Yesterday, 20th July, was the sixty-fourth anniversary of the attempted assassination of Hitler in the FÃ¼hrer’s head quarters in Berlin. The operation codenamed ‘Valkyrie’ was carried out by high rank members of the military for several reasons. The last survivor of those military officers, Philipp Baron of Boeselager, died during the night preceding 1 May 2008.
Shortly before his death, von Boeselager was interviewed by Frank Schirrmacher, the interview was published on the website of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. I’ve translated the largest part of the interview into English for our readers, leaving out only a few anecdotes that would probably be of little interest to you. The interview is pretty lengthy, and it’s not an easy read as it was traded on just as it was held, which means you’ll find lots of colloquialisms, shifts in tenses, improper reported speech etc. in there. To keep the reading experience as authentic as possible, I decided to not do a stylistic fine cut but rather preserve the lively genuineness of the original interview through an as-close-as-possible translation. Every now and then I added a piece of information in square brackets to avoid ambiguities or a lack of understanding due to a lack of background knowledge on WW2 history.
That said, I’d like to add that with the inflationary use of the word “hero”, we – and the media – seem to forget what is really behind that term. A hero is a person that, led by a higher power (in Greek drama theory) or morale, not by command (!), will try to escape their fate respectively try to change their or others’ fate. Not every soldier that falls in battle is a hero; but every soldier that falls in battle is a partner taken from one’s side, a child torn from one’s heart, a father or mother removed from one’s hand, a brother or sister forever taken out of one’s life. Please consider this next time you cry for war when not all possibilities have been exhausted yet. According to my experience, it’s those that have never been in combat that cherish war the most.
If you still care to read on, here is the interview with Baron von Boeselager:
Is it true that you were travelling through the war with a corpse?
It was strictly forbidden back then to transfer somebody from abroad. I saw during my last break what it meant to my mother that my brother’s grave was there. Then the following year my comrade Wendt fell in battle, and I â€“ I was close friends with his wife â€“ had a wooden chest made with zinc lining. I then dug him out, which was complicated; it was frozen, and one need to burn the ground open with fuel, and then people came and wanted to extinguish the fire. We weren’t allowed to do all that afterall. In a nutshell, we managed to put him into the chest, and I took him with me.
When I got to the troops, I took him with me, because I thought one day we’ll get home. He was on my room for a year-and-a-half. And three leather cushions were on top of it, and the officers’ meetings were held on top of those, afterall, there were no chairs during the war. And everybody knew, the dead Wendt is lying in there. Nobody particularly minded. And I had him, when there was real war, with me among the impedimenta; and when there was no real war, he was in my tent or my room. And then I got redeployed to the Armed Forces High Command. I couldn’t take him on the plane with me. So I told a friend of mine, who was a forester, now dig him in and draw a sketch so he can later be retrieved.
When one has reached your age, how far away are the events of 20 July 1944?
It is really close. But I don’t tell anything about it. Later, I told my wife about the resistance, because it was over, just like the war. But there was nobody there one could talk to, they all were dead, and among others it would only have been showing-off.
Afterall, there wasn’t only just a small part of Germans that considered it treason.
With me and my parental home that was different. I was lucky; I was among the Armed Forces High Command, and back then the two cavalry divisions that my brother had put up were in Eastern Prussia, and it was apparent to any moron that Eastern Prussia was due to be invested, considering how Hitler led the war. I then went to Bonin, who was head of the operation Department, and already then Hitler was planning this absolutely insane attack with the SS-tank army heading from Vienna south-east. The last big festive attack with everything the Reich still had! And after I saw that those in Eastern Prussia are being sent to the slaughter, I told Bonin that this would be the crucial attack, both cavalry divisions, the best ones that still existed in the world, had to be involved. He then winked at me and said he’d see what he could do. Then both cavalry divisions were redeployed to Vienna even in December, January 1945 to partake in this attack.
