The Conscience Awakes
By CONSTANTINE FITZGIBBON
ANUMBER of people, of whom I am one, regard the internal German resistance to Hitler as one of the most admirable, and in human terms perhaps ultimately one of the most important, political events of the last thirty years. Others, including the Communists, the dotty left and Mr. A. J. P. Taylor, either dismiss it as a trivial and futile gesture by a handful of reactionaries or even deny its existence altogether. The great majority of people, unfortunately, simply know nothing about it.
It is good, therefore, that Terence Prittie, who knows more about recent German history than most of us, should have published this lucid, factual and fairly full report.* He tells us which Germans resisted Nazism, when, how, and, so far as he can, why. He discusses the part played by both the Churches, and has some illuminating pages on the sad failure of Pius XII to give a lead to his braver German bishops. He describes the pathetic attempts of certain courageous trade union leaders and social democrat politicians to rebuild something amidst the ruins of their once great organisations. He tells the moving story of the Munich students' revolt of 1941-42. He explains the nature and development of the con- servative opposition which was, as it were, first in the field, which later included men of the left as well, and which, with military support, came close to eliminating Hitler thrice, in 1938, in 1943 and finally on July 20, 1944. His occasional rare errors—as when he describes Fritsch as Blomberg's successor, or calls the Reichssicherheitshauptaint. the Reich central security headquarters, the Reichshauptsicher- heitsamt—are negligible. His style is somewhat flat and undistinguished, as perhaps befits an eminent journalist, and his tone is unemotional, which is doubtless becoming to an historian. But here are the facts about the German resistance to Hitler, and they speak for themselves.
As Mr. Prittie points out, one of the reasons for our failure to understand the nature of German resistance is semantic. (Another is the treatment it received from all the wartime propagandists, German, Russian and Western alike.) It was not' a resistance movement in the French, Norwegian or Polish style, and since they became the archetypes of resistance many have concluded that what happened in Germany does not qualify for the word. But this is surely wrong. In many ways the role in which the German resisters were cast was an even harder one to play. Those brave men who fought the Nazis in the occupied countries were, first and foremost, patriotic soldiers continuing the battle with such means as they possessed, assured, at least in their own minds, of their legality by reason of their governments-in-exile, and sup- ported both morally and often physically by their still combatant allies.
None of this applied to the Germans who con- spired against Hitler, except the fact that they
* GERMANS AGAINST HITLER. By Terence Prittie. (Hutchinson, 30s.) too were patriots. (This is not true of most of Hitler's Communist opponents, who were mere agents of Soviet imperialism, as post-war German history has shown. But the Communists do not really belong in the resistance story, being prim- arily interested in espionage on Russia's behalf.) The non-Communist anti-Nazis, with whom this book is principally concerned, were, in most cases, 'Western-orientated.' This does not mean that they were in any way agents of the French, the British and the Americans, as the Commun- ists were of the Russians. Rather did they recognise that Germany is an integral part of the West which had betrayed its true nature by embracing the profoundly anti-Western, anti- Christian mish-mash of cruel and foolish con- cepts that were called the Nazi Weltanschauung. They regarded it as their patriotic duty to lead their country, by force if need be, back to its proper role in the world. Their patriotism, though, must and did appear to the majority of their compatriots as its very reverse, as treason in time of war. For they lacked even a government-in-exile. They were fighting against what all the world accepted as the only legal government of Germany and they aimed at the complete overthrow of the existing order precisely because they had. realised that govern-, ment was in fact illegal, that Hitler's New Order was the worst and most wicked disorder Europe has perhaps ever seen.
And this may be the most significant single aspect of the German resistance. Each man who understood the nature of the Nazi State, who drew the necessary conclusions therefrom, and who was prepared to risk torture and death for his convictions, did so as a solitary individual, alone with his knowledge and his conscience. The whole vast propaganda apparatus of the State, from the crudest slogans to the subtlest appeals of honourable nationalism, urged him to decide the other way. The entire totalitarian system tried, by force, threats and persuasion, to make him think and act as the dictator wished. And it cannot be sufficiently stressed how utterly lonely a heretic and a resister is within a totali- tarian State: it is not there a question of 80,000,000 men being controlled by 1,000,000 police, but of one single man being ruled by a million policemen eighty million times over. Finally,, for reasons which remain largely in- explicable, we refused to give the men of the German resistance the slightest encouragement of any sort.
Axel von dem Bussohe has told me that when, at the age of twenty-two, he witnessed atrocities in Russia which led him to the conclusion that he would rather lose his life in an attempt to kill Hitler than in fighting for him, this con- viction was succeeded by a sensation of lonely hopelessness and helplessness. What could one solitary young infantry officer do? It took him a year, and a very dangerous year at that, before he found others who thought as he did, before he could even begin to see how he might act as he wished. Those who speak so glibly of the tardiness of July 20 should bear this fact in mind.
The power machine at Hitler's disposal was such that only one organisation. possessed the necessary strength to overthrow him, the army. And, as soon became apparent, only one weapon promised success, assassination. But German officers of that period were, by background and training, the very opposite of revolutionaries. and conspirators. For they had been encouraged, from the time when they were cadets, to eschew politics altogether. That they should have political views goes without saying, but they were supposed to keep those views to themselves, and never to transform them into actions. In this they may • be said to have resembled, in some ways, our own civil servants. (And it may here be remarked that while many members of the British Foreign Service regarded Chamber- lain's appeasement policy as foolish and even wicked, only one member of the Service re- signed, in public protest. The situations are not, of course, comparable, but a certain parallel can be drawn. The German officer corps had more in common with our Civil Service than it had with South American military putschists.) And men prepared to overthrow their govern- ment for profound reasons of personal con- science are not usually the type to commit murder lightly.
indeed, some of Hitler's most determined and noble opponents, such as Count Helmuth von Moltke, never could bring themselVes to, accept this necessity, while the strange lethargy Of the officer conspirators in Berlin on the afternoon of July 20 can in some measure be accounted for psychologically: they did not know for sure whether or not Hitler was dead. Could they rebel against a man to whom they had all sworn a per- sonal oath of allegiance? In theory they were pre- pared to do so; in practice they hesitated, hoping for the news that .would alsO absolve them from that oath. Some of them, of course, and in par- ticular Stauffenberg, had 'thought through' this problem too.
Some of them, too, had thought through the question of failure. The fact that they did fail has often been held against them, and they certainly had no wish to do so: They were not deliberate martyrs, like the White Rose child- ren in Munich, but men of action anxious by their deeds to alter ohistory..Furthermore, they were well aware that failure must cost them their lives and, on a more altruistic Icvel, that their destruction would deprive their, country of its natural post-Nazi leaders. Nevertheless inactivity would be worse than failure. 'It must be, done,' said Staulienberg, que
What distinguishes this group of men, Who had little in common other than their determina- tion to get rid of the Nazis and create a decent Germany and who in most cases did not even know of one another's existence, from other political activists of our terrible century? I would say, primarily, the fact that each based his behaviour upon his own individual con- science, his knowledge of right and, wrong, often, perhaps usually, sustained by real religious be- lief. Acting as they did against an ideological tyranny, they did not make the elementary error of falling into, or trying to create, another ideology. (Hence the taunts of the extreme left that have pursued them even beyond the grave.) Often in confusion, sometimes in.despair, ultim- ately in failure and to death, they pursued the only course which, as honest men, they believed open to them. It is right that they be not for- gotten, for their example is needed, and not only in Germany. .