The rise of American fascism and the ongoing, virulent threats to American democracy make a closer look at fascist historical precedents from the last century imperative. Americans must become familiar with the methods used by anti-democratic forces to destroy constitutional government, silence opposition, mislead and terrorize the population.
We must also remember that once a racist dictatorship has seized control of the apparatus of government, only a full-scale revolution or a military coup can bring it down. For that reason, better understanding of the German opposition to Hitler and especially the attempted military coup against Hitler is vital. These topics are no longer subjects for academic discourse but of acute relevance -- to all of us.
History does not repeat itself, but historical parallels can inform and assist us in confronting contemporary issues.
On 20 July 1944 a bomb exploded at Hitler's daily briefing. It was the last in a series of assassination attempts against Hitler carried out by a group of military conspirators. Shortly afterwards, using a legitimate military plan codenamed "Valkyrie," senior officers of the German Home Army tried to seize power in an attempt to free Germany from the criminal Nazi regime.
Sadly, like all those before it, the assassination attempt had failed. In consequence, within hours orders were issued from Hitler's headquarters countermanding "Valkyrie." In some military districts, such as France, the subordinate commanders were anti-Nazi and they followed the "Valkyrie" orders without hesitation. The local Gestapo and SS were rounded up and detained. In other military districts, the news that Hitler had survived the assassination attempt was sufficient grounds for disregarding "Valkyrie" and following the orders from Hitler's headquarters instead. Slowly but surely the latter reaction became more common than the former. By the end of the night it was over; the only uprising by Germans against the Nazi regime collapsed.
In the night of July 20, 1944, the first men associated with this German revolt against Hitler's dictatorship were executed without trial. The first man to fall to the vicious Nazi retribution was the man who had from early 1942 onwards developed and nurtured the coup d'etat plans, Plan "Valkyrie": General Friedrich Olbricht. Thousands of other conspirators and their sympathizers followed and were liquidated in a bloody retribution.
Who were the men behind the conspiracy? Was it really just a "tiny clique of criminally stupid officers" as Hitler claimed? And was Claus Graf Stauffenberg - the only person named by Hitler - really the driving force behind it?
In a series of entries, I will look at the key milestones on the way to July
20, 1944 and introduce some of the important actors and factors in this drama. It is up to the reader to reflect on the extent to which parallels exist today and what lessons we can learn from the German experience.
The German Resistance to Hitler was the subject of my PhD thesis. At the time I was the first Western academic granted access to some military archives and documents in what was then still "East Germany." In addition, I conducted interviews with over one hundred survivors of Nazi Germany, both supporters and opponents of the regime. The research culminated in a published dissertation and, later, an English-language biography of General Friederich Olbricht based on the dissertation. It also inspired me to write a novel about the German Resistance, which was recently re-released in ebook format under the title: "Traitors for the Sake of Humanity." Find out more and read reviews of "Traitors" at the publisher's website: Cross Seas Press.