Did you afterwards, in the [nineteen]fifties, [nineteen]sixties, have the feeling that you were regarded with suspicion because of partaking in the Resistance against Hitler?
No, we weren’t given strange looks. One didn’t talk about it, that was taboo. The matter was to re-build the house. For a long time it was incredible to normal Germans that the government was villainous. The district chiefs, individual SA-people, yes; but that the government would lie at and rob one, that wasn’t credible. And as soon as one thought that, one pushed it [i.e. the thought] away, one then didn’t want to know that.
Were you in touch with the other families of resistance fighters after the war; of course you knew that Stauffenberg had been executed?
No. We were strictly forbidden to note down addresses, nowhere of anybody. I only knew they are from Pomerania, Kleist and others, but I did neither even know who was still alive let alone where their families lived. Slowly, with Schlabrendorff and Gerstenmaier it started again that we would meet. But I, for instance, had no idea of who Schlabrendorff’s mother was, that she was from Southern Germany. Schlabrendorff was an Eastern Prussian to me. And before the war that was, as I’d like to say over and over again, a totally foreign world to a Rhinelander.
Far, far away that Prussia, the Protestants. In that context, I keep sharing that my grandfather Salis, as an official clerk in Kassel, had been summoned to the superintendent, because he had attended the Corpus Christi procession. The Prussian official clerk, it was said, was not to support the Catholic cult, and he got redeployed to Kaliningrad and took his leave. And on the other side [of the family], my great-uncle Boeselager, my grandfather’s brother, was head of the Bonn squadron and became a Jesuit after the seventies war [French / German war of 1870/71] and had to emigrate, because Jesuits were abolished in Prussia. And my father used to say that if my grandfather had still been alive, he would never have been permitted to become a Prussian soldier.
Austrian, British, indeed, but not a Prussian soldier. The hate of Prussia was incredible. And then that was taken over by the hate of French after the first war [WW1]. The Frenchmen were so clumsy. I also keep telling over and over again that I attended school in Bad Godesberg [close to Bonn], and there we walked like the cadets and it was prohibited to play, hum etc. the German national anthem on the left side of the Rhine river. French officers arrived there, and the Father, who was heading with the first [of the students], was grumbling the German anthem, and they [the French officers] wanted to arrest him [the father], but they couldn’t, Father Selen was Dutch. We were hooting with joy.
Did you talk with Stauffenberg about matters apart from politics?
I’ve never talked with Stauffenberg, not one single word. I saw him a couple of times; but it was forbidden to talk with somebody of who you knew he was in on it. Rumour had it, I don’t know whether that was true, that every third person was a denunciator. I saw him a few times, then we nodded our heads and winked at each other, but we didn’t even say a word, not even, â€œGood dayâ€.
There often was talk of Hitler’s demoniacism. Did you also feel that way?
No, I saw him a few times, at Kluge’s (Field Marshall Genera GÃ¼nther von Kluge, at who’s Boeselager was orderly officer and at who’s he also met Resistance fighter Henning von Tresckow, the eds.), and we experienced how militarily dumb he was, indeed really dumb and felonious. There was a story from autumn ’42, spring 43 where three Ukrainians came to Treskow and offered to support the army by putting up a troop if the Ukraine would preserve a certain independence during the war and would be granted teritorial independence after the war.
And Tresckow then went to Kluge with one of those Ukrainians and said there now were between 800,000 and one million Russian soldiers in German uniforms, additionally there were 3.6 million POWs, if one addressed those through those Ukrainians, then there would still be a certain chance of winning the war. Then an advisory opinion was authored by Tresckow; Kluge signed it, and the three fellows were sent to Hitler, because he had to approve of this. We didn’t hear or see anything anymore, and after three weeks one made inquiries round the back about what had actually been going on. Hitler, it was said, did not even read the advisory opinion and had the three people shot instantly â€“ as Russian elite, that would need to be destroyed. If you experience something like that when you’re already walking with the help of a cane, then you don’t get that dumbness.
