Ludwig August Theoder Beck

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Ludwig August Theoder Beck

The German general Ludwig August Theodor Beck (1880-1944) actively fought Hitler's policy of aggression. He resigned from his official position to head the military resistance against Hitler that culminated in the unsuccessful coup of July 1944.

Ludwig Beck was born in the small town of Biebrich on the Rhine on June 29, 1880. He entered the German army in 1898, and his outstanding performance in military theory quickly destined him for a brilliant career with the general staff, which he joined as a captain in October 1913. During World War I Beck held several staff positions on the Western front. The bloodbaths of the battles of the Marne and Verdun and the slow and bitter retreat of the German armies in 1917-1918 seem to have left a deep impression on him.

At the end of the war Beck, now a major, remained with the army and in the next 15 years served in a succession of command and staff positions. In October 1933 he was named head of the so-called Troops Office—a cover name for the general-staff office, which had been outlawed by the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919. In 1935 his title was changed to chief of the general staff of the army. In this position Beck played a large role in the rapid rearmament ordered by Hitler. He initially approved of this action, but he soon became wary of the aggressive foreign policy that accompanied the call to arms. In 1935 Beck attached a memorandum to an operational plan of war against Czechoslovakia in which he warned Hitler against such an undertaking and threatened to resign if Hitler should go through with the attack. From 1936 to 1938 Beck's warning memorandums became more frequent as Hitler marched into the Rhineland and prepared to intervene in Austria. In the summer of 1938 Hitler's designs on Czechoslovakia became more evident, and Beck worked feverishly for a general resignation of the entire army leadership. But he remained alone in his departure from office in August 1938.

In retirement Beck withdrew to quiet study and wrote a number of treatises on military subjects. More importantly, however, he quickly emerged—with the conservative politician Carl Goerdeler—as the center of opposition against Hitler. Beck dedicated most of the war years to resistance and to the task of planning the government of post-Nazi Germany, in which he would be head of state. Beck's supporters made several abortive attempts to overthrow Hitler's regime. Then, on July 20, 1944, the coup d'etat which was to include the assassination of Hitler was staged. But the plan failed, and Beck committed suicide on the same day.

Further Reading

No works on or by Beck have yet been translated. There is information about him in Fabian von Schlabrendorff, The Secret War against Hitler (trans. 1965), and William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (1960). □