Military history

THE CONSPIRACY AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR

The successful Allied landing in Normandy threw the conspirators in Berlin into great confusion. Stauffenberg, as we have seen, had not believed it would be attempted in 1944, and that, if it were, there was a fifty-fifty chance that it would fail. He seems to have wished that it would, since then the American and British governments, after such a bloody and costly setback, would be more willing to negotiate a peace in the West with his new anti-Nazi government, which in this case could get better terms.

When it became evident that the invasion had succeeded, that Germany had suffered another crucial defeat, and that a new one was threatening in the East, Stauffenberg, Beck and Goerdeler wondered whether there was any point in going ahead with their plans. If they succeeded they would only be blamed for bringing on the final catastrophe. Though they knew it was now inevitable, this was not generally realized by the mass of the German people. Beck finally concluded that though a successful anti-Nazi revolt could not now spare Germany from enemy occupation, it could bring the war to an end and save further loss of blood and destruction of the Fatherland. A peace now would also prevent the Russians from overrunning Germany and Bolshevizing it. It would show the world that there was “another Germany” besides the Nazi one. And—who knew?—perhaps at least the Western Allies, despite their terms of unconditional surrender, might not be too hard on a conquered Germany. Goerdeler agreed and pinned even greater hopes on the Western democracies. He knew, he said, how much Churchill feared the danger of “a total Russian victory.”

The younger men, led by Stauffenberg, were not entirely convinced. They sought advice from Tresckow, who was now chief of staff of the Second Army on the crumbling Russian front. His reply brought the stumbling plotters back on the track.

The assassination must be attempted at any cost. Even should it fail, the attempt to seize power in the capital must be undertaken. We must prove to the world and to future generations that the men of the German Resistance Movement dared to take the decisive step and to hazard their lives upon it. Compared with this object, nothing else matters.25

This inspired answer settled the matter and revived the spirits and dissolved the doubts of Stauffenberg and his young friends. The threatened collapse of the fronts in Russia, France and Italy impelled the plotters to act at once. Another event helped to speed them on their way.

From the beginning the Beck–Goerdeler–Hassell circle had declined to have anything to do with the Communist underground, and vice versa. To the Communists the plotters were as reactionary as the Nazis and their very success might prevent a Communist Germany from succeeding a National Socialist one. Beck and his friends were well aware of this Communist line, and they knew also that the Communist underground was directed from Moscow and served chiefly as an espionage source for the Russians.* Furthermore, they knew that it had become infiltrated withGestapo agents—“V men,” as Heinrich Mueller, the Gestapo chief and himself a student and admirer of the Soviet N.K.V.D., called them.

In June the plotters, against the advice of Goerdeler and the older members, decided to contact the Communists. This was at the suggestion of the Socialist wing and especially of Adolf Reichwein, the Socialist philosopher and celebrated Wandervogel, who was now director of the Folklore Museum in Berlin. Reichwein had maintained vague contacts with the Communists. Though Stauffenberg himself was suspicious of them, his Socialist friends Reichwein and Leber convinced him that some contact with them had become necessary in order to see what they were up to and what they would do in case the putsch succeeded, and, if possible, to use them at the last moment to widen the basis of the anti-Nazi resistance. Reluctantly he agreed to Leber and Reichwein meeting with the underground Communist leaders on June 22. But he warned them that the Communists should be told as little as possible.

The meeting took place in East Berlin between Leber and Reichwein, representing the Socialists, and two individuals named Franz Jacob and Anton Saefkow who claimed to be—and perhaps were—the leaders of the Communist underground. They were accompanied by a third comrade whom they introduced as “Rambow.” The Communists turned out to know quite a bit about the plot against Hitler and wanted to know more. They asked for a meeting with its military leaders on July 4. Stauffenberg refused, but Reichwein was authorized to represent him at a further meeting on that date. When he arrived at it, he, along with Jacob and Saefkow, were promptly arrested. “Rambow,” it turned out, was a Gestapo stool pigeon. The next day Leber, on whom Stauffenberg was counting to become the dominant political force in the new government, was also arrested.*

Stauffenberg was not only deeply upset by the arrest of Leber, with whom he had become a close personal friend and whom he regarded as indispensable to the proposed new government, but he saw at once that the whole conspiracy was in dire peril of being snuffed out now that Himmler’s men were so close on its trail. Leber and Reichwein were courageous men and could be counted on, he thought, not to reveal any secrets even under torture. Or could they be? Some of the plotters were not so sure. There might be limits beyond which even the bravest man could not keep silent when his body was being racked by insufferable pain.

The arrest of Leber and Reichwein was a further spur to immediate action.

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