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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Operation Walküre

Hollywood celebrates German resistance against Hitler with a widely publicized movie featuring Tom Cruise as Claus Graf von Stauffenberg as the principal character in a coup d'état against Germany's Nazi-government. Not just an attempt to assassinate Hitler, there were numerous, the 20th July of 1944 represents the biggest and most threatening uprising to the NSDAP's reign.

Me, I am here to tell you why you should not watch this movie.

On the face of it, Stauffenberg seems to be a hero of German resistance. He plants a bomb near Hitler during a high command meeting, assumes he is dead after that bomb explodes (he was wrong of course), and sets in motion Operation Walküre which was the government's emergency plan. A circle of up to 600 people were (to some extent or another) involved in the planning of this takeover (that's how many the Nazis killed afterwards in any case), a civilian government stood ready to take over, a new army high command as well. Yet, Hitler didn't die and managed to establish contact with a young SS-leader stationed in Berlin who entered the Bendlerblock (where the German army's high command was/is stationed) and swiped out the main conspirators.

You might ask yourself now why you should not watch this movie now. The one example of a well-prepared challenge to Hitler's government after 1933 and a militantly anti-fascist, left-wing German tells you not to watch it?

Quite simply, history (and thus the movie) glorifies the wrong person. Stauffenberg is a perfect example of a representative of the conservative nobility of Prussia. An elite group of rural landowners that ran Germany until 1918, a group believing in a class society (remember that Prussia had a three-tier voting system until 1918), emphasizing social hierarchies, in general clamoring for the glorious days of the 19th century. These conservatives fought the Weimarer Republik (1918-1933) with a passion and brought about its final downfall when they coalesced with Hitler against the Communists.

Now, when does these people start rebelling against the NSDAP-regime? Think about the timing here for a second, the Soviet Union is steadily progressing towards Germany, the Battle of Normandy has been lost and Anglo-American forces have secured their foothold in France. Basically, these officers start their famed opposition against the NSDAP only when it becomes clear that Germany cannot win the war anymore. Their rebellion is not one of principle against an unjust regime, it is not even directed against the mass murder of Jews and other minority groups. No, instead it is simply an attempt to limit the effects of a possible disastrous defeat. Plans were made to offer the Allies an immediate armistice and in that way preserve Germany's existence in the border of 1914 (not even 1918!).

What these guys wanted was not a democratic, just Germany. Nor did they truly care about the mass extermination of Jews in Auschwitz et al. They were not going to reestablish the rights of Communists and Social Democrats. I could go on with this, but I feel like the point is obvious. Stauffenberg supposedly died in front of a firing squad yelling for the preservation of unser heiliges Deutschland (our holy Germany).

Yes, what they did courageous but it was not enough and most importantly it came far too late. If you want a hero of German resistance have a look at Georg Elser. But don't lend your support to the glorification of Stauffenberg. He already gets far too much credit as it is.

As Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen put it more eloquently than I ever could:
Ah, wirklich also? Ein wenig spät, ihr Herren, die ihr diesen Erzzerstörer Deutschlands gemacht habt, die ihr ihm nachliefet, solange alles gutzugehen schien, die ihr, alle Offiziere der Monarchie, unbedenklich jeden von euch verlangten Treueid schwort, die ihr euch zu armseligen Mamelucken des mit hunderttausend Morden, mit dem Jammer und dem Fluch der Welt belasteten Verbrecher erniedrigt habt und ihn jetzt verratet, wie ihr vorgestern die Monarchie und gestern die Republik verraten habt.

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