Sep 20, 2009

Adolf Hitler, Graf von Stauffenberg, And God

Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg.

The remarkable name was perhaps a sign of the remarkable life to come for one of the most fascinating figures from World War II. Graf von Stauffenberg headed probably the most famous, yet ill-fated, plot to kill Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. I watched his story told in the miniseries War And Remembrance (the sequel to The Winds Of War, which I saw just a few months ago), and I was reminded by it again after watching the film Valkyrie last night.

A brief summary of Graf von Stauffenberg's life from Wikipedia:
"Although Stauffenberg agreed with some of the Nazi Party's nationalistic aspects, he found many aspects of its ideology repugnant and never became a member of the party. Moreover, Stauffenberg remained a practicing Catholic. The Catholic Church had signed the Reichskonkordat in 1933, the year Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power. Stauffenberg vacillated between a strong personal dislike of Hitler's policies and a respect for what he perceived to be Hitler's military acumen. On top of this, the growing systematic ill-treatment of Jews and suppression of religion had offended Stauffenberg's strong personal sense of religious morality and justice.

From the beginning of September 1943 until 20 July, 1944, von Stauffenberg was the driving force behind the plot to assassinate Hitler and take control of Germany. His resolve, organizational abilities, and radical approach put an end to inactivity caused by doubts and long discussions on whether military virtues had been made obsolete by Hitler's behavior. With the help of his friend Henning von Tresckow, he united the conspirators and drove them into action.

Stauffenberg was aware that, under German law, he was committing high treason. He openly told young conspirator Axel von dem Bussche in late 1943, "ich betreibe mit allen mir zur Verfügung stehenden Mitteln den Hochverrat..." ("I am committing high treason with all my might and means...."). He justified himself to Bussche by referring to the right under natural law ("Naturrecht") to defend millions of people's lives from the criminal aggressions of Hitler ("Nothilfe").

Stauffenberg decided, only after the conspirator General Helmuth Stieff on 7 July, 1944 had declared himself unable to assassinate Hitler on a uniforms display at Klessheim castle near Salzburg, to personally kill Hitler and to run the plot in Berlin. By then, Stauffenberg had great doubts about the possibility of success. Tresckow convinced him to go on with it even if it had no chance of success at all, "The assassination must be attempted. Even if it fails, we must take action in Berlin", as this would be the only way to prove to the world that the Hitler regime and Germany were not one and the same and that not all Germans supported the regime.

Stauffenberg's part in the original plan required him to stay at the Bendlerstrasse offices in Berlin, so he could phone regular army units all over Europe in an attempt to convince them to arrest leaders of Nazi political organizations such as the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and the Gestapo. Unfortunately, when General Helmuth Stieff, Chief of Operation at Army High Command, who had regular access to Hitler, backtracked from his earlier commitment to assassinate Hitler, Stauffenberg was forced to take on two critical roles: kill Hitler far from Berlin and trigger the military machine in Berlin during office hours of the very same day. Beside Stieff, he was the only conspirator who had regular access to Hitler (during his briefings) by mid-1944, as well as being the only officer among the conspirators thought to have the resolve and persuasiveness to convince German military leaders to throw in with the coup once Hitler was dead. This requirement greatly reduced the chance of a successful coup.

After several unsuccessful tries by Stauffenberg to meet Hitler, Göring and Himmler when they were together, he went ahead with the attempt at Wolfsschanze on 20 July, 1944. Stauffenberg entered the briefing room carrying a briefcase containing two small bombs. The location had unexpectedly been changed from the subterranean Führerbunker to Speer's wooden barrack/hut. He left the room to arm the first bomb with specially-adapted pliers, a task made difficult because he had lost his right hand and had only three fingers on his left. A guard knocked and opened the door, urging him to hurry as the meeting was about to begin. As a result, Stauffenberg was able to arm only one of the bombs. He left the second bomb with his aide-de-camp, Werner von Haeften, and returned to the briefing room, where he placed the briefcase under the conference table, as close as he could to Hitler. Some minutes later, he excused himself and left the room. After his exit, the briefcase was moved by Colonel Heinz Brandt.

