, and duties granted to the head of...

 had the 20 July plot succeeded. When the plot failed, Beck chose to commit suicide with a pistol.

Early life and career

Born in Biebrich
Wiesbaden-Biebrich
Biebrich is a borough of the city of Wiesbaden, Hesse, Germany. With over 36,000 inhabitants, it is the most-populated of Wiesbaden's boroughs. It is located south of the city center on the Rhine River, opposite the Mainz borough of Mombach...

 (now a borough of Wiesbaden
Wiesbaden
Wiesbaden is a city in southwest Germany and the capital of the federal state of Hesse. It has about 275,400 inhabitants, plus approximately 10,000 United States citizens...

, Hesse
Hesse
Hesse or Hessia is both a cultural region of Germany and the name of an individual German state.* The cultural region of Hesse includes both the State of Hesse and the area known as Rhenish Hesse in the neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate state...

) in Hessen-Nassau, he was educated in the Prussia
Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

n military tradition. He served on the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

 in World War I as a staff officer. After the war he served in various staff and command appointments. In 1931–1932, he led the group of army writers, at the Department of the Army (Truppenamt
Truppenamt
The Truppenamt or 'Troop Office' was the cover organisation for the German General Staff from 1919 through until 1933 when the General Staff was re-created. This subterfuge was deemed necessary in order for Germany to be seen to meet the requirements of the Versailles Treaty...

) which published the German Army
German Army
The German Army is the land component of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany. Following the disbanding of the Wehrmacht after World War II, it was re-established in 1955 as the Bundesheer, part of the newly formed West German Bundeswehr along with the Navy and the Air Force...

 Operations Manual entitled Truppenführung
Truppenführung
was a German Army field manual published in 2 parts as : Part 1, promulgated in 1933, and Part 2 in 1934.The original German text, which is notable for its clarity, was prepared by a group led by Colonel General Ludwig Beck who was later executed by the Nazi administration for his part in the...

. The first section was promulgated in 1933 and the second section in 1934. A modified version is still in use today by the Federal German Army. He was promoted to the rank of Generalleutnant in 1932 and, two years later, he replaced General Wilhelm Adam
Wilhelm Adam (Soldier)
Wilhelm Adam was a German army officer who served in the Bavarian Army, the Reichswehr and the Wehrmacht....

 as chief of the Truppenamt, the camouflaged General Staff (the Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of...

 explicitly forbade the existence of the General Staff).

In Nazi Germany

In September–October 1930, Beck was a leading defense witness at the trial in Leipzig
Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

 of three junior officers, Lieutenant Richard Scheringer, Hans Friedrich Wendt and Hans Ludin
Hanns Ludin
Hanns Elard Ludin was a German diplomat.Born in Freiburg to Friedrich and Johanna Ludin, Ludin began his Nazi affiliation in 1930 by joining the party, and was arrested for his political activities the same year...

. The three men were charged with membership in the Nazi Party; at that time membership in political parties was forbidden for members of the Reichswehr
Reichswehr
The Reichswehr formed the military organisation of Germany from 1919 until 1935, when it was renamed the Wehrmacht ....

. The three officers admitted to Nazi Party membership, and used as their defence the claim that the Nazi Party membership should not be forbidden to Reichswehr personnel. When the three officers were arrested after being caught red-handed
In flagrante delicto
In flagrante delicto or sometimes simply in flagrante is a legal term used to indicate that a criminal has been caught in the act of committing an offence...

 distributing Nazi literature at their base, Beck, who was the commanding officer of the 5th Artillery
Artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 Regiment based in Ulm
Ulm
Ulm is a city in the federal German state of Baden-Württemberg, situated on the River Danube. The city, whose population is estimated at 120,000 , forms an urban district of its own and is the administrative seat of the Alb-Donau district. Ulm, founded around 850, is rich in history and...

, which the three Nazi officers belonged to, was highly furious and argued that since the Nazi Party was a force for good that Reichswehr personnel should not be banned from joining the Nazi Party. At the preliminary hearing, Beck spoke on behalf of the three officers. At the Leipzig trial of Ludin and Scheringer, Beck testified as to the good character of the accused, described the Nazi Party as a positive force in German life, and proclaimed his belief that the Reichswehr ban on Nazi Party membership in his opinion should be rescinded. When Lieutenant Scheringer spoke of a future war in which the Nazi Party and the Reichswehr were to fight hand in hand as brothers in a "war of liberation" to overthrow the Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of...

