Plotting Hitler's Death: The Story of the German Resistance

Article excerpt

Plotting Hitler's Death: The Story of the German Resistance. Joachim Fest. New York: Henry Holt and Company Inc., 1996. $42.00 (Cdn) hb. ISBN 80504213X

Resistance and collaboration during the Second World War are issues which are still discussed and debated at length. Indeed, the line is often blurred by the necessity to survive and feed one's family, rather than clearly delineated by moral and ethical concerns. Resistance workers and supporters are clearly praised in countries such as France, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Belgium as resistance was perhaps the primary method of overcoming the guilt of defeat and occupation. The German resistance movement, however, is seen rather differently, both within and without the country.

Joachim Fest, German journalist who wrote Hitler in the 1970s and still in print, has penned another fascinating work on Hitler and the Third Reich, this time concentrating on those who resisted the Nazis and conspired to kill Adolph Hitler. While the book focuses on the more famous assassination attempt of July 20, 1944, it also delves into many of the lesser known and less spectacular failures to remove Hitler and end the regime, such as the September Plot of 1938. The 420 page book, sprinkled with 76 striking and useful black and white photographs of prominent players and dramatic scenes, begins with a lengthy and stimulating examination of "The Resistance that Never Was." Here, Fest describes how many groups within Nazi Germany were either intimidated, manipulated, or threatened into supporting the regime, while others, such as the civil service, with its natural antidemocratic tendencies, compared the aimlessness and indecisiveness of the Weimar years to the direction and confidence of the Nazis, and gave their support willingly. He then goes on to describe how the German Army, itself a political player in the Weimar Republic, divided into younger officers who supported Hitler, and older, more conservative officers who hoped to maintain the prestige they traditionally enjoyed. The remainding eight chapters of the book concentrate on the efforts to assassinate Hitler, centred around military circles.

The story, filled as it is with conspirators both minor and major, is made easier to follow by the inclusion of a "Short Biographies" section at the end. It includes important resisters, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer (but not Martin Niemoller), who Fest discusses quite tangentially, as well as his main characters, like the dashing Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg who planted the bomb in Hitler's Wolf's Lair in the July 20th attempt. Fest does well to place his conspirators within their historical context, looking at resistance and the motivation for it-along with the dilemmna most felt in committing "treason." These issues, Fest rightly argues, are complex and crucial to our understanding of the German resistance and to the failure of the British, in particular, to take advantage of those who opposed Hitler within Germany in the years immediately before and during the war. …