Did you ever experience a decision from close-up?
Naturally, I witnessed acrimonious decisions. A few times I was at Hitler’s together with Kluge. The issue always was that he planned an attack the army group rejected or vice versa. And then Kluge bitterly fought with him and I then thought he’ll be laid off now. And then in the end, Hitler incredibly smartly put him off and said, â€œBy the way, Mister Field Marshall, I’ve sent your wife twenty-three yellow roses for her birthday. We need to reconsider the issue and take counsel with our pillows, so I’ll call you again tomorrow.â€ He didn’t call, he wasn’t available, and the order was carried out the way Hitler wanted it. But Mister Kluge fought hard there. But in those meetings I never admired Hitler.
So he hadn’t got any charisma to you?
None at all, even though â€“ one slightly sensed a feeling of power. When you arrived there, there were two SS-people standing there, then you went twenty steps, then there were two SS-people standing again. They were already breathing deeply and were glad to be permitted out of the last SS-row. Tresckow was a charismatic person. When he entered a room here, you noticed without looking. Uncommonly educated, lyrical, he recited Rilke, spoke several languages and was one of the few that had been abroad before; and that’s why he was so sceptical, and he gave Schlabrendorff, who was intelligent, the order to listen to all enemy stations and to read newspapers you could obtain at that time and he [Schlabrendorrf] had to report to him [Tresckow] every fourteen days about the military build-up capabilities of the Americans and the English. And then there were reports of that those were building ten tanks while we were building one. I overheard that and told Kluge about it, then Schlabrendorff also had to report to Kluge.
And that decision to blow Hitler up, there’s a huge debate going on. Documents have just now appeared in Russia that even prove that indeed the knowledge of the Holocaust played a role, which often was denied; this is now confirmed through interrogation protocols and then also that the decision for the Resistance was taken not when the Reich was already falling apart but at the peak of its extension. What do you think about that?
It was much earlier. In 1937, Hitler explained to the Commander-in-Chief, the Chief of the General Staff, the Foreign Secretary he wanted war, expansion eastwards, and that was the crux. Up to then they were, which Tresckow told me, were supportive of it with a few reservations. Afterall it was the build-up of the Wehrmacht, as one can imagine, but then it would have been apparent that [â€œ]war[â€œ] would mean [â€œ]lost[â€œ]. For him, there was no doubt that if Hitler wanted war, it would be lost. And in ’38 there was that attack force inside the Reich Chancellery to kill Hitler had Hitler gone into war because of Czechia. And until ’42 several attempts were made, then one wanted the Reich with the borders of ’38, that means including Austria, Sudetenland and Czechia. Afterwards it wasn’t so much about saving the Reich but to stop the crimes.
Today several historians strongly emphasize that the German elites, to which you afterall belonged, had objectively been terribly afraid of an attack by the Soviet Union. Is that true?
No, I never thought about that. I was living pretty comfortably in France. No, I mean in the thirties. I was a student then. I graduated in 1936. I was a little jittery when the war started. Coincidentally, I’d studied Napoleon’s Russian expedition very closely at school and knew that he had eventually failed because of [the lack of] supplies. And it was clear to me that supplies now wouldn’t be any better. The RÃ¶hm-Putsch in 1934, that was the crux to many. To people that possessed a certain morale, that was the crux.
What about the Nuremberg Racial Laws?
Those too, but those moved them less. Today people believe that one was concerned predominantly with those issues. No, we were concerned with soldiers like crazy, this is pretty difficult during the [army] build-up.
How did the decision of killing Hitler come about? Was this connected with the order for the Wehrmacht to not treat all Russian political commissars as soldiers but to shoot them instantly?
As head of squadron, I never received the commissar order, that one was never issued. When I was at Kluge’s, we soon heard about the Holocaust though. Via Nebe, Oster, Tresckow. (Arthur Nebe was Chief of the Reich Police Office and Commander of the SS-Task Force B, which committed numerous massacres of Russian civilians, mostly Jews; at the same time he maintained ties to the Resistance via General Hans Oster, on account which he was executed on 21 March 1945, eds.)
