70 years ago a group of patriots tried to save a nation. And, in my opinion, they succeeded. Still, today, people criticize the activity of the German resistance and also criticize the head of the group that attempted to kill Adolf Hitler on July 20th, 1944.
It’s hard to understand nowadays. But the whole story starts in 1918/1919. Germany lost the war, was forced to sign the Versailles Treaty and also accepted the blame that the war was Germany’s fault. Germany got crippled, lost lots of its territory and had to pay an unbelievable amount of reparations.
What Hitler did once he claimed power in 1933 – regarding foreign policy – was superb. One of the conspirators, General Friedrich Olbricht, said in 1938 that he hated Hitler from the first time he saw him. “But if he dies today, measured on his victories, his name will be one of the greatest in German history.”
It’s simply true. Saarland, Austria and Sudetenland were added to Germany, the Rhineland got remilitarized and no single shot was fired. It was a huge gamble which worked out perfectly. When he moved on to Poland, to add the lost territories, he went to far and started the war. England and France could have ended the war quickly but preferred the Phoney War. That’s a different topic, though. In addition to that Hitler revoked the signature of the “War Guilt Clause” (Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty).
Oberst Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg joined the resistance in 1942, although he started disliking Hitler years before. He was shocked by the Reichskristallnacht in 1938 and also was against the brutal treatment of civilians and prisoner of wars in the Eastern territories. Still, it took him some years because he was overwhelmed by the military successes.
With the major turnaround of the war, the battle of Stalingrad, many officers, like von Tresckow (who is, if I may say, the most honorable of the group), felt the need to act to avoid a catastrophe. The main goal was an establishment of a new government and back to morals. Also, the plot group wanted to save the German borders from 1938 and the Polish parts and get a clean peace treaty.
When the day came nobody was expecting success. Most of the conspirators just wanted to prove that not everyone was one of the monsters and that there was a will to end the war. So it happened. Almost everyone who was part of the plot gave the ultimate sacrifice and died for their country.
It’s a big shame that it took 10 years for Germany to see Stauffenberg and the other patriots as heroes. In 1954 Theodor Heuss gave a speech that started to move the public opinion towards the group around Stauffenberg.
Nowadays Stauffenberg is considered as the great hero. Unfortunately it’s only his name that is popular and well-known. Most people forget about von Tresckow, Olbricht, von Haeften, Beck, von Moltke, Goerdeler and von Witzleben, who said following words towards judge Roland Freisinger on August 7th, 1944:
“You may hand us over to the executioner, but in three months’ time our disgusted and harried people will bring you to book and drag you alive through the dirt in the streets!”
A few times I meet servicemen who think that Stauffenberg was more of a traitor. They may be right when they say that he tried to kill his comrades but he was trying to save his country and especially the people. Didn’t Stauffenberg say “Long live our sacred Germany!” moments before he got shot? They have broken the oath but Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg did the same which started the liberation of Prussia and with that, the German states.
Let me salute the ones who gave their lives for a better Germany that may have helped paving the way to today’s Germany. It’s a chapter of my country that can’t be made undone but we’ll have to deal with it. Not to put it in a drawer and take it out once in a while. But to live this responsibility.
Whenever there is a discussion about this, especially the guilt that many people want to carry around with them although they weren’t even born back then, I say the same thing over and over again:
It’s not my duty to feel guilty about what happened. It’s my duty to make sure it never happens again.