on 26 March 2013
I began reading about the German Resistance and the July Plot when Constantine FitzGibbon's book, 'The Shirt of Nessus' (Henning von Treskow first used the expression in this context), was published many years ago. I've been reading about it ever since and bought 'Germans against Hitler' rather than a book of fragments of excellent work tailored to provide a monograph on this subject.
If you are looking for a simple narrative Mommsen's is not your book. It is a thorough examination of the origins and development of German Resistance which was far more complex and affected many more aspects of German society than earlier works have suggested. Even the Nazi investigators were surprised at the ramifications and diversity of the opposition. Their early diagnosis of an assassination plot concocted by a small group of high-ranking, disaffected, staff officers was quite wrong. New documents spreading the evidence of Resistance much wider were still being discovered within a few weeks of the end.
Mommsen suggests that the hesitation of so many of the Resistance to act went much deeper that the Officers' Oath to Hitler. After all, this applied to a fraction. The Resistance as a whole was inhibited by a German concept of the intrinsic morality of the State derived from Kant and endemic in Germany through the eighteenth century, the Empire, Weimar and into the Third Reich. There was no right in Germny even to to resist tyranny. It is now written into the Basic Law but there are still doubts about whether it could justify action.
Of all the Resisters only Henning von Tresckow was prepared from an early stage to kill the tyrant. believing that even an attempt destined to fail would demonstrate that a few just men in Germany as in the Bible could redeem the whole. Yet resistance to tyranny was advocated in European society from Thomas Aquinas onward. It was acted upon to the ultimate in England in 1649 and France in 1794.
Mommsen's book is not easy reading but it has opened a vigorous, continuing debate about the hitherto accepted views of the nature of the Resistance and the nature of the modern German state itself. Compare it with Joachim Fest's book, written about ten years earlier. Read it, for example, to give yourself a different slant on the thinking of Rommel, accused of going over to the Resistance because the war was being lost, and von Kluge who was at the main military focus of resistance in Army Group Centre but would not commit himself and was forced into suicide anyway.
on 23 April 2006
I thought knew all about the resistance to Hitler but this book was a total eye-opener. It's simply amazing: the story of that famous, doomed assassination attempt (East Prussia 1944) has never been told better, but here also you have the stories of the other, everyday resisters like the simple carpenter who nearly succeeded in killing Hitler with a bomb in a Munich beer hall in 1939. (That would make a great 'What if ...'
story for those who enjoy such things!).
This book changed the way I thought about German attitudes to Nazism - I don't see how anyone can begin to understand the story of that terrible time until they have read this book. Essential reading. Full-stop.
on 26 August 2011
I give talks in spain on various decades of history and after the 1920s and 1930s am now embarking on the 1940s. Entitled War and Peace and Retribution, it will involve German Resistance. Last year I touched on the early resisters and am now finding my way though those after the out break of WW2. Good book and well written Mommsen is very familiar to me, an excellent historian who writes in a balanced way