The Plots Against Hitler (Eamon Dolan/ Houghton Mifflin 2016)
by Danny Orbach of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs -
“Guilt, no other word carries so much significance when considering German history. Even the drama of July 20, 1944 plot to kill Hitler, staged by Col. Claus von Stauffenberg and his confederates in the anti-Nazi resistance movement, is fraught with guilt and a maelstrom of other emotions, which we view through the thick fog of myth and memory.”
“The story of the anti-Nazi underground in the German army and its various attempts to assassinate Hitler has been cast and recast in books, movies, screenplays, and TV shows. That is hardly surprising, as the story contains elements of a thriller: nocturnal meetings in frozen fields; the elaborate drama of military conspiracies; bombs hidden in briefcases and liqueur bottles; and the dramatic day of July 20, 1944, with its abortive assassination and final, desperate attempt at a coup d’etat.”
“In ten-years of research prior to the publication of Valkyrie, my Hebrew-language monograph on the resistance, I examined every primary and secondary source I could find. My research took me to some thirteen archives in Germany, England, Russia and the United States. At times I was shocked by my own findings...The representation of the resistance by such scholars is often a caricature, a ‘crooked mirror’ that teaches us more about the political bias of the scholars than about the German resistance itself.”
“The story of the German resistance conspirators, however, was essentially a military one…Previous studies have tended to focus on groups or individuals in the resistance, but almost none of them, as far as I have been able to establish, have adequately analyzed the interactions between members of these groups….How did the conspiratorial networks operate in reality, and how did different leadership styles affect the outcome of plots and their chances of success? Most importantly, we shall see how certain individuals, whom we shall call brokers and connectors, kept the networks alive by ensuring that information flowed within them.”
“In addition, we shall deal with the complexities involved in the decision of the German resistance fighters to assassinate Hitler. On the one hand, such an action offered the enormous temptation to change the course of history with one stroke. On the other, murdering one’s sovereign leader was, for most conspirators, ideologically, legally, and morally problematic. How did the leaders of the resistance, devout Christians as they were, justify the killing of their hierarchical superior, to whom they swore an oath of allegiance?”
"A particularly important source is the almost inexhaustibly rich trove of documents collected by the late professor Harold C. Deutsch and preserved among his papers at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pa."
Orbach discusses Marinus van der Lubbe - a Ditch citizen who was blamed for the Reichstag fire and was considered by many to be, like Oswald, a patsy framed for the crime.
"The only model that could work for a coup d' etat under totalitarian conditions would be an elitist underground with access to arms, and a very limited number of powerful members."
"In this book, the network structure of the German resistance movement, guided by the rule of revolutionary mutation, has been discussed."
“Until that fateful day, Stauffenberg and his coconspirators had been preparing, down to its last detail, the coup d’etat’s operational plan. They treated it – as they were trained to – as staff work, and applied careful concealment procedures.”
“When Beck, for example, visited Olbricht for consultations, he took pains to shake off Gestapo agents on his tail. First, he went to the train station and waited on the platform as if he were going to take an express train. When the train came, he sneaked into the tunnel between the platforms and took an exit to a side street, where Olbricht’s son-in-law, Fredrich Georgi, was waiting in a military vehicle. Likewise, Olbricht followed strict procedures when meeting Gisevius….”
Ah Gisevius. A key agent and operative of Allen Dulles and his cohort Mary Bancroft, who controlled Gisevius out of Switzerland.
“Originally the Valkyrie orders were designed to reinforce the eastern front in case of a sudden military collapse. Valkyrie II, a revision drafted by Olbricht’s office in the spring of 1942, authorized the Home Army to promptly deploy its units locally in case of a paratrooper attack, an uprising of foreign workers, or another emergency inside the Reich. On July 31, 1943, Olbrich dramatically revised the orders for the purpose of the coup d’etat. According to the revision, which was duly authorized by General Fromm, the commander of the home front had the authority to deploy not only his own troops but all detachments and soldiers within reach, including military schools, personnel on leave, and units in training and reorganization. They were to be organized within six hours into combat detachments and to be moved as quickly as possible, using all available means, wherever they were needed. All other existing security measures and plans were to be carried out exclusively in accordance with Valkyrie.”