Nebe told you that?
Yes. Tresckow already knew before the Russia expedition that Nebe would come to him, and Oster had recommended him [Nebe] to him [Tresckow]. There were several that could be taken into consideration, but it was said that Nebe is the best, he was no Nazi.
And as a police officer he knew: crimes are happening there?
All reports regarding swinish [atrocious] happenings crossed his desk. I know exactly that much later, let’s say: during the spring of ’44, when the war was completely lost, I had a few qualms about partacking in the assassination. No personal qualms, but I knew the FÃ¼hrer’s headquarters and couldn’t imagine that Stauffenberg would get out of there again [alive]. There were those three rings around the quarters, and I’d been there a few times with Kluge. So, if it was going to be shot inside there, it was clear that the gates were closed and that Stauffenberg could never get out of there. But Stauffenberg had to get out of there, he had to sign the Valkyrie order in Berlin, otherwise nothing would start. I actually believed that this wouldn’t work out. And I also was aware of that if the assassination had worked out, the Eastern Prussians, Silesians and Pomeranians would say: If you hadn’t killed Hitler, we’d still be sitting in Eastern Prussia.
That was clear to you?
That was absolutely clear to me. One was well informed about the overall atmosphere. Eighty percent of the Germans believed in Hitler.
Didn’t you think, we’ll kill him and then, at least, we’ll maintain Germany within the borders of 1938?
No, it was absolutely clear that we’ll surrender instantly. The West was supposed to surrender immediately and then one wanted to try to achieve an agreement with the Russians as soon as possible, and that afterwards the only thing, which I knew then, there should have been free elections had everything worked out.
So you knew about the Holocaust, but did you also know about its dimension?
When I was in doubt, if one even should, I told Tresckow. Tresckow replied: More than 16,000 people are getting killed every day, we can stop that. Thus things were determined, you couldn’t have had a good night’s sleep anymore had you said [â€œ]no[â€œ]. And it weren’t Germans that died as soldiers or civilians â€“ Tresckow said â€œkilledâ€.
And when the assassination had failed?
I only received a notification from my brother â€œBack into the old holesâ€, which meant: the assassination hasn’t gone through. Whether it had failed, I didn’t know, it had been cancelled a couple of times before. And as we were riding back, in a mad pace at that, because we were riding out of the front, news arrived that the assassination of Hitler failed. Then it appeared to me, the following morning you’ll be arrested. Because everybody knew we were friends with Tresckow. I was aware that we would all get killed. But I didn’t know that Goerdeler was dumb enough to keep all names in his safe.
But how do you explain that even in December ’44 the elites of the Third Reich were making plans for ’46, ’47; that Goebbels wants to drive forth a tax reform and such things?
Let me tell you a story. Burgdorf (Wilhelm Burgdorf, Hitler’s chief adjutant, eds.) was head of the Army Personnel Office. Back then, I came to the Armed Forces High Commando as a representative of the cavalry in 1945 as my participation in [the events of the] 20th July hadn’t been discovered. And the Burgdorf invited me for a glass of wine after the meal in January ’45. One couldn’t invite people for meals anymore as one just had [food] stamps. In his flat I was the only one that wasn’t a general.
While I’m in the midst of a conversation, I suddenly hear how Burgdorf says next door: When the war is over, we will, after we’ve dismissed all Jews from the army, dismiss all Catholics from the army. Then I went up to him and told him that it was interesting for as an active officer that I’d have to look for a different profession after the war, that I had been wounded five times ad had received the Knight’s Cross for the German people, and it was interesting that I’d be dismissed immediately after the war. All of a sudden deafening silence, and Burgdorf even got a little embarrassed and stated that we’d have to look this up in detail.
That means they were living in an illusory world.
