Hiroshima Day post: Rush, “Manhattan Project” and Iron Maiden, “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns”

This powerful Rush song about the Manhattan Project begs to be shared on this day.

Imagine a time
when it all began
In the dying days of a war
A weapon that would settle the score
Whoever found it first
would be sure to do their worst
They always had before…

Imagine a man
where it all began
A scientist pacing the floor
In each nation
always eager to explore
To build the best big stick
To turn the winning trick
But this was something more…

[…]

Imagine a man when it all began
The pilot of “Enola Gay”
Flying out of the shockwave
on that August day
All the powers that be, and the course of history
Would be changed forevermore​…

As a bonus, here is a video of another, heavier song about the same subject, named after the first published account of the project: Robert Jungk’s “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” (original German title: Heller als tausend Sonnen)

Advertisements

Valkyrie Day post: “The Tenth Righteous Man”

Sixty-four years ago to this day, a German general staff officer named Claus Schenk, Count von Stauffenberg led an attempt to assassinate the Führer (y”sh) and effect regime change. His attempt was the last of many, and failed through a minor coincidence. The former Bendler Street in downtown Berlin, where once the plotters worked, is today known as Stauffenberg Street: a memorial to the German anti-nazi resistance stands there now. The biography by McGill U. historian Peter Hoffmann makes for fascinating reading.

Many had tried and failed before Stauffenberg: three came within a hairbreadth of succeeding, as he himself would.

The “lone wolf” carpenter and master clockmaker Georg Elser managed to install a powerful time bomb behind the speaker’s rostrum at the hall where his target was scheduled to give an annual memorial speech for the ‘old comrades’ who fell in the attempted 1923 “Beer Hall Putsch”. (Elser had gone to work at a quarry so he could gradually purloin the required dynamite.) Only a last-minute  schedule change because of predicted foul weather thwarted the attempt: the bomb went off twelve minutes after the speaker had left, and killed at least a dozen people.

Later, two general staff officers succeeded in smuggling a time bomb aboard the Führer’s personal plane, disguised as a gift of liqueur from one general staff officer to his colleague in Berlin. The detonator failed, presumably because of the cold weather: the plotters were able to extricate their own bomb and go undetected.

The third, the attempted suicide bombing by Col. Rudolf Freiherr [=Baron] von Gersdorff, was unique in that, if it had succeeded, it would have been a ‘decapitation strike’ against nearly the entire apex of the Nazi state. I wrote a fictionalized version of this incredible tale as the first story in this anthology:

(the entire story appears in the preview). It is a classic illustration of the adage that history can be stranger than fiction. In brief: an exhibit of captured Soviet armaments had been organized in Berlin (at the building that today houses the German Historica Museum). As an additional morale booster, the grand opening was to be attended not just by the Führer himself but by Goering, Navy commander Adm. Doenitz, and SS-chief Himmler. Gersdorff (the intelligence officer of Army Group Center) managed to get himself assigned as the senior guide to the exhibition, and carried two captured British time bombs in his pocket. He set off the fuses and started guiding the VIPs on their tour, expecting the fuses to go off, killing his guests and himself. However, whether from boredom or through a long-standing habit of throwing wild-cards into his schedule and movements, Hitler left the exhibit after a few minutes. Gersdorff was quite willing to die but not to throw away his life for nothing, and thus excused himself to a bathroom where he managed to defuse his two bombs just in time. Unbetrayed by his comrades even under the vilest tortures, Gersdorff survived the war and lived to tell the tale, and to become the founder of Germany’s largest volunteer ambulance service.

[He had actually] offered his services to the Bundeswehrafter the war, but was blackballed as a ‘traitor’, being as he had sworn personal allegiance to the man-monster he had tried to murder. By our lights, he had merely tried to defend ‘against all enemies, foreign and domestic’.

[…]Gersdorff was no plaster saint: he loved the good life, particularly horseback riding, and appears to have taken the trappings of his aristocratic background for granted. On the other hand, noblesse obligewas clearly no mere phrase for him, but an ideal for which he was prepared to pay the ultimate price.

He was not merely a nobleman in title. More importantly, he was a man noble in spirit.

