Hans-Bernd August Gustav von Haeften (at his trial)
Born 18 December 1905
Werner Karl von Haeften
Born 9 October 1908
Claus von Stauffenberg’s aide
The Haeften brothers were nephews of Walther von Brauchitsch, the commander-in-chief of the German army from 4 February 1938 to 10 December 1941.
Hans-Bernd was a lawyer and worked for the Foreign Office. He was deeply religious, belonging to the Confessing Church (established by Karl Barth, Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, amongst others), and associated with the so-called Kreisau Circle – although he rarely attended, as his senior position made this too risky.
Werner was a lawyer who worked for a bank. He joined the army at the outbreak of war. From late 1943, having been wounded twice, he served as adjutant to Claus von Stauffenberg. He held the rank of First Lieutenant. A friend described him as ‘a kind of Siegfried with a sense of humour’.
In early 1944, Stauffenberg asked Werner to consider assassinating Hitler. Werner thought he could shoot Hitler with a pistol.
However, Hans-Bernd refused to have anything to do with killing Hitler. He persuaded his brother not to shoot Hitler as this would break the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ (the fifth commandment in the Lutheran division of the Decalogue). Thereafter, Werner remained troubled as to the morality of assassinating Hitler.
The effect of this dissuasion persisted. It is probably the reason that Werner took no part in the complicated process of arming the bomb on 20 July 1944.
However, Hans-Bernd did support overthrowing Hitler, and was ready on the day of the coup to help deliver control of the Foreign Office to the resistance.
Prior to 20 July 1944 Claus von Stauffenberg took the bomb to Hitler on (at least) two
occasions (11 and 15 July), but was prevented from using it. On those days Werner was ill, and Claus took another young officer of the conspiracy with him – Captain Friedrich Klausing.
On 20 July 1944, Werner accompanied Claus to the Wolf’s Lair. At various times that day he carried the plastic explosive.
Werner did not help arm the bomb – which was left to Claus despite the difficulties due to his injuries. As noted, it was probably Werner’s scruples about the assassination which prevented his involvement. The result was that Claus was able to arm only half the explosive before he was interrupted by one of the worst-timed phone calls in history.
After placing the briefcase, Claus joined Werner and two others to watch the explosion. Satisfied that Hitler must be dead, Werner travelled with Claus in their car to the airfield. On the way he threw from the car a parcel containing the unused plastic explosive – an action observed by the driver. When the driver reported what he had seen, the unused explosive was recovered, pointing to the involvement of the two officers in the bombing.
Throughout the afternoon and evening of 20 July, Werner remained with Claus at the Bendlerblock (Home Army headquarters) in Berlin.
Hans-Bernd waited with Adam von Trott and others in the Foreign Office. They expected an armed escort to Broadcasting House, where they would make broadcasts on behalf of the new regime. When they saw the roadblocks being removed as the plot unravelled, a friend described it as a ‘ghastly moment’ and said Hans-Bernd went ‘white as a sheet’.
In the early hours of 21 July 1944, General Fromm summarily sentenced Claus von Stauffenberg, along with Werner, as well as General Olbricht and Colonel Mertz, to death by firing squad – a sentence carried out forthwith.
Werner died when he threw himself in front of the volley meant for Claus.
With his brother Werner so deeply involved in the July plot, Hans-Bernd was an early suspect.
On 23 July 1944, he was arrested.
On 15 August 1944, he was brought before the Nazi 'People’s Court'. During his trial he described Hitler as ‘the incarnation of evil in history’.
He was hanged that day in Plötzensee prison.
This is an edited extract from TREASON: Claus von Stauffenberg and the Plot to Kill Hitler