June 30, 2004


Germany's underrated resistance (Uwe Siemon-Netto, June 30, 2004, UPI)

Shortly before the suicide of Maj. Gen. Henning von Tresckow, a leading coconspirator in the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, he wrote: "The moral value of a human being only begins to show where he is prepared to give his life for his conviction."

On July 20, Germany will commemorate the 60th anniversary of Tresckow's self-sacrifice and that of hundreds of others, almost all committed Christians, Catholic or Protestant. Some 200 of Germany's finest were executed for their part in this conspiracy.

Among them were 19 general officers, 26 colonels, two ambassadors, seven other diplomats, a government minister, three state secretaries, the head of the Reich chancellery, and several regional governors and police chiefs. Some -- like Col. Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, who placed a bomb almost literally under Hitler's feet -- were immediately shot after the coup's failure.

[F]or decades their martyrdom was belittled and scoffed at. "The highest personalities in the Third Reich are murdering one another, or trying to," snorted Sir Winston Churchill, then British prime minister, even though the German resistance had informed him beforehand of the assassination plan.

Anthony Eden, later British Foreign Secretary, dismissed the coconspirators as traitors to their country. To this day, the myth has survived that the resistance against Hitler was a Johnny-come-lately undertaking by reactionary militarists who saw that for Germany the war was de facto lost by the summer of 1944, and tried to rescue as much of the spoils as possible.

That there have been more than 30, perhaps even 40 previous attempts to remove Hitler, according to some historians, is still not common knowledge. As Peter Hoffmann of McGill University, has long shown, these efforts began in 1933, the very first year of Hitler's chancellorship. [...]

Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II and himself deeply involved in the conspiracy, once remarked to me that in the decades following Germany's defeat it was fashionable to belittle the resistance because the personality profiles of most of its members did not fit the fashionable left-wing fable that the heroes and martyrs of the struggle against Nazism evil were chiefly proletarians.

This fib made it possible for Nazis and traditionalists to be lumped together, he said, when in fact the opposition hailed from the upper-middle class and the nobility, whose religious, philosophical and moral values were deeply violated by Hitler and his thugs.

Almost 20 years ago in Chicago, I befriended an elderly German woman, a retired high school principal, who traveled the world trying to "vindicate" her father, Carl Goerdeler, who would have become German chancellor had the July 20 coup attempt succeeded. He was tortured and hanged in February 1945, shortly before Nazi Germany collapsed. His daughter, indeed his entire family, was liberated from concentration camp by the victorious U.S. forces. And yet it had become modish to dismiss him as just another right-winger, simply because he was a political conservative.

Her name is Marianne Meyer-Krahmer, and hers is an incredible tale. She had witnessed her father's resignation as mayor of Leipzig after the Nazis had blown up a monument to composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy in his city. This grandson of one of Germany's greatest Enlightenment philosophers, Moses Mendelssohn, was of Jewish descent, though a fervent Protestant Christian.

Financed by industrialist Robert Bosch, Goerdeler then traveled from Western capital to Western capital warning politicians and tycoons against making any deals with Hitler on the assumption that he might be a bulwark against Bolshevism. "Don't fool yourselves," he warned, "Hitler is a Leninist. First he will destroy the Jews, then Christianity and ultimately capitalism."

There's obviously nothing in it for the Left to acknowledge that Christians, conservatives, military men and combinations of the three opposed Hitler and might have succeeded in bringing him down had FDR not been blinded by hatred.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 30, 2004 5:36 PM

A fine article indeed.

Posted by: Paul Cella at June 30, 2004 5:56 PM

Paul Johnson wrote at length about Hitler's Leninism in thought and practice in his brilliant _Modern Times_, making the point that Hitler, at heart, was always a totalitarian socialist.

Posted by: Joe at June 30, 2004 6:21 PM

The Bitberg myth with new icing. Only the deadly SS committed crimes. All the good, Christian Germans had nothing to do with it.

Every history I have ever read about the plots against Hitler -- and there have been quite a few -- also talks warmly about the White Rose movement, so the idea that belittling the '44 plotters is some sort of leftwing antirelgious vendetta can't be correct.

The '44 plotters are belittled for 3 failings, two of them moral, one practical.

First, the same conservative generals who supposedly were champing at the bit to off Hitler were also claiming great conflict because they had given him their oath. Their honor was at stake.

Set aside the question whether any German's honor is worth the life of a Polish peasant, if honor was so important to them, then when they were invited into the conspiracy, their honor required them to reveal it to their Fuhrer.

They were dishonorable men.

Second, having decided on dishonor before death, they wimped it out.

Which leads to the third. Their conspiracy was halfhearted, impractical. You'd have thought that after 10 years of Hitler they'd have realized that Hitler would be as ready to hang them for sheep as goats.

Once they decided on the dishonorable course of opposing Hitler, their only reasonable course would have been to have done it a outrance. With the exception of one man, they would rather have let Georg do it.

It's possible they weren't quite sure what welcome they were going to get from the Allies. They should have been shot as war criminals. Hitler saved most of them that fate.

If the second-most powerful army in the world had wanted to dispose of Hitler, it would have.