They were planning that the army would get taken over by the SS after the war.
Did you still feel fear until the end of the war?
Until the end of the war. We always flew in â€œStorchsâ€ [a type of plane] when we were close to the front, and [always] two of us, so that if one got off [the plane], one could change. The one day Model came, who had been shot and wounded in a Storch, he came back from holiday, and the following day we were flying again, and the Kluge said, â€œWhat’ll you do if you get shot down?â€, there weren’t any German soldiers anywhere. Then I said that there was nothing left but to shoot oneself. As I knew about every company in the army group. And I also knew that the Russians had the capabilities to squeeze one. So there is nothing else left but to shoot oneself. Then Kluge said, I’ve got something better. Here is a pill, take one, and then you’ll be dead within two minutes and won’t notice anything.
What was it?
That was potassium cyanide. And he had got that, he said, from his son-in-law, Professor Esch in MÃ¼nster, he was a physician. I don’t know what kind of physician he was. He’d [Esch] obtained those for him [Kluge], and he [Kluge] had several of those, and he gave us two.
When was that?
That was in ’42. But that wasn’t because of the Resistance but because of getting shot down. And I kept [the pill] on me in my pocket till 8th May [8 May 1945: end of WW2], from that day on. And after 20th July I’d always had the button open that one was required to close, and I always had some stupid excuse, because I was afraid I couldn’t retrieve it fast enough. One is afraid that when you when wake up in the mornings, the dudes are standing there.
The fear never really goes away, does it?
Yes, the fear is gone now. On 8th May, I read across the ur, near Graz, and there I took it out, from the top of the horseback, and threw it into the Mur. I had a run-in with commanding General Hartedeck, we still were in Hungary, the Russians already were in Vienna according to the SS, and we only just needed to go there, and I [went] to the commander of the neighbouring division and told him we should go back. And then we went to Hartedeck together, that all was absolutely complicated back then, and so I took a squadron with me that marched up around the orderly room, so that he saw, you [Hartedeck] cannot use your pistol here just like that, and then we entered and he reluctantly granted us that we would return behind the Mur, to the eastern edge of the Alps, so that when the Russians were getting down from Vienna, they could not catch us.
Once more back to the assassination. How did the acquisition of the explosives go about?
I then belonged to a so-called experimental troop. And of course you had to experiment with something there. I don’t know who eventually came up with the idea of the explosives. Since I’d coincidentally received combat engineers’ training in HÃ¶xter, still during times of peace, my division was charged with that. That didn’t have anything to do with the Resistance. We carried out lots of experioments with that [the explosives] then, mostly caught fish, it was very jovial.
And one day my brother called me, and I reported that the British explosives were the best, the detonators quiet, those were glas detonators, those were pretty quiet, the others all hissed so much, and that I reported pretty gullibly, and after another while my brother called me: Have you still got any of the British explosives? I said yes, we’ve got a lot, I need to inquire [about them]. Then we made inquiries and called back, we’ve still got plenty, half a centner give or take, and then he said, pack a portmanteau full and take it to Stieff (Major General Hellmuth Stieff, eds.). Then I of course was in the know. And it had been agreed on with Stieff that he’d send a man to my plane as my knee was currently damaged.
So is it fair how Stieff gets judged? Stieff always gets presented as somewhat shady.
No, Stieff was alright. But there’s a difference between carrying out an assassination and being a proper man.
Did you contemplate escape afterwards?
No. There were my Paderborn soldiers that I had trained, I knew all of them by their first names. They would have shot had anybody appeared to get me, that was absolutely certain. But that wouldn’t have been to any avail, one would have got arrested. It was clear to me that I’d take my potassium cyanide the following morning. That’s why one always rode so lightly â€“ it definitely was a shitty time.
Particularly for you as a Catholic?