, Beck supported Scheringer by testifying that: "The Reichswehr is told daily that it is an army of leaders. What is a young officer to understand by that?". Historians such as Sir John Wheeler-Bennett
John Wheeler-Bennett
Sir John Wheeler Wheeler-Bennett , GCVO, CMG, OBE, FBA, FRSL was a conservative English historian of German and diplomatic history, and the official biographer of King George VI.-Early career:...

 have noted that Beck was deliberately distorting Hans von Seeckt
Hans von Seeckt
Johannes Friedrich "Hans" von Seeckt was a German military officer noted for his organization of the German Army during the Weimar Republic.-Early life:...

's Führerarmee ("Army of leaders" i.e. training soldiers to be leaders when the time came to expand the Army beyond the limits permitted by Versailles) principle by seeking to apply it to politics. During the course of the 1930 Leipzig trial, Beck first met Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 who also testified at the trial, and was very favourably impressed.

In 1933, upon witnessing the Nazi Machtergreifung
Machtergreifung
Machtergreifung is a German word meaning "seizure of power". It is normally used specifically to refer to the Nazi takeover of power in the democratic Weimar Republic on 30 January 1933, the day Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany, turning it into the Nazi German dictatorship.-Term:The...

, Beck wrote "I have wished for years for the political revolution, and now my wishes have come true. It is the first ray of hope since 1918." In July 1934, Beck expressed some alarm at Nazi foreign policy
Foreign policy
A country's foreign policy, also called the foreign relations policy, consists of self-interest strategies chosen by the state to safeguard its national interests and to achieve its goals within international relations milieu. The approaches are strategically employed to interact with other countries...

 involving Germany in a "premature war", after the failed Nazi putsch in Austria, leading Beck to warn that those in "leading positions" must understand that foreign adventures at this time might lead to Germany being forced to make a "humiliating retreat" that might in Beck's view bring about the end of Nazi Germany. In August 1934, when following the death of President Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg , known universally as Paul von Hindenburg was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934....

, and Hitler's assumption of the roles of powers of the Presidency, most notably the position of Commander-in-Chief, Beck wrote that Hitler's move created "favourable conditions" for the Reichswehr.

Beck gained respect with the publication of his tactical manual, Truppenführung
Truppenführung
was a German Army field manual published in 2 parts as : Part 1, promulgated in 1933, and Part 2 in 1934.The original German text, which is notable for its clarity, was prepared by a group led by Colonel General Ludwig Beck who was later executed by the Nazi administration for his part in the...

. Both Beck and General Werner von Fritsch
Werner von Fritsch
Werner Thomas Ludwig Freiherr von Fritsch was a prominent Wehrmacht officer, member of the German High Command, and the second German general to be killed during World War II.-Early life:...

 commanded the 1st Cavalry Division
1st Cavalry Division (Reichswehr)
The 1st Cavalry Division was a unit of the Reichswehr, the armed forces of Germany during the Weimar Republic.It consisted of 6 cavalry regiments, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Regiments.Its commanders were:...

, in Frankfurt an der Oder prior to assuming their command positions. During his time first as Chief of the Truppenamt
Truppenamt
The Truppenamt or 'Troop Office' was the cover organisation for the German General Staff from 1919 through until 1933 when the General Staff was re-created. This subterfuge was deemed necessary in order for Germany to be seen to meet the requirements of the Versailles Treaty...

(1933–1935), and then as Chief of the General Staff
German General Staff
The German General Staff was an institution whose rise and development gave the German armed forces a decided advantage over its adversaries. The Staff amounted to its best "weapon" for nearly a century and a half....

 (1935–1938), Beck encouraged the development of armoured forces, though not to the extent that advocates of Panzer
Panzer
A Panzer is a German language word that, when used as a noun, means "tank". When it is used as an adjective, it means either tank or "armoured" .- Etymology :...

warfare like Heinz Guderian
Heinz Guderian
Heinz Wilhelm Guderian was a German general during World War II. He was a pioneer in the development of armored warfare, and was the leading proponent of tanks and mechanization in the Wehrmacht . Germany's panzer forces were raised and organized under his direction as Chief of Mobile Forces...

 wanted. In Beck's conception of power politics, it was crucial to have German military power restored to its pre-1919 levels, and from the latter half of 1933, advocated a level of military spending beyond even those considered by Hitler. In Beck's opinion, once Germany was sufficiently rearmed, the Reich should wage a series of wars that would establish Germany as Europe's foremost power, and place all of Central and Eastern Europe into the German sphere of influence.

