The “Good Germans”

So surreptitious was the German resistance movement, its ruinous influence may never have come to light but for a single incident. A bungled attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944, prompted an ongoing state investigation. This exposed the conspiracy to sabotage the German war effort. It led to the death by firing squad, suicide, or execution after trial of 160 plotters. The would-be assassin was Count Claus von Stauffenberg, chief of staff of the Reserve Army since July 1, 1944. There were approximately half a million soldiers, trained and fully equipped, awaiting transfer to the front. In charge of the Reserve Army was General Friedrich Fromm. To weaken the field formations, he contrived ways to delay the deployment of the ersatz troops under his administration. During the first month of fighting in Normandy for example, the Germans suffered 96,000 men killed, wounded or captured. Under Fromm’s direction, the western army received just 6,000 replacements and 17 new tanks.145 In July, battalions stationed in Holland for the purpose of replacing losses to infantry divisions fighting in Normandy were transferred to southern France instead.146

Stauffenberg represented Fromm at the Führer’s headquarters in Rastenburg during situation conferences. His job was to report on the progress of replenishing the combat divisions with reserve personnel. Stauffenberg understood his mission as the fabrication of plausible excuses for why only a fraction of the troops languishing in homeland garrisons were moving forward. An officer on Goebbels’s staff summarized the deceptive explanations Stauffenberg offered Hitler: “The air raids are responsible, he says. Then only the gas masks are lacking, next the NCOs still have some mandatory course, or a particular type of ammunition isn't available, or rather can't be delivered because of the destroyed transportation network, an arsenal suffered a direct hit where the rifle bolts for a whole regiment were stored. . . . Always at the last minute something gets in the way."147 Stauffenberg once told fellow plotters that their “allies” were Germany’s “military crises and defeats."148

Stauffenberg concealed in his brief case a time bomb, weapon of choice for terrorists worldwide, and smuggled it into the July 20 conference at Rastenburg. He prudently left the session before the explosion and boarded a courier plane for Berlin. The blast superficially injured Hitler but mortally wounded a stenographer and three officers. Several others among the 24 participants suffered injuries. Among those to die was Rudolf Schmundt; he had recently used his personal influence with the Führer to promote Stauffenberg’s lackluster career.149 Another victim was the staff officer Colonel Heinz Brandt, an opponent of National Socialism whom no one had forewarned of the day’s agenda.150

At the OKW offices on Bendler Street in Berlin, accomplices awaited news of Hitler’s demise to launch Wälkure, the coup to overthrow the National Socialist government. There among others were the pensioned General Ludwig Beck, ex-general Erich Hoepner, who had been dishonorably discharged from the army in 1942 for insubordination and cowardice, the retired Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, and General Friedrich Olbricht, who was Fromm’s subordinate (Based on the examination of captured German records, the U.S. State Department later established that Olbricht had leaked military secrets to the Red Orchestra via Gisevius).151 When Stauffenberg arrived, he told his colleagues that the commander-in-chief did not survive the bombing. The plotters therefore therefore set the revolt in motion. Back at Rastenburg, General Fellgiebel, who was privy to the planned assassination, did not contact the Berlin conspirators to warn them of its failure. Instead, he was among the first to congratulate Hitler on his narrow escape from death. Fellgiebel was able to briefly block communications between Rastenburg and the outside world, but could not indefinitely disrupt telephone service. Hitler reached Goebbels in the capital. He also spoke on the line with Major Ernst Remer, commander of the Berlin Watch Regiment. He ordered Remer to arrest the conspirators.

One reason for the coup’s rapid collapse was the lack of cooperation the usurpers received from the army. Signals personnel on the Bendler block monitored the Führer’s telephone conversation. Aware of the circumstances, they did not transmit teletype orders formulated by the plotters to military units. Colonel Fritz Jäger, a member of Stauffenberg’s circle, visited several barracks to muster a company of riflemen to seize the radio station, the propaganda ministry, and to arrest Goebbels. He could not find a single soldier willing to carry out his orders.152

Stuipnagel and a handful of like-minded aristocrats supported the coup from their Paris headquarters. They managed to mobilize a battalion of German Security Regiment No. 1 to arrest members of the SD and the Gestapo, including the SS police chief in Paris, Carl Oberg, in their office. Stulpnagel’s associates persuaded the battalion’s troops that the SD had rebelled against Hitler; only through this fiction did they gain the men’s cooperation. In Berlin, one of the teletype orders Witzleben drafted for the army falsely blamed “an unscrupulous clique of party leaders who are nowhere near the front” for the mutiny he himself helped instigate.153 According to an analysis by a contemporary German historian, “The plotters did not risk openly confessing that the coup was directed against Hitler, but argued instead to be acting supposedly in the name of the dead Führer against an 'unscrupulous clique.' They were themselves not certain in their own cause. They feared that most of the armed forces and the German people stood behind Hitler in their hearts and would therefore not obey them."154