My brother and me, nobody can imagine that anymore. He was the better one, the more dashing one, I mayhaps the more intelligent one, and there never was a situation where we had differing opinions in military matters. He said this and that is the situation, then I already told him what I’m doing. He never gave me orders. That worked and when he fell in battle, one could talk with him, that was terrible for me. And then I also had two cavalry captains, Heding and KÃ¶nig, Heding from Dortmund and KÃ¶nig from MÃ¼nster, they still had maps of Berlin, I’d confided in them as something might have happened.
And Heding had the last squadron, we were 1,200 men, and suddenly I heard such a bang behind, we were riding at large distances since everything was so dusty, so that the convoy was huge, and I heard something and thought that had been a mine, and then suddenly the message got through that Cavalry Captain Heding had ridden onto a mine, that was somewhat weird, the last one in the back, and that was also tragic, the horse was dead and later it was said that Cavalry Captain Heding was dead. At the very moment it appeared to me, there was a strict order among us that all personal belongings should instantly be taken from the dead one and send home. It appeared to me that now the fellow would come and take everything from him and then he would find the map with Berlin marked on it, head quarter SS1 and 2 and then we’ll be screwed. So I had to ride back and bend down over Heding lying in the trench and fetch the map out of his pocket.
Were you getting watched?
Of course they were watching me. The commander could watch it, but I’d bent down in a way so that they couldn’t see what I had. But it all was pretty unusual.
Were you then considering to confide in someone, a cleric, a confession?
No, one couldn’t talk to anyone, you had to resolve that on your own. What always got me down was that I knew, 16,000 people. Because that the war was going to be lost was apparent, things could only get worse. You know the story of the five gypsies? When I was with Kluge for a couple of days, I always received the reports from the rearward military territory, which then was still under the armies and some area in between, that was later likely to become part of the Reich. We were interested in the lay of the streets and bridges in that area, and we normally received a report every eight days. The first report I got was on 10 June 1942, the last point listed said, â€œFifth: gypsies special bath.â€ And I told the field marshall that I didn’t know what that was supposed to mean. He said that didn’t matter and the the SS-head squad leader would be there in three days time for a speech. Remind me then, and I’ll ask him.
He [the SS-head squad leader] indeed came and in the end, when he was saying goodbye, I reminded him [Kluge] and Kluge asked, what have you [SS-head squad leader] done. Well, shot. Now, why shot. A lively dispute between Kluge and Bach-Zelewski ensued, then Bach-Zelewski said: we shoot all Jews and gypsies we can get ahold of on enemy territory. That was the first time I heard it officially, not from a drunk SA-man, but from above. Then I went eavesdropping among the army group, they knew of such stories. And things gradually increased. In 1938 my cousin Kettler was personal referent of Papen in Vienna, SS-people drowned that one in the bathtub and threw him into the Danube to feign suicide.
So things added up. During March ’43 there were those assassination attempts by Tresckow in which I was involved, and on 1st April at the cavalry regiment, Captain Bettermann came to me. Bettermann was a tank commander, and I knew him from the France expedition and I knew he’s a reasonable man; he had been on the platoon with two SS-security people for two days, they had a lot of alcohol on them and shared that they had killed 250,000 Jews in [as part of] the army group Manstein SÃ¼d. And they related in full detail how they’d gone about it.
And in what manner did they report it?
They were cheery and boasted about how they had done it, how they gased them and Devil knows what else. Bettermann was absolutely appalled. So I called my brother and told him I need to get to Kluge. I reported [the above] to him [Kluge], I could rely on Bettermann, which was very important during the war afterall that you could really rely on such matters. And Kluge passed on the order to Tresckow, this must be prevented, and Tresckow then issued the order that every bureau had to stop the gathering and staging of civilians and if it happened, to report it instantly. After the war I made inquiries; no more Jews had been killed with the exception of eleven ones in Minsk.
Have you gt any explanation for that the very SD- or SS-man who boasted about 250,000 killed Jews on the platoon in 1943 has become a pretty normal citizen here in Cologne or Bonn if he didn’t get caught?