As Chief of the General Staff, Beck lived in a modest home in the Lichterfelde
Lichterfelde (Berlin)
Lichterfelde is a locality in the borough of Steglitz-Zehlendorf in Berlin, Germany. Until 2001 it was part, with Steglitz and Lankwitz of the former Steglitz borough.-History:...

 suburb of Berlin, and worked normally from 09:00 to 19:00 every day. As General Staff Chief, Beck was widely respected for his intelligence and work ethic, but was often criticized by other officers for being too interested in administrative details. In 1934, Beck wrote a lengthy covering letter to a long report on the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 armour maneuvers as a way of encouraging interest in armoured warfare. In Beck's view of the General Staff's role, the War Minister served in a mere administrative function, and the Chief of the General Staff should have been able to advise the Reich leadership directly, views that led to conflicts with the War Minister, Field Marshal
Field Marshal
Field Marshal is a military rank. Traditionally, it is the highest military rank in an army.-Etymology:The origin of the rank of field marshal dates to the early Middle Ages, originally meaning the keeper of the king's horses , from the time of the early Frankish kings.-Usage and hierarchical...

 Werner von Blomberg
Werner von Blomberg
Werner Eduard Fritz von Blomberg was a German Generalfeldmarschall, Minister of War and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces until January 1938.-Early life:...

, who resented Beck's efforts to diminish his powers. In 1936, Beck strongly supported Hitler during the remilitarization
Remilitarization of the Rhineland
The Remilitarization of the Rhineland by the German Army took place on 7 March 1936 when German military forces entered the Rhineland. This was significant because it violated the terms of the Locarno Treaties and was the first time since the end of World War I that German troops had been in this...

 of the Rhineland
Rhineland
Historically, the Rhinelands refers to a loosely-defined region embracing the land on either bank of the River Rhine in central Europe....

 against Blomberg, who feared the French reaction to such a move. By the end of 1937 and the beginning of 1938, Beck had come into increasing conflict with other officers over the place and importance of the General Staff in the German military hierarchy, in which Beck wished to have all of the important decision-making moved into the arms of the General Staff.
Starting in the mid-1930s, Beck created his own intelligence network comprising German military attaches, which he used both to collect information, and to leak information. Besides military attaches, Beck also recruited civilians for his private intelligence network, of which the most notable volunteer was Carl Goerdeler.

In May 1937, Beck refused an order to draw up orders for executing Fall Otto (Case Otto), the German plan for an invasion of Austria under the grounds that such a move might cause a world war before Germany was ready for such a war. During the Anschluss
Anschluss
The Anschluss , also known as the ', was the occupation and annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938....

of February–March 1938, once Beck was convinced that no war would result from a move against Austria, he swiftly drew up the orders for Fall Otto. In Beck's conception of power politics, war was a necessary part of restoring Germany to Great Power status provided that these wars were limited in scope and Germany possessed sufficient strength and had sufficiently strong allies.

During the Blomberg-Fritsch Crisis
Blomberg-Fritsch Affair
The Blomberg–Fritsch Affair were two related scandals in early 1938 that resulted in the subjugation of the German Armed Forces to dictator Adolf Hitler...

 of early 1938, Beck saw a chance to reassert the interests and power of the Army against what he regarded as the excessive power of the SS. The ending of the crisis in favor of the SS left Beck somewhat disillusioned.

Conflict with Hitler

Beck resented Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 for his efforts to curb the army's position of influence. Beck tried very early—as Chief of the General Staff—to deter Hitler from using the grievances of the Sudetenland
Sudetenland
Sudetenland is the German name used in English in the first half of the 20th century for the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans, specifically the border areas of Bohemia, Moravia, and those parts of Silesia being within Czechoslovakia.The...

 region of Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

, the population of which was mostly ethnic-German, as an excuse for war against the latter state in 1938.

Beck had no moral objection to the idea of war of aggression to eliminate Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

 as a state. In 1935, he had a series of meetings with Prince Bernard von Bülow, the State Secretary of the German Foreign Office and the Chief of the Hungarian
Hungary
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

 General Staff
General Staff
A military staff, often referred to as General Staff, Army Staff, Navy Staff or Air Staff within the individual services, is a group of officers and enlisted personnel that provides a bi-directional flow of information between a commanding officer and subordinate military units...

 to discuss plans "for the division of Czechoslovakia". On 12 November 1937, Beck submitted a memorandum stating that "various facts" show the requirement "for an imminent solution by force" of the problem of Czechoslovakia and that it was desirable to start preparing "the political ground among those powers which stood on our side or who were not against us", and that the "military discussion in either the one case or the other should begin at once".

