In the November of 1938, a man took a train from Königsbronn to Munich. When he reached there, he made his way to Löwenbräu, a historic beer hall. As he weaved his way through the cavernous underground hall, all around him men were raising their mugs, cheering and lauding a mustached man standing in the centre. Diminutive in structure, this second man was nevertheless noticeable, and as he acknowledged the crowd’s cries, the Swastika on his uniform shone prominently.  “Hail Hitler!” screamed a man, raising his mug, and all but one man followed suit.

For Johann Georg Elser had not taken a train to Munich to support Hitler’s vision; he wanted to murder the dictator.

The Löwenbräu used to be earlier known as the Bürgerbräukeller.  It became famous in 1923, when Adolf Hitler with 600 Nazi supporters attempted to stage a coup, using the beer hall as a base. That day the Nazis failed, and Hitler was jailed. Fifteen years later, he was standing in the same hall on a raised stage, ready to conquer the world.

Born in 1903, Georg Elser was an ordinary man. A woodworker, he never read books and had no interest in politics. Georg was just a typical working class man in Germany of the 1930s. Until he decided to kill Adolf Hitler that is.

He believed that the Nazis were reducing the standard of living of Germany’s working class. Trade unions had been banned in the country, work hours had increased, and wages had frozen. People who did not join Hitler’s party were not given the privileges that Nazis got. A perfectionist in his work, Elser, became increasingly frustrated when he couldn’t make ends meet.  The resentment grew over time, and soon Elser would not listen to the radio when the Führer spoke, he would not do the Nazi salute, and when a parade celebrating Hitler went past him in his hometown, he turned his back to it and walked off whistling nonchalantly.

Elser was not the only one who wanted to kill Hitler. There were over forty attempts made on Hitler’s life, and as the Führer himself said, he had “the luck of the devil” surviving all of them.  The most famous among these was when Claus Von Stauffenberg’s (on whom the Tom Cruise starrer, Valkyrie, was made) placed  a bomb in Hitler’s East Prussian Headquarters (The Wolf’s Lair).  On that day, a table support endured much of the blast and the Führer hobbled out of his lair, his trousers torn to shreds and his ear drums shattered.

There are some differences between Elser and Stauffenberg though.  Elser’s actions were remarkable – a single man with no history of battle trying to eliminate arguably the most powerful man in the world – with not even one percent of Stauffenberg’s resources at his disposal. What he did have was that much regarded German trait – a systematic, unwavering approach to a job and an eye for detail.

The most difficult part was guessing where Hitler would be at a specific time. Elser knew that the Führer had already become famous for cancelling and rescheduling events abruptly. So, he decided to attack in the one place Hitler was present every year on a particular date – the Löwenbräu. Every year there, surrounded by thousands of loyalists, Hitler would exchange nostalgic anecdotes before launching into a fiery speech that would drive the crowd into a mad frenzy.

So, in November 1938, Elser went to Munich to check out the venue. While others reveled in drinking, Elser noticed that the dais on which Hitler stood had a pillar close to it which supported a balcony overhead.












Elser’s plan was in place.  Exactly one year from this day, he would place a bomb in the pillar and when it burst, the balcony would collapse and kill Hitler and all his loyalists standing close at hand.

With a year to prepare, Elser went about his plan methodically. He needed explosives, so he took up a job in an arms factory. Whenever he got the chance, he smuggled explosives out of the plant till he had collected 110 pounds. To get dynamite, he took up a part time job in a quarry as a construction worker. When he returned home late at night, he would work on designs to build a sophisticated time bomb. In April 1939, Elser returned to Munich and made several drawings of the building.  He then proceeded to the Swiss border, to chart out his escape route.

In August, tensions arose all over Europe as Germany planned to attack Poland. The same month, Elser shifted to Munich. He would visit the Löwenbräu daily for dinner. At closing time, he would slip away and hide in a storeroom and would emerge only after everyone had left.