Military members of the resistance movement had no connection with the rank-and-file of the armed forces. “They have nothing within them in common with the German soldier,” charged the Völkischer Beobachter on July 22.155 Stauffenberg, for example, had never held a combat command. His army driver, Karl Schweizer, testified later that the count had maintained a generous supply of wine, champagne, schnapps, liqueurs and tobacco at both his Berlin residence and his duty office in the war ministry. Lieutenant Colonel Fritz von der Lancken had regularly procured these luxury items, unavailable to the front-line soldier or to the German public in the fifth year of war, for his fellow conspirator. Schweizer stated that he could scarcely remember a day when Stauffenberg did not consume alcohol.156 The count had also arranged for frequent deliveries to his address of smoked eel, oil sardines and other delicacies through administrative contacts with North Sea fisheries.157

The chief of the SD, Dr. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, prepared a series of confidential reports for the Reich’s Chancery analyzing the motives of the plotters. After the war, the former resistance member Friedrich Georgi judged the reports to be “absolutely sober and factual, if not of course one-sided."158

Regarding Stauffenberg, Kaltenbrunner concluded in his September 23, 1944 report that the count and his circle of aristocrats “pursued not only political objectives but social ones, namely to reinstate and maintain the privileged position of a select, socially-connected group of persons."159

Major Remer wrote of July 20, “The presumed death of Adolf Hitler left all the officers and also the troops in a state of shock. Never in my life, even after the collapse (in 1945), have I witnessed such profound sorrow."160 In his post-war autobiography, Günther Adam, a veteran of the SS Hohenstaufen division which was deployed in France that July, included his own recollection: “That evening, after a day of combat, some young army officers come to us in our command post and tell us that there was an attempt on the life of the Führer that had failed. They said that senior army commanders had been involved. They ask in complete sincerity if they can join us, since they are too ashamed now to be officers of the army."161

In the opinion of Rolf Hinze, a veteran of the 19th Panzer Division, the assassination attempt came “at the most unfavorable time imaginable, at a time when unified, firm leadership was essential. The troops felt this way regardless of their diverse ideological viewpoints, even among those who inwardly rejected Hitler. Everywhere we heard the expression, ’stab in the back', and were relieved that the Führer’s central authority remained intact."162 The Führer’s adjutant, Colonel Nicolaus von Below, stated, “In as much as the senior generals had lost that unswerving confidence in Hitler, in the same measure the ordinary soldier trusted in his leadership. I have no doubt that only this fact held the front together."163

Right after the assassination attempt, signals personnel at Rastenburg discovered Fellgiebel’s secret telephone line to Switzerland that had served to communicate military intelligence to Soviet agents. The Gestapo questioned staff officers, some of whom were already on the watch list, making arrests when suspicion of subversive activity surfaced. Colonel Below told the Führer of word received from his cousin: Since the round-up began, his army corps on the eastern front was finally receiving supplies at consistent and timely intervals.164

Discovery of the sabotage “totally depressed” Hitler, Goebbels told an associate.165 The Führer’s personal security officer, Hans Rattenhuber, said this to Giesler: “The betrayal of the fighting front hit him harder than the attempt on his life. He just repeated to us that he has long reckoned with being shot at by someone in this reactionary clique. But something this underhanded he never would have expected from an officer, certainly not this shabby betrayal of the soldier who risks his life every day for Germany."166

In the past, Hitler had not acted on warnings from NSDAP subordinates about the general staff's disloyalty. A military liaison officer in the propaganda ministry, Colonel Hans Martin, recalled that Goebbels claimed to “possess a great amount of irrefutable evidence that a defeatist attitude among many officers of the OKW, especially in the OKH, is assuming serious proportions."167 The Führer nonetheless shielded them from attacks by Goebbels and Himmler. The officers had sworn an oath of fealty to him, and “he firmly believed in their code of loyalty and honor,” wrote another Goebbels aid, Wilfred von Oven.168 Addressing the Rastenburg staff on July 24, Jodl told how whenever suspicions had surfaced about particular officers, Hitler had “laughed it off good-naturedly... as with the case of General Fellgiebel, who had already brought attention to himself through some of his remarks."169

The Führer expressed bitterness over the affair to his staff: “I took over the old officer corps just as it was, preserved its traditions, and respected them,” he said. “I advanced the officers' careers and their economic status whenever I could. I recognized their achievements and rewarded them. I promoted and decorated them. Each of them who reported to me I shook hands with as a comrade. And now every officer up to general who comes to me I have to have searched in a vestibule first, in case he’s bringing in some killing device like this Count Stauffenberg, who had nothing better to do than sneak a bomb under my conference table to rid the world of me and his own comrades."170

The German public reacted to news of the assassination attempt “with horror and loathing,” the former Gauleiter Rudolf Jordan recorded in his autobiography. “In the evening I addressed the population outdoors in the cathedral square in Magdeburg. The whole town took part in this demonstration of loyalty, with deep emotion. It seemed to me that in view of the fateful, life-or-death situation of the war, the people stood behind Adolf Hitler as one.” The Lutheran bishop of Hannover, who was personally unsympathetic to National Socialism, publicly condemned Stauffenberg’s “criminal scheme."171

