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July 5, 2017 11:09 am

The Carpenter Who Almost Killed Hitler

avatar by Alan Zeitlin


A clip from “13 Minutes.” Photo: Provided.

In November 1939, Georg Elser tried to kill Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, the bomb missed Hitler by mere minutes, and history proceeded apace.

The new film “13 Minutes” is based on the true story of Elser, a lone-wolf assassin who tried to kill the German despot by placing a bomb behind the speaker’s podium where the Fuhrer would give an annual speech in commemoration of the Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler cut his speech short, and the bomb went off 13 minutes too late — killing eight people.

Elser, an ordinary German citizen, made the bomb himself and tested it in his family’s orchard. He worked on the plan for nearly a year, constantly sneaking into the building and hollowing out an area to place the bomb in.

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, “13 Minutes” is a powerful film that makes us admire a man who did not have to take matters into his own hands. Elser was not being persecuted himself, yet “we can’t wait till it’s too late,” his character says in the film.

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Christian Friedel does an excellent job playing Georg — a regular man who, at first, stands on the sidelines as others are hurt by the Nazis, including a Jewish stranger and a communist friend.

The film uses frequent flashbacks to show Elser as a ladies’ man, who has much to live for. It also juxtaposes scenes of music, dancing and bliss with scenes of torture, blood and death. We also see the perfecting of propaganda, as Elser watches a film produced to show the greatness of the Nazis.

After he is caught, his Nazi interrogators (including Burghart Klaubner, who ironically starred as German judge Fritz Baur in The People vs. Fritz Baur) try to force Elser into confessing that he was doing the bidding of others — be it communists or anti-Hitler forces. In a moment of comedy, Elser says that Winston Churchill called him up and told him to do it.

The film is slightly disjointed due to all of the flashbacks, and it lacks tension at some points, but on the whole, it is an inspiring look at a hero who nearly achieved something monumental. There were other assassination attempts against Hitler, of course, but they all failed — and perhaps none were quite as heroic.

Strangely, Elser wasn’t simply executed. He was sent to Dachau — and his fate is revealed in the film.

There is no answer to the question as to why so many Germans allowed Hitler and the Nazis to do what they did. Yet “13 Minutes” gives us hope, by feature a protagonist who risks his life and doesn’t seem to consider himself a hero, but rather a simple man doing something practical that needed to be done. This is the story of a bystander who could no longer stand by — because his conscience wouldn’t allow him to do so.

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