Cast a Giant Shadow: David “Mickey” Marcus (1901-1948), the IDF’s first general

Continuing in a Remembrance Day vein, a few words about the American Jewish army officer who ended up being the first aluf (“general”, in modern use Maj.-Gen.) of the IDF.

col_marcus_in_israel_1948

David Daniel Marcus, known to all as “Mickey” Marcus, was born on the Lower East Side in 1901. Bright as well as athletic, he acquired his higher education in what then (as now) was an unusual fashion for an American Jewish boy: he applied to the US Military Academy at West Point and was accepted in 1920, graduating with the Class of 1924.

After completing his active duty requirement, he went to law school and spent most of the 1930s fighting organized crime as an Assistant US Attorney in New York. In 1940, mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed him Corrections Commissioner, thus placing him in charge of the city’s prisons. Simultaneously, he served in the Army National Guard as the Judge Advocate of the 27th Infantry Division, by now at the rank of Lt. Colonel.

Pearl Harbor and the US entry in World War II made him rethink his judicial career path, and he organized a ranger combat training school on Hawaii. Despite his hopes for a field command, however, he ended up being assigned to the Civil Affairs Division. (The assignment came with a promotion to full colonel.) Among other things, Col. Marcus was involved in drafting the 1943 surrender terms of Italy and the organization of the Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam conferences.

Despite having no paratrooper training, on D-Day he jumped with the 101st Airborne Division (he had pulled in a favor from its commander, his onetime classmate Gen. Maxwell Taylor) and informally commanded a battle group made up of stragglers.

After VE Day he was placed in charge of the DP camps in the US occupation zone of Germany. A tour of the Dachau concentration camp shocked him to the core: subsequently, he would head the Pentagon’s War Crimes Division and select prosecutors and lawyers for the major war crimes trials in Nuremberg and Tokyo.

On six different occasions he was nominated for promotion to Brigadier General, the last time together with the position of military attaché at the US Embassy in Moscow. He declined the appointment and promotion and returned to civilian practice in 1947.

Shortly after, Maj. Shlomo Shamir of the Haganah approached him to help him find a military expert to assist in organizing and training what was to become the IDF. Soon, it emerged that Marcus himself was the prime candidate. Marcus flew to the Land of Israel under the cover name ‘Mickey Stone’, where he was the first Jew in 2,000 years to bear the rank of aluf (general).[*] His exploits in organizing the Haganah guerilla fighters into an army, and in lifting the siege of Jerusalem through an improvised ‘Burma Road’, are recounted in great detail here.

On June 10, 1948, the night before the cease-fire in Israel’s War of Independence was to end, this “reverse Lafayette” met his end — through friendly fire. Being unable to sleep, he had gone for a walk, covered in his blanket against the cold. When the sentry saw the ‘Arab in a cloak’ approach, he challenged him in Hebrew. Marcus answered in English and kept coming despite a warning shot. The sentry fired again and killed Marcus. Once he realized what he had done, the sentry tried to take his own life, but his comrades stopped him —  it would not bring their commander back.

Colonel / Aluf Marcus’s remains were shipped to the USA and buried in the West Point military cemetery, as many Academy graduates are. He is, to my knowledge, the only person buried there who fell in a foreign uniform.

marcusdavid

His story was turned into a Hollywood movie Cast A Giant Shadow starring Isser Danielovich — better known by his stage name Kirk Douglas, and still alive and kicking at age 101!

The Silver Platter (Natan Alterman)

And the land grows still,
the red eye of the sky
slowly dimming over smoking frontiers

As the nation arises,
Torn at heart but breathing,
To receive its miracle, the only miracle

As the ceremony draws near,  it will rise,
standing erect in the moonlight in terror and joy
When across from it will step out a youth and a lass
and slowly march toward the nation

Dressed in battle gear,
dirty, shoes heavy with grime,
they ascend the path quietly
To change garb, to wipe their brow

They have not yet found time.
Still bone-weary from days and from nights in the field
Full of endless fatigue and unrested,
Yet the dew of their youth is still seen on their head

Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of life or death
Then a nation in tears and amazement
will ask: “Who are you?”

And they will answer quietly,
“We are the silver platter
on which the Jewish state was given.”

Thus they will say and fall back in shadows
And the rest will be told in the chronicles of Israel

 

[*] in the modern IDF table of ranks, aluf corresponds to Major-General. The highest rank, rav-aluf (corresponding to Lieutenant-General) is reserved for the Chief of Staff (rosh mate ha-clali, or ramatca”l for short), who is the IDF’s overall military commander.