However, Beck felt that Germany needed more time to rearm before starting such a war. In Beck's assessment, the earliest date Germany could risk a war was 1940, and any war started in 1938 would be a "premature war" that Germany would lose. In the Hossbach Memorandum
Hossbach Memorandum
The Hossbach Memorandum was the summary of a meeting on November 5, 1937 between German dictator Adolf Hitler and his military and foreign policy leadership where Hitler's future expansionist policies were outlined. The meeting marked a turning point in Hitler's foreign policies, which then began...

 of 1937, Hitler had expressed his belief that Britain and France would not intervene in the event of German aggression against Austria and Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

, a conviction strengthened by the Anschluss
Anschluss
The Anschluss , also known as the ', was the occupation and annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938....

earlier in the year, and they would not stand in his way if he should try again to enlarge the Reich. Beck, however, believed that the French would honor the terms of the Franco-Czechoslovak alliance of 1924, and that, should France go to war with Germany, Britain would then almost certainly enter the war on the Allied side. He also felt that Germany did not have the raw materials to fight a European war.

While most of the generals felt the idea of starting a war in 1938 was highly risky, none of them would confront Hitler with a refusal to carry out orders, since the majority opinion was that Beck's arguments against war in 1938 were flawed. From May 1938, Beck had bombarded Hitler, Wilhelm Keitel
Wilhelm Keitel
Wilhelm Bodewin Gustav Keitel was a German field marshal . As head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and de facto war minister, he was one of Germany's most senior military leaders during World War II...

 and Walther von Brauchitsch
Walther von Brauchitsch
Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von Brauchitsch was a German field marshal and the Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres in the early years of World War II.-Biography:...

 with memoranda opposing Fall Grün (Case Green), the plan for a war with Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

. In the first of his memos, on 5 May 1938, Beck argued that the Sino-Japanese War
Second Sino-Japanese War
The Second Sino-Japanese War was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan. From 1937 to 1941, China fought Japan with some economic help from Germany , the Soviet Union and the United States...

 meant Japan would be unable to come to Germany's aid, that the French Army
French Army
The French Army, officially the Armée de Terre , is the land-based and largest component of the French Armed Forces.As of 2010, the army employs 123,100 regulars, 18,350 part-time reservists and 7,700 Legionnaires. All soldiers are professionals, following the suspension of conscription, voted in...

 was the best fighting force in Europe, and that Britain was certain to intervene on the side of France should Germany attack Czechoslovakia. In his May memo, Beck argued that Hitler's assumptions about France, made in the Hossbach Memorandum
Hossbach Memorandum
The Hossbach Memorandum was the summary of a meeting on November 5, 1937 between German dictator Adolf Hitler and his military and foreign policy leadership where Hitler's future expansionist policies were outlined. The meeting marked a turning point in Hitler's foreign policies, which then began...

 of 1937, were mistaken, and stated his belief that France "wishes for peace or, perhaps more accurately, abhors a new war", but that "in case of a real threat, or what is perceived by the people to be foreign policy pressure, the French nation comes together as if one". Beck stated in the same memo that Hitler was wrong about France being on the verge of civil war and that, in the event of a German threat to Czechoslovakia, the French would see such a threat as "a question of honour...for which a strong government will have no difficulty pulling itself together". Beck stated his belief that "The French army is and remains intact and is at the moment the strongest in Europe". Beck ended his memo with the comments that: "The military-economic situation of Germany is bad, worse than in 1917–1918. In its current military, military-political and military-economic condition, Germany cannot expose itself to the risk of a long war". The May Crisis of May 21–22, 1938 further convinced Beck of the dangers of going to war in 1938, and led him to increase his efforts to stop a war that he felt Germany could not win. In November 1938, Beck informed a friend that, from the time of the May Crisis, the only consideration in his mind was "How can I prevent a war?".

On 22 May 1938, Hitler stated that, though he had deep respect for Beck for his pro-Nazi testimony at the Ulm trial of 1930, his views were too much that of a Reichswehr general, and not enough of a Wehrmacht general. Hitler commented that Beck was "one of the officers still imprisoned in the idea of the hundred-thousand-man army". On 28 May 1938, Beck had a meeting with Hitler, the Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop
Joachim von Ribbentrop
Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop was Foreign Minister of Germany from 1938 until 1945. He was later hanged for war crimes after the Nuremberg Trials.-Early life:...

