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on 14 March 2009
The clue is in the blurb: Philipp von Boeselager was the last person alive who happened to have something to do with the conspiracy.

Unfortunately, it becomes readily clear that his role was very much an external one, so he doesn't have much to say that is of general interest.

There's no breakdown of the conspiracy, little by way of historical context for the readers. All we get is that the conspiracy was underway, he led some troops back from the frontline ready to take over a German city, found out that something had gone wrong, and turned them back.

That's it, as far as the conspiracy goes. And that's where the book fails. It's not sold as being the story of a child playing with his brother in the woods. The selling-point is that, from the horse's mouth, you're going to read about the plot to kill Hitler. It's barely mentioned, and that makes for a disappointing book indeed.
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on 9 March 2009
Although titled Valkyrie The plot to kill Hitler, the author skirts round the plot and instead gives a history relating to himself and his brother and their service on the Eastern Front. If you have seen the film then give this miss.
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on 18 July 2011
This is a memoir of Philipp von Boeselager, traditional German aristocrat, cavalry officer and last surviving member of the 1944 Bomb Plot to assassinate Hitler. In many ways this would seem to be of limited value to a historian: it is as said, a personal memoir, and would seem to be ghost written at that. Much of it is devoted to uncritical praise of an elder brother, also involved in the Plot and the amount of the (slim) work on the actual Plot is minimal.

Nonetheless, this is a significant piece of history, but not so much on what it says about 1944, rather, it gives an interesting insight into the mentality of the Junker officer class during the Third Reich. Implicitly, the content and presentation of the narrative in the memoir makes clear that the aristocracy saw the Fuhrer as an upstart, but did not intervene to obstruct his accession to power seeing this more as "the will of the people" with which they should not deign to interfere. They also appeared to have exercised considerable informal local authority, but without too much accountability, or desire to use this considerable local and historic influence to resist or reduce the impact of national socialist policies (although a incident of the family assisting fleeing Jews early on is described).

Von Boeselager and his brother join the cavalry and there is little questioning of German war aims/strategy until the war turns against the Germans, especially in the east, although the memoir states it was a growing awareness of SS atrocities in the east rather than growing Soviet pressure that brought about plans to assassinate Hitler and stage a coup. We read of how the July 1944 plotters gradually came together and instigated several attempts to kill Hitler in preparation of seeking an anti-Soviet alliance with the western allies, but ultimately failing and most facing arrest, torture and execution. Several take their own lives. The von Boeselager brothers are not betrayed by fellow plotters and survive (although Phillips brother is killed later fighting the Red Army), with Philipp himself living until 2008.

These officers of the Junker class were undoubtedly brave and fought determinedly and with a strong sense of historic duty to defend Germany and ensure the well being of their men (Von Boeselager distinguished himself in combat on the Eastern Front, was wounded several times in combat and was awarded the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves for bravery in combat). It is clear that they were principled and honourable with a genuine sense of chivalry. The plotters themselves became the conscience of postwar (western initially) Germany. Unfortunately, these memoirs do little to remove the notion that the principles and sense of duty were misdirected. They had the political awareness, skills and inherited authority to prevent or restrain national socialism at its birth but chose to wait too long to act and when they did von Boeselager's account still makes it is difficult to remove the impression that they did so at a time when their historic interests and privileged lifestyle were most under threat - by the advance of Soviet communism.

PS I suspect the English title is the product of publishers keen to cash in on the (dubious) Tom Cruise movie. The original was written in French as Nous voulions tuer Hitler: le dernier survivant du complot du 20 juillet 1944 (We wanted to kill Hitler: the last survivor of the plot of July 20, 1944), much more appropriate
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Others have been critical that this book is not specifically about the famous plot to kill Hitler. They are right, the Tom Cruise film does a pretty good job at that. However this is a gem of a book, fairly short but an emotional, powerful and engaging sense of the circumstances under which German officers came to see Hitler as evil. It highlights the difference between the German military and the SS and the Nazis and the circumstances under which Nazi standards seeped into a country trying to regain it's honour an dignity.

The cover mentions Valkyrie but also clearly states it is "the memoirs of the conspiracy's last survivor", Philipp Von Boeselager. From a slightly aristocratic family Philipp and his brothers were free thinking outdoors types for whom the German army in the late 1930s provided an opportunity to rebuild their country and to drag it back from the sorry state WW1 had left it in. Proud and athletic Philipp and his brother Georg join the cavalry, (and I was amazed how much the Germans used horseback cavalry during the war and especially on the Russian Front) and eventually war breaks out....