Mordechai Frizis, the “Greek Lion of Judah”

Today is Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) in Israel, which we mark the day before Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day). Somebody with a better way with words than me quipped that there is a reason Israel has two memorial days: one to remind us of the cost of having a state, the other to remind us of the truly terrible price of not having one.

Yet there are also the Jewish military heroes in uniforms other than our own. One amazing story I learned during a recent visit to Greece is that of colonel Mordechai Frizis (Greek: Μαρδοχαίος Φριζής).

Frizis was born in 1893 to a large Jewish family in the Greek city of Chalkis (a.k.a. Negroponte), which sits at the bridge between the large island of Euboea and the Boeotia region of the Greek mainland. The town’s Jewish community were Romaniotes,[*]  Greek-speaking Jews whose ancestors had come to Greece in pre-Christian days.

From childhood, his dream was to become an army officer. He applied to the military academy  but did not pass the entrance exam — some sources claim his Jewishness was a factor in that. At any rate, he started studying law school as Plan B. When the Balkan Wars broke out, he was drafted and admitted to NCO training. There, because he also had gone to college, he was made a 2nd Lt. in the reserves.

During the Russian Civil War (where he was part of the Allied troops fighting on the side of the Whites) and the Greek-Turkish War, he distinguished himself on the battlefield through bravery as well as ingenuity.[**] When taken prisoner by the Turks in 1922, he was offered his freedom as the only non-Christian among the captive Greeks, but refused, saying his place was with his men. He shared their privations for 11 months until they were released and repatriated when the Lausanne Treaty ended the Greek-Turkish War.

Upon his return, his reserve commission was ‘regularized’ and he himself was sent to France to go study at the Ecole Militaire in St.Cyr (the West Point of France). After graduating with high honors, he was posted to Thessaloniki. He rose gradually through the ranks: the outbreak of WW II found him a Lt. Col. with the 8th Division in Ioannina, the largest town in the northwestern region of Epirus.

At this point Mussolini, displaying his typical level of contact with reality, issued a 3-hour ultimatum to the Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas.[***] According to Greek popular legend, Metaxas just answered “Ochi!” (“No!”), but his actual words, the French “alors, c’est la guerre!” (“well, that means war!”) boil down to the same thing.

The Italian army had bitten off more than it could chew, and got its nose bloodied severely by the Greeks. At one particular battle, Lt. Col. Frizis and his battlegroup of two battalions and an artillery company blocked the Italian advance by denying them the bridge across the Kalama.

The Greeks not only threw the Italians out but counterattacked into Italian-held Albania. It was then that an aerial strafing attack took place on Frizis’s regiment. Seated on horseback, he kept on pressing his men to seek cover, while galloping all over to make sure they did. The planes’ machine guns hit home, and Frizis was mortally wounded. Legend has it that the Greek Orthodox army chaplain said the Shema Yisrael over his dead body.

Both the Greek king and dictator Metaxas eulogized Frizis (posthumously promoted to full colonel) and personally condoled his widow.

Sadly, Mussolini’s senior ally decided he needed to pull his chestnuts out of the fire, and while most of the Greek army was tied up in Epirus, the Wehrmacht invaded from Bulgaria, with tragic consequences for Greek Jews and non-Jews alike.

The Swedish power metal band Sabaton writes most of its songs about war heroes of renown. They never wrote one about Frizis, but they do have one about the Greek resistance to the Italians.

[*] The name comes from their association with the [East]-Roman Empire. They are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi, as the community predates that split. The oldest verifiable sign of their presence is a gravestone from 300-250 BCE to a “son of Moschion the Jew”. The community in Chalcis had a tradition of having arrived even earlier: in the 6th Century BCE, after the victory of the Persians over the Babylonians put an end to the Babylonian Exile.

[**] One anecdote has is that, while fighting with the Whites near Kishinev/Chisinau, the Greek troops were in need of supplies. Frizis sought out his coreligionists in their stores and addressed them in Hebrew (being Romaniote, he did not speak Yiddish nor Russian): reportedly they were so amazed to see a fellow Jew as a Greek officer that they gave him everything he asked for and refused payment.