, Admiral Erich Raeder
Erich Raeder
Erich Johann Albert Raeder was a naval leader in Germany before and during World War II. Raeder attained the highest possible naval rank—that of Großadmiral — in 1939, becoming the first person to hold that rank since Alfred von Tirpitz...

, Hermann Göring
Hermann Göring
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, was a German politician, military leader, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. He was a veteran of World War I as an ace fighter pilot, and a recipient of the coveted Pour le Mérite, also known as "The Blue Max"...

, Wilhelm Keitel
Wilhelm Keitel
Wilhelm Bodewin Gustav Keitel was a German field marshal . As head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and de facto war minister, he was one of Germany's most senior military leaders during World War II...

, and Walther von Brauchitsch
Walther von Brauchitsch
Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von Brauchitsch was a German field marshal and the Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres in the early years of World War II.-Biography:...

, during which Hitler restated the views he had first expressed in the Hossbach Memorandum
Hossbach Memorandum
The Hossbach Memorandum was the summary of a meeting on November 5, 1937 between German dictator Adolf Hitler and his military and foreign policy leadership where Hitler's future expansionist policies were outlined. The meeting marked a turning point in Hitler's foreign policies, which then began...

. In response, Beck drafted another memo on May 29, in which he presented a case that the Czechoslovak Army was not, as Hitler argued, a weak force, and that a limited regional war in Central Europe was not a realistic possibility. In the same memo of 29 May, Beck proclaimed his agreement with Hitler's views about the necessity of acquiring Lebensraum
Lebensraum
was one of the major political ideas of Adolf Hitler, and an important component of Nazi ideology. It served as the motivation for the expansionist policies of Nazi Germany, aiming to provide extra space for the growth of the German population, for a Greater Germany...

in Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

, called the existence of Czechoslovakia "intolerable", and concluded that "a way must be found to eliminate it (Czechoslovakia) as a threat to Germany, even, if necessary, by war". However, Beck argued that Germany was not strong enough to fight the general war that would result from an attack on Czechoslovakia in 1938, and urged Hitler to avoid a "premature war". In particular, Beck argued that "It is not accurate to judge Germany today as stronger than in 1914", and he presented a detailed military case that more time was needed before the Wehrmacht would be as strong as the Army of 1914. Furthermore, Beck contended that he could not "accept these estimates of the military power of France and England...Germany, whether alone or in alliance with Italy, is not in a position militarily to match England or France".

At first, Beck felt that Hitler's rush to war in 1938 was not caused by the Führer's personality, but was rather caused by Hitler receiving poor military advice, especially from Keitel. As a result, Beck spent much of his time urging a reorganization of the command structure, so that Hitler would receive his advice from the General Staff, and presumably abandon his plans for aggression. In one of his memos opposing war in 1938, Beck commented:
"Once again, the comments of the Führer demonstrate the complete inadequacy of the current top military-advisory hierarchy. What is needed is continual, competent advising of the commander-in-chief
Commander-in-Chief
A commander-in-chief is the commander of a nation's military forces or significant element of those forces. In the latter case, the force element may be defined as those forces within a particular region or those forces which are associated by function. As a practical term it refers to the military...

 of the Wehrmacht on questions of war leadership and above all on weapons of war, with clear delineation of responsibilities. If steps are not taken soon to produce a change in conditions, which have grown intolerable; if the current anarchy
Anarchy
Anarchy , has more than one colloquial definition. In the United States, the term "anarchy" typically is meant to refer to a society which lacks publicly recognized government or violently enforced political authority...

 becomes a permanent condition; then the future destiny of the Wehrmacht in peace and war, indeed the destiny of Germany in a future war, must be painted in the blackest of colors". Only in June 1938 did Beck realize that it was Hitler who was behind the drive for war, and, in a memo to Brauchitsch, urge that all of the senior officers threaten a mass collective resignation to force Hitler to abandon his plans for Fall Grün in 1938. Beck ended his appeal to Brauchitsch:

"Now at stake are final decisions regarding the fate of the nation. History will burden those leaders with blood guilt if they do not act according to their professional and statesmanly principles and knowledge.
Their soldierly loyalty must end at the boundary where their knowledge, conscience, and sense of responsibility forbid the execution of an order.
In case their advice and warnings fall on deaf ears in such circumstances, then they have the right and the duty, before the people and history, to resign their offices.
If they all act together, then it will be impossible to carry out military action. They will thereby save the Fatherland from the worst, from total ruin.
If a soldier in a position of highest authority in such times see his duties and tasks only within the limits of his military responsibilities, without consciousness of his higher responsibility to the whole people, then he shows a lack of greatness, a lack of comprehension of responsibility.
Extraordinary times demand extraordinary actions!"