It didn't. Therefore, it didn't want to.

Goerdeler was no general, no an oathbreaker and probably less dishonest than the average German conservative. He was also feckless.

Being feckless is not, in itself, a crime. But it is not creditable.

Some reasonable people would have objected to Hitler even if he hadn't been a Leninist, which, in fact, he wasn't..

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 30, 2004 6:44 PM

Hitler being preferable to the Communists, there was no dishonor in not getting rid of him at that point. Had America promised them help, instead of dismissing them, then it would have been dishonorable.

Posted by: oj at June 30, 2004 8:16 PM

Germany had descended into the abyss - the only way to change it was to finish the war (which really started in 1914).

I doubt if FDR was blinded by hatred - that is just too strong. The Germans were more demonized in WWI than WWII (until the facts about the Holocaust became widely known). At least no one listened to Henry Morgenthau after the war.

Harry: are American war criminals Christians as well?

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 30, 2004 9:00 PM

I've never before heard anyone accuse persons of being dishonorable for opposing Hitler. There's a first for everything.

Posted by: pj at June 30, 2004 9:55 PM

The point, though, is that all this is further indisputable evidence of FDR's __________.

Choose one:
* treachery
* malfeasance
* incompetence
* criminality
* lack of reality
* German hating
* Bolshevik loving
* lack of foresight
* idiocy
* charm

Posted by: Barry Meislin at July 1, 2004 6:37 AM


Westerners should be very careful about judging what individuals should or should not do in a totalitarian regime. Even Ghandi admitted civil disobedience could only work under British liberalism and that he and his followers would have been slaughtered under other regimes. It's fun to imagine we would all instinctively work ourselves up into a Minuteman-like rage and try to take out the SS on the street with pitchforks (and then watch our families be killed as a result)--makes us feel brave and tough--, but we don't have any idea what it is like. A few weeks ago I posted about some pretty scary anti-Semitic stuff on American campus' and asked what is to be done. As I recall, nobody had any ideas and it is hardly generating a huge public outcry or much self-sacrifice.

They were all very brave men. Some were honourable. There is a good (but not unanswerable) argument for condemning general German complaisance up to about 1936, but to extend it into the 1940's is like saying the passengers on three of the four aircraft on 9/11 were cowards.


Your fixation with the Russians leads you to forget how strong the feeling was that Germany had to be crushed once and for all. For eighty years it had bullied and menaced Europe, started several wars, challenged the British Navy and threatened everyone willy-nilly. By 1944, the Allies knew about the camps and exterminations. The entire intellectual zeitgeist between the wars was to accommodate "legitimate" German concerns and interests and to appease them, all to no effect. There was zero interest in making a deal with anyone only to have them rise again in a generation. Who can blame them? Germany had become a bacillus and Germanica Delenda Est was the war cry. The Christians and conservatives who opposed him simply waited far too long to have any credibility.

I know you hold fast to the idea that Britain had won by 1940 and Nazism would self-destruct automatically, but the entire British High Command and the Londoners hiding under staircases as the bombs fell didn't see it that way and they had become a tad impatient.

Posted by: Peter B at July 1, 2004 7:39 AM


Actually, Harry's right about Gandhi in WWII--he told Jews they should go willingly to their deaths in order to shame the Nazis.

Posted by: oj at July 1, 2004 9:32 AM

The war with Germany was the culimanation of the
rivalry between the Anglo-Saxon-Americans and their continental Germanic cousins. The war was obviously accelerated by the machinations of
the American left. But is certainly no more
about good and evil than any of the other great
fratricidal wars of European history.

Posted by: J.H. at July 1, 2004 10:58 AM

If you can't figure out that the Nazis were evil you are.

Posted by: oj at July 1, 2004 11:05 AM

Uh, how is FDR responsible for this? The US was never a real factor in European diplomacy leading up to WWII. We were seen as a feeble giant who lectured other nations, but would never actually commit any real resources to do anything. Britain and France had the same complaints about us that we have about Europe now, and Hitler had only contempt. When the generals planned to kill Hitler, they went to and were rebuffed by the French and British. They never went to FDR. And as for the plots during the war, what could we have done once it failed?

Posted by: Chris Durnell at July 1, 2004 11:45 AM

'The war was obviously accelerated by the machinations of the American left'

Not after August 1939 - the left fell into lockstep after the Non-Aggression Pact was signed.

J.H. - your description of familial rivalry must be about WWI. I doubt if a failed Austrian painter thought much about the British being his cousins.

Posted by: jim hamlen at July 1, 2004 11:49 AM

I also don't get Harry's comments. Obviously, there is a lot of attempts now to whitewash German guilt over Nazi crimes. However, I don't think you can say that is the case of the actual conspirators to kill Hitler. They paid the ultimate price for their resistance.

You can't call them dishonorable men. They were honorable men who were confronted with allegiance towards a man who violated all manner of natural law. It took them time, but eventually they choose to keep allegiance to a higher law than any oath given to Hitler. Chide them for taking so long, but it seems petty to do so. They were working their way through a dilemma and summoning the courage to kill him.

