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Posted: 1/25/2009 1:50:18 PM EDT

The national hero dividing Germans

The film Valkyrie tells the story of an attempt on Hitler's life by an army colonel, Claus von Stauffenberg, played by Tom Cruise. In Germany the question whether it does justice to the German Resistance is being fiercely debated, as Dan Payne discovered.

If you are getting off a train while on your way to meet a contact in an historic part of Stuttgart, it is a good idea not to graze your right hand against a door hinge so hard that you lose most of the skin from your middle knuckle.

I know, because this is just what happened as I was struggling to reach an appointment with Christopher Dowe.

Luckily, he was very understanding when we met, and even helped to dress the wound, though I can't help wondering what went through his mind as he saw a flustered and cold British reporter wading through the snow with a suitcase in one hand and blood dripping from the other.

Dr Dowe works with the Baden-Württemberg Stauffenberg Association, a group aiming to maintain the memory of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg.

The 36-year-old soldier, portrayed in Valkyrie by Tom Cruise, planted the bomb that so nearly killed Hitler on 20 July 1944, and perhaps could have brought World War II to an early end.

In the event, the coup attempt failed. Stauffenberg and his co-plotters were still seen as traitors by most Germans even after the war and the collapse of the Nazi state.

In an opinion poll in 1956, only 20% of people agreed with the idea of naming a school after Stauffenberg.

Speaking to me at an exhibition on the Colonel's life in Stuttgart's Altes Schloss, Dr Dowe said it was an uncomfortable time for many Germans.

"From the 1950s onwards," he explained, "people who lived through 1933 to 1945 were tackling the question, 'Were you part of the Resistance?'"

Honouring the plotters

Eventually, the perception in German minds of the conspirators changed from that of traitors to heroes. In the exhibition room Dr Dowe even showed me special Stauffenberg Medals from the 1960s, which were given to the winners of a hill-walking tournament.

The publicity surrounding Valkyrie has brought up the topic of the anti-Nazi resistance as a whole, not just the soldiers and officers who had access to Hitler.

Not far from Berlin's Tiergarten is the German Resistance Memorial Centre, in an imposing light-grey building called the Bendlerblock, formerly the headquarters of the German High Command.

It tells the stories of numerous people who dared to make their own stand against Hitler and his government.

"We get 100,000 visitors every year," the Memorial Centre's director, Dr Johannes Tuechel, explained to me. "The Centre aims to show there are limitations to order and obedience."

Around 16,000 people were executed by order of the so-called People's Courts for resistance activity during the war, and a further 30,000 were put to death by military tribunals.

In one example, the Munich students Hans and Sophie Scholl were tried, convicted, and guillotined for high treason on the same day in February 1943.

Their crime? Distributing leaflets that told of how huge numbers of Jews were being murdered in concentration camps. In another, an Austrian farmer called Franz Jaegerstaetter was beheaded in August 1943 for saying publicly the war was wrong and for refusing to serve in the German army.

Inside the Resistance

One German who won't be seeing Valkyrie is 65-year-old Peter Thunsdorff from Weinheim near Frankfurt.

"It is a Hollywood action movie," he said, "not a serious historical picture."

A former insurance rep, Peter has an understandable interest in the German Resistance - his mother distributed Communist Party pamphlets in the 1930s, criticising the government.

Elfriede Thunsdorff-Mollenhauer made up her mind about the Nazis right from the start.

"She joined the Communists because no other anti-government group was so organised," her son explained.

Elfriede was arrested by the Gestapo in 1937, but managed somehow to bluff her way to freedom. Peter told me of a heart-stopping moment on the day of the Stauffenberg bomb.

"I was a year old," he said, "and my mother took me to meet my father at the railway station, when he yelled 'Damn that bomb - why didn't it work?' Amazingly, neither of them was reported or arrested."

Unworthy hero

Peter Thunsdorff is critical not just of the Valkyrie movie, but also generally of how the German Resistance is remembered. He feels that maybe too much attention is given to Stauffenberg and the officers.

"Stauffenberg was a royalist and a nationalist," he said. "The parties he supported originally backed Hitler and helped him form his first government. If my mother could see in 1933 how bad the Nazis were for Germany, why couldn't others?"

But however many Germans choose to watch Tom Cruise portray one of their national heroes, they'll be giving a thought also to those not so famous but equally brave compatriots who risked all in the fight against Nazism.

Dr Johannes Tuechel at the Memorial Centre puts it like this: "People are very interested in the resistance movement, because it helps them to ask themselves, 'If a murderous dictator took over your country, what would you do?' We can never stop asking that question."
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/01/24 11:52:23 GMT


Link Posted: 1/25/2009 1:54:46 PM EDT
Good read, thanks for posting.
Link Posted: 1/25/2009 1:58:36 PM EDT
Link Posted: 1/25/2009 2:00:48 PM EDT
The Germans very much like everyting to be accurate and correct.
Link Posted: 1/25/2009 2:03:48 PM EDT
Interesting read.

