In 1943 Field Marshal Rommel returned to Germany after the German and Axis defeat in North Africa. He was unemployed and sat at home in Berlin. His close proximity to Hitler ensured that he would get a ‘safe ‘ command and not go to the Russian front where a terrible life and death struggle was being played out.
Hitler approved his appointment as the Axis commander of the Atlantic wall in France. This was a system of fortified defenses constructed on the coast of France to prevent an allied landing or invasion from across the Atlantic Ocean or the English Channel.
Rommel took over command in France and soon realized his helpless position against the air attacks of the US Air force, which was conducting the 1000 bomber raids in broad daylight over occupied France and Germany. He also saw the helplessness of the Luftwaffe in countering these raids, which wreaked havoc on German cities. At that time he formed the opinion that the war was lost and he turned mentally against his mentor Hitler.
Rommel was now convinced that the only course for Germany was to make a separate peace with the USA and England. He was convinced that this could not happen in case Hitler continued in power. Thus he veered around to the view that Hitler must go.
He articulated his opinion to a number of close aides that the war was lost and Hitler must be removed. These ideas reached the plotters who were planning to kill Hitler. One of the plotters approached Rommel and informed him that they planned to kill Hitler. All they requested him was to lend his name to them after the death of Hitler. Rommel was a famous name in Germany and the plotters felt that if Rommel gave his stamp of approval after the killing of Hitler, they would sail through.
Rommel was not involved in the nitty gritty of the assassination attempt. Thus when on 20 July 1944 a bomb exploded in Hitler’s bunker, Rommel never knew anything about it. Hitler survived the bomb attack and vowed to wreak vengeance on the men who had perpetuated the attack.
Interrogation of the suspects revealed to Hitler about the sympathies of Rommel for the plotters. He was shocked, but he could not allow Rommel to get away. So he took a fateful decision. He sent 2 senior generals to meet Rommel who gave him an option of suicide and a hero’s burial or a trial by a people’s court, wher he would be shamed and his family sent to a concentration camp. Rommel chose the first option and swallowed cyanide.