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Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg und seine Bruder.

No aspect, perhaps, of the history of the "Third Reich" remains more controversial than that of resistance by Germans to Nazi rule. Almost a half-century after its destruction, debate continues on what properly constituted "resistance" (in contrast to "opposition" or "non-conformity") as well as on the motives and objectives of German anti-fascists, the political and social milieu from which they were most likely to emerge, and recently the role of gender in their recruitment. It can hardly be doubted that Count Claus von Stauffenberg, the soldier who planted a bomb under the map table in Hitlcr's East Prussian headquarters on 20 July 1944, qualifies by any definition as a resistor. For Peter Hoffmann of McGill University, whose magisterial biography of Stauffenberg and his two equally anti-nazi brothers Berthold and Alexander caps a career devoted to studying resistance in Germany (particularly the national-conservative element in it that culminated in the abortive assassination attempt of July 1944), the entire phenomenon was virtually personified by the one-eyed, one-handed young colonel who sacrificed his life and - he feared - reputation on the loftiest ethical grounds to rid his beloved but misled country of its physical and moral destroyer. Hoffmann is at pains to demonstrate that Claus Stauffenberg was appalled by the regime's genocidal policies perpetrated upon Jews and Slavs in occupied Eastern Europe; whereas German historian Christoph Dipper has exposed the widespread and deep-seated anti-semitism precisely among many conservativenationalist enemies of Nazism. Indeed, at least during the 1930s Stauffenberg too approved of Hitler's anti-Jewish legislative measures which he naively believed were "merely" intended to purify the nation's racial stock, as Hoffmann readily admits. Besides halting the mass killigs of civilians that were a terrible blot on German honour, Stauffenberg was motivated to act by the Fiihret's repeatedly shown military incompetence, which for example failed to grasp the indispensable need to mobilize the hostility of the peoples of the U.S.S.R. towards communism if the war in the east was to be won. Yet, Hoffmann emphasizes that Stauffenberg became committed to overthrowing Hitler by the summer of 1942, well before the Stalingrad disaster, and therefore cannot be accused of having resisted his own government simply to stave off defeat on the battlefield. The views of Stauffenberg's severest contemporary critic in the resistance movement, the German diplomat Hans B. Gisevius, who unlike the would-be assassin survived Hitler's orgy of vengeance against its members (Claus Stauffenberg was summarily executed on the evening of 20 July by order of a heavily implicated superior officer in a vain effort to save his own skin) and who subsequently accused him of authoritarian behaviour and pro-soviet leanings, are refuted in detail by Hoffmann; he attributes Gisevius's almost unique hostility towards the man who has been universally regarded as the principal driving-force behind the plot to kill the Fiihmr to a combination of misunderstanding and unseemly personal ambition. However, the (admittedly vague) constitutional structure which the Stauffenberg brothers favoured for a post-Nazi Reirh was a form of corporativism in which the officer corps of the German army would fulfil a significant leadership position. These were, ironically, the same persons who in their great majority richly armed Stauffenberg's Christ-like curse, You have all left me in the lurch!', uttered moments before he was shot (p. 442); while even a reactionary politician like Carl Goerdeler, the conspirators' designated successor to Hitler as Chancellor,. argued for the introduction of a more democratic system of government than did the Stauffenbergs.

The origins of their romantically untimely political Weltanschauung are traced by Hoffmann, in the most original contribution of his study, to the pervasive influence of the poet Stefan George upon all three brothers. His nebulous notion of a 'secret Germany' comprising a select band of men sworn to rescue their fatherland from the multifarious evils of the modern world, along with an aristocratic concept of family responsibility for the Reich's fate, seem to have inspired Claus and Berthold Stauffenberg (who was brutally hanged three weeks after his younger brother's death) to rise up against an allegedly "perverted" National Socialism. Toward it the "master" and his disciples had a curiously ambiguous relationship (except for the few Jews among them and Alexander von Stauffenberg whose remarkable testpilot wife was of Jewish ancestry), as they did vis-a-vis women: George rigorously excluded females from his circle and made marriage of its members a grudging concession requiring his permission! So obedient was Claus Stauffenberg to this murky ideology that on his wedding-day he explained to his bride he had dressed in uniform complete with steel helmet because "marriage was service" (p. 127) - presumably to the same eternal Germany.

Peter Hoffmann's extremely thorough research, evident in often lengthy endnotes covering 125 pages with another dozen listing personal interviews, correspondence, and so on, with the families of and others who knew the Stauffenbergs, both corrects many previous factual errors about their activities (such as Claus's response to the Nazi assumption of povier on 30 January 1933) and reproduces numerous posthumous statements testifying to his extraordinary personality, virtues, and appearance cf., for instance, pp. 272-3, 363, 373, 395, 398). But it is a measure of Hoffmann's meticulousness as an historian that he also provides documentation which will facilitate future discussion of the nature of German resistance - above all, Claus Stauffenberg's so-called "oath" or statement of principles composed on the eve of his assault upon Hitler's life, which the author photographically reprints and then extensively analyzes. The book deserves a translation, or better still an English version that will help clarify for non-German readers the often obscure spiritual background of these undeniably heroic German patriots.
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Author:Stokes, Lawrence D.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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