Monday, July 20, 2009

Remembering the July 20 Plot - Again


Two years ago I wrote a post about the July 20 plot. This year, commemorating those who attempted to overthrow Hitler in 1944 is even more important to me.

This past semester, as part of my duties as a teaching assistant at Texas A&M, I led discussions on John Weiss' The Ideology of Death: Why the Holocaust Happened in Germany. Weiss' argument is easily caricatured: conservatives, traditionalists, big business and Christianity (in particular Catholicism) were responsible for the Holocaust. Only progressive, atheistic (or at least irreligious and relativistic) socialists are free of blame in Weiss' account.

The problems with The Ideology of Death are legion, too many to mention here. I shall concern myself with only one: Weiss all but ignores Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (pictured left) and the July 20 conspirators. Why? Because Stauffenberg represents everything Weiss abhors: a Catholic, an aristocrat, a nationalist and a military officer.

Weiss dismisses the July 20 plotters as johnny-come-latelys. The socialists, he says, had been opposing Hitler from day one, whereas the army only turned against Hitler when it was apparent that defeat was in store. Besides the fact that authors such as Allen Dulles have shown that the army had grave misgivings about Hitler and his band of unprofessional thugs even before the war began, Weiss overlooks a key point: the socialists never came close to toppling Hitler. The July 20 conspirators did.

As if to add insult to injury, Weiss claims that Stauffenberg has been shunned by a nation of proto-fascist Nazi sympathizers in the modern Federal Republic of Germany. His case is weak, at best. Stauffenberg's son Berthold became a general in the post-war German army; another son, Franz-Ludwig, became an elected member of both the German and European parliaments. The members of Germany's elite Wachbataillon take their oath of service on July 20, at the Bendlerblock, where the July 20 conspirators met and were later executed. The street on which it sits has been renamed Stauffenbergstra├če and the building now houses the Memorial to the German Resistance.

The modern German army, created in 1955, is keen to sever any connections with its Nazi predecessors. Thus, in addition to post-1955 innovations, there are only two legitimate sources of tradition in the Germany army. One source is the military reformers of the 19th century, men like Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Clausewitz. The other source are the lives and heroic deaths of the July 20 conspirators.

Stauffenberg and his coconspirators were not the only people within Germany to oppose Hitler; brave men and women such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the White Rose movement did likewise. We would do well to reflect on their sacrifices and defend their legacy against the likes of John Weiss.

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