That’s why I claim that everybody is fit to [do] that. There are SS-people that in the end jumped into the incinerators after they had locked up Jews in there ten times und couldn’t bear it anymore. We are much more fit to do that than we believe.
Even the resistance fighters of 20th July?
As humans we need to be damn cautious.
Was it, if you look back now, right to at first not talk about it in the Federal Republic?
No, but you also need to understand that. Not many of the group were still alive. Globke couldn’t have talked anyway. In 1953 Eugen Gerstenmaier achieved with great effort that the widows of the executed ones would receive a pension.
When did the state acknowledge you?
The state never. Every now and then I was called to soldiers since I had been on the personnel expert committee, I knew soldiers, so I did exercises, and then they also asked me, but I’ve never given a talk on 20th July in front of soldiers. Everywhere, but not in front of soldiers.
Not in front of soldiers?
I’d have to ask my wife, I’ve been giving lots of talks over the past fifteen years, but mostly at schools, from Friedrichshafen to Bremen.
Do you believe the Bundeswehr still has got an issue with that as it now claims the opposite?
It officially claims that it doesn’t want to have anything to do with the tradition of the Wehrmacht. That is grotesque. One could say: we partly committed fellonies, but we’re glad to not have committed all fellonies.
And those few that didn’t partake could give the others the energy to see that it works in future.
It works, one can endure it.
There often is the sentiment regarding Hitler and the Third Reich, it’s enough now, let go.
I don’t feel that way. The talks are wearing me out, and I sleep badly afterwards, but I still give them, I think that if I already am the only one left, I have to wan the boys. I must warn the graduates, to who this appears to be the Thirty Years’ War. It’s already difficult to bring across to them that one couldn’t play aroud and had all the [today’s] possibilities, that it took almost a year until Valkyrie was ready, because one had to travel by train.
One cannot really imagine that anymore today. There was a lieutenant who always was on night duty to receive the messages by the armies in case anything was going on at night. I recall one called me, the FÃ¼hrer would like to know why the bridge in Hintertupfingen [common place name of an imaginary place without any real relevance] had been occupied by the Russians. You’d actually have needed to call the army, the regiment etc.. I’ll tell you that; the artillery piece that was supposed to defend the bridge got jammed, and the soldier on guard got killed with the first shot. There was no person there to defend the bridge. Alright. Done. He of course noticed that everything had been a lie, but Hitler was content.
[. . .]
In a subclause you mentioned that you’d dream badly after giving the talks?
Yes, I still see Hitler walking in front of me from here to the fireplace and think to myself, if only you had shot him. But Kluge outruled that.
You could have done it?
Without any problems, the pistol was there.
But could you have done it, I mean, mentally?
I could have, but it was prohibited. Kluge was right, I believe at hindsight. We all were angry.
When exactly was that?
On 13 March 1943. Himmler was supposed to come along as it was about an attack Hitler was planning in which a SS-tank corps was due to partake. In the end the SS-tank corps was not planned in for the attack, so Himmler didn’t come along. I had let Kluge in on the pistol assassination. I got along well with Kluge and he sat between Hitler [and me], and it would have rsulted in a bad shoot-down anyway. In a nutshell, Kluge outruled it and said there’ll be a civil war between army and SS if Himmler isn’t dead. That was somewhat justified, because all the ersatz drafts of the army had been redeployed abroad after the break-out of the war, be it to Poland or to France. But the Waffen-SS, which had 40,000 men at the beginning of the war, had 950,000 men in the end and their garrisons were all within [the boundaries of] the Reich, so that in many places there were more SS than army, and thus Kluge was possibly right.
Could you have made it? Was the SS not in attendance?
No, no, he was walking [just] like that. I was walking with Colonel Brandt, and Hitler was walking with Kluge in front [of us], and I don’t recall anymore who the third person was.
And you could, it was in ’43 back then, one couldn’t know what would happen if he was dead. You afterall had to consider to be the traitor par excellence.
