Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was head of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service from 1935 and all through the Second World War until his arrest in 1944. He was a decorated naval intelligence officer from World War I, a close confidant of Adolf Hitler’s and, from 1938, a leading member of the secret resistance with the aim of bringing about Hitler’s downfall and the destruction of the Third Reich. He was also one of the leading conspirators in several of the attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
Retaining his tenure involved constant political maneuvering to fend off attempts by Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich, who ran the RSHA (The Reichs Security Headquarters) to take over the Abwehr. Canaris was a supreme and seasoned backroom dealer; his special relationship with Hitler saved him more than once.
Canaris never joined the Nazi party, surrounding himself in like-minded men whom he appointed to high positions in the Abwehr, notably his deputy, Hans Oster, and the heads of the three Abwehr operations divisions, Oberst (Colonel) Hans Pieckenbrock, Oberst Edwin von Lahousen, and Oberst Egbert Bentivegni.
The game he played was a precarious one, maintaining the impression of a committed Nazi sympathizer while at the same time doing everything he could secretly to undermine the regime.
Other members of Abwehr known to be active in the resistance movement in Germany included Helmuth von Moltke, Hans Gisevius, Josef Muller, Hans Dohnanyi and Peter von Wartenburg.
On April 9, 1945, just a few weeks before the end of the war, the Gestapo used a noose made from piano wire to execute Admiral Canaris and Generalmajor Hans Oster in Flossenburg concentration camp.
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