Last, you're judging them by the basis that they did not succeed, and therefore were not creditable. But they almost did succeed. Every account of the Satuffenberg bomb plot states how it was a miracle that Hitler survived. And bear in mind that they needed to do more than simply kill Hitler. They needed to neutralize Goebbels, Goering, Himmler, the entire SS, and do so throughout Germany and occupied Europe. Far from being feckless, the plot was very thorough and planned.

Also, you can't say that the history of the conservative opposition to Hitler wasn't denigrated because people write about the White Rose favorably. They were young school children standing against the system, which fits the stereotypical Left narrative. They get credit, and the generals/aristocracy don't.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at July 1, 2004 12:04 PM


The plotters approached the Allies and asked for help, but were shot down.

Posted by: oj at July 1, 2004 12:50 PM

I'm not talking about my sense of honor, but theirs.

On their own terms, they were dishonorable.

First, they claim their personal oaths prevented them from opposing Hitler.

So why didn't their honor require them to turn in the conspiracy the moment they heard of it?

Joining the conspiracy was a more moral stance than not joining, but joining it also negates their reasoning for not doing it sooner, when it would have been easier.

Did they not quite understand, as oj says, that Naziism was evil?

They were contemptible by moral standards and dishonorable by their own.

jim, I don't understand your question about American war criminals, on several levels.

You didn't have to be Christian to oppose Hitler -- most who opposed him early on were not. But by the same token, being Christian was no predictor of whether a man would oppose Hitler or not.

The claims being made for the conspirators are, morally, bogus. They were rats who could not escape the sinking ship so decided to see who could be King Rat till the end.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 1, 2004 4:35 PM

To me the real mystery will always be why the General staff did not take the Nazi's out before the invasion of Russia. That was their Rubicon, They could have eliminated Hitler, settled with the UK and and Russia and re-drawn the map of Europe and the Versallies Treaty to please themselves. After the invasion of Russia, they were stuck in quicksand.

Blaming FDR for events in Europe is simplistic. Chris and Peter are right. It was Hitler who dragged the US into the European war.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 1, 2004 5:26 PM


You're deep enough, stop digging.

Posted by: oj at July 1, 2004 5:37 PM

When they thought they were winning, they were all for it. When they realized they were going to lose, they started looking around for alternatives.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 1, 2004 6:23 PM


I know you have no time for G-d, but it really is unseemly of you to try and replace Him.

Posted by: Peter B at July 1, 2004 7:46 PM


Disciplined generals usually don't revolt - only the wild (and vain) ones do. Plus, any dictator worth his salt will take out the threats long before danger rises.

The Prussians had a strange sense of loyalty, because from our point of view, they betrayed Germany by NOT killing Hitler early on. But to them, it was an agonizing place. Of course, much of their 'compass' was set by the mess of the first war, particularly since Germany thought it had won by April of 1918, and 6 months later was staring at a shameful defeat (brought about by those damned cowboys, no less).

Posted by: jim hamlen at July 1, 2004 9:45 PM

If the German generals didn't have enough sense of self-preservation to have junked their honor and their oaths after what Hitler did to Blomberg -- in 1938 -- it is jejeune to suppose that they were capable of acting for the nation in, say, early 1941.

They did not love Hitler, but they loved Hitlerism, as long as it looked like a winner.

It is a fact that almost all Nazis were Christians, and the proportion of Christians who were Nazis was greater than the proportion of Germans who were Christians.

Now we are busily rewriting history to show that the Pope and the Church were actively opposing Naziism, although, funnily enough, no one noticed at the time; and to show that German conservative Christians were ready to overthrow Naziism, although no one noticed that at the time, either.

There really were people trying to overthrow Naziism in the 1930s and '40s, and it is no mystery who they were.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 2, 2004 1:52 PM

Of course History is being rewritten--it was the bailiwick of Marxists, with all their hatred of the Right, Christians, capitalism, etc. for so long that the conventional wisdom of the establishment, which you always perfectly reflect, is little more than a tissue of lies on most historical questions.

Posted by: oj at July 2, 2004 2:35 PM

Not on this one.

You're peddling a pre-World War II myth, of the Good Germans. Vansittart demolished that one beforehand.

Read 'Germany's Black Record,' especially the chapter on the churches.

Vansittart was, by the way, neither a commie nor a leftist. He was a conservative and a notable layman in the Anglican Church.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 2, 2004 6:44 PM

Yes, Vansittart caused much mischief by his pathological hatred of the Germans. Nothing wrong with hating them, but the very idea that there were no good ones and none we could have worked with to undermine Hitler is so obviously impossible on its face that only a fanatic could believe it--like you, but also, more significantly, like FDR. It cost many needless lives, improved the Soviet position in post-war Europe and contributed to the titanic waste of the Cold War.

Posted by: oj at July 2, 2004 8:34 PM

Didn't the German leftists (who are the ones purported to have opposed Naziism) swing behind Hitler after the Non-Aggression Pact was signed?

But more to the point, after Roehm was killed (in 1934), what real opposition was there to Hitler in Germany? People were cowed, wowed, or jailed.

Posted by: jim hamlen at July 3, 2004 8:21 AM