"There were 43 serious attempts on Adolf Hitler’s life. The best known was the last, on 20 July 1944 by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. From where did Stauffenberg get his courage and strength to oppose the pervasive Nazi ideology? A major contribution was from the man he called his ‘Master’, the mystical poet Stefan George. This is a little-known aspect of the plot against Hitler.
For reasons that elude me, Secret Germany was not published in the United States when it first appeared. It was finally published in 2008 in the milieu engendered by Tom Cruise’s film Valkyrie. Of course, the German publishers were not happy with it either since they have never liked foreigners writing about this part of German History.
A year or so before my colleague and I started writing this book I was in Germany on a publicity tour for The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception and I was in conversation with the owner of one of the largest and most successful bookshops in Munich. I asked him, what do you think of our plan to write about the German Resistance to Hitler? He looked at me briefly then walked dismissively away without uttering a word. I had my answer. Our publisher too tried to dissuade us from pursuing this project. But we were adamant. It was what we wanted to explore and write. And it turned out to be a book of which we were both proud.
At first sight, this book seemed a departure from our normal territory. In fact, it was not, but this took a little consideration to appreciate. During the course of our earlier books one agenda which ran just a little beneath the surface of the prose was the desire to encourage readers to think for themselves about the world they found themselves in, to remain true to themselves rather than to follow any prevailing belief system which was trying to dominate their ideas and ideals.
Claus von Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate Hitler on 20 July 1944. He almost succeeded; had he done so then perhaps 50% of the casualties in World War Two might have been avoided.
We saw that, with Stauffenberg, was an example of a man who combined the forces of both thought and action, who had the strength to oppose the physical and ideological forces which had taken over the lives of all Germans. He was a true hero. He knew the risks and the terrible price of failure; a price that he was called upon to pay. Such a view of heroism had been expressed well two thousand years earlier: the classical Greek historian, Thucydides cites an oration by the Athenian Pericles at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War:
Others are brave out of ignorance; and, when they stop to think, they begin to fear. But the man who can most truly be accounted brave is he who best knows the meaning of what is sweet in life and of what is terrible, and then goes out undeterred to meet what is to come.
Stauffenberg was a warrior – and this is a noble path. But warriors are not murderers, are not evil men. They have an age-old instinct for a code of humanity. Hitler wanted his armies to be made up of killers; Stauffenberg and his colleagues tried to keep it one of warriors. But Hitler was forcing evil upon an army and a people: Stauffenberg stated, “I have searched my conscience, before God and before myself. This man is evil incarnate.”
As it happened, a number of my German friends were the sons or daughters of some of those heroes who joined Stauffenberg in his attempt to overthrow Hitler, and who died cruelly as a result of the plot’s failure. They arranged for me to visit Germany on several occasions and visit many former German army officers who had been involved and survived or other sons and daughters of those who had not been so fortunate. I heard stories both harrowing and inspiring, often simultaneously so.
In my meetings I was not so concerned at what happened, for example, at 3.00 pm or 4.55 pm on the 20 July. What concerned me was what seemed a more important question: where did the conspirators get their strength from to confront, totally, the weight of social pressure upon them from the all-embracing Nazi system? As Axel von dem Bussche – who had planned to blow himself up while standing next to Hitler - said to me, “No one has ever asked me that before.” It quickly became apparent that Richard Leigh and I were moving in uncharted waters.
We discovered that there had been at least forty-three serious attempts on Hitler’s life before 1944. Stauffenberg’s was the last. But Hitler had an instinct for trouble and a charmed life; he had avoided being shot by officers during a lunch, blown up in his aeroplane, machine gunned by a guard of honour, blown up at a military exhibition, assassinated during a military parade, or personally shot by his Chief of the General Staff, General Fritz Halder, who carried a pistol in his pocket to Hitler’s Chancellery every day for the task but who could never muster the courage to do it.
This book also explores a mysterious, little-known, but crucial, part of Stauffenberg’s life – his dedication to his ‘Master’, the mystical poet Stefan George. In 1907 George had published a strange and prescient poem entitled Der Widercrist (The Antichrist). It described the arrival in Germany of a figure just like Hitler; and the destruction that this figure would bring. During 1943-44, when Stauffenberg was seeking recruits for his cause, he would often hold poetry reading evenings with his brother officers. During the evening he would read Der Widercrist and look around at the eyes of those listening – to see whom he might be able to trust.
In the end we found the existence of two Germanys occupying the same territory: the cultural Germany, that of Goethe, Heine and Beethoven, and the political Germany, that of Bismark. Stauffenberg represented the former; Hitler represented the latter. The two Germanys and the two men had little in common. A fight to the death was inevitable. It was only a matter of time. As a fellow conspirator, Peter Yorck von Wartenburg, wrote to his wife the night before his execution by the Nazi machine:
I, too, am dying for my country, and even if it seems to all appearances a very inglorious and disgraceful death, I shall hold up my head and I only hope that you will not believe this to be from pride or delusion. We wished to light the torch of life and now we stand in a sea of flames."
At thirty-seven, Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg, Chief of Staff of the Reich Reserve Army, was a charismatic figure destined for supreme command. The group of conspirators with whom he conceived the plot to kill Hitler in July 1944 was called 'Secret Germany'. That was also the name of the esoteric circle in which Stauffenberg as a young man had been a disciple of the mystic anti-Nazi magus and poet Stefan George. What was it that motivated this extraordinary aristocratic soldier, with the looks of a Hollywood idol, who was said to be the only man to stare the Fuhrer down until he averted his eyes? For Stauffenberg, the bomb plot was not a political move but a moral and spiritual necessity. After forty-two serious attempts on Hitler's life in the previous twenty years, why did he too fail? Had he succeeded, some say he would have become the de Gaulle of Germany, saviour of the nation soul. Even in failure, there can be no doubt of Stauffenberg's heroism. He stands as atonement for the Third Reich and a resolution of the conflicting myths of German culture. In this remarkable investigation, his whole life explains a troubled past to the present generation of Europeans as few have done in recent history.
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"Five stars for content. A very interesting look into the forces at work in the body politik of the 3rd Reich, before-during-after."
By July of 1944, the Third Reich's days were numbered. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a general staff insider with open eyes (and access to the Führer), was convinced that assassinating Hitler was the only way to prevent the destruction of the Fatherland and the deaths of millions. On July 20, he hid a bomb-stuffed briefcase at a high-level meeting. The explosion tore through the room, but a table leg spared Hitler from the blast. The result was a witch hunt, a wave of executions, and a further pointless year of war. Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh deliver an exhilarating and definitive portrait of the anti-Nazi movement (called "Secret Germany") that almost killed Hitler. Secret Germany is the story of "World War II's boldest plot-that-failed" (Time), a coup that was a moral and spiritual necessity.