At Carlshof hospital, Hitler visited officers who had been seriously injured in the July 20 bombing. He offered General Karl Bodenschatz an analysis of the murder plot: “I know that Stauffenberg, Goerdeler, and Witzleben thought through my death to rescue the German nation. . . . But these people really had no fixed plan of what to do next. They had no idea which army would support their coup, which military district would help them. First of all, they had not established contact with the enemy. I've even found out that the enemy refused their offer to negotiate."172

Hitler’s information was accurate. In April 1941, the Reich’s Foreign Office assigned Hans Buwert to manage France’s Hachette Publishing House. In late 1942 the Berlin police chief, Count Heinrich Helldorf, and a general staff officer, Count Heinrich Dohna-Tolksdorf, brought him into Stulpnagel’s circle. Buwert met with Allied representatives during a trip to Spain and Portugal. “Contact with the Allies turned out badly,” he wrote later.173

In the summer of 1940, the Churchill cabinet had adopted the policy of “absolute silence” toward the German resistance.174 Even before the war, the British Foreign Office had cautioned against such an alliance. In November 1938, Undersecretary Sargent had warned in a memo, “An open and capable military dictatorship could be even more dangerous than the NS regime."175

The subversives encountered another obstacle with respect to the United States. At the Casablanca conference in January 1943, Roosevelt publicly announced that the Allies will accept nothing less than the Reich’s unconditional surrender. What this portended for Germany, FDR’s private notes from December 1944 reveal: “Whatever measures may be taken against Japan and Germany, they must in any case include the reduction of their industrial output, to prevent them from competing on the world markets against the English, French, Dutch, Belgians, and other exporters, and against us as well.” U.S. General Albert Wedemeyer wrote, “The western Allies made not the slightest attempt to divide the Germans by promising the enemies of the Hitler regime acceptable peace terms."176

The Allies' attitude was no secret to members of the resistance movement. Count Ulrich Schwerin von Schwanefeld, a staff officer and determined advocate of Hitler’s murder, continued his intrigues even though acknowledging that FDR will not mollify surrender conditions.177 Just two days before Stauffenberg bombed Hitler’s situation conference, the conspirator Otto John returned from fruitless negotiations with Allied representatives in Madrid. He informed his fellow plotters than even were the Führer dead, unconditional surrender is still in force.178 He ultimately acknowledged that “the internal German resistance against Hitler was no longer a factor of significance for the political and military strategy of the western powers... in contrast to the resistance in France, which was nurtured by the western powers morally and with all kinds of materiel."179

The staff officer Tresckow, who described Hitler as “a mad dog that has to be put down,” also realized that the demise of his commander-in-chief would have no influence on the Allies' war effort.180 Dr. Eugen Gerstenmaier, a former conspirator and president of the West German parliament after the war, stated in a 1975 interview, “What we in the German resistance during the war didn't really want to see, we learned in full measure afterward; that this war was ultimately not waged against Hitler, but against Germany."181

Right after Stauffenberg’s botched assassination attempt, British radio stations for Europe broadcast the names of Germans known to the English to be conspiring against Hitler.182 This enabled the Gestapo to round up the subversives more quickly. A BBC editorial dismissed the coup as a product of Prussia’s military caste, the very stratum which the Anglo-Saxons are waging war to eradicate. The German people, the BBC continued, would be deceiving themselves to entrust their leadership to such people. Fritz Hesse, a specialist on English affairs in the German Foreign Office, monitored the Allied reaction and ventured, “Not much further and the English and American radios would have congratulated Hitler on his survival.” The Führer, shocked at the hostility manifest in some Allied news coverage, remarked to Ribbentrop, “These people hate Germany even more than they do me."183

On July 25, John Wheeler-Bennett, a British historian assisting the Foreign Office in London, submitted a memorandum on the consequences of the recent events at Rastenburg: “It may now be said with some definiteness that we are better off with things as they are than if the plot of July 20 had succeeded and Hitler had been assassinated. . . . The Gestapo and the SS have done us an appreciable service in removing a selection of those who would undoubtedly have posed as 'good' Germans after the war. . . . It is to our advantage therefore that the purge should continue, since the killing of Germans by Germans will save us from future embarrassment of many kinds."184 Churchill, Eden, and the Foreign Office staff accepted Wheeler-Bennett’s viewpoint.185 An in-house analysis prepared by the OSS also regarded Hitler’s escape as a blessing, explaining that it robbed the conspiring German generals of the opportunity to dump the blame for losing the war on him alone.186

One German general who clearly understood the Allies' outlook was Walter von Brauchitsch, commander of the army until December 1941. In April 1940, Halder had presented him with a written proposal to overthrow Hitler and reach a settlement with the West. Brauchitsch rebuked him with the words, “What’s going on here is pure treason. . . . In wartime this is unthinkable for a soldier. This battle isn't about governments anyway, but a battle of diametrical ways of life. So getting rid of Hitler will serve no purpose."187

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