When the explosion tore through the hut, Stauffenberg was convinced that no one in the room could have survived. Although four people were killed and almost all survivors were injured, Hitler himself was shielded from the blast by the heavy, solid-oak conference table and was only slightly wounded.

Stauffenberg and Haeften quickly left and drove to the nearby airfield. After his return to Berlin, Stauffenberg immediately began to motivate his friends to initiate the second phase: the military coup against the Nazi leaders. When Joseph Goebbels announced by radio that Hitler had survived and later, after Hitler himself personally spoke on the state radio, the conspirators realized that the coup had failed. They were tracked to their Bendlerstrasse offices and overpowered after a brief shoot-out, during which Stauffenberg was wounded in the shoulder."

Von Stauffenberg was executed by a firing squad on July 21, 1944, leaving behind a wife and five children (the youngest unborn). The courtyard where he and others were shot is now a memorial site in Berlin.

Something that I didn't realize until last night was that von Stauffenberg's plot to kill Hitler was just one of many in a long line of failed attempts to rid the world of him. Apparently there were somewhere around 15 known plots to assassinate him. (Some sources say 17, one I read put the number as high as 40.)

In the film Valkyrie, there is a scene where von Stauffenberg is sitting in what looks to be a Catholic church, presumably looking for spiritual guidance. Of course, whether or not there's any truth to that scene, we can only speculate on. But, being the devout Catholic that he apparently was, one would expect that he sought out God for help with this enormously dangerous mission. I was thinking of when Nephi was commanded to slay Laban in the Book of Mormon. Laban's life was not worth the cost to his people if he had been allowed to live, which is why Nephi is given the green light to behead him. It makes me think of the millions and millions of people that perished because of Hitler's regime. Von Stauffenberg's attempt came late in the war (1944). People were trying to liquidate him already as early as 1939. Imagine if the first ones had succeeded. Imagine if only von Stauffenberg -- as late as it was -- had succeeded. Think of all the additional destruction and lives that were lost in the final months of the war. Did God care about the innocent citizens of the world during those terrible years in the same way that he cared about Laban's people? I sometimes wonder.

No doubt some of the plots on Hitler's life were better planned than others. But surviving at least fifteen of them -- only to eventually end his life on his own terms -- was almost unbelievable. It almost seems like he had protection from a higher power. While it's hard to believe that God intended for Hitler to do what he did, I do have to wonder why God apparently did not see fit to intervene -- or even help those who were noble enough to risk (or lose) their own lives in order to rid Germany and the world of perhaps the worst dictator humankind has ever seen.

I know I probably have a bad habit of asking impossible questions. I guess I was just wondering whether anyone else has had similar thoughts.

18 comments:

Goldarn said...

It's easy to be cynical, and say something like "God only helps people find their car keys nowadays." The problem is, it's hard to come up with another answer.

The big religious question is "Why does God seem to just not care?" Another way to put it is "Why do horrible things happen to good people?" The problem is that it is a religious question, and no God-believing religion has ever come up with a good answer.

Mark said...

Sweet, I get to be the first.

I don't believe that things always happen for a reason. Sometimes they just happen. It's more than a little tricky to find the exact role God plays in our lives or in the histories of nations.

I guess that an army coming and devastating and destroying millions of lives is just something that happened. For whatever reason, God didn't see it fit to stop all of that. We can speculate on the reasons, but I'm not sure any of them will hold much water. I say this because I'm about to speculate (because it IS useful to ponder this, as it may help us to come to understand the nature of God more fully):

Perhaps war does not inhibit God from exalting people, but obfuscating or destroying his word does, which is why he interfered to a greater extent in the case of Laban.

