General Friedrich Olbricht was the first of literally thousands of Germans to fall victim to the National Socialist purge that followed the failed coup of 20 July 1944. It is fitting that he should die first, because -- with the exception of Generaloberst Ludwig Beck, who died almost simultaneously -- no other figure in the German Resistance to Hitler had been such a consistent and effective opponent of the regime.
Olbricht was an opponent of Hitler from before he came to power. This was because on the one hand he recognized Hitler's demonic and dangerous character; and on the other hand he had been one of the few Reichswehr officers who served the Weimar Republic with conviction and sincere loyalty. Because he did not view the Republic as a disgrace and long for some kind of national 'renewal,' he never allowed himself to believe that Hitler and his movement might be a positive force for the restoration of German honor and power.
Furthermore, because Olbricht recognized the legitimacy of the Republic, he discerned the illegal nature of the Nazi regime from the very start. Nor was he enchanted by Hitler's early successes. Regardless of how much he may have welcomed an expansion of the Reichswehr, he saw the murders of June 30, 1934 as the barbaric acts of lawlessness that they were. He did not look the other way or rationalize what had been done. As a result, his moral standards were not corrupted by rationalization of, much less complicity in, crimes. Because Olbricht's opposition and resistance were motivated by moral outrage at the policies and methods of the Nazis, his opinion of and attitude toward the Nazi regime never softened despite internal and international successes.
By 1938, Olbricht's opposition to the increasingly dangerous and lawless Nazi regime had reached the point where he was prepared to consider a coup d'etat against the government. From 1940 onwards he belonged to the inner core of a conspiracy centered around Generaloberst Beck, which actively sought to bring down the Nazi regime. Starting in early 1942, he developed the clever tactic of using a legitimate General Staff plan, Valkyrie, as the basis for a coup against the government. By the end of 1942, according to Gestapo reports, he argued "with increasing urgency that the military must act regardless of how difficult the coup might be." After two failed assassination attempts in early 1943, he recruited Claus Graf Stauffenberg for the Resistance. On July 15 1944, he issued the Valkyrie orders two hours in advance of the first possible opportunity for the assassination.
On 20 July 1944, Olbricht waited only for confirmation that an 'incident' had occurred before he set the coup in motion for a second time in the same week. Once the coup started, he was, according to all accounts, consistently energetic and forceful in trying to drive the coup forward to success. He did not call it off when Keitel denied Hitler was dead, and he arrested Fromm and others. If one gives credence to the reports of eyewitness -- rather than the most-mortem commentary of historians -- at no time on 20 July did Olbricht hesitate or lose heart.
As for Claus Graf Stauffenberg, all his burning desire to 'save Germany' would have served him little if his next assignment after his severe wounds in North Africa had landed him in any other of the almost infinite number of jobs available to a German army lieutenent colonel in the summer of 1943. HIs energy and commitment would have brought no benefit to the German Reistance if he had found himself serving, say, on the staff of Military District XVII in Vienna, or -- as a former cavalry officer -- as coordinator of the supply remounts for ain increasingly horse-dependent Wehrmacht. But Olbricht chose Stauffenberg as his new Chief of Staf and so gave him the opportunity to become one of the leading figures in the German Resistance to Hitler.
Olbricht and Stauffenberg worked together well. Stauffenberg brought fresh energy, fresh perspectives and new dynamism to the coup, but he did not replace Olbricht. Rather he complimented him. While Olbricht was disciplined and mature, canny and experienced, Stauffenberg was passionate, flamboyant and creative. Olbricht and Stauffenberg saw themselves as a team, as comrads, working together towards the same goal. And no description of Olbricht and Stauffenberg would be complete without mentioning that htey liked working together. One of the secretaries who worked in the small office between their respective offices reported: "When the two of them were together, you heard so much laughter, just laughter."
It is Olbricht's tragedy that his pivotal role in the German Resistance to Hilter has been overshadowed by others and his contributions underestimated, demeaned or forgotten.
(The above is paraphrased from the concluding chapter of Codename Valkyrie: General Olbricht and the Plot against Hitler, by Helena P. Schrader, Haynes Publishing, 2009.
(Kindle edition: Hitler's Demons: A Novel of the German Resistance.)