To avoid attention, Elser used only a flashlight to do his work. His discipline was astounding. First he cut a hole in the pillar. Worried that the sound of a chisel striking the pillar would create a noise, he would strike a single blow after long minutes, coinciding it with the sound of a passing motorcar. The work was painstakingly slow, but it speaks a lot of Elser’s character that he stuck to it throughout.  As night turned to dawn, and Elser left the building he would have to replace the piece he had cut out with another piece that would stick as smoothly as the original.

It took George Elser 35 nights to cut out the hole that would enclose the bomb.  On the bomb too, he made several revisions, finally creating a time bomb that would run for 144 hours before getting activated. He also lined the pillar’s wood with a tin sheet to prevent workers from unknowingly driving nails through the pillar to put up decorations.


Elser found out that Hitler always began his speech at the Löwenbräu at 8:30 pm and spoke for 90 minutes. Three days before d-day he placed the bomb in the pillar and timed it so that it would explode at 9:20 pm.  Had Elser read the newspaper a day before the event, he would have known that Hitler had rescheduled the meeting to begin at 8 pm.

Life is full of what ifs.

Even then, the bomb should have exploded with Hitler in the auditorium. As it happened, the Führer closed his speech at 9:07 pm and instead of staying back for drinks as he did every year, he left immediately for Berlin by train. At 9:20, a powerful blast ripped through the stage where Hitler had been standing minutes before. 8 people died and 63 were injured.

At 9:20, Elser too was far away from the Löwenbräu, and was close to the Swiss border. But unlike in April, when the border was open, in November with the war underway, the frontier had been closed.  As he was cutting his way through some wires, a patrol caught him and demanded to see his belongings. In his pockets were sketches of the bomb, and pictures of the beer hall.  It’s been assumed that he carried them believing that he could convince the authorities in Switzerland that he was anti-Nazi.

As news reached the frontier post about the bombing, Elser was taken back to Munich for questioning. Hitler was certain that the British Secret Service were behind it. The bomber was beaten up and tortured in a bid that he validate Hitler’s theory but even when he denied it and later reproduced a version of the bomb to show the Gestapo how he had made it, they refused to believe him.

Strangely, Elser was not executed and was instead sent off to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen. He was kept in solitary confinement, but never badly treated, and even allowed his tools. The other prisoners resented this and there were rumours that the entire assassination plan had been stage managed. But it is believed that Hitler wanted to keep him alive till the end of the war, when he would use Elser to implicate the British Secret Service in a war crimes trial.

However, in 1945, the Germans had all but lost the war. Hitler realized that he would not be the one staging the trial, so he sent an order to the officer at the camp, “I ask you to liquidate ‘Eller’ without attracting attention. Also take special care that only a few people come to know of this.”

Georg Elser was shot dead on April 9, 1945, and he remained relatively unknown for decades till finally in 1998 a memorial was made for him in his hometown. It read “I wanted to prevent even greater bloodshed through my deed”. Soon, there were a number of streets named after him and in 2003, the government issued a stamp in his honour.












Maybe we can never justify terrorism, not even if the objective is to eliminate a man who was responsible for the deaths of thousands. Eight innocent people died, but had Hitler been one of them, would it be okay then? Can we justify killing seven other people, just because Hitler’s death would have meant that thousands would be saved later.

What we know for sure is that Georg Elser was the one man in the world who decided to eliminate Adolf Hitler all by himself. And when one man screamed “Hail Hitler” in a beer hall in Munich in 1938, all men but one followed suit.


Neeraj Narayanan

At WeAreHolidays, Neeraj Narayanan is Head of the Content and Digital Media Team. He has a Masters in Advertising & Media Communication, has had experience as a Communication Consultant to the Government of Gujarat, and as a Brand man in the IT giant firm - Cognizant.

On weekends, he conducts Heritage Walks in Delhi.

Neeraj Narayanan – who has written posts on WAH Blog.