“By carefully redrawing the plan along these lines, the conspirators, whose bastion was the Home Army, secured for themselves unlimited control over the Wehrmacht in Germany, most importantly in the Greater Berlin area. They also took care to practice, drill, and rehearse the plan multiple times in different military districts to improve performance and, above all, the reaction time of the troops. Wisely, it was decided that ‘the preparations must be carried through as secretly as possible. By no means should authorities or individuals outside the Wehrmacht be informed about the intentions or the preparations.’ The idea was, of course, to keep the prying eyes of the SS, Gestapo and SD away from the plans.”
“The leaders of the resistance decided that immediately upon the Fuhrer’s death, the Valkyrie orders would be sent to all Wehrmacht district commanders.”
“Hence, the conspirators of July 20, 1944, failed not because they were dilettantes but rather because they were excessively professional. A military revolt has some elements in common with a military operation, and it presumes a certain kind of ordered, methodical work; but, at the end of the day, it is very different from a military operation. More than order, it requires improvisation, even wildness – an ability to ignore good caution and to leap into the unknown. The conspirators were educated soldiers, not revolutionaries. No one had any training in the art of the coup d’etat….Professionals they were – just not the right profession.”
“After the execution of Beck, Stauffenberg, Mertz, Olbricht, and Haeften, the Bendlerstrasse was combed by SS teams lead by Skorzeny and Kaltenbrunner. They had the conspirators chained to each other, and brought them to the notorious Gestapo headquarters at Prinz Albrecht Strasse. Many were greeted with beatings…”
“Gisevius was still roaming around Germany. As creative as he was daring, he tried to hide in the most improbably place: Berlin. It seems, though, that for all his resourcefulness, what really helped him was the fact that, unlike those of the others, his personal networks went far beyond the conspiracy. Temporarily, he took refuge with friends while trying to contact the most useful, but also the remotest, part of his network: contacts with the American OSS.”
“Gisevius, as usual, had been luckier than others. While he was hiding in a Berlin safe house, his friends from the American OSS worked to save his life. ‘Good news came from Switzerland for me personally. Help was on the way. I had friends there – and friends helped. A ‘book’ given to intermediaries was to serve as confirmation to me that I could trust the messenger. A week passed – two, three, four. Then it came.’”
“In addition, Gisevius was informed that help would arrive ‘shortly.’ After months of nerve-racking anticipation, a mysterious women came into the hideout and asked him if ‘everything was all right.’ A few moments later, the doorbell rang again. Gisevius rushed out, only to see a blacked-out car racing away. A package was waiting for him in the mailbox. There, he found a Gestapo ID and a forged passport under the name Dr. Hoffmann, complete with a top-secret document from the Gestapo in Berlin. Gisevius must have been astonished: Dr. Hoffmann, it was written there, was an agent going to perform confidential and important duty in Switzerland. All officials of the government and the party were required to help him as much as they could. Gisevius left for the train station immediately. Resourceful and ruthless as ever, he showed the ID, declared himself a Gestapo agent, and secured a comfortable seat. A few hours elapsed, and he arrived at the Swiss border.”
“In conclusion, the model of connected cliques substantially increased the chance of assassinating Hitler and putting a coup d’etat in motion. However, despite the continuous efforts of talented brokers like Schlabrendorff and Kaiser, the chronic problems of coordination decreased the likelihood of success, even if Hitler was successfully knocked off stage. An improvement in one aspect increased the risk in others.
"Stauffenberg's wheel conspiracy was an attempt to increase both revolutionary autarky and control without damaging overall security. According to the pattern mentioned earlier, the task was difficult, if not impossible. On the one hand, to bolster autarky, there was a need for more confidants and partners. On the other, when the conspiracy expanded, control and security suffered."
“Stauffenberg tried to square the circle through a unique, charismatic style of leadership and ability to command….Stauffenberg set strict laws of secrecy and compartmentalization to ensure that the arrest of one member would not expose the whole network. The results were mixed.”
“The expansion of the conspiracy decreased control, as expected, but Stauffenberg’s charisma created an illusion of increased control. So great was the illusion that the conspirators believed,…that ‘both the Wehrmach and the civilian population would cheer them along. It never crossed their mind that they might encounter resistance.’ The illusion blinded Stauffenberg to the disloyalty of some officers. When it became clear that Hitler was alive, his power dissolved completely.”