The New Oxford Review has published my commentary on Valkyrie, by anti-Hitler plotter Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager (in their “Briefly Reviewed” section). I want to add a few more details from my original notes about this fascinating work.
One thing I like about Boeselager is his candor. He makes no attempt to editorialize his views as a young man, even if those views seem out of date. “I can understand,” he says, “if a foreign reader mistrusts German patriots’ political position in that period, and is tempted to see in it an unacceptable compromise with the goals pursued by Adolf Hitler. However, we German patriots were nonetheless able to tell the difference. We had no more cause to be ashamed of wanting to restore Germany than had the French, who, in 1914, wanted to restore Alsace and Lorraine to France.” This is exactly how people of his generation thought, regardless of political persuasion. After all, Hitler came to power as much through working class support and appeals to the left as he did to the complacency of revanchist militarists. It will be easy for modern readers to condemn such views, but personal choices are tidy only in theory.
As in any historical crisis, there are a multitude of trends and motives at work. The fact that people were at one time more fearful of Communism – which had already murdered, starved and enslaved tens of millions of people – and were slow to understand the new tyranny of Nazism is not so shocking as it seems. But once an evil becomes apparent then pragmatism and convention cease to be an excuse. Men do not fundamentally change from one generation to the next. They hope that the better forces will prevail without having to resort to desperate measures. That was true of honorable military leaders like Heinz Guderian who disapproved of the anti-Hitler plots despite his own dislike of Nazism. But in Boeselager’s case, Germany seemed to have gone too far for peaceful resolutions.
While reading Valkyrie, I was reminded of the rare memoir, Against Stalin and Hitler, by Captain Wilfried Strik-Strikfeldt. Like Boeselager, he was a member of the famous Tresckow circle. General Tresckow was assigned to Russian prisoners by the Wehrmacht with the aim of raising an anti-Communist volunteer force. But the Nazis were uninterested in the “liberation” of the Soviet Union. Instead they wanted to enslave or eradicate its inhabitants. No doubt it was such disillusioning experiences that fueled the opposition of Tresckow, Boeselager and Strik-Strikfeldt to Hitler.