Saturday, January 21, 2012

Book Review - Plotting Hitler's Death by Joachim Fest

I purchased this book secondhand at the Save The Children Fund Giant Book Fair. It cost $12 which I thought was quite pricey but it was in mint condition. Retail price was $45. The German resistance to Hitler is not a subject that's been discussed too much in the West, I feel. So, I thought that it would make for some interesting reading.

You'd be forgiven to think that this book would be all about Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg and his assassination attempt that was depicted in the movie Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise. Stauffenberg isn't really spoken about until chapter seven. I have seen the movie but found it a little difficult to relate to or follow as I wasn't aware of the story behind it.

Apparently there were 16 assassination attempts on Hitler but not all of them are mentioned in this book. It focuses on the main proponents of the resistance, a term not coined until after the war, and their inability to agree on a plan to put an end to Hitler's rule over the years. For too long they waited for the right moment or for justification to launch their coup and also fought amongst themselves whether Hitler should become a victim of tyrannicide or not. Their Christian beliefs made it difficult for them to commit to assassination. The book is slow going to start with as not very much happened that was exciting between 1933 and 1944 in terms of assassination attempts. They were too busy planning, not obtaining enough support or too scared to carry through with a plan whilst their conscience pressured them. Can't say I blame them when living in a police state however.

The book makes it reasonably clear that the Allies did not assist the German resistance as their every move was considered to be treasonous. Hindsight tells us that one man's treason could be the whole world's saviour.

The most interesting point about the book is the incredible depth of research that has obviously taken place. It is written in such a manner as you can almost feel that you were in the meetings of the German resistance or in Hitler's Wolf's Lair at the time of Stauffenberg's assassination attempt. There is so much depth that it is almost like reading in real time. There's no jumping around to lose track of time. It is beautifully written and, I feel, an outstanding piece of work. Highly recommended for historically important events that haven't received the significance that is deserved. A fabulous book although quite slow in parts.

Two things slightly disappointed me. Firstly, the fact that my version was printed in the US and written with US English spelling. Minor gripe from a pedant though. And secondly, the captions on many of the photos revealed too much of the upcoming work that would have been better not to have been revealed a page or two too early.

Time for some quotes:

- Even more decisive, however, were Hitler's tactics, which quickly undermined the willingness of the republic's supporters to take action. They had always assumed that the Nazi leader would stage a coup and had prepared themselves exclusively for this eventuality. But Hitler's experiences during his long rise to power, especially the well-remembered failed putsch of November 1923, had persuaded him that it was best not to be seen seizing control through overtly violent means. Having risen to chancellor through constitutional channels, he was not about to stigmatise himself as a revolutionary.

- A coup achieved through legal channels was something thoroughly unknown. The classical literature on resistance to tyrants, stretching back to the days of the ancient Greeks, dealt exclusively with violent seizures of power; there was no talk of silent takeovers through outwardly democratic methods, of obeying the letter of the law while mocking its spirit. By leaving the facade of the constitution in place, Hitler hopelessly confounded the public's ability to judge the legality of the new regime, to choose whether as good citizens they should feel loyal to it or not.

- It always required an element of terror, he (Reichenau) said soon after assuming his new position, to purge a state of all its rot and decay.

- The presidency was the last bastion of army independence. This office and the powers attached to it were all that separated Hitler from outright dictatorship. (It was Hitler's merging of the offices of president and chancellor, which was an open violation of constitutional law, which provided him with absolute authority in Germany.)

- Venerable institutions are much more commonly laid low by their victories than by their defeats, especially when the true nature of those triumphs is disguised - as it so often is - or when it transpires that they are not in fact victories at all.

- During the Fritsch crisis the F├╝hrer had confided in a member of his cabinet that Beck was the only officer he feared: "That man could really do something." (Ludwig Beck was anointed to become the provisional head of state should Stauffenberg's assassination attempt have been successful.)

- Dictators do not allow themselves to be driven into things, because then they would no longer be dictators - Manstein's comment at the Nuremberg trials.

- "We should have gone to war in 1938. That was our last chance to keep it localised. But they gave in everywhere. Like cowards they yielded to all our demands. So it was very difficult to initiate hostilities." - Hitler

- "You can't wage ware with Salvation Army methods." - Hitler referencing the brutality used against the Poles in 1939.

- In the years that followed, it was these brilliant successes, much more than opportunism or personal weakness (although they also existed), that generated the mysterious confidence in Hitler's genius that always seemed to resurface despite setbacks.

- Only a complete collapse and widespread acceptance of the inevitability of defeat and the ensuing chaos could create the necessary preconditions for the great internal revival on which the future depended.

- Most of the politicians and military leaders whom they unsuccessfully courted in London, The Hague, and Washington still believed, however, that these Germans were committing "treason" and therefore regarded them with contempt. There was no appreciation of the fact that the opponents of the Nazi regime felt guided by new principles and laws whose legitimacy did not end at national borders.

- Canaris - exemplified the dilemma of many torn between emotion and reason. They felt proud of the restoration of German might yet were well aware of the repellent ways in which it had been achieved. They took great professional pleasure in their successes yet despaired over the "gangster methods of the regime." They recognised that a catastrophe was looming for which they bore some responsibility yet felt paralysed by such honourable principles as duty, loyalty, and a job well done.

- He (Hitler) had once said that avoiding such a predicament (the waging of a two-front war) was a fundamental principle of German foreign policy. "Time, always time!" he later grumbled.

- To Mussolini he (Hitler) said that he felt like someone who had only one shot left in his rifle as night began to fall.

- Their motives (Hans and Sophie Scholl) were amongst the simplest and, sadly, the rarest of all: a sense of right and wrong and a determination to take action. (Siblings arrested while throwing hundreds of leaflets from the gallery of the atrium at Ludwig-Maximillian University in Munich speaking out vehemently against the regime and the moral indolence and numbness of the German people. In a special session of the People's Court, they were tried in less than three and a half hours and sentenced to death with their executions taking place later that day.)

- ... the attitude of most of the officers: their indecision, their narrow-mindedness, their ambivalence, and ultimately their servility.

- A dictatorship cannot be put on a democratic footing over night." - Julius Leber

- "He who has the courage to act must know that he will probably go down in German history as a traitor. But if he fails to act, he will be a traitor before his own conscience." - Stauffenberg

- "But even worse than failure is to yield to shame and coercion without a struggle." - Stauffenberg

- ... the German resistance remained what it had always been: an expression of feelings that may well have been widespread but that only a tiny minority was prepared to act on.

- Far from representing a tightly knit social elite hoping to regain its lost preeminence, the opposition to Hitler consisted of a motley collection of individuals who differed greatly in their social origins, habits of thought, political attitudes, and methods of action.

- German philosophy is often said to be rather removed from reality, and this characterisation certainly holds true for the German resistance.

- Public reports of the trials were quickly cut back and then stopped entirely in what was probably the most searing propaganda defeat the regime had ever suffered.

- No amount of success justified the government's crimes.

- On the night of July 20, 1944, Hitler addressed the German people by radio, claiming that "a very small clique of ambitious, wicked, and stupidly criminal officers forged a plot to eliminate me and, along with me, virtually the entire leadership of the Wehrmacht." (The officers were stripped of their military rank so as to be tried in the People's Court and they, and their families, numbered in the thousands in fact. Their numbers were so great that Hitler eventually forbade reporting on the trials or the subsequent executions.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The sick thing is it happens everyday. A blood thirsty power hungry banker tries to play God but, never wins in the end. Protect yourselves and be aware of the scams. Johnny