On 16 July 1938, Beck wrote a memo stating that the Army might have to resolve unspecified "internal political" problems. Beck's campaign for a mass resignation was not aimed at the overthrow of Hitler, but was rather intended to persuade Hitler to abandon his plans for war in 1938, and to purge certain "radical" elements from the Nazi Party, who Beck believed to have a negative influence on Hitler. Together with the Abwehr
Abwehr
The Abwehr was a German military intelligence organisation from 1921 to 1944. The term Abwehr was used as a concession to Allied demands that Germany's post-World War I intelligence activities be for "defensive" purposes only...

chief, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris
Wilhelm Canaris
Wilhelm Franz Canaris was a German admiral, head of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944 and member of the German Resistance.- Early life and World War I :...

, and the German Foreign Office's State Secretary, Baron Ernst von Weizsäcker
Ernst von Weizsäcker
Ernst Freiherr von Weizsäcker was a German diplomat and politician. He served as State Secretary at the Foreign Office from 1938 to 1943, and as German Ambassador to the Holy See from 1943 to 1945...

, Beck was a leader of the "anti-war" group in the German government, which was determined to avoid a war in 1938 that it felt Germany would lose. This group was not necessarily committed to the overthrow of the regime, but was loosely allied to another, more radical group, the "anti-Nazi" fraction centered around Colonel Hans Oster
Hans Oster
Hans Oster was a German Army general, deputy head of the Abwehr under Wilhelm Canaris, and an opponent of Adolf Hitler and Nazism. He was a leading figure of the German resistance from 1938 to 1943.-Early career:...

 and Hans Bernd Gisevius
Hans Bernd Gisevius
Hans Bernd Gisevius was a German diplomat and intelligence officer during World War II. A strong opponent of the Nazi regime, he served as a liaison in Zürich between Allen Dulles, station chief for the American OSS and the German Resistance forces in Germany.-Pre World War II:Gisevius was born...

, which wanted to use the crisis as an excuse for executing a putsch to overthrow the Nazi regime. The divergent aims between these two factions produced considerable tensions.

In a June 1938 Generalstabsreise (General Staff study), Beck concluded that Germany could defeat Czechoslovakia, but that to do so would leave western Germany empty of troops, thus potentially allowing the French to seize the Rhineland
Rhineland
Historically, the Rhinelands refers to a loosely-defined region embracing the land on either bank of the River Rhine in central Europe....

 with little difficulty. Beck maintained that Czechoslovak defences were very formidable, that Prague
Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

 could mobilize at least 38 divisions, and that at least 30 German divisions would be needed to break through, requiring at a minimum a three week-long campaign. Beck concluded that Hitler's assumptions about a limited war in 1938 were mistaken, and that he felt "as fateful, the military action against Czechoslovakia, planned on the basis of these military premises, and must explicitly disavow any responsibility of the general staff of the Army for such action". In July 1938, upon being shown Beck's 5 May 1938 memo opposing Fall Grün by von Brauchitsch, Hitler called Beck's arguments "kindische Kräfteberechnungen" ("childish calculations"). In another memo of July 1938, Beck contended that a war with Czechoslovakia, France and Britain could only end in Germany's defeat, and urged Hitler to postpone his plans for aggression until such a time as Germany was strong enough for such a war. In late July 1938, Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein was a field marshal in World War II. He became one of the most prominent commanders of Germany's World War II armed forces...

, a leading protégé of Beck's, wrote to his mentor urging him to stay at his post, and place his faith in Hitler. On 29 July, Beck wrote a memo stating the German Army had the duty to prepare for possible wars with foreign enemies and "for an internal conflict which need only take place in Berlin". The July 29 memo is normally considered the start of Becks efforts to overthrow the Nazi regime.

At the beginning of August 1938, Beck wrote a speech for Brauchitsch to read before Hitler stating the Army's opposition to the "premature war" likely to be triggered by Fall Grün, which, however, Brauchitsch chose not to deliver. In August 1938, Beck suggested to General Walther von Brauchitsch
Walther von Brauchitsch
Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von Brauchitsch was a German field marshal and the Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres in the early years of World War II.-Biography:...

 that a "house-cleaning" of the Nazi regime was necessary, under which the influence of the SS
Schutzstaffel
The Schutzstaffel |Sig runes]]) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Built upon the Nazi ideology, the SS under Heinrich Himmler's command was responsible for many of the crimes against humanity during World War II...

 be reduced, but Hitler would continue as dictator. At an 10 August summit the leading generals of the Reich, Hitler spent much of the time attacking Beck's arguments against Fall Grün, and won the majority of the generals over. Colonel General Beck resigned alone on 18 August, and left office on 27 August. He was replaced, as head of the General Staff, by General Franz Halder
Franz Halder
Franz Halder was a German General and the head of the Army General Staff from 1938 until September, 1942, when he was dismissed after frequent disagreements with Adolf Hitler.-Early life:...

