Facing the Nazi Past: United Germany and the Legacy of the Third Reich

By Bill Niven | Go to book overview

3

Resistance

'20 July is a day of commemoration for all those who rebelled against the regime of injustice […] We in the Federal Republic should not make the mistake fifty years after the event of categorizing the resistance politically and morally'

(from an FDP statement, published in FDK, 18 July 1994)


The instrumentalization of resistance traditions

All in all, there were about forty attempts on Hitler's life between 1933 and 1945. None of them was successful. Georg Elser, a carpenter from Wurttemberg, attached a bomb to a pillar in a Munich beer-cellar (Bürgerbräukeller). It blew up, as planned, on the evening that Hitler gave a speech there on 8 November 1939. But Hitler had already left the beer-cellar, earlier than anticipated. On 13 March 1943, Henning von Tresckow, an officer in the Wehrmacht, and his adjutant Fabian von Schlabrendorff succeeded in getting a bomb (disguised as an innocent bottle of cognac) placed in Hitler's plane. It failed to explode. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg came closest to success when, on 20 July 1944, he planted a bomb at the Führer's headquarters in East Prussia (the so-called 'Wolf's Lair'). It went off, and it killed four people, but none of them was Hitler. In fact Hitler was well-nigh unscathed, and able to address the German people by radio that same evening, when he claimed that 'a very small clique of ambitious, wicked, and stupidly criminal officers forged a plot to eliminate me' (Fest 1996:278). At the time, and even with retrospect, it seemed as if Hitler had led a charmed life. To an extent, he had. One other factor played a significant role in his survival, however: those who had tried to kill him were to a degree the victims of their own poor planning, delays and nervous indecision. This was even true of the courageous Stauffenberg himself, who, briefly disturbed as he activated the timer for the first bomb, failed to place the second bomb in his briefcase. Had he done so, the first would surely have set it off, and Hitler would have died (Fest 1996:257).

Resistance to Nazism, of course, cannot be defined merely in terms of spectacular (or spectacularly unsuccessful) attempts on the Führer's life. In his overview of German resistance, Ger van Roon divides up anti-Nazi resistance inter alia into communist resistance, social democratic resistance, resistance by the Confessional (Protestant) Church, Catholic resistance, the Goerdeler Group (civil resistance),

-62-

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Facing the Nazi Past: United Germany and the Legacy of the Third Reich
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Plates viii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Chronology 1933-2000 x
  • Why Now? - The Inclusive Picture 1
  • 1 - Concentration Camp Memorial Sites 10
  • 2 - The 'Double Past' 41
  • 3 - Resistance 62
  • 4 - 8 May 1945 in Political Discourse 95
  • 5 - Daniel Jonah Goldhagen and Victor Klemperer 119
  • 6 - The Crimes of the Wehrmacht 143
  • 7 - The Walser-Bubis Debate 175
  • 8 - The Holocaust Memorial 194
  • 9 - The Past in the Presen 233
  • Abbreviations 245
  • Bibliography 246
  • Index 257
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