Tuesday, March 31

Stauffenberg: Portrait of a plotter

Claus Schenk Graf v. Stauffenberg, 1944. Wiki Commons.

We know too little about the lives of saints. If we knew more, they would probably not be saints. We know that St. Augustine was once a happy sinner and that he repented; But we don't know what the Virgin Mary was like when she had a headache. Perhaps it is best to assume that she never did since she was the Virgin Mary.

Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg was the man who placed the bomb near Hitler's chair on July 20, 1944, and who was later executed the same day. According to history, he sacrificed his life for the honor of Germany. Without Stauffenberg and his circle, it would be even more difficult for Germany to deal with the recent past. The early biographers were therefore inclined to hagiography, although it must be said that Peter Hoffmann's classic report from 1998, which was revised in 2009, is quite "warts and everything". In recent years, however, the old questions have come up again: Was he such a good egg? Or was he just another far right who wanted to end the war because his team was losing?

I say the old questions because this argument is as old as Hitler's statement that night: The attempted murder was carried out by "a very small clique of ambitious, irresponsible and at the same time senseless and criminally stupid officers". The conspirators were traitors and traitors that they officially remained until the trial of Otto Remer in 1952. Remer was, as we will recall, the man who went to Goebbels that night and after the Minister of Propaganda connected him with Hitler, Remer had fended off the coup d & # 39; état. The court found that Nazi Germany was not governed by the rule of law. From that moment on, it was defamatory to call the men and women behind the conspirators.

But we have to be grateful that the Remer case didn't end the debate. Last year the spectator has published an article about Stauffenberg and his friend Fritz-Dietlof Graf von der Schulenburg, and this year Thomas Karlauf's biography about Stauffenberg – so far only in German and with a harmless subtitle "Portrait of a Plotter" – has slapped him on the face , Karlauf is a biographer of the German poet Stefan George, whose quasi-monastic, quasi-homoerotic circle Stauffenberg started at the tender age of 15. There is no evidence that Claus was sexually harassed in any way by the other men, even though the club was his troubled mother.

The men who entered Master's presence founded a secret society that sought a new Germany that would transcend the dirty reality of modern life. George men should be gentlemen. At a rare moment when his message came out of the clouds, George said it meant not behaving like pigs. Many aspects of George's thinking were acceptable to the Nazis, but his sexuality was not. After Hitler came to power, Georg went into exile in Switzerland, where he died in December of the same year. All three Stauffenbergers were committed Georgians; Claus and his brother Berthold, both executed in 1944, were George men until the end. As a George scholar, Karlauf has something important to offer us. I am grateful for that.

Much of the book takes up the history of the opposition, and pages and pages lose track of the subject. Karlauf relies heavily on what the conspirators said under torture. Still, it is likely that the bush telegraph in the prisons meant that they blamed it on those who they knew were already dead. Where he has no evidence of Stauffenberg's views, Karlauf tells us that it is "likely" that he thought this or that and admits that he finds his subject arrogant and irritating.

Karlauf shows us that the high-ranking officer Stauffenberg after 1933, the gelding of the SA in 1934 – the night of long knives – and the separation of the German-speaking Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia in 1938 made no resistance. He believed in the conquest of the East, especially those parts of Poland that had been German a few decades ago. Stauffenberg was not particularly philosophical and, during the Polish campaign, expressed contempt for ordinary Jews and people of mixed races in the occupied territories. He still broke an officer who ordered the shooting of two Jewish women in Wieluń, Poland.

Stauffenberg was a general staff officer whose job it was to plan campaigns. It is therefore no surprise that he played to win. Before the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of 1942, Stauffenberg celebrated the war. He was a proud and enthusiastic German officer, not a modern "peace keeper". Karlauf doesn't tell us, but you're wondering whether, like so many other Germans of his generation (Schulenburg was one of them), he hadn't drunk deep in Ernst Jünger's writings?

Stauffenberg cannot be made a metaphor for upper-class officers, mainly because he was not remotely typical. How many nobles join the circles of mystical poets, verses, or correct translations of Homer? Stauffenberg was politically adventurous and much more interested in the socialist Julius Leber leading a post-Nazi Germany than the conservative Carl Goerdeler. Karlauf tells us that Adam von Trott was one of Stauffenberg's three closest employees, but also a man on the left. When Stauffenberg was convinced of the need to eliminate Hitler, he stepped into the business with predictable efficiency and revived a conspiracy that had been going on since 1938.

Karlauf suspects that the bomb could not kill Hitler because Stauffenberg hesitated to risk his own life by bringing it closer to the goal: he felt that he was needed in Berlin. Unfortunately, he was right – without him, the others purred at their military mustaches. Stauffenberg was certainly not a saint, but knowing a little more about him doesn't necessarily make him a lesser man.

Stauffenberg: portrait of an assassin
Thomas Karlauf
Karl Blessing Verlag 366 pp £ 15

Giles MacDonoghTo the books of belong In Germany (Hurst, 2018) and Prussia: the perversion of an idea (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994).

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