I have often wondered what God thinks about death - we humans make a big deal of it. Maybe God doesn't so much. What's important is how we live our lives, no? Is death really so final? Final judgment doesn't come upon us in the moment of death, right? So maybe war isn't so inimical to God's plans...

Crazy thoughts that probably don't hold much water, but the short answer to your question is that yes, I've thought about this, too.

Anonymous said...

What God makes of human behavior and why he permits so much of the most evil of it to prevail is very hard to understand.

We could say that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus assured us that the meek would inherit the Earth. But, until they do, and ever since Jesus' time, there have been an awful lot of really hideous things perpetrated by the strong willed and the assertive. And they're making themselves very comfortable, very rich and very powerful doing evil things. Two thousand years of it!

It's not as if Hitler and the Nazis were unique. Many if not most of the world's wars were undertaken in the name of one religion against another and justified in terms of righteousness over evil. Even the LDS tells us that's what the proclamation on the family is as they work to assure second class status for gay Americans.

What does God think of all of this? We all have opinions. None of us knows.

Lynette said...

I've wondered the same: Why was Hitler "protected"? The same question can be asked about Saddam Hussain-he apparently survived several attempts on his life too. I can only speculate it was destiny- It is our destiny as humans to suffer in this life (some more than others) Is it fair? no, but I have faith it is for some purpose.

Gay LDS Actor said...

I think God cares very much. He just sees a different picture than we do. Even though some of life's inequalities and horrors do not make sense to us, I still trust very much that God knows what he's doing.

By the way, I love the story of Von Stauffenberg (even before I saw Valkyrie, it was a historical incident I liked).

DB said...

These types of questions are really impossible to adequately answer because we cannot understand or see things the way God understands and sees them. However, WWI and WWII did a couple of things that were foretold in ancient and modern prophecy.

Israel was set aside as a homeland for the Jews as a result of WWI. At the end of the war, Great Britain took administrative control over much of what had been the Ottoman Empire which is now what we consider to be the Middle East. The political boundaries of today’s Middle Eastern countries are a result of how GB divided up that region. One of the things they did was to carve out a small territory for the Jews to call their own. Something that had not existed for nearly two thousand years.

Although the Jews had been persecuted for the past two thousands, and they now had their own home, very few were interested in resettling there until after the genocide of WWII. WWII was a terrible thing for the Jews, but one thing it did was to drive many of them to settle in the territory that GB had set up for them following WWI. A few years following the war, the Jews rebelled against the British who still controlled the area and established the independent state of Israel.

Yes, there was unimaginable suffering in both world wars, but without them Israel would not exist today. The gathering of Israel was foretold in ancient prophecy, Orson Hyde dedicated Palestine for the return of the Jews in 1841, and two terrible wars in the twentieth century made it happen.

Mormon Heretic said...

FD, I saw Valkyrie about a year ago. It was a great movie. It was interesting to learn a story about a German who actually tried to take a stand against Hitler.

You ask great (aka impossible) questions to which there are only unsatisfactory answers.

The Faithful Dissident said...

DB, thanks for your summary.

Regarding the gathering of Israel, I've always found that it smacks of predestination. It's hard for me to accept that God would allow the Holocaust to happen in the way it did for the sake of gathering a people to a certain area of the globe. In hindsight, I have to wonder: was it worth it? Was it worth the 6 million Jews -- not to mention the many millions more of human beings, Jew or not, whose lives were lost or forever scarred by the World Wars -- in order to give the Jews a homeland? If this was God's intention, perhaps it wasn't even fair to Hitler because he was predestined -- or "foreordained" to use a Mormon term -- to do what he did. And perhaps he even had God's protection so that God's plan for Israel could be carried out. I see certain parallels to Judas.

I don't know. I admit, I've never liked to think about such prophecies and predictions (such as in the case of Israel) because it seems that God cares more about fulfilling prophecies about certain groups of "chosen" people at the cost of others -- even the most vulnerable and innocent of children. In other words, it's OK to slaughter a group of people or commit genocide if it helps fulfill a prophecy.

