lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sat Oct 7 08:55:34 MDT 2000
NY Times, Oct. 7, 2000
At Last, Recognition and Praise for the Resistance in Nazi Germany
By SHAREEN BLAIR BRYSAC
When the British historian A. J. P. Taylor declared in the 1960's that
German resistance to the Nazis was a myth, his was a widely held view. Even
today many people in Germany and elsewhere believe there was little
internal opposition to Hitler.
After decades of bitter debate, however, the German resistance's tangled
history is coming into sharper focus. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and
the end of the cold war in 1989, newly released K.G.B. and C.I.A. files and
long-ignored documents in the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, N.Y., reveal
that the once-scorned Communist and socialist resistance deserves more credit.
As Germany celebrates the 10th anniversary of reunification this week,
there are signs that the left's contributions are finally being recognized.
Streets in western Germany are being named for members of the Red
Orchestra, a leftist resistance group that had been maligned for decades,
while the high-speed trains plying from Hanover through the former eastern
zone to Berlin bear names of German resisters like Count Claus Schenk von
Stauffenberg, who had been honored only in the former West Germany.
But this searching re-examination has not been painless. Old East-West
antagonisms have shot through attempts to correct the record.
Delicate political sensibilities are part of the reason that a more
complete picture of the German resistance has been so long in coming.
During the Nazi era the breadth of internal opposition was hidden from the
German people and, except for the failed Stauffenberg plot of July 20,
1944, to assassinate Hitler, from the rest of the world. Yet Gestapo
records reveal that approximately 800,000 Germans in a population of more
than 66 million were jailed for active resistance during the Reich's
12-year reign. Indeed, the first concentration camps, notably Dachau, built
near Munich in 1933, were meant for left-wing dissidents. In 1936, a
typical year, 11,687 Germans were arrested for illegal socialist activity,
according to Peter Hoffmann's standard 1977 study, "The History of the
German Resistance, 1933-1945."
Even after the war the record was obscured. To many Germans the resistance
was an awkward reminder that choices were possible, even in wartime. In
Germany's western sector, influential voices echoed the Nazi judiciary in
defining all resistance against the fatherland as high treason.
This view persisted after the founding of the German Federal Republic, or
West Germany, in 1949. Survivor benefits, for example, were denied to the
widows and children of the conservative officers who tried to kill Hitler
in 1944, even though the widows of SS officers were receiving benefits.
As West Germany became the anchor of Western Europe, its frontiers
guaranteed by NATO, a less defensive populace began to honor some
resistance leaders like the army officers led by Count Stauffenberg who
tried to assassinate Hitler in 1944, churchmen like Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
and the Catholic students in the so- called White Rose group. Even so,
Communist opponents were still shunned. In 1956 the Bonn Parliament voted
to compensate many German victims of Nazism, but when the Communist Party
was declared illegal in West Germany, the Communists were excluded from any
Perhaps no group was more consistently misrepresented during the cold war
or better illustrates the current re-examination of German resistance than
the Red Orchestra. The Red Orchestra was a loosely organized group of about
120 Catholics, socialists, conservatives and former Communist Party members
centered on Arvid Harnack, a former Rockefeller scholar and official in the
German Economics Ministry; his American wife, Mildred; a Luftwaffe
lieutenant, Harro Schulze-Boysen; and his wife, Libertas, who worked for
the film section of the Propaganda Ministry.
Although often portrayed as a Soviet agent, Harnack in fact provided
top-secret intelligence to an American diplomat in Berlin as well as to the
Soviets. And despite Soviet requests to cease all resistance activities,
the group printed and distributed anti- Nazi literature and helped Jews and
dissidents escape until, because of a gross Soviet intelligence blunder,
the Gestapo arrested 120 people in 1942 and 1943. One result was the
torture, secret trial and execution of 31 men and 18 women, including
In East Germany, the Soviet-installed government celebrated the Red
Orchestra and other "anti-fascist heroes" to lend a measure of legitimacy
to the regime. Streets and schools were named after Marxist resisters.
History was rewritten with Orwellian zeal. Arvid Harnack's last words,
uttered before he was executed, were changed from "I believe in the power
of love" to "I die as a convinced Communist!"
In West Germany the truth was obscured in a different way. Writing in 1954,
the historian Gerhard Ritter expressed a common West German judgment about
the Red Orchestra: "This group had nothing to do with `German resistance.'
They were frankly in the service of the enemy. They not only sought to
induce German soldiers to desert, but they also betrayed important military
secrets and so destroyed German troops." They were, Ritter declared, traitors.
Information that emerged after reunification has renewed the debate over
who deserves to be honored. In 1992, for example, the Memorial Museum of
the German Resistance in Berlin installed a corrective exhibition on the
Red Orchestra intended as a "tardy atonement for the victims and their
survivors, and an apology for long neglect in the history of the German
resistance." But the group's inclusion at the memorial site provoked an
outraged protest by families of the July 20 conspirators.
And when an exhibit from the museum was sent to Washington and New York in
1994, Maria Hermes, the daughter of the Catholic resister Josef Wirmer,
insisted that a distinction be made between the men who planned the
overthrow of Hitler to restore peace and re-establish Germany as a free
constitutional state "and those of the anti-fascists who wanted to
establish Communist rule." Schulze-Boysen's brother, Hartmut, fired back
that unlike the officers who served Hitler loyally until 1944, his brother
and friends had never served the National Socialist state. They "had given
their lives not for Stalin but rather in fighting Hitler," he said.
Yet with the 10th anniversary of reunification, critical opinion is
decisively turning in the revisionists' favor. A permanent exhibit honoring
Schulze-Boysen and a comrade, Erwin Gehrts, opened last December in the
Finance Ministry, a building which at onetime housed Hermann Göring's
Perhaps the most telling signal of the shift in German public opinion was
the warm reception accorded "This Death Suits Me," the collected letters of
Schulze-Boysen, when it was published last fall. Many people were moved by
the final letter that the 33-year-old Schulze-Boysen sent to his parents:
"I am completely calm and ask that you accept this with composure. Such
important things are at stake today all over the world that one
extinguished life does not matter very much. . . . Everything that I did
was done in accordance with my head, my heart, my convictions, and in this
light you, my parents, must assume the best. . . . It is usual in Europe
for spiritual seeds to be sown with blood. Perhaps we were simply a few
fools, but when the end is this near, one perhaps has the right to a bit of
completely personal historical illusion."
Even the reviewer in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the most
conservative of dailies, described the Red Orchestra as one of the "most
moving, most courageous and most farsighted groups of the German resistance."
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