Carl Goerdeler and the Conservative Opposition to Hitler

Nazi Germany, Personalities, Resistance and Opposition

Carl Goerdeler is best remembered for his opposition to Hitler and his involvement in plots to overthrow the Nazi regime. Goerdeler was one of the main instigators of conservative opposition to the Nazi’s during the war. Prior to the war he had served as a senior government official in the Weimar Republic and in several positions, most notably as Price Commissioner, in the Nazi Regime.


Goerdeler’s early career was one of a well thought of and highly efficient economist and administrator. He served as a Civil Servant before fighting on the Eastern Front during the First World War. Following the war he joined the DNVP, a highly conservative party that opposed the Treaty of Versailles and had many links to the pre-war regime. He was elected as Mayor of Konisberg and later of Leipzig. His success in these roles led him, in 1931, to be appointed Reich Price Commissioner.  This role involved ensuring that the deflationary policies of the then chancellor, Bruning.

Goerdeler was very good at his job. Upon the fall of  Bruning’s government, he was touted as a potential replacement as Chancellor. He also turned down the opportunity to serve on the Cabinet formed by von Papen.

Goerdeler continued in his role as Mayor of Leipzig following the assumption of power by the Nazi Party. His frequent messages to Hitler clearly worked in his favour. In 1934 he was reappointed as Reich Price Commissioner, an important role in the overall organisation of the Third Reich’s economic policies.

Goerdeler’s first signs of opposition to Hitler and the regime related to the treatment of the Jews. He disliked the Nuremburg laws and did not like having to enforce them as Mayor of Leipzig. He also began to clash with the leadership in relation to economic issues. He wanted expenditure to be on foodstuffs, rather than rearmament, for example. However, he still worked closely with the Nazi leadership, penning memoranda for the likes of Goering and Hitler to consider. However his vision for the economy was at odds with Hitler and Goering’s desire for rearmament and his ideas were dismissed.

Goerdeler left office as a result of arguments about a statue. He did not want a statue of Mendelssohn to be moved. The party hierarchy did, as Mendelssohn had Jewish ancestry. As a result of this argument, he declined to resume office as Mayor of Leipzig when his term came to an end in 1937.

After leaving his positions as Mayor of Leipzig and Reich Price Commissioner, Goerdler took up a position as overseas Sales developer for Bosch. This position allowed / required him to travel widely and coincided with his opposition to the regime firming up.

Goerdler regularly met with other opponents of the regime and transmitted these ideas to contacts outside of Germany. He gave the British the impression that there was an organised opposition movement and urged for Hitler’s Foreign Policy to be opposed by Britain, France and the United States. Within Germany he increased his contacts with potential opponents of the regime. In particular he attempted to persuade leading military officials to consider joining a putsch against Hitler. This tied him closely with Ludwig Beck and led them to begin coordinating their opposition.

Hitler’s Foreign Policy moves brought the opponents closer together. Goerdler, Beck and other conservative opponents of Hitler became increasingly alarmed by actions planned against Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia. Whilst they were quite different in their overall aims, they had in common the belief that Hitler was now out of control and in need of replacing, or removing permanently.

A group of officers made plans at this time to implement a putsch. They assumed that Hitler would invade Czechoslovakia. They also assumed that the British and French would declare war as a result. Finally, they believed that a quick and successful putsch would not be opposed by many of the conscripts within the army. The plan appeared to be straightforward. Goerdler spoke to British officials of the plans for a putsch. However he made lots of demands of the British. They included territorial demands – which appeared to contradict the groups opposition to Czechoslovakia being invaded, asked for loans and offered free trade in return.

The 1938 Putsch plan hit a snag though. The British opted for appeasement. They allowed Hitler to take the Sudetenland. The Munich Agreement dealt a decisive blow to the plans for a popular uprising against Hitler. Far from it, the Munich Agreement made it harder to envisage popular support for a regime changing Putsch.

Goerdler continued to look for ways to undermine Hitler and to prevent a war. Inadvertedtly, he almost succeeded. He was fed false information by Abwehr agents who themselves opposed the idea of a war breaking out. This information was believed by the British and led to Chamberlain making a clear statement about the consequences of any German agression on her Western Front.

Following the invasion of Poland and into the period known as the Phoney War, Goerdler continued to press the Generals to undertake a putsch. He was rebuked. He also continued to use his connections with the Nazi leadership to press for a cautious approach and changes of policy. This was noted by Hitler himself who was increasingly irritated by conservative attempts to intervene. However at that stage, Hitler still needed the conservatives and the plotting of a putsch was not known.

1940-42 saw Goerdler expand his network of opponents to the regime. He drew up plans for a Post regime Germany. He also protested about the treatment of the Jews in the City of Leipzig, where he had been mayor. His resistance activities gathered pace following the halt of the advance into the Soviet Union. The Battle of Stalingrad saw moods change and more people were willing to contemplate action against the regime.

In 1943 the opposition group gained new members. Field Marshall Kluge expressed his support and von Stauffenberg joined the group. Now Goerdler and his fellow conspirators met and plotted regularly. They drew up a replacement cabinet to form a government in the event of a successful putsch. They debated the return of the monarchy. They discussed a variety of plans for assassinating Hitler and forcing regime change. Goerdler boasted on one occasion that the putsch would be ready for September, 1943.

As it was the group were not in a position to attempt a putsch by September 1943. It was not until the summer of 1944, following the D Day landings, that they were realistically in a position to undertake a putsch. The Putsch itself was largely organised by Stauffenberg; the new Germany however, was the blueprint of Goerdler and Beck.

The idea of this putsch was delayed several times. On 20th July, 1944, it was finally put into action. The July Bomb plot failed.