Review: Guarding Hitler: The Secret World of the Führer, by Mark Felton

According to author Mark Felton, the people put in charge of keeping Adolf Hitler safe and well actually created the modern practice of body-guarding, sometimes known as ‘close protection’. The U.S. Secret Service, among others, is in their debt.

And yet, despite the extraordinary lengths to which they went to ensure the safety of the German dictator, Felton’s book documents numerous cases where potential assassins got very close. It was Hitler’s notorious luck, and not his bodyguards, who kept him alive.

The most famous case was the 20 July 1944 attempt at Hitler’s headquarters near the Eastern Front, known as the “Wolf’s Lair”. Though the German army and SS spared no expense to protect their boss, in the end no one bothered to check the briefcase brought into a conference room — and left there — by Oberst Claus Schenk Count von Stauffenberg. In his briefcase was a British-made bomb, primed to explode.

The excuse made by Hitler’s guards after the event was that no one could imagine that an officer of the German army’s general staff would do such a thing. After the attack, protocols were changed and it was no longer possible to carry one’s bags into meetings with Hitler unless they were thoroughly searched.

In a sense, we have learned little from the experience of these guards, for we continue to ‘fight the last war’, ensuring that our shoes are x-rayed before we board an aircraft and our water bottles emptied. Often, leaders are spared assassination and we do not become victims of terrorist attacks not because we have mastered the security issues involved, but out of sheer luck.