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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ultimate Stauffenberg biography., 25 July 1999
By A Customer
Peter Hoffmann's biography of Stauffenberg is the best anyone is likely to write on the subject. The book comprehensively assesses all primary sources hitherto used by Stauffenberg's previous biographers, plus many additional sources which the author himself found. Hoffmann's previous books, among them 'THE HISTORY OF THE GERMAN RESISTANCE, 1933-1945', and 'HITLER'S PERSONAL SECURITY' serve as a foundation to this work which, all told, spans 30 years of scholarly research. As the depth and breadth of this study eclipses any other attempt to date, its conclusions are unassailably judicious. Thus, Hoffmann's 'STAUFFENBERG' has made perhaps the most definitive contribution to the historical field of resistance to the Third Reich.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tom von Stauffenberg or Claus Cruise: The book and the Valkyrie film, 11 Sep 2011
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This review is from: Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944 (Paperback)
In 2008 there were many unkind comments about Tom Cruise and the film Valkyrie Valkyrie [DVD]in which he starred as Count Claus von Stauffenberg. Most were on details (see Valyrie goofs), but in Germany it was centred more on Cruise's religious beliefs of Scientology. The film (directed by Bryan Singer) was based on and worked with Peter Hoffmann, a twenty year scholar on the German Resistance and on the von Stauffenberg family. The question, given the film is not a documentary, was the product written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander entertaining, and most of all faithful to the book.

The book is the story not just of Claus but of the three brothers: Claus, Berthold (Alexander Seidl), and Alexander. It traces their beliefs linked to the closed circle of friends of the poet Stefan George. In general, they worked as a secret society even before the advent of National Socialism, but because of the secrecy, and due to the importance of Claus in the failed attempt on Hitler's life on Thursday July 20th, 1944, the first half of the book is a long introduction in order to understand the philosophy behind the plotters' preparation and the immediate weeks prior to the event. Both the film and the book each ends with the firing squad and Claus' shot "Long live holy Germany!" The introduction is vital principally to comprehend why a noble, a devoted Catholic family man, and his two brothers moved their allegiances from being the natural supporters of the state as others of their class, to becoming hardened enemies and planners to overthrow it.

Stauffenberg's radical change arose in 1942 (see the letter in appendix he wrote to FM Paulus), much later than Alexander whose marriage to Melitta Schiller, a woman of Jewish descent made him realise the hollowness of the regime's ideology, provoked by the crimes of the regime - the mass murder of the Jews, Poles, Russians, and POWs. Other issues for Hoffmann were credited as secondary. To Claus, this murder policy amounted to treason against the Army and the Reich, and as Hitler took decisions which brought his people nearer to ruin, he alone was responsible for the deaths of the people in uniform called up to fight. In time he realized that "errors" in military leadership, such as Dunkirk (the German answer to the myth of the "miracle" rather than the retreat), were not errors, but the consequence of perversion, namely the subordination of military action to ideological lunacy. Hoffmann, on the other hand, suspects none of the brothers could imagine the inner link between Hitler's "racial idea" and his policy of conquest, and war, but gradually they did see the real perpetrator of the crimes not as the henchmen of the innocent Chancellor, the monkeys of the organ grinder, but the Führer himself. This explains the start of the film when the military oath of loyalty to the Führer was shown and read out, as it was the deep felt obligation which forbad everyone from turning them against the Commander in Chief, and thus the German state. Indeed, the director of Valkyrie chose the start of the plotters secret activities on the screen to coincide with a plan recently found by Hoffman in the archives in Moscow drafted by Gen Tresckow (Ken Branagh) in September 1943 - a new discovering for the present third edition of the book,.

But Claus von Stauffenberg was not simply interested in gaining the support of the Army; he was firmly in contact with all strands of opinion from the opposition, even the Communists who normally would have been enemies of someone from the traditional landed class. He even tried to have contacts with the allies outside the country, with little success. Stauffenberg believed in a single Germany of Germans, though he foresaw that the end of the war would bring a divided Germany even before the terms of Yalta were ever made public.

All the Stauffenbergs had a trust in the future of the nation even in the face of foreign occupation and moral humiliation. They rejected the moral arrogance of the foreign conquerors which was little more than the "justice" demanded by the victors. The Stauffenbergs wanted "law and justice" and realised that their fate had made them co-responsible for Germany's disgrace; but they wished to emphasise that they represented another Germany, and in their secret treasonable activities they were giving their lives to restore its future honour. Ultimately, they failed because the seniors in the Armed Forces (the "generals") refused to follow them and other conspirators ("the colonels), those in charge who were less compromised with the present regime. The author, however, does not lay blame.

In the epilogue, more interestingly, the author shows up the corrupt warp style of the Nazi state, and the singular vindictive pathological manner of Hitler, and all those in his circle. As members of the Armed Forces the conspirators under German law would have been liable to a military tribunal. Hitler arbitrarily altered the state jurisdiction, by obliging the accused to stand in a Court of Honour, to have them expelled from the Forces so as to pass them over to the regime's tribunal, the People's Court - where all the decisions had been made before the court sat. Then he tried physically eliminate all members of families, with the children sent to foster families and given new "inoffensive" surnames.

The failure of the plot, for the historian, was due to (a) incidents on the day - the use of a single rather a planned use of two primers, the continued radio and telephone links between Berlin and the rest of the Reich while the plotters were cut off; (b) the individuals: the weaknesses of Gens Olbricht (Bill Nighy) and Fromm (Tom Wilkinson), the devious jealous nature of the counter-intelligence agent, Gisevius, even Stauffenberg himself - his conviction that he alone had to be the assassin, and later the leader of the uprising, because he felt he could not, with due reason (most of the plotters wanted to hold back from setting off the plan in Berlin when they learnt that neither Himmler, nor Goering were not present in the bunker at the Wolf Lair or Wolfschanze when the bomb was primed), trust the other conspirators to carry out what they should do as he always would. Hoffmann felt that Stauffenberg was carrying a lot on his shoulders, but he never allowed it to defeat him even at the end. He stressed that Stauffenberg must have been under real severe pressures - which Cruise presented as trying to give all greater confidence, perhaps a little too arrogantly, but with conviction to reach the final difficult objective.

The book is well written, and sufficiently long, but when describing the final months of the analysis Hoffmann moves away from a single uni-linear thesis of events, to something which seems a little confusing: he focuses on the reactions of both the main and secondary protagonists to the ensuing events. As no one protagonist had overall control of the events it gives the impression that each view of the different protagonists has equal importance, which allows the reader and the film director as much room to decide whose word to take more into consideration.

The book will help one to appreciate what lay behind the film, after which it shows how the producers could demonstrate on the big screen the deep complex ideas in clearer, simplified, and dramatic form. Cruise became Stauffenberg, and viewers see the Hoffmann living version of Claus Stauffenberg in Tom Cruise, and not that Tom Cruise was dressed up as Stauffenberg and acted as Cruise. My advice is to read half the book until the moment of Stauffenberg's injuries in the field in Tunisia, in 1943, before first watching the film in full, then savouring the remainder of the book. The film accompanies and reinforces the narrative of the book. It is a beautifully argued volume with over fifty photos and maps, and a faithful film presentation of the Plot of July 20th.
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Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944
Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944 by Peter Hoffmann (Paperback - 23 Dec 2008)
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