It was clear to me that I’d get shot instantly by some SS-people. But then it wasn’t quite so bad because one was ebittered with Hitler. Us, the soldiers and the civilians. But command is command.
Is there still something on your chest?
I hope I could relate the following: I grew up as a non-Prussian, anti-Protestant. My hostility towars Prussians died away thanks to Tresckow, Kleist, Oertzen, Schuze-BÃ¼ttner and those fellows. And I particularly learnt to appreciate the Protestant Church, which we used to be at enmity with, and I always claim that ecumenism originated in the KZs and the resistance. Because at eleven at night we were having conversations: What will actually happen if you get killed the day after tomorrow, what do you believe will happen then? That’s how we talked about religious matters, something you usually don’t talk about among men, and naturally we grew together [bonded] as we firmly believed we’d all be dead in a couple of days. One cannot imagine that anymore.
That’s an amazing interview. many thanks, froylein.
It seems incredible that Hitler could’ve missed anyone in his zeal to kill anyone associated with the attentat.
Interesting that even now von B endorses von Kluge’s reasoning that Himmler had to be killed too (though in 7/44 Himmler was not present at FHQ and his command center was in a separate complex from OKH). We now know that by 1944, Himmler was hedging his bets and was rather slow to take any action in the hours after the 7/20 coup attempt. He later tried to open negotiations with the British and Swedish intermediaries.
Also seems a little odd that von Kluge, as commander at that point of Army Group Center, didn’t know about SS ‘special actions’ with respect to Roma, Jews etc. by June 1942. Maybe he, too, was hedging his bets.
Tom, I don’t know in how far the SS’ actions were officially endorsed as per command and I don’t know anybody off hand I could ask.
The way I understood it was that Himmler was supposed to attend the meeting, but eventually didn’t, and Kluge and von Boeselager had been given notice before. See, to be in the military in that high rank, von Kluge must, at least to some degree – just as Stauffenberg, sympathized with NS-ideology. As for Stauffenberg, it is documented that his turning against Hitler’s politics was motivated by the break-out of the war. Stauffenberg opposed the war even though he was a NSdAP member.
I’ve personally met more resistance fighters that got away, mostly because of some political reasoning. My grandpa knew von Galen’s (the bishop of MÃ¼nster whose sermons eventually ended the Euthanasia) brother-in-law pretty well. That B-I-L was a high rank military, and when Hitler was considering attempts to silence von Galen, his B-I-L made it clear to Hitler that in that case he’d take care that the entire army would turn against Hitler and his SS.
von Galen was a greater hero than any of the 7/20 conspirators, because he stood up to the regime at the height of its popularity (shortly before the invasion of the USSR). There was some thought o fkilling him, but as it turned out he got the regime to end the euthanasia campaign.
In the case of the military leadership, the issue may not have been ideology so much but the loyalty oath sworn personally to Hitler.
It was van Galen’s duty to speak out against the Euthanasia, because of his position, so according to the theory of what constitutes as a hero, he wouldn’t qualify as one. The appreciation of his courage is slightly impacted by knowing that he was aware he was in a safe spot, but at that he put the lives of those that helped spreading his sermons at risk. Granted, he was one of the most prominent figures of Catholic resistance, but in his position and under his conditions, it would have been an utter felony if he hadn’t spoken up. A fact little known, particularly overseas, is that an estimated 95% of Catholic theologians and clergy in the Reich were in opposition against the NS-rulers, a few of which paid for their opposition with their lives.
I’m not so sure about that loyalty oath thing; I know it’s often cited as the main issue military men had with opposition to Hitler, but fact is that many of them joined the NSdAP way before the war, and a large number even before the Nazis seized control of the country, so loyalty seems like a lame excuse to me. That NSdAP was the party back then that challenged the Versaille Treaty, which resonated well with the military whose ego had been greatly bruised in WW1 and who the Treaty had forced into a different career path during the Weimar Republic.
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