[***] Metaxas was a royalist, monarchist, and antiparliamentarian Greek nationalist, but (like most Greeks) saw Greekness in cultural rather than genetic terms. He saw the Greek Jews, particularly the Romaniotes, as partners in the “Third Greek Civilization” he sought to foster, and had a close personal relationship with the Chief Rabbi of Thessaloniki.

Memorial Day: “Myrmidon Tears” by Jonathan LaForce

Fellow Dinerzen, writer, and former Marine Jonathan LaForce posted this poem some time ago, then reposted it on his FB wall in honor of Memorial Day.

MYRMIDON TEARS

“Parade rest!”

At once, 600 pairs of boots stamp into the grass,
Palms crossing in the small of our backs.
7 months and 2 weeks after it started,
This is how we end the deployment.

“Murderous muscle-bound myrmidons!”

Two hours under the sun,
Performing a final act to honor a good man.
And though we’d rather leave
Discipline demands we stand,
As if performing the Birkenhead Drill.

“Jack-booted gun-toting thugs!”

The man’s name is stated,
His deeds recounted, and of him,
No foul word nor claim can be said.
A genuine truth this, for he was
In all regards a Christian gentleman.

“War criminals! Baby killers! Rapists!”

He was twenty-one that day
Old enough to drink, to vote, to shave
Old enough to pick up a rifle
Old enough to start a family
Old enough to wear the symbols
Of an American Marine.

But Death cares not for such things
And a roadside bomb laid him low.
It’s why we’re here today,
Listening to his mother plea for her baby.

El D-io, Mijo, Padre Celestial.

“First Sergeants, call the roll!”
We brace ourselves, knowing what’s on the way,
Sure as G-d, sure as death.
“PFC Josue Ibarra! PFC Josue Ibarra! PFC Josue Ibarra!”
Not once, not twice, but thrice his name’s repeated,
A white hot brand searing into our minds.

The boots come out, placed with care,
Then a rifle, held in place by the bayonet
Stabbed deep into the soil.
Finally a helmet to cap it all off.
This is the marker of a man who fell in battle.
It dates back to earlier days,
Tarawa, Belleau Wood, Chapultepec.

They escort his mother up first
We watch as she faints,
Falling over unable to contain the grief.
And all of it makes us angry.

Rage and grief combine as we approach that marker.
Paying our respects to the fallen.
Wishing for one awful moment to trade him places
Before we send him on to the eternities.

Our society hates us…
The ruling elite despise our symbols
Celebrities mock us at every turn,
Fearing and hating our capacity for violence.

They fervently believe that all we are
Is unthinking, unfeeling, uncaring beasts of war.
They’ll never know what it means
To “stand to” by dawn’s early light;
To run up the colors each day,
Wondering if you’ll live to see them lowered,
In the southern Afghan desert;
To plug a slashed jugular
And save a young marine’s life as bullets crack over head.
To load and fire and load again
Cannons roaring like dragons.

They’ll never see the myrmidon’s tears,
Etching scars not just in our faces
But our minds, our hearts, the fabric of our souls
They never see the drinking, the grief,
The ways we harden ourselves outwardly;
They never see the guilt of surviving
Of living and wishing to die,
If only so that at one better than you could live.
Angels never cry,
We give hope to those we protect.

No one sees the myrmidon’s tears

Cpl. Jonathan LaForce, USM, 2014

In honor of Battle of Britain Day

 

The above is a montage of aerial combat scenes from the movie “Battle of Britain“, set to the Iron Maiden song “Aces High” (lyrics). Churchill’s immortal words form the intro.

Also in observance of the day, here is an interesting documentary on the Polish RAF squadron during the Battle of Britain.

“The few, the proud…”

 

 

Book review: “Countdown to Valkyrie: The July Plot to Assassinate Hitler” by Nigel Jones

https://www.amazon.com/Countdown-Valkyrie-JULY-ASSASSINATE-HITLER-ebook/dp/B00DN5U49Q/

This book is an underrated gem. I’ve read quite a few tomes on the history of the anti-Nazi underground in Germany, starting (back in my teens) with Hans-Bernd Gisevius‘s inside story “To the bitter end”, a book as entertaining as it is self-serving. Peter Hoffmann at McGill University has written more scholarly treatments, but this volume, at less than $5 in eBook, offers a concise and very readable one-book summary.

