The Plots Against Hitler

Dan­ny Orbach
  • Review
By – September 28, 2016

Although there are a num­ber of schol­ar­ly books on the planned assas­si­na­tion attempts against Adolf Hitler, Dan­ny Orbach’s The Plot Against Hitler pro­vides a defin­i­tive his­to­ry of the anti-Nazi underground’s efforts to over­throw the Nazi dictator.

The attempt to assas­si­nate or at least cap­ture Hitler began as ear­ly as 1938, when the Führer annexed Aus­tria then threat­ened to invade the Sude­ten­land in dis­re­gard for the fear expressed by a num­ber of his gen­er­als that it would bring Ger­many into a new war with Great Britain and France. Hitler’s tri­umph at Munich showed the weak­ness of the British and France in con­fronting Ger­many, thus encour­ag­ing him to pur­sue his pol­i­cy ofLeben­sraum (“liv­ing space”) to acquire by con­quest ter­ri­to­ry in East­ern Europe, includ­ing the Sovi­et Union. Orbach details the con­cerns of Ger­man mil­i­tary lead­ers, civil­ian offi­cials, and the­olo­gians who feared that Hitler was lead­ing the nation down the path to destruc­tion and con­se­quent­ly sought to over­throw Hitler and the Nazi lead­er­ship. Cer­tain­ly the war against the Sovi­et Union, espe­cial­ly after Stal­in­grad, drew these forces togeth­er, as did the Nazi treat­ment of the Jews in Ger­many and lat­er mass mur­ders in East­ern Europe. One of the con­spir­a­tors, Carl Goerdel­er, the High May­or of Leipzig, defied racial laws direct­ed against Jews and even refused to remove a stat­ue of Felix Mendel­sohn which was locat­ed in the city square; Lt. Colonel Hen­ny von Tresck­ow, a for­mer fol­low­er of the Nazi regime, was hor­ri­fied at the Nazi crimes against the Ger­man Jews and con­sid­ered Kristall­nacht an unfor­giv­able act of bar­barism. Assigned to fight against the Sovi­et Union in 1942, Tresck­ow was furi­ous that Jews were being mur­dered all along the front and demand­ed of his supe­ri­or that he use force against the SS Ein­satz­grup­pen­to halt the slaugh­ter. Sub­se­quent­ly, Tresck­ow along with oth­ers includ­ing the the­olo­gian Rein­hold Niebuhr, and the charis­mat­ic Claus von Stauf­fen­berg, were impor­tant con­spir­a­tors in the 1944 plot. Stauf­fen­berg became the leader of the plot­ters and it was he who plant­ed the bomb that near­ly killed Hitler. All of those involved in the failed 1944 plot were even­tu­al­ly hunt­ed down and executed.

Why did these con­spir­a­tors risk their lives? Accord­ing to Orbach, rea­sons ranged from sav­ing Ger­many from an obvi­ous defeat to fear of Allied ret­ri­bu­tion — espe­cial­ly from the Sovi­ets — to the Holo­caust, which turned reli­gious Chris­tians, espe­cial­ly, against a leader who broke all the tenets of their faith and code of morality.

The Ger­man anti-Nazi resis­tance plot­ted hon­or­ably, per­haps, but in utter fail­ure,” Orbach con­cludes. Its mem­bers were able nei­ther to pre­vent the out­break of war nor bring it to an ear­ly end. Notwith­stand­ing all of their efforts and sac­ri­fice, most Ger­mans still fol­lowed Hitler to the bit­ter end.” Against their bad luck, as well as care­ful plan­ning among ded­i­cat­ed Ger­man patri­ots, the col­lab­o­ra­tors failed to pre­vent the excess­es of the Hitler regime and the unique geno­cide known as the Holo­caust. Dis­heart­en­ing as the sto­ry may be, The Plots Against Hitler is a riv­et­ing read well worth pick­ing up.

Relat­ed Content:

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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