Ulrich von Hassell

Ulrich von Hassell

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Ulrich von Hassell was born in Anklam, Germany, on 12th November, 1881. He had a typical upbringing of a young Prussian noble. His father retired from the Royal Hanoverian Army and retired with the rank of colonel. Hassell attended the famous Prinz-Heinrich-Gymnasium in Berlin and earned his Abitur in 1899. (1)

After studying law he entered the Foreign Office in 1908 and three years later he married the daughter of Alfred von Tirpitz, Hassell was Consul-General in Barcelona (1921-26), Ambassador in Copenhagen (1926-30) and Ambassador in Belgrade (1930-32) before becoming ambassador to Rome. (2)

In 1932 Hassell was appointed Ambassador to Rome. In his new post he opposed both the Rome-Berlin Axis and the Anti-Comintern Pact. This upset Italy's foreign minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, who thought Hassell "unpleasant and treacherous" a surviving relic from "that world of Junkers who cannot forget 1914." (3)

Ciano complained to Joachim von Ribbentrop about Hassell and he was recalled to Berlin on 17th February 1938. Hassell was not sacked and instead was placed on a reserve list of diplomats. Hassell, who had joined the Nazi Party in 1933, was allowed to travel freely in Europe. At first he supported the policies of Adolf Hitler, but gradually he "started to have severe misgivings about Hitler." (4)

In September 1938 he wrote in his diary: "Hitler's speeches are all demagogic and spiced with attacks on the entire upper class. The closing speech at the Party rally was of the same sort, delivered in ranting tones. The mounting hatred against the upper class has been inflamed by the warnings from the generals (except Keitel) against war. Hitler is fired up against them and calls them cowardly. At the same time there is a growing aversion to all independent people... During the past weeks I have asked myself repeatedly whether it is right to serve such an immoral system. However, 'on the outside', the slight chance of successful opposition would be even smaller." (5)

Hassell was a strong opponent of appeasement and had several meetings with Neville Henderson, the British ambassador to Germany. Hassell urged Henderson to tell Neville Chamberlain that this policy would not work. "I see the errors of British policy first, in the treaties of guarantee which were bound to make Germany nervous without actually protecting the states in the East; second that Britain - following a poor precedent - failed to announce with utmost gravity at Munich that it would take military action in case the agreement was violated. All this of course does not excuse Hitler's policies... The historic responsibility falls on Hitler." (6)

In September, 1938, Hassell had a meeting with Johannes Popitz, the Minister of Finance. Popitz also disapproved of Hitler's hostility towards the upper classes: "Popitz was extremely bitter: he was of the opinion that the Nazis will proceed with increasing fury against the 'upper strata' as Hitler calls it. The danger of this tendency is enormous since Hitler has started including senior officers ('the cowardly mutinous generals') in those he rejects. Every decent person is seized by physical nausea, as the acting Minister of Finance Popitz expressed it, when he hears speeches like Hitler's recent vulgar tirade in the Sports Palace." (7)

Hjalmar Schacht, the former Minister of Economics and the President of the Reichsbank, was opposed to excessive expenditures on armaments. Hassell met him at a dinner party on 6th October, 1938: "After dinner, unfortunately in the midst of a rather large circle, he (Schacht) dominated a superficial and very witty conversation by making biting attacks on the regime in which, after all, he still holds a responsible position. In his private discussion with me his political remarks were obscure and contradictory." (8)

On 13th October Hassell attended the seventy-fifth birthday party of Hugo Bruckmann. Hitler also turned up and Frau Bruckmann said that she was pleased that the signing of the Munich Agreement had prevented a war. Hitler growled a half-hearted yes. When she expressed certain doubts about the readiness of the German people to entertain another war Hitler replied that only the ten thousand in the upper strata had any doubts, the people were solidly behind him. Hassell wrote in his diary: "Does he really believe that? If so, somebody has been telling him the most awful lies... Hitler also mentioned his abiding conviction that Britain and France, mindful of their weaknesses, would never have marched. If they had done so we would have won, mainly because our air power is twice the strength of theirs combined, even including the Russians!" (9)