I imagine that to many Germans, "Resistance" could mean "Communists", and they don't like Commies any better than Nazis.

And rightfully so.

I wonder if now we will have to suffer the revisionist historians who would have us believe that the "German Resistance" was a crucial part of the war, an untold drama whose heroes can only now be brought to light.....  oh brother.

Like the French and the fairy tale of the French Resistance.  Yes technically there was one, but what won WWII in Europe was the dog-tired far-from-home American, English, * and Russian soldier.  Not some coffee-sipping midnight ninjas.

EDIT:  jeez, the Canadians too, because they are really sensitive about it.
Link Posted: 1/25/2009 2:10:52 PM EDT
Tag, to see what some basement historians can think up.
Link Posted: 1/25/2009 2:16:47 PM EDT
Really good read.  Thank you for posting this.
Link Posted: 1/25/2009 2:23:19 PM EDT
Interesting perspective; thanks for posting that.
Link Posted: 1/25/2009 2:29:38 PM EDT
I've seen a few news stories recently about far-right and Neo-Nazi activity on the rise in certain regions of Germany. The Germans are understandably very sensitive about this.

Neo-Nazi violence on the rise in Bavaria
Link Posted: 1/25/2009 2:33:05 PM EDT
I haven't seen Valkyrie yet, but I was curious to see how this movie was received in Germany. I'm always kind of torn whenever Hollywood makes a movie about a hero like this. Sure, the world should be made aware of the sacrifices heroes and patriots make in the name of the greater good, and a movie is the most effective means of doing so. However, the creeps in Hollywood aren't doing it for that purpose, and tend to manipulate events to fit their agendas. I hear they're planning on making Lone Survivor in to a movie. Given Hollywood's track record in their treatment of the military in movies the past few years, I don't know how well it'll work out.
Link Posted: 1/25/2009 2:40:15 PM EDT
Very interesting...............I had no idea that there would be that much dislike for von Stauffenberg.

Link Posted: 1/25/2009 2:42:20 PM EDT
Hitler was a much better painter than Churchill!

He could paint an entire apartment, two coats, in one afternoon!!!
Link Posted: 1/25/2009 2:57:39 PM EDT
My cousin is half Jew (my aunt on my mom's side married a Jewish businessman from NY).  He grew up, went to school, and ended up married to an aryan straight from The Fatherland a few years back.  When he goes to meet Herr Dad und Frau Mom im Deutchland, he can't help but notice a WWII era Nazi flag hanging up in the basement.  In-laws are unapologetic.  They are warm and friendly to cousin Bradly, but have their own view of how events unfolded in their country leading up to the war.

There is a feeling among many Germans too young to have lived during WWII that Der Fuhrer was a misguided leader, but certainly not criminal, and that Germany was not the only nation and people at fault for the atrocities.

Anti-semitism is still alive and well in Germany, but not well advertised.
Link Posted: 1/25/2009 3:22:01 PM EDT
The bomb plotters were not any better than those that supported hitler.

It's not like they were against most of his ideas, most of them had no problems at all with all the killing of jews, gypsies, homos, etc..., they just thought hitler had taken too big a bite in the war and was gonna lead germany to ruin.

They wanted hitler gone so that they could triy and make a peace deal with the west and concentrate on killing russians, not so they could stop the genocide and fear.
Link Posted: 1/25/2009 3:39:23 PM EDT
Ah, ARFcom, you impress me.

You are all welcome.

I saw the movie at the movie theater two weekends ago.  At the time I wasn't ecstatic about having to watch Tom Cruise, but now I tend to believe that I will be thankful for having spent the time to see a war history movie at an actual theater (so many classic war movies are only ever seen by us under-40-somethings on the television).  This one may not be a classic, per se, but at least I got to see it.

Link Posted: 1/25/2009 4:00:11 PM EDT

Dr Johannes Tuechel at the Memorial Centre puts it like this: "People are very interested in the resistance movement, because it helps them to ask themselves, 'If a murderous dictator took over your country, what would you do?' We can never stop asking that question."

You had better not ask it on Arfcom!
Link Posted: 1/26/2009 2:53:10 PM EDT
Dr Johannes Tuechel at the Memorial Centre puts it like this: "People are very interested in the resistance movement, because it helps them to ask themselves, 'If a murderous dictator took over your country, what would you do?' We can never stop asking that question."

You had better not ask it on Arfcom!

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