Like many Germans involved in efforts to kill Hitler, Mr. von Kleist was a soldier — a lieutenant in the German Army — but his family had long been active in the German resistance. In January 1944, he was 22 and recuperating in Berlin from wounds he suffered in combat when he was approached by Col. Claus von Stauffenberg to join an assassination plot.
At the time, Lieutenant von Kleist led a unit that was scheduled to meet with Hitler to show him new Army uniforms. Colonel von Stauffenberg asked Lieutenant von Kleist to take along hidden explosives, which he would then detonate at the meeting.
The Germans were losing badly by 1944. And they were busy designing new uniforms?
“I found it a very difficult decision, I must say,” Mr. von Kleist recalled in an interview for a 1992 documentary, “The Restless Conscience.”
He asked for a day to decide, and he traveled home from Berlin to talk with his father, Ewald von Kleist-Schmenzin. His father had been arrested many times for resistance activity.
“The next morning, my father said, ‘Why are you here again?’ “ Mr. von Kleist recalled. “I said, ‘Well, I have difficult decisions I have to make.’ He said, ‘What is it?’ And I told him. And he said at once, ‘Yes, of course you have to do it,’ and I said, ‘Yes, but I have to blow up with the colonel.’
“He got up from his chair, went to the window, looked out of the window for a moment, and then he turned and said: ‘Yes, you have to do that. A man who doesn’t take such a chance will never be happy again in his life.’ ”