Ernst vom Rath was murdered by Herschel Grynszpan, a young Jewish refugee in Paris on 9th November, 1938. At a meeting of Nazi Party leaders that evening, Joseph Goebbels suggested that there should be "spontaneous" anti-Jewish riots. (10) Reinhard Heydrich sent urgent guidelines to all police headquarters suggesting how they could start these disturbances. He ordered the destruction of all Jewish places of worship in Germany. Heydrich also gave instructions that the police should not interfere with demonstrations and surrounding buildings must not be damaged when burning synagogues. (11)

Heinrich Mueller, head of the Secret Political Police, sent out an order to all regional and local commanders of the state police: "(i) Operations against Jews, in particular against their synagogues will commence very soon throughout Germany. There must be no interference. However, arrangements should be made, in consultation with the General Police, to prevent looting and other excesses. (ii) Any vital archival material that might be in the synagogues must be secured by the fastest possible means. (iii) Preparations must be made for the arrest of from 20,000 to 30,000 Jews within the Reich. In particular, affluent Jews are to be selected. Further directives will be forthcoming during the course of the night. (iv) Should Jews be found in the possession of weapons during the impending operations the most severe measures must be taken. SS Verfuegungstruppen and general SS may be called in for the overall operations. The State Police must under all circumstances maintain control of the operations by taking appropriate measures." (12)

A large number of young people took part in what became known as Kristallnacht (Crystal Night). (13) Joseph Goebbels wrote an article for the Völkischer Beobachter where he claimed that Kristallnacht was a spontaneous outbreak of feeling: "The outbreak of fury by the people on the night of November 9-10 shows the patience of the German people has now been exhausted. It was neither organized nor prepared but it broke out spontaneously." (14) However, Erich Dressler, who had taken part in the riots, was disappointed by the lack of passion displayed that night: "One thing seriously perturbed me. All these measures had to be ordered from above. There was no sign of healthy indignation or rage amongst the average Germans. It is undoubtedly a commendable German virtue to keep one's feelings under control and not just to hit out as one pleases; but where the guilt of the Jews for this cowardly murder was obvious and proved, the people might well have shown a little more spirit." (15)

On 11th November, 1938, Reinhard Heydrich reported to Hermann Göring, details of the night of terror: "74 Jews killed or seriously injured, 20,000 arrested, 815 shops and 171 homes destroyed, 191 synagogues set on fire; total damage costing 25 million marks, of which over 5 million was for broken glass." (16) It was decided that the "Jews would have to pay for the damage they had provoked. A fine of 1 billion marks was levied for the slaying of Vom Rath, and 6 million marks paid by insurance companies for broken windows was to be given to the state coffers." (17)

Hassell was appalled by the events of Kristallnacht and the reactions of the major foreign powers: He wrote in his diary: "I am writing under the crushing emotions evoked by the vile persecution of the Jews after the murder of vom Rath. Not since the World War have we lost so much credit in the world, and that shortly after the greatest foreign policy successes. But my chief concern is not with the effects abroad, not with what kind of foreign political reaction we may expect - at least not for the moment. The debility and amnesia of the so-called great democracies is moreover too monstrous. Proof is the signing of the Franco-German Anti-War Agreement at the same time as the furious indignation worldwide against Germany, and the British ministerial visit to Paris. I am most deeply troubled about the effect on our national life which is dominated ever more inexorably by a system capable of such things... There is probably nothing more distasteful in public life than to have to acknowledge that foreigners are justified in criticizing one's own people. As a matter of fact they make a clear distinction between the people and the perpetrators of acts as these. It is futile to deny, however, that the basest instincts have been aroused, and the effect, especially among the young, must have been bad." (18)

Hassell was appalled by the invasion of Czechoslovakia: "To the utter astonishment of the world, which looks on aghast, brilliantly executed in all its aspects, this is the first instance of manifest depravity, exceeding all limits, including those of decency. The violation of all decent standards now proven among other things by the theft of the gold reserves. A violation of every acknowledged pledge and every healthy national policy. The whole business was conducted in defiance of the dictates of good faith... Britain shows the strongest reaction and apparently wants to build up a strong defensive front against us. But since there is no real determination to resist anywhere - and Hitler is counting on this - nothing will happen for the moment." (19)