So I guess this brings up another question. Did God want the Holocaust to happen? Was it the most effective way to gather the House of Israel?

I'd like to think that there were more prayers being sent up to heaven, pleading with God to end the suffering and destruction, than there were of those who had evil and selfish desires. But this appears to be a time of when no amount of prayers were going to bring Hitler down.

More impossible questions. :)

derekstaff said...

I do not believe God protected Hitler to further his own work, be it to create Israel or any other purpose (I don't particularly think God would approve of the political entity of Israel or the circumstances in which it was created, as he loves the Palestinians as much as he loves any of the rest of his children; but that's another topic). I believe that Hitler survived multiple assassination attempts for the same reason most of anything happens in life: it was a fluke. As I've said before, I'm attracted to the Deist/watchmaker theory of life. Crazy things happen, good and ill, just because that is the way life works. There are a limited number of things in which he directly intervenes, and I have a very difficult time believing that giving Hitler a guardian angel is one of them.

Theresa said...

I think that rather than giving us an insight into the nature of God, we got more of an insight into the nature of man. Who hasn't wondered how they would have reacted, if they were Germans during that time? resisting? staying aside, letting things happen? Anyone could have been part of the German population. How could it happen, we ask ourselves afterwards - and can hardly belive that it did! What kind of people let it happen? People like us? WHat does it tell about us?
Perhaps we needed this piece of history happening at that time, so that it wouldn't happen later - or so that we learnt enough from it to grow in knowledge as a population (I'm speculating wildly).

In any case, for some reason I never see it as a problem that God is allowing for people to die - if they indeed end up in a resting stage, learning, progressing, being with their families, seeing what comes after, preapring for the millennium. To me it sounds fascinating. If anything, I don't think it's worse than life here... What do you think? (I enjoy your blog btw! I'm Polaris, the Swede in Canada :)

The Faithful Dissident said...

Hej, Polaris, och tack för sist! :)

You ask very good questions. I've tried to ask myself how far I would have gone in WWII to protect Jews, risking my life in the process, or whether or not I'd have the guts to kill someone in order to save someone else. I'd like to say that I would have been as heroic as von Stauffenberg, Schindler, Wallenberg (there's an amazing Swede if there ever was one! :), or similar figures. But I guess we never really know until we're faced with it.

Theresa said...

..or the guts to sacrifice ourselves for what we believe is right. Would I? I hope so... If anything it did bring out great heroes as you mention, to have as examples for ourselves.

I'm not sure I spelled it out properly, but what I meant was that perhaps the reason God has (or one of them) for "allowing" all this to happen was just that - to create a state of mind within the generations to follow in which the uncertainty of our own reactions would be tangible - so much that the wish to be heroic in such situations would make itself known in smaller but similar (or as large) situations in our lives. I mean, when thinking of WWII, who doesn't get a range of emotions, where confusion and wondering is a large part of them? Perhaps we might change the question to "how could *we* allow this to happen". Not in order to leave God out, but seeing that we are very much part of it as well.
Whenever I have a moment of revelation/inspiration/seeing a bigger picture, I see just that - a picture so vast that it goes way beyond of my own understanding. I don't think we should not speculate about meanings and reasons (on the contrary, it's very important!), but I think it's healthy to have a possibility open in our minds that the reasons might be beyond what we can imagine right now - at least part of them. I generally have a feeling, that we're up for some really big surprises when we learn the purposes of things. What do you think?

The Faithful Dissident said...

"I generally have a feeling, that we're up for some really big surprises when we learn the purposes of things. What do you think?"

I'm sure that's true, and not just when applied to war. And I think that there will likely be multiple purposes to certain things.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Fire Tag has a great post that I recommend because it sort of ties into this discussion.

Theresa said...