The title tried to create a tie-in with the movie “Valkyrie” (on which Hoffmann worked as a historical consultant). Readers looking for a lot of material on the July 20 Plot (a.k.a. Operation Valkyrie) and its leader Col. Claus Schenk, Count von Stauffenberg, will not be disappointed. Yet many of the earlier plots are covered in some detail. Allow me a brief summary of some that really stood out.

In the lead-up to the Czechoslovak adventure, a number of senior army officers around the ousted Chief of the General Staff, Ludwig Beck, and Abwehr second-in-command Col. Hans Oster had planned a putsch, as they expected a major debacle in a battle against the fairly well-armed Czech Army, especially if the French intervened on their side. The cravenness of the Chamberlain and Daladier governments led to Czechoslovakia falling in Nazi hands without a shot being fired, albeit in two installments: Sudetenland at first, the rump state second. This unexpected success gave Hitler (y”sh) a boost and took the wind out of the sails of the would-be putschists.

On Nov. 9, 1939, just minutes after the Führer had prematurely left the Munich beer hall where he had delivered a speech on the anniversary of his abortive 1923 coup, a powerful bomb went off, killing over a dozen people and wounding many others. The bomb maker was a journeyman and clock maker named Georg Elser, a lone wolf (with clear signs of being “on the spectrum”) who had patiently hollowed out a space in a pillar behind the speaker’s rostrum and concealed a bomb with redundant detonator clocks of his own design and construction.  (The explosives were pilfered at a quarry where he had taken on a job for that purpose.) Elser was caught while trying to cross the border into Switzerland: he was interrogated for years, as the Gestapo could not believe he had acted alone and kept looking to pin the operation on British intelligence. In fact, SD-spy master Walter Schellenberg, posing as an anti-Nazi Wehrmacht officer, managed to entrap two British MI6 operatives , thus ensuring Whitehall would never want anything further to so with anti-Nazi conspirators in the Wehrmacht.

Elser, who was shot near the end of the war as the Allies were approaching, acted out of left-wing political convictions. The French-speaking Swiss Maurice Bavaud, on the other hand, was a devout Catholic who sincerely believed Hitler was the Antichrist and that killing him was his religious duty. He attempted to shoot him during a commemoration parade in Munich but was, ironically, prevented from getting a clear shot at the target by the arms of other spectators suddenly going up in the Nazi salute. He was caught while trying to get a free ride on a train to Paris, confessed, and was guillotined in 1941.

Two men actually planned suicide bombings. Cavalry captain Rudolf Baron von Gersdorff  had been recruited, shortly after the invasion of the USSR, into the conspirator cell around Henning von Tresckow and his adjutant Fabian von Schlabrendorff at Army Group Center headquarters. The most revolting part of Gersdorff’s duties was coordination between the army and the  SS Einsatzgruppen (mass murder squads) operating in their rear: while there is no evidence he was an eyewitness, he must have been aware of what they were doing. On March 21, 1943, Gersdorff was to give the Führer himself a tour of captured Soviet weaponry at the old Berlin armory. He arrived with a bomb in his pockets — captured British plastique explosives, with a 10-minute ‘time pencil’ detonator. The tour was scheduled to last 30 minutes: Gersdorff primed his detonator, thinking within 10 minutes he and his target would be blown into the next world. Alas, Hitler rushed through the exhibit in a few minutes, leaving Gersdorff with a bomb about to go off, but no target. He rushed into a restroom and managed to yank out the time pencil just before the acid had eaten through. Gersdorff survived the war to later found a voluntary ambulance and emergency relief service, the Johanniter Unfall-Hilfe (St.-John’s Accident Assistance), under the auspices of the Lutheran branch of the Knights Hospitaler — the Johanniterorden, in which his family had been very active and he himself was an Honorary Commander.

Another would-be suicide bomber was Capt. Axel Baron von dem Bussche. He joined the underground after witnessing the machine-gunning of the Jews of Dubno — he even wanted to strip out of his uniform and join the victims. Being over two meters tall with poster-boy “Aryan”  looks, he was to model the new Army uniform and greatcoat design for the Führer — and planned to hide a suicide charge in it, this time with a five-second detonator taken from a hand grenade. His plan was to embrace his target and blow them both up. As fate would have it, the train on which the consignment of uniforms ‘traveled’ was destroyed in an Allied air raid, and the event called off. von dem Bussche returned to the front shortly after, was severely wounded in battle (he lost one leg) and spent the remainder of the war in hospitals and convalescence. He survived the war to later become a senior official in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.

Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin (son of another conspirator, and related to both Field Marshal Paul-Ewald von Kleist and the 19th-Century Romantic poet and playwright Heinrich von Kleist) was to make a third suicide bombing attempt, but the Führer canceled his appearance at the last minute.

Yet another noteworthy plot was actually shown briefly at the beginning of the movie Valkyrie. A bomb with a time pencil was hidden inside a case ostensibly holding two large bottles of Cointreau liqueur, which was given to one of Hitler’s adjutants, Lt. Col. Brandt — who traveled with the Führer on board of the latter’s personal FW 200 “Condor” plane — to take with him to Berlin for handing over to Gen. Helmuth Stieff who had supposedly won a bet for this liqueur. Alas, the cold during the flight appears to have caused the detonator to malfunction, and the bomb did not explode. Fabian von Schlabrendorff flew out to Stieff  the next day to go retrieve the infernal device. (Brandt would later succumb to his injuries from the July 20 bombing.)

(Cinematographic note: In the movie, Junkers JU 52 passenger/transport planes — airworthy specimens of which still exist — were shown instead of the Condor, as well as of the Heinkel 111 on which Stauffenberg actually flew to Berlin.)

As one can see from all the “von”, “Graf” (Count), and “Freiherr” (Baron), many of the military plotters were scions of noble families with long military traditions. Yet I was not quite aware, until reading the book, of several of the linchpins in the plot being related by blood or marriage. For example: Col. Henning von Tresckow, the center of conspiracies at Army Group Center, was a first cousin of his adjutant and co-conspirator Fabian von Schlabrendorff (who survived the war thanks to a miracle, see below);  Col. Cäsar von Hofacker, at the center of the Paris cell, was a first cousin of Stauffenberg; while the Protestant theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the brother-in-law of Hans von Dohnanyi, one of the main conspirators at the Abwehr (as Military Intelligence was called). A number were devout Christians, either Lutheran (Tresckow, von dem Bussche, Bonhoeffer), or Catholic (most notably Stauffenberg himself). [The book does not point out that quite a few were knights in the Johanniterorden — not such Gersdorff as described above, but also von dem Bussche, Kleist, and others.]

Motivations are shown in the book to be varied. Most of the officers initially approved, enthusiastically or grudgingly, of the new regime. Some turned against it after the first foreign adventures (e.g., the deposed Army Chief of Staff, Colonel-General Wilhelm Beck), or in the wake of the railroading of Field Marshal von Blomberg and Col.-Gen. Baron von Fritschopponents of the invasion plans who had been ousted on trumped-up morals charges. Others joined the underground after witnessing atrocities (e.g., von dem Bussche), yet others after seeing myriad comrades die due to Hitler’s grandiose and ever more dilettantish, delusional, and disastrous military decision making. Sure, there were also some ordinary malcontents, such as Berlin police chief Wolf Count von Helldorf who had been passed over for promotion. And yet others, who at first had approved of the war of expansion, wanted to “save what could still be saved” when the tide of war had decisively turned against Nazi Germany. Yet at the other extreme, the linchpin of the Army Group Center conspirator cell, Col. Henning von Tresckow, explicitly stated that an attempt on Hitler must be made on moral grounds even if it were hopeless: “Then, just as G-d would have spared Sodom for the sake of ten righteous men, He will spare Germany.”

Much ink has flowed about the July 20 plot, which is covered here in great detail. Without rehashing the story, it is worth emphasizing that this was not a mere assassination plot but a comprehensive takeover plan with three components: (a) the assassination itself; (b) the installation of a new government representing all Weimar-era democratic parties as well as the military; (c) a plan for subduing the SS and Party leadership and asserting military control over the capital and other nerve centers — under cover of a contingency plan named Unternehmen Walküre [Operation Valkyrie] for deployment of the Ersatzheer (Reserve Army) against an uprising by the myriad foreign forced laborers in Germany. Part (c) was only implemented thoroughly and efficiently in Paris: in Berlin itself, desultory planning and indecisive leadership led to disastrous results, such as radio stations remaining under the control of the loyalists. Alas, the decisive, practically-minded, and seemingly utterly fearless Stauffenberg could not be in more than one place at a time.

