Courageous Count: Graf von Scherwin

Spoke Truth To Power

Ulrich-William Graf von Scherwin von Schwanenfeld was a university-trained agriculturist and then in World War II a German Army reserve officer who fought Nazism and participated in a doomed attempt to assassinate Hitler. Ulrich-Wilhelm Graf von Schwerin was placed on trial for his role in the plot, and spoke out against Hitler from the stand even as the Nazi judge shouted insults at him. Shocking footage of the trial is available online (see video at end of article.)

Ulrich-William Graf von Schwerin was born in Copenhagen in 1902 to an illustrious German family. His father was a high-ranking ambassador to Denmark with the title Graf, meaning Count. His son also was a Count, although Germany no longer had an official class of nobility. When Ulrich-William was 12, the family returned to Germany, where they owned large estates in the Uckermark region.

Ulrich finished his schooling at the German convent Rossleben and attended university at the Technical University of Munich, where he studied agriculture. On November 9, 1923, at Odeonsplatz/Munich Ulrich-Wilhelm was eyewitness to the putting down of the Hitlerputsch (Beer Hall Putsch), a failed coup d’etat against the Weimar Republic by the nascent Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler. The coup failed and Hitler was imprisoned, but his national profile and base of followers had grown significantly. Ulrich-Wilhelm von Schwerin was horrified by the violent, bullying behavior of the Nazis, which went against his strongly-held Christian beliefs. He graduated from school and began administrating the family estates. He got married in 1928.

As the Nazi party’s influence in Germany grew, so did Ulrich-Wilhelm’s level of disgust. By 1935 he was convinced that the only hope for Germany was for Hitler to be defeated. In the late 30’s Ulrich-Wilhelm began recruiting personal friends, among them government officials and respected jurists, to join his resistance against the Nazi leader. When Germany occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938, Ulrich-Wilhelm was drafted as reserve officer into the Wehrmacht, the regular German army, where he became an officer on the staff of Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben. In that position, Ulrich met other high-ranking military and intelligence officials, including von Witzleben, who opposed Hitler.

Together, these well-placed German anti-Nazis plotted Operation Walküre (Valkyrie), a “decapitation strike” to assassinate Hitler. The goal was to take back control of the country from the Nazis, and make peace with the Allied nations. On July 20, 1944, conspirator Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, a German Army officer, entered Hitler’s military headquarters Wolfsschnaze in East Prussia, where the Nazi leader was holding a military conference. Von Stauffenberg carried a bomb in his briefcase. He put the briefcase under the table where Hitler sat, then received a pre-planned phone call and left the room.

The bomb detonated at 12:42 pm, killing four people and injuring 20 others. Unfortunately, Hitler survived, his only injury a perforated eardrum. Infuriated, Hitler directed the Gestapo to arrest everyone and anyone who participated in the plot or even knew about it. More than 7000 people were arrested on July 21, including Ulrich-Wilhelm.

One month later he appeared before a Nazi judge in a show trial. During the trial, Ulrich-Wilhelm took the stand and admitted his involvement in the plot against Hitler, but bravely stated that he opposed Hitler because of his many murders, at home and abroad. As he was speaking he was repeatedly interrupted by the judge, who screeched nasty insults at him, calling him a “filthy louse” among other epithets. It was a foregone conclusion that he would receive the death sentence. Ulrich-Wilhelm was hanged on September 8, 1944 and buried in Berlin. He was one of 4980 people executed for the July 20 plot.

We learned about this courageous Count from Ulrich’s grandson, Albrecht von Schwerin.

For resisting Nazism from the highest levels of the German government, and sacrificing his own life in a doomed plot to assassinate Hitler, we honor Count Ulrich-William von Schwerin as this week’s Thursday Hero.

Meet other inspiring heroes!

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