Age 87, She Remembers Her Friends' July 20 Plot to Kill Hitler

Roundup: Talking About History

David Smith and Walter Harris, in the Guardian (July 11, 2004):

INGA HAAG vividly remembers shaking the hand of Adolf Hitler - and spending the next five years plotting to kill him. Men close to her were executed after the failed plan to assassinate the Fuhrer 60 years ago next week. But Inga survived and, now nearing 86 and a grande dame of London embassy gatherings, is virtually alone in having memories of the botched attempt to decapitate the Third Reich.

On 20 July, 1944, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, a German count, planted a briefcase containing a bomb under an oak table during a meeting at Hitler's headquarters in East Prussia. It exploded, wounding many, but Hitler escaped with damaged ear drums, burns to his left side and a missing trouser leg. Stauffenberg was executed without trial. Other 'July plotters', including Inga's cousin, Adam von Trott, and her former boss, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, were killed.

Sipping cava in her discreetly furnished apartment in Marylebone, central London, Inga last week gave a rare interview recalling her days in the German resistance and her meeting with the man it wanted dead.

'I remember Hitler had very bad skin,' she said. 'He had bad manners and no charm. He was not good-looking: he had a chicken-skin neck with large pores. He was almost revolting.

'I was at a social occasion for diplomats, just at the outbreak of war, and Hitler went around. I was standing next to the Belgian ambassador and his wife, and she was stretching out her hand, but he didn't want it and turned to my hand. I was a very unprominent woman there, but he wanted to make the point he was not shaking the hand of the wife of the Belgian ambassador.'

She continued: 'I've tried to think, now what makes this man so attractive to the masses? You could understand little Goebbels: although he was rather an unprepossessing person and physically not much, he was quite brilliant and had more attraction that Hitler. Goring was fat, but he had a certain personality and presence and one could understand a certain amount of attraction. As a child I'd seen Mussolini two or three times, and you could understand in a way why people were impressed.

'Hitler had none of that about him. I am still absolutely puzzled how he could get where he was. I've talked to many people who've seen Hitler quite often, and talked to him and so on, and hardly any ever saw in him the attraction. I couldn't ask Eva Braun. It must have been people got fascinated by power.'

Inga, who still describes herself as Prussian, was raised to be fiercely anti-Nazi by her parents, Otto, a lawyer and banker, and Bertha, and sent to school in London. 'My father said: "German teachers all tend to be Nazi and I don't want my daughter being exposed to that indoctrination".'

But just before the outbreak of war she returned to Germany and became a secretary to Canaris, head of the Abwehr, the military intelligence service. His nickname for the beautiful 21-year-old was 'The Painted Doll'.

After the invasion of France, she followed him to Paris and delivered passports to Jews and other persecuted minorities whom Canaris wanted to protect. 'He said, you look like a French school-leaver so you can go without alerting the French police, who were rather in favour of the Nazis. I took passports to various people and most survived.'

The admiral was among German military and civilians involved in a number of major plots against Hitler, who seemed to have an animal instinct for danger and always escaped.

Inga recalled: 'Canaris said Germany will never be forgiven unless some action is taken against these criminals. The plots were in the minds of most of my friends most of the time. I knew almost everybody in the July 1944 plot and also happened to be good friends with them. My husband, Werner Haag - we married in 1942 - was among them.

'But it was a case of trying to get someone close to Hitler who could do it. General Halder, who was the Chief of General Staff at one point, always said: "Whenever I go and see the Fuhrer, I've got a loaded pistol in my pocket." I wish he had used it at that point, but the organisation had not yet developed. You lived in fear you were going to be arrested, so I took my father's advice to try to know as little as possible, because what you didn't know you couldn't talk about and betray under torture.'


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