. At Hitler's request, Beck kept his resignation secret, and thus nullified the protest value of his resignation. Hitler promised Beck that if he kept his resignation secret, he would be rewarded with a major field command, and Beck was much disillusioned when he was instead put on the retired list. Beck ceased to have any meaningful influence on German military affairs, and increasingly came to rely upon contacts with the British in the hope that London would successfully exert its influence on Hitler, where he had failed to, through threats and warnings.

His opposition to Hitler brought him in contact with a small number of senior officers intent on deposing the dictator. Some of them, including Carl Goerdeler and Ulrich von Hassell
Ulrich von Hassell
Ulrich von Hassell was a German diplomat during World War II. A member of the German Resistance against German dictator Adolf Hitler, Hassell was executed in the aftermath of the failed July 20 plot.- Family :...

, would take part in the July 20 plot
July 20 Plot
On 20 July 1944, an attempt was made to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Führer of the Third Reich, inside his Wolf's Lair field headquarters near Rastenburg, East Prussia. The plot was the culmination of the efforts of several groups in the German Resistance to overthrow the Nazi-led German government...

 in 1944.

Beck and his conspirators knew that Germany faced certain and rapid defeat if France and Great Britain
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 came to the Czechs
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

' aid in 1938. Accordingly, they contacted the British Foreign Office, informed Britain of their plot, and asked for a firm British warning to deter Hitler from attacking Czechoslovakia. In September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
Neville Chamberlain
Arthur Neville Chamberlain FRS was a British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from May 1937 to May 1940. Chamberlain is best known for his appeasement foreign policy, and in particular for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938, conceding the...

, French President Édouard Daladier
Édouard Daladier
Édouard Daladier was a French Radical politician and the Prime Minister of France at the start of the Second World War.-Career:Daladier was born in Carpentras, Vaucluse. Later, he would become known to many as "the bull of Vaucluse" because of his thick neck and large shoulders and determined...

 and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....

 signed the Munich Agreement
Munich Agreement
The Munich Pact was an agreement permitting the Nazi German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. The Sudetenland were areas along Czech borders, mainly inhabited by ethnic Germans. The agreement was negotiated at a conference held in Munich, Germany, among the major powers of Europe without...

, compelling Czechoslovakia to give up the Sudetenland
Sudetenland
Sudetenland is the German name used in English in the first half of the 20th century for the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans, specifically the border areas of Bohemia, Moravia, and those parts of Silesia being within Czechoslovakia.The...

, which put an end to the crisis, and hence Beck's efforts at a putsch.

In the autumn of 1939, Beck was in contact with certain Germany Army officers, politicians, and civil servants, including General Halder, Dr. Hjalmar Schacht
Hjalmar Schacht
Dr. Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht was a German economist, banker, liberal politician, and co-founder of the German Democratic Party. He served as the Currency Commissioner and President of the Reichsbank under the Weimar Republic...

, Carl Goerdeler, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris
Wilhelm Canaris
Wilhelm Franz Canaris was a German admiral, head of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944 and member of the German Resistance.- Early life and World War I :...

, and Colonel Hans Oster
Hans Oster
Hans Oster was a German Army general, deputy head of the Abwehr under Wilhelm Canaris, and an opponent of Adolf Hitler and Nazism. He was a leading figure of the German resistance from 1938 to 1943.-Early career:...

 about the possibility of staging a putsch to overthrow the Nazi regime. By this time, Beck had come to accept that it was not possible to overthrow the Nazi regime while keeping Hitler in power. In the event of the putsch being successful, Germany was to be governed by a triumvirate of Beck, Goerdeler and Schacht who would negotiate a peace with Britain and France that would allow Germany to keep most of the Nazi conquests made up until that time, including Austria, all of western Poland, and the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was the majority ethnic-Czech protectorate which Nazi Germany established in the central parts of Bohemia, Moravia and Czech Silesia in what is today the Czech Republic...

