“Plotting Hitler’s Death” by Joachim Fest

For most who have followed accounts of the Second World War, the only story that comes to mind when we talk about plots to kill Hitler revolve around Count Stauffenberg. I was delighted to come across this book, “Plotting Hitler’s Death” ( The German Resistance to Hitler) by Joachim Fest. The book translated into English by Bruce Little from the original, “Staatsstreich: Der lange Weg zum. 20. Juli”  was first published in Germany in 1994, almost 50 years after Stauffenberg’s attempt to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944.

Someone asked me how the book was and I replied, “Truly fascinating, if you like history, otherwise you might be bored to death.” Coming back to where I started, for many the only plot to kill Hitler they know of is the July 20 plot where Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg carried a bomb to the conference in the Wolf’s Lair, near Rastenburg, East Prussia. He initially thought the plot had succeeded and that Hitler had been killed, but as everyone knows, Hitler survived and set about bringing a mass retribution against those who were involved directly or even remotely with the failed assassination plot.

Stauffenberg stands out like a hero battling for a lost cause. He was heroic in looks too having fought with Rommel’s Afrika Corps until he was seriously wounded in 1943. Fest writes, ” What was lacking above all was an assassin…..he had lost his right hand as well as the third and fourth fingers of his left, and he wore a black patch over his left eye.” He told his friends, “Since the generals have failed to do anything, it’s now up to the colonels.”

The book paints portraits of the diverse groups that tried to overthrow Hitler all the way from 1934 to 1945, with no success. Ranging from Communists to Church loyalists, from those who opposed on the grounds of morality to those who opposed his military reasons, different groups tried to build a resistance movement against Hitler and the ruling Nazis. It covers the motivations ( diverse as they were) that made them espouse the cause, and the reasons why they failed. Principal amongst them was the lack of a clear-cut strategy and a leader who could challenge Hitler in the eyes and minds of the German people of those times. They also found they couldn’t muster adequate support within, as well as outside, Germany.

Fest, who has authored books on Hitler writes with the backing of a huge amount of background research. Copious notes are provided to the sources for information, there is a detailed chronology of key events during the period under discussion and the book concludes with a cast of characters, as it were, with brief biographies of the people involved especially the main conspirators. You will read about many, whom unlike Stauffenberg you may not have heard much of, such as Leber, Leuschner, Hassell, Jessen, and Goerdeler, to mention but a few.

Interesting too are the actions of the leading Generals of the time such as von Witzleben, von Kluge, von Manstein, and Rommel, to name just some of them.

If, like me, you like military history you will find the book of immense interest. The book is generously interspersed with pictures of the principal characters which add to the appeal of the book for Second World War buffs.

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