The last surviving member of a plot to kill Adolf Hitler has died at the age of 90. Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist once volunteered for a suicide attack on Adolf Hitler, and was later involved in the famous “Operation Valkyrie” attempt on the dictator’s life.
As a 22-year-old army lieutenant, von Kleist had been chosen to model a new army uniform for Hitler. Having met the army officer and Hitler-opponent Claus von Stauffenberg while recovering from injuries sustained in 1943 on the Eastern Front, he volunteered to wear a suicide vest underneath his uniform, and detonate it while he stood next to the dictator.
When told about the plan, his father—who had opposed Hitler since before the war and had been arrested many times for resistance activity—said: “Yes, you have to do that. A man who doesn’t take such a chance will never be happy again in his life,” reports the New York Times.
The plan fell through, because Hitler had changed his plans – as he frequently did later in the war. But von Kleist volunteered for a second assassination attempt—masterminded by von Stauffenberg and portrayed in the 2008 movie Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise—in which he would carry a briefcase packed with explosives to a meeting at Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair in occupied Poland.
But von Stauffenberg ended up entering by himself, and the plot unravelled when the briefcase, which von Stauffenberg had placed in a conference room where Hitler was meeting with aides, was moved next to a heavy oak table leg. Although four people were killed and virtually everyone in the room was injured, Hitler escaped the full force of the blast. Von Stauffenberg was later tracked down to his offices in Berlin and subsequently court martialed and executed by firing squad.
Von Kleist was also arrested and interrogated for several weeks. But, while most of the other conspirators, including his own father, were killed, von Kleist was unexpectedly released and allowed to return to the front.
After the war, he became involved in international relations: In 1963 he founded what would become the annual Munich Security Conference, which brings together the world’s top diplomats and defense officials for talks on global security policy. For those efforts he received in 1991 the U.S. Department of Defense’s Medal for Distinguished Public Service—its highest award for a civilian.