FORTY-FIVE

Schwarze Kapelle

AT FOUR THIRTY ON THE AFTERNOON OF 10 July, selected German Army officers in Paris received coded news from the Wolfsschanze, Wolf’s Lair, Adolf Hitler’s fortified headquarters near Rastenburg in East Prussia. They passed the word among themselves: ‘Hitler’s dead. Perhaps Himmler and Goering too. It was a terrible explosion.’ A bomb had been placed beside Hitler at a staff meeting in his fortified compound. The culprit was a young Wehrmacht colonel, Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg. Von Stauffenberg, who had taken offence at the triumphant and nihilistic parades of Nazi power when Paris fell in June 1940, told his colleagues then that Hitler should be killed. Four years later, Stauffenberg attempted the deed himself. Hearing the thunderous detonation of his bomb-laden briefcase as he drove away from the Wolf’s Lair, he passed word to his co-conspirators in Paris that his assassination had succeeded.

General Karl Heinrich von Stülpnagel, Militärbefehlshaber in Frankreich (Military Governor in France), gave orders for the arrest of the Gestapo, SS and SD in Paris. The Wehrmacht in France was supporting the installation of Colonel-General Ludwig Beck as Germany’s new head of state. Beck planned to make an offer of peace to the Allies. Unfortunately for the conspirators, Hitler survived the explosion. The Gestapo officers the army held under arrest in Paris turned around and arrested their jailers later that night. Stauffenberg was executed immediately after his assassination attempt, and most of his comrades were soon hanged with wire nooses or committed suicide. Stülpnagel was ordered back to Germany, and he attempted to kill himself. When he recovered in August, he too was put to death.

Stülpnagel had been an acquaintance of Charles Bedaux, providing the engineer with authorization and supplies for his African pipeline. Other Bedaux friends in the German administration had also been involved in the coup. One was Dr Franz Medicus, who fled when it failed. Another, Joseph von Ledebur, escaped across the border to Spain and onto Argentina. Oddly, Dr Keller, the psychotic Nazi who had proposed to André Enfière that Bedaux should mediate between Germany and the Allies, had also been involved in the plot and had to leave France. Medicus and Keller had been attached to the Abwehr, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris’s military intelligence branch. Abwehr plotters against Hitler included Canaris himself, Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law, Hans Dohnanyi. All three were arrested, tortured and sent to concentration camps for subsequent execution.

It was only after the failure of the 20 July plot that Charles Bedaux’s son, Charles Emile, now serving in the US army, learned that the band of anti-Hitler conspirators were called the Schwarze Kapelle, the Black Orchestra. During their intimate conversations at El Biar in 1943, his father had said to him gravely, ‘It is better that you don’t know what I have done to deceive the Germans. Just remember the words Schwarze Kapelle. I shall say no more.’ That may have been what Edmond Taylor of the OSS meant when he wrote that he arrested Charles Bedaux in Algiers to halt ‘the nightmare of a shadowy yet tightly organized international conspiracy working for a compromise peace’.

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