Small as it may be, Saltcoats has its share of heroes and history. Everyone knows that the town got its name from the salt harvesting industry which formed it. Some might know it was once home to Colin Hay of Men At Work fame (however he did quickly relocate to a Land Down Under). Perhaps fewer people know that it was the only place in Scotland where the Italian ice cream shops didn’t get their windows tanned in amidst the anti-Italian sentiment that swept through the country during WW2. Interestingly enough, it’s got another claim to fame, being the birthplace of one of the men that tried to assassinate Hitler in 1944.
That man was Otto Kiep, born in Saltcoats in 1886 while his parents were on holiday there. The family were already well respected within Glasgow society, with Otto’s dad working within the Imperial Consulate at the turn of the 20th century. Otto’s cousin would even go onto serve in the British Army. Otto however eventually returned to Germany to study law and take up a job within the German civil service after World War 1.
Despite inadvertently being part of the Nazi government, Otto was not happy serving under Hitler or following the Nazi party line, once losing his job because he attended a dinner in New York in honour of Albert Einstein. Celebrating an openly socialist, anti-Nazi Jewish German academic was not something a member of the German administration at that time was meant to be doing. Otto recovered from losing his position however and returned to a government role, secretly joining the “Soft Circle”, a German resistance organisation that would work from within the German government and attempt to bring down the Nazis. Their meetings would discuss the on-going war and occupation of Europe as well as organising aid to Jews and political dissidents across Nazi Europe. This group included Germans from all across the political spectrum (at least the parts that weren’t already apprehended) and all walks of life that were opposed to Hitler.
Unfortunately Otto- along with most of the Soft Circle- was later betrayed by a Gestapo informant. For nearly a year Otto was held in prison where he faced abuse and torture.
Otto was, however, also part of another group of German resistance, the far more militant Kreisau Circle. Composed mostly of military men, this group had a more focused idea on how to topple the Nazis and kill Hitler. While there were many plans, the most notable- especially in regards to Otto- was the July 20th incident, where a member of the Kreisau Circle placed a bomb in Hitler’s bunker. The bomb unfortunately failed to kill the Fuhrer, and Otto, despite being in jail at the time of the attempt on Hitler’s life, would soon be killed for his involvement with the group. Around 4000 others would face the same fate in the aftermath.
From this point onwards we know the rest of the story. Hitler would be dead less than a year after Otto, and the Soviets would go on to occupy Berlin, ending the war in Europe. We do have to ask ourselves how would history have been different if Otto hadn’t been caught along with the rest of the Soft Circle, and if the attempt on Hitler had succeeded? Would the war have ended sooner? Would more lives have been saved?
Today Otto is remembered by the German Resistance Memorial Centre for his opposition to the Nazis, and I think with him being an Ayrshire boy, at least by birth, he should be remembered by us as well.