The author addresses the question why none of the attempts succeeded. He points to the near-miss of the Elser bomb, as well as the successful assassination of “the Butcher of Prague” Heydrich (y”sh) in 1942, as factors that led to (a) a drastic reduction in public appearances of Hitler; (b) ever more elaborate security measures, with physical access increasingly being limited to only the most trusted parties (Stauffenberg, as the chief of staff of the Reserve Army, was invited at situation conferences at Führer Headquarters); and (c) the Führer deliberately introducing an element of unpredictability in his schedule, showing up early or late for events, or canceling appearances at the last minute.

Sudden access interdictions forestalled, for instance, the March 11, 1944 attempt of Capt. Eberhard von Breitenbuch. An aide to Field Marshal Ernst Busch at the time, he was to accompany his boss at a briefing for the Führer at the Berghof. He would of course have to hand over his service weapon before entry, but had concealed a pistol elsewhere on his person, with which he planned to shoot Hitler. Alas, the SS guards had been ordered, earlier that day, no longer to allow aides into the conference room. Unlike many, Stauffenberg had fairly frequent access — he was the Chief of Staff of the Ersatzheer (Reserve/Replacement Army), subject to insistent queries as to how he proposed backfilling the mounting losses on especially the Eastern Front. (At the time of Valkyrie, Operation Bagration, a.k.a. the Destruction of Army Group Center, was in full swing.)

It surely did not help matters that the concept of operational security apparently was  unknown to some of the  key plotters, most notoriously to civilians such as the prime minister-designate, deposed Leipzig mayor Carl Goerdeler. But also some military men such as Stauffenberg’s own adjutant, Lieutenant von Haeften, were maddeningly loose-lipped, making one wonder just how many of them were under Gestapo surveillance.

My personal theory is that SS chief Himmler (y”sh) knew of the plot, but allowed it to proceed, hoping to either become the next Führer in the event of success, or to greatly strengthen the position of the “loyal” SS against the Wehrmacht in the event of failure.

Some anecdotes fall into the “unlike reality, fiction must make sense” category. Let me single out three. (1) The revised Valkyrie plan was typed up by Mrs. von Tresckow and Gen. Olbricht’s secretary at the Bendlerblock, named Margarethe von Oven. Both ladies wore gloves while typing and handling the documents, to avoid leaving fingerprints. Ms. von Oven was arrested and held for two weeks, then released. (2) While recovering from his war injuries in North Africa (including the loss of his right hand, his left eye, and two fingers on his left hand), Stauffenberg refused morphine and preferred to endure excruciating pain rather than run the risk of becoming addicted. The “Valkyrie” director reportedly struck that passage from the script as “nobody will believe this”. (3) On the very day that Fabian von Schlabrendorff’s show trial before the Volksgericht kangaroo court was to take place — which almost certainly would have ended with an agonizing execution by no-drop hanging the same day — an Allied air raid struck the building, and “hanging judge” Roland Freisler was killed on the spot when the ceiling collapsed under a direct hit. When the case came to court again under Freisler’s successor, the Allies were approaching, and the judge acquitted Schlabrendorff on a peculiar technicality — his confession had been obtained under torture, and was therefore technically invalid even under the Third Reich’s perverted legal code. Upon his ‘acquittal’, Schlabrendorff was immediately taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, then moved ever further South until his group of ‘prominent prisoners’ — which was to be executed by their SS guards in the event of imminent capture or escape — was rescued by a regular army group under Wichard von Albensleven, who then handed them over to the approaching Americans. Schlabrendorff eventually became a Supreme Court judge in the Federal German Republic.

The book is well-edited: once or twice I had a “fact checker asleep at the wheel” moment, such as the reference to a “Brigadier-General” — a nonexistent rank in the Wehrmacht, where the table of ranks jumped straight from Oberst (full colonel) to Generalmajor, with an additional rank of Generaloberst (“Colonel-General”) sandwiched between General and Field Marshal. Such lapses are, however, thin on the ground.

All in all, if you are only going to read one book about the German anti-Hitler resistance, this would be an excellent choice.