The soldier at the centre of the Valkyrie coup
[As Valkyrie, a new film about the plot to kill Hitler in 1944, is released, Justin Cartwright looks at the soldier at the centre of the coup and his vision for his country had it succeeded.]
In the film Valkyrie, Tom Cruise plays Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the man who, on 20 July 1944, placed a bomb next to Hitler in his east Prussian headquarters, the Wolf's Lair. The bomb failed to kill Hitler, merely blowing his trousers to ribbons. That night, when the coup was seen to have failed, Stauffenberg was shot in the courtyard of the army headquarters in Berlin on the orders of General Fromm, his superior, who was in on the plot and hoped - in vain - to save himself. Sandbags were piled in the courtyard and the lights of staff cars illuminated the victims. Von Haeften, his aide, threw himself in front of Stauffenberg. He and two others were also shot that night and their bodies quickly buried. Stauffenberg died with the words"Long live our sacred Germany" on his lips, or perhaps - some heard -"Long live our secret Germany". In German, there is even less difference between the words"sacred" and"secret" than there is in English. The producers of Valkyrie have muffled his last words; the story behind secret Germany does not figure in their script, but they were clearly aware of its significance. Within a few weeks, 80 plotters had been executed in Plötzensee prison by slow strangulation, hung from meathooks; in all, at least 3,000 were killed and many children, including Stauffenberg's, were taken from their families and placed in orphanages. Many of those executed were from Germany's most distinguished families, people who, like Stauffenberg, were appalled by the direction Germany had taken, both in relation to the Jews and to the disastrous war in the east.
The film is true to most of the facts of the plot, but fails to convey any sense of the catastrophic moral and political vortex into which Germans were being drawn. Nor does it give much sense of the immense charisma of Stauffenberg, to whom generals and politicians deferred and who had for some time been tipped as a future chief of staff. A revealing private memoir I was given, which describes a visit shortly before the bomb plot by Stauffenberg to one of the other resister's houses, suggests that the female staff were sent into paroxysms of adoration by the wounded hero. And the film gives no indication at all of Stauffenberg's background and philosophy: he fitted perfectly into the German tradition of Dichter und Helden, poets and heroes. For a start, he looked the part, tall with classical features; he was often compared to a medieval statue of a knight in the cathedral at Bamberg, his home town, and his wedding in this cathedral in 1933 to Nina von Lerchenfeld was a huge social event. Even Hitler believed that Stauffenberg was the embodiment of a German hero....
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