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On the Road to the Wolf's Lair: German Resistance to Hitler.

On the Road to the Wolf's Lair: German Resistance to Hitler. By Theodore S. Hamerow. (Cambridge, Mass., and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997. Pp. x, 442. $29.95.)

At first glance, one might wonder whether another study of the German resistance to Hitler is in order, but the reader quickly discovers that this book is a rich addition to the literature. After summarizing the historiography of the resistance movement and especially the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, Theodore S. Hamerow asserts that now, more than 50 years after the end of the war, it is appropriate "to undertake a dispassionate, balanced, rigorous, and unflinching examination of the resistance," one less likely to be affected by contemporary politics (10). Hamerow's study is such a reexamination, and he shows that the conspirators who sought to kill Hitler "acted out of a combination of motives, some idealistic, some practical, sometimes selfless, sometimes expedient" (10). Not intended to be a comprehensive account of anti-Nazi activity within the Third Reich, this book is about when and why the resisters turned against the Third Reich.

On the Road to the Wolf's Lair presents a thorough, nuanced narrative and analysis. In order to establish context for his study of the conspirators' "ideas, ideals, motives, and aims," Hamerow begins with the fall of the empire in 1918 and traces the evolution of thought and actions of important members of three distinct groups--army officers, disaffected civil servants, and prominent churchmen (vii). The narrative clearly emphasizes that these resisters' hostility to the Weimar Republic led them into Hitler's authoritarian coalition in 1933. For the most part, these men were enthusiastic participants in the dismantling of what remained of democratic Germany in 1933, the introduction of domestic political constraints, and the attack on the Versailles Treaty's restrictions. Along the way, however, they turned against the Third Reich, eventually concluding that Hitler had to be removed from power. Although most of these men were not National Socialists, the resisters' final statements as they waited for execution frequently repeated their affinity for the principles of National Socialism, while also denouncing the corruption and brutality of the Third Reich.

The findings of this study are not dramatically new, but they provide a nicely nuanced outline of both the complexity of the time and the diversity of the individual actors and their disillusionment as they came face to face with the full implications of Gleichschaltung, which gradually demonstrated an unanticipated authority and discomfiting militancy and brutality. For some, their alienation began with the eroding authority and respect of the traditional elite or the intensification of anti-Semitism as demonstrated by Kristallnacht. For others, the diplomatic revolution and the risk of war, which threatened "a new defeat, a new revolution, and a new Versailles ...," was an important line of demarcation (239). The initial successes of the Blitzkrieg muffled many of these worries, but the anti-Nazi movement, as the fortunes of war turned against Germany, grew from alienation into conspiracy.

This is a good book; it is eminently readable and carefully argued. Hamerow uses the words of the key members of the resistance to show their full colors. These men are believably human figures and not portrayed simply as saints or reactionaries.

Larry Thornton

Hanover College
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Thornton, Larry
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1999
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