Today in History: Operation Valkyrie (July 20, 1944)

66 years ago to the day, a group of German military officers and civilians lead by Col. Klaus Schenk, Count Stauffenberg tried to put an end to the Hitler (y”sh) regime. In a unique example in modern history, the leader of the coup attempted the assassination with his own hand. Due to a quirk of fate, their target survived the bomb meant for him. Stauffenberg soldiered on regardless, to no avail: eventually, many conspirators paid the ultimate price, Stauffenberg among the first.

Here is the closing scene of the movie “Valkyrie”. Despite my apprehension about anything coming out of Hollywood, and about Tom Cruise (who does have a vague physical resemblance to the historic Stauffenberg), I can only say that the movie displays an almost astonishing level of historical accuracy (at least by Hollywood standards).

By a quirk of the calendar, July 20 this year falls on Tisha Be-Av, the day Jews commemorate a long litany of calamities that befell the Jewish people on or around that day. Had the assassination succeeded, it is quite likely that the “Final Solution” machinery would have ground to a halt and that a large part of the Jews of Hungary would have escaped its mauls.

Some historians have tried to make Stauffenberg into something he wasn’t. He was an unapologetic German imperialist and militarist, an elitist with little use for democracy as we understand it, and approved to some degree of Nazi racial doctrines even though he considered their implementation “exaggerated” and “excessive”.  In short, he was not a saint. But let us honor his memory for what he really was: somebody who, in a place where there were no men, strove to be one (במקום שאין בו אנשים השטדל להיות איש). And let us likewise honor those who stood and fell with him.

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