. In January–February 1940, a series of meetings between Goerdeler, Beck, Hassell and Johannes Popitz
Johannes Popitz
Johannes Popitz was a Prussian finance minister and a member of the German Resistance against Nazi Germany.- Life :...

 produced agreement that when the Nazi regime was overthrown that Beck was to head the Council of Regency that would govern Germany. In 1940–1941, Beck spent much time discussing together with Goerdeler, Hassell, and Erwin von Witzleben
Erwin von Witzleben
Job-Wilhelm Georg Erdmann Erwin von Witzleben was a German army officer and in the Second World War an Army commander and a conspirator in the July 20 Plot.-Early years:...

 certain aspects of the new proposed state after the successful overthrowing of the Nazi regime.

20 July plot

In 1943, Beck planned two abortive attempts to kill Hitler by means of a bomb. In May 1944, a memorandum by Field Marshal
Field Marshal
Field Marshal is a military rank. Traditionally, it is the highest military rank in an army.-Etymology:The origin of the rank of field marshal dates to the early Middle Ages, originally meaning the keeper of the king's horses , from the time of the early Frankish kings.-Usage and hierarchical...

 Erwin Rommel
Erwin Rommel
Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel , popularly known as the Desert Fox , was a German Field Marshal of World War II. He won the respect of both his own troops and the enemies he fought....

 made it clear that his participation in the proposed putsch was based on the precondition that Beck serve as the head of state
Head of State
A head of state is the individual that serves as the chief public representative of a monarchy, republic, federation, commonwealth or other kind of state. His or her role generally includes legitimizing the state and exercising the political powers, functions, and duties granted to the head of...

 in the new government. In 1944, he was one of the driving forces of the 20 July plot with Carl Goerdeler and Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. It was proposed that Beck would become the head of the provisional government
Provisional government
A provisional government is an emergency or interim government set up when a political void has been created by the collapse of a very large government. The early provisional governments were created to prepare for the return of royal rule...

 that would assume power in Germany after Hitler had been eliminated. The plot failed, however, and by the next morning—according to the account by Fabian von Schlabrendorff—Beck was in the custody of General Friedrich Fromm
Friedrich Fromm
Friedrich Fromm was a German army officer. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.-Early life:Fromm was born in Charlottenburg...

, and he offered to commit suicide
Suicide
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Suicide is often committed out of despair or attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse...

 ("accept the consequences"). His last words were "I am thinking of earlier times." Beck then shot himself. In severe distress, Beck succeeded only in severely wounding himself, and a sergeant was brought in to administer the coup de grâce
Coup de grâce
The expression coup de grâce means a death blow intended to end the suffering of a wounded creature. The phrase can refer to the killing of civilians or soldiers, friends or enemies, with or without the consent of the sufferer...

by shooting Beck in the back of the neck.

In popular culture

In the 1971 film Liberation: Direction of the Main Blow
Liberation (film series)
Liberation is an epic five-part film series considered the most large-scale World War II film ever made in the Soviet Union. Filmed from 1967 to 1971, the first part was released during 1970 for the 25th anniversary of Victory Day...

, Beck was portrayed by East German actor Werner Wieland.

In the 1990 telemovie The Plot to Kill Hitler, General Beck is played by British actor Ian Richardson
Ian Richardson
Ian William Richardson CBE was a Scottish actor best known for his portrayal of the Machiavellian Tory politician Francis Urquhart in the BBC's House of Cards trilogy. He was also a leading Shakespearean stage actor....

.

In the 2004 German TV movie Stauffenberg
Stauffenberg (Film)
Stauffenberg is a German-Austrian TV movie released in 2004 by Das Erste , about Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and the 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler....

, General Beck is played by Remo Girone
Remo Girone
Remo Girone is an Italian film and stage actor. He is best known for the role of Tano Cariddi in the epic TV mini-series La Piovra , about the Mafia. As a Mafia leader, Tano's chief enemy was Commissario Corrado Cattani.- External links :...

.

In the 2008 film Valkyrie
Valkyrie (film)
Valkyrie is a 2008 American historical thriller film set in Nazi Germany during World War II. The film depicts the 20 July plot in 1944 by German army officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler and to use the Operation Valkyrie national emergency plan to take control of the country...

, General Beck is played by British actor Terence Stamp
Terence Stamp
Terence Henry Stamp is an English actor. Since starting his career in 1962 he has appeared in over 60 films. His title role as Billy Budd in his film debut earned Stamp an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and a BAFTA nomination for Best Newcomer.His other major roles include...

.

External links

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