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.