Archives For History

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. Almost on his own, Hitler added the Saarland, Austria, and Sudetenland to Germany; the Rhineland got remilitarized, and no shots fired. It was a huge gamble which worked out perfectly. When he moved on to Poland, to add the lost territories, he went too 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 ten 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 famous 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 the in particular 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 to pave 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.

Henning von Tresckow - bundeswehr.org

Henning von Tresckow

Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg - bundeswehr.org

Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg

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Exactly 200 years ago, on March 10, 1813, the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III established the Iron Cross. It was supposed to be only awarded for brave actions during the War of Liberation against Napoleon that started later after the king’s proclamation “An mein Volk” which was published on March 20, 1813. The text was written on March 17, 1813, by the way. What a coincidence I’m born on March 17…

 

Iron Cross 1813 (Friederich-Wilhelm III)

Iron Cross 1813 (Friederich-Wilhelm III) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyways, Napoleon got defeated in 1815 when the allies fought him at Waterloo. The Iron Cross became the symbol of a new era. It became a symbol for equality. Equality because it was the first award that was for everyone. The Pour Le Mérite was only for officers, but the Iron Cross was for the lower ranks and for the officers. But it was also a symbol for the military reforms that are still the basis for the current German military: Conscription was implemented, but it was a short conscription to create many reservists. The military reformers Gneisenau, Boyen, and Clausewitz, wanted to bring the army and the population closer to increasing patriotism. Another new feature was a significant change in the officer corps. Non-royals were allowed into the higher officer ranks, and promotions/demotions depended on actual performance. Although not everything worked out as planned, it was important.

 

In 1870 the award was handed out again during the Franco-Prussian war that ended in 1871 and united the German nations to the German Empire. From 1871 on, it was also the insignia of the German military.

World War I is the next chapter in the history of Das Eiserne Kreuz and the first war that resulted in defeat. While it was still a Prussian decoration, it became more or less a German award. This changed though in World War II when Hitler made this a German decoration. WW2 is definitely the darkest chapter in the Cross’ history. No doubt, most of the recipients had great skills, but most of them were also brutal murderers and fascists. Hitler added the Knight’s Cross with multiple degrees (the Iron Cross from 1813 – 1918 had three degrees) to the Iron Cross and the guys that earned these awards are prominent names, for example, Rommel, Marseille, Rudel, Mölders, von Manteuffel, Galland, and Nowotny.

English: Badge of Honour of the Bundeswehr Deu...

Ehrenkreuz der Bundeswehr für Tapferkeit (Photo credit: wikipedia.org)

 

Germany rebuilt its military in the 1950’s and in 1956 the Iron Cross became the emblem of the new Bundeswehr. For more than 50 years the German military had no award for bravery, and in 2007 a petition came up for a new Iron Cross. Of course, there was opposition against an Iron Cross and a year later the Ehrenkreuz für Tapferkeit (Cross of Honor for bravery) was invented. It’s not like the traditional Iron Cross, but at least the cross is formed like an Iron Cross. Before there were several variations of the Cross of Honor for exemplary and meritious service but the cross to the right with the oak leaves was important. Since 1999 Germany sends men and women to countries like Kosovo and Afghanistan and they do a hell of a job. It was the time that they get some recognition because the Bundeswehr’s reputation is more of a beer-league football team whose officer don’t order, they ask their subordinates politely to do something. This time is gone.

Nowadays nobody remembers the history of the Iron Cross. It’s sad because it has a long history, as you see. Most think it was a product of national socialism. But it is a symbol that defined Germany and Prussia in both ways, good and bad. Of course whatever happened in WW2 was wrong and cruel. WW1 wasn’t solely our fault, and 1870 wasn’t very right either but could we please not forget 1813? Could we please remember the men that fought for freedom and the cross that became a symbol of hope and bravery? A symbol of the uprising against Napoleon who scarred Germany for years?

200 years later this symbol stands for hope and bravery again.