Ewald von Kleist, the last surviving member of a group of German officers who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944, has died at age 90. After the war von Kleist played a prominent role in transatlantic relations.
Ewald von Kleist was born to a family of Prussian landowners on July 10, 1922, on his family's estate in Pommerania in an area of northeastern Germany that is today Poland.
Members of the von Kleist family had served the Prussian state for decades in senior military and administrative posts. Von Kleist's father, Ewald von Kleist, was an early opponent of the Nazis even before they came to power in 1933 and was arrested several times.
The young von Kleist joined the German army in 1940, and was wounded in 1943 while fighting on the Eastern Front.
In 1944, at the age of only 22, von Kleist joined the failed conspiracy of Wehrmacht officers headed by Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. Initially he had offered to assassinate Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler by wearing and detonating a vest with explosives.
After that plan came to nothing, the group plotted to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944 by detonating a bomb in a briefcase carried into the Berlin headquarters of the supreme army command, where Hitler was meeting with his aides and military advisers.
Hitler escaped the full force of the blast and most of the plotters, including Stauffenberg, were arrested and executed. The plot was turned into the Hollywood movie "Valkyrie" in 2008 with Tom Cruise starring as von Stauffenberg.
Ewald von Kleist was imprisoned but survived his detention and time in a concentration camp.
"The older I get, the more it surprises me that I survived," von Kleist said in an article in the German-language Focus magazine marking his 90th birthday in July 2012.
Patron of transatlantic relations
After the war van Kleist founded his own publishing house focusing on public education on security issues and transatlantic relations.
In 1962 he founded the annual Munich Security Conference, a forum that brings together the world's top diplomats and defense officials for talks on global security policy, especially those involving NATO affairs.
For his role in leading the Munich Security Conference, von Kleist was awarded the US Department of Defense's medal for distinguished public service in 1991, the highest award for a civilian.
His widow confirmed that he passed away last Friday at his home in Munich.
rg/lw (dpa, AP)