Thanks for that link! Indeed very well put. And I like the quantum mechanics analogy to prayer in the comments as well, it works very nicely with my own notion of prayer - that you change yourself, not God, you invoke the power of faith on yourself, and thus can use it... haha, I love it that something as obscure as QM can bring me more understanding to the idea of prayer... :)

thefirestillburning said...

Thanks for the link to my blog, FD. The "ABOUT: The Fire Still Burning" page speaks even more directly to this, because it gives an example of just how susprisingly large the destruction that may be contemplated in the achievement of Divine purposes.

I think it's not that everything happens for a purpose. It's more that the purpose IS to ensure that everything does happen -- throughout the cosmos -- so that there is enough complexity for spirits to develop. That is a new possible answer to the age old question not contemplated before modern cosmology raised the possibility.

Somewhere in spacetime, we do face the decision of whether we stand against a Hitler or turn away. We do face the situation of escaping a holocaust and deciding whether we will in turn oppress someone else. We do decide whether we will welcome strangers of different cultures and share the land, or insist that they remain secondary in our land. Our spirits do learn who and what we are. (See "You've Read this Post Before" on my blog for more discussion of that point.)

Oh, and Hitler's protection/luck is more extensive than the assassinations. He was a corporal in a German WW1 combat unit that suffered something like 80-90% dead in the war. He survived.

FireTag

SUNN(0)))ofaB.C.Rich said...

Adolf Hitler actually spoke of something that not of this world that influenced him to take cover just before the instance of incoming artillery.

Anonymous said...

Hitler was protected because it was a punishment to the world for sin.

In 1917 the blessed virgin appeared to 3 children in a place called Fatima. She gave a warning that if the people do not ammend their way's that God would send punishment by war for the whole world. Not once but twice.

Who would believe that the whole world would go to war, let alone the whole world go to war twice.

But it happened and it was horrible ... God can be a horrible God, read the bible and you'll find out He does'nt mess around once He gives a warning.

After the two world wars people had more heart and the 50's was the clean'est of all the decades with many God fearing families.

But it did'nt last, drugs and open sex and hippies with dirty feet and morals rebelled (the love generation)so God the Father cursed again in many ways.

I'll tell you one of the ways God cursed this generation ... that you will laugh at but it's true.

There was a rock singer with black eyes who's father was a ordaned Baptist Minister who brought forth something never before seen ... abominations of every kind.

The first male with a girls name, the first to wear female clothing, 6 inch high heel boots, the first male to wear makeup ... the first to come out with blood, hacked up babies, hangings, electicutions, gillotines. The first to introduce horror and distastefull uglyness ... the first to sing about death devils and demons.

The bulk of this generation loved what they saw and many groups copied the style and look one way or the other. He started in 1964 within ten yrs gay bars florished in all major cities. People walking around men dressed like women, women dressed like men.I don't have to say his name, you know who he is!

Never before has there ever been such a perverted generation, now we have porno's at our finger tips and you don't know who the heck is gay or not because there are so many.

Never before has there been so many devorces. fatherless or motherless children or children living with strange parents from a different marrage.

This generation is in deep darkness, sin over flows the cup like never before. Coruption everywhere and especially in the churche's gay priests, gay evagelists, false healers that roam from city to city on our tv's daily walking freely ripping the people off and NOONE points them out.

In the 1990's the blessed virgin has given many many messages all around the world for repentance, yet very few hear her and most disregard her messages ... rather they listen to falsehood.

She calling for another war, greater and more horrible than all wars in history combined.

War is coming to America, God freely up held the USA but now because of all the corruption and injustice and ill morals ... America is about to be punished like never before.

People like gays' and lesbian lifestyles open sex with anybody, abortion, horror shows and sick movies ... everyone speaks like garbage f..k this f..ken that and noone calls for justice.

repent,panance,panance, panance, or pay the price. Why do you think the great USA with all their army and high tech knowledge and weapons can not get Osama Binladin.