At this point this is a memoir mainly dealing with Philipp and his very talented brother and their military experience up to and including the horrors of the Russian front where the supplies ran out and the temperature dropped lower then they thought was possible. This is a tale of dedicated and talented officers with a total focus on their jobs, but gradually the reality of what was happening to Germany under the Nazis starts to seep through to them and their world changes. For Philipp it was an officer casually boasting about the slaughter of some Gypsies. Eventually like minded officers get together and try to assassinate Hitler to bring the war to an early close.

The Von Boeselager brothers were brave and honourable soldiers and there were many instances where they risked themselves to either save their men or the ethnic groups being sought by the Nazis. Their cavalry troops became a cornerstone of the famous assassination event portrayed in the film and it is astonishing that they were never identified. Georg was killed towards the end of the war, but Philipp survived until his death in 2008. Philipp held the Iron Cross for his bravery during the war and once his anti-Nazi exploits came to light the French awarded him the Legion d'honneur and he achieved deserved fame in Germany.

Yes, this is a little light on some of the specifics of Valkyrie but it provides a unique perspective of the time while showcasing the honour and dignity of some very brave men.

Recommended reading for anyone interested in this period of history and the German perspective. The Von Boeselagers served their country with enormous credit and I am glad I spent some time understanding their journey and sacrifice.
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on 10 May 2009
Do not expect much more than just a relatively simple, but moving, memoir illuminating a faction of the German Wehrmacht and one influential militaristic family. But it is so valuable as von Boeselager was actually part of an heroic attempt to bring WW2 to an earlier end, and he escaped with his life - so many others did not. It is a very readable account of a double-life at the time of a ghastly nightmare for Germans as the country headed for destruction. This man and his family had a political conscience - the tragedy was that these conspirators did not succeed.
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on 18 May 2015
The only survivor of the plot to kill Hitler in June '44 tells his tale when aged 70+. It is also an eye-opening account of life on the Eastern Front before and during the collapse of the German Army against the massed Red Army. It also expresses the cultural, physical and perhaps religious 'gap' that existed between 'NAZI troops' and 'Army soldiers & officer' that existed throughout Hitler's reign of terror. A short book but well worth the read. Caused me to read further about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and even Hitler's own diatribe - Mein Kampf.
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on 9 January 2011
Bought as a Christmas present for my 16 year old son who loved it and couldn't put it down! Am waiting for his comments on the film as also bought this for him for Christmas...
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on 25 August 2009
a good read - but you do need a map in front of you just to get some idea of where he was travelling from or too; or a good knowledge of the eastern front.
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on 11 March 2009
Having just seen the film of the same name it was even more interesting to read Philipp Von Boeselager's account of his part in the plots to kill Hitler. Very well translated and readable. Anyone wishing to get an inside view of what some of the upper classes thought of Hitler and the Nazis would learn from this book.
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on 28 April 2009
First of all the events in this book bear absolutely no relation to those portrayed in the film. I'd point out the many differences but that would spoil the plot for both so I won't.

This book is very well written and very well translated. Philipp von Boeselager and his brother - not to mention the other soldiers involved in this plot - are true heroes. Philipp von Boeselager knew every detail of the plot to kill Hitler, what he didn't - and couldn't - know is why it failed, and that's all he didn't know. I'll admit, I was slightly disappointed at that because I thought I'd be getting the whole factual story but I doubt that even von Stauffenberg could have stated why Hitler had not been killed, had he lived - although there is plausible conjecture in an attempt to explain.

Believe me, von Boeselager was a very key player in this plot, passing the explosives to von Stauffenberg and then moving his cavalry unit to Berlin to take control. How he and his brother Georg were not found out is astonishing, as is the risks they all took to get the job done.

Up until the film was announced I had no idea that there had been any attempt on Hitler's life and assumed that all Germans, especially in the army, were Nazi's and in full agreement with Hitler. That some were not and that they were prepared to take such highly dangerous risks, I found surprising and shocking. My eyes were opened a great deal and I'd highly recommend this book to everyone.

We need books like this to inform us of what actually happened during the war from the people who were there.

Note : it states clearly on the book that this is the memoir of the last surviving conspirator and his (very great) involvement with the plot. Braver men you'd be very hard put to find. Buy it and read it. Five starts are just not enough.
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