The Tom Cruise movie " Valkyrie" popularized the issue of resistance against the Nazi Regime. Unfortunately, the movie depicts only the sizzling action of the failed assassination attempt. The producer does not even attempt to explain the complex character of Count Claus von Stauffenberg, who who represented the one beacon of hope that pierced the dark cloud of tyranny which had settled over Germany.
Unfortunately, the bomb failed to kill Hitler. Nearly six thousand men and women were subsequently murdered in the wake of Hitler’s revenge; many strangled in front of cameras. Hitler gloated while watching these executions captured on film.
Stauffenberg was one of the first to die, his body shattered by bullets, burnt to ashes, and scattered over unknown fields. His pregnant wife Nina was arrested by the Gestapo, confined to a prison then later to a concentration camp. Though their children were given up for adoption, all survived the war and later reunited.
I was born in 1958, the son of a highly decorated World War II tank commander and grew up in the house of family Stauffenberg.
In this book I recalls my childhood growing up in the house of a postwar German hero and questions my fathers war accomplishments as a WWII tank commander.
I learned first about Stauffenberg’s heroic action from my father who dismissively called him a traitor.
My father, a German officer like Stauffenberg, was sworn to defend and obey Adolf Hitler. He grudgingly admitted to me that he knew about the murder of Jews but chose to ignore it; his inaction in stark contrast to the decision made by Stauffenberg. My father’s inability to admit to what I saw as his mistakes led to conflict and the dissolution of our relationship. From conversations with Stauffenberg’s widow and personal study, I tried to discern what, unlike my own father, had motivated Stauffenberg to break his oath and attempt tyrannicide.
According to close confidants who survived Hitler’s revenge, Stauffenberg received reports about the mass murder of Jews and was convinced of their authenticity. He himself witnessed the events of November 9-10, 1938, euphemistically called Crystal Night, when most synagogues in Germany were burnt down. Ninety-one Jews were killed and an estimated 20,000 were sent to concentration camps. This not only symbolized the beginning of the end of Jewish life in Germany but also convinced Stauffenberg that such a tyrant had to be removed from power.
Stauffenberg’s strong personal sense of religious morality and justice conflicted with his commitment as an officer sworn to defend his nation. He discussed Hitler’s removal from power with close friends and confidants but at the same time continued to serve his fatherland in the war, which had turned Europe into an inferno. He himself was almost fatally wounded in North Africa in 1943, yet despite crippling injuries, he joined existing resistance groups, eventually emerging as their leader.
In the absence of suitable candidates he volunteered to carry the bomb and tried at least twice to detonate it in front of Hitler even if it meant sacrificing himself. On that fateful day the third attempt to kill Hitler failed. One can only imagine how many lives could have been saved had he succeeded.
What did I learn from his bravery? That a solid ethical and spiritual foundation and commitment to act along those principles defines a moral person. Furthermore, that as citizens of any country, we should not blindly follow our leaders but must critically judge them, finding the courage to object and even to disobey.
Stauffenberg was not a martyr or tragic hero. He was a man who followed his mind and heart. His sacrifice reverberates as a timeless message of hope throughout my life. We should not forget him and all the other men and women of July 20, 1944.
Their sacrifice gave hope for a new generation of Germans like me.