Hassell blamed Adolf Hitler, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Neville Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier and Władysław Sikorski for the outbreak of the Second World War. gave the orders for the invasion. "Hitler and Ribbentrop, having decided to attack Poland knowingly took the risk of war with the Western Powers, deluding themselves to varying degrees up to the very last with the belief that the West would remain neutral after all. The Poles for their part, with Polish conceit and Slav aimlessness, confident of British and French support, had missed every remaining chance of avoiding war. The government in London, which with its policy of guarantees and flirting with the Soviets under the effects of 15 March pursued a shallow but at least unaggressive war policy, and whose ambassador did everything to keep the peace, gave up the struggle in the very last days and adopted a devil-may-care attitude. France went through the same stages, only with much more hesitation." (20)

By October, 1939, Hassell was receiving information about atrocities being committed by German invading forces. "The principal sentiments are: the conviction that the war cannot be won militarily; a realization of the highly dangerous economic situation; the feeling of being led by criminal adventurers; and the disgrace that has sullied the name of Germany through its conduct of the war in Poland, namely the brutal use of air power and the shocking bestialities of the SS, especially towards the Jews. The cruelties of the Poles against the German minority are also factual, but somehow more excusable psychologically. When people use their revolvers to shoot down a group of Jews herded into a synagogue, one is filled with shame." (21)

In November 1939, Hassell was appointed to the board of the Central European Economic Council. This enabled Hassell to travel around Europe to speak to political leaders and foreign diplomats. In February 1940, Hassell went to Switzerland to have a meeting with James Lonsdale-Bryans, who claimed he was representing Neville Chamberlain and Edward Wood, Lord Halifax, the British foreign secretary in proposed talks. He claimed that like his close associates, Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster and Arthur Nall-Cain, 2nd Baron Brocket, the government wanted peace-talks, but this was being prevented by Robert Vansittart in the Foreign Office. (22)

Lord Halifax later claimed that Lord Brocket had set up a meeting with Lonsdale-Bryans at the Foreign Office on 8th January 1940. According to his own record of the interview, Halifax emphasized that his own name must be kept completely out of the matter. If it ever came to the public notice, he would deny having said anything except that the Allies could not be satisfied with a patched-up peace. However, he did say "it can do no harm and may do a lot of good". (23) It was agreed that Lonsdale-Bryans would meet Hassell and carry a written message from him back to London. (24)

Halifax agreed to the mission if that his name was not mentioned, and he instructed Sir Percy Loraine, the British ambassador in Rome, to assist Lonsdale-Bryans. However, he made it clear that he was not on "an official mission". This of course a common strategy employed by governments as if things go wrong, they can always say it had nothing to do with them. Negotiations with the enemy is always a sensitive matter during a war. (25)

The meeting took place on 22nd February. The following day Hassell gave Lonsdale-Bryans a document in his own handwriting that contained "the principles of free international economic co-operation; there should also be a recognition by all European states in common of the principles of Christian ethics; justice and law as fundamental elements of public life; universal social welfare; control of the executive power of the State by the people and the liberty of thought, conscience and intellectually activity. "All serious people in Germany considered it as of the utmost importance to stop this mad war as soon as possible... Europe does not mean for us a chess-board of political or military action or a base of power." (26)

Sir Alexander Cadogan, Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, suggested they were interested in these negotiations and he was told the Foreign Office would facilitate his return to Switzerland to see Hassell and "leave no frayed ends". (27) After a meeting on 14th April, Hassell wrote in his diary: "Mr Bryans reported that he had given my notes to Halifax who, allegedly without mentioning my name, had shown them to Chamberlain... Halifax told Mr Bryans that he is most grateful for the communication, values it highly and is in complete agreement with the principles laid down... In addition, he admits freely that they are slow, extremely unintelligent and also difficult to move." (28) Richard Overy claims that the British regarded the Hassell group "as differing from Hitler only in method rather than aim." (29)

Hassell's main anti-Nazi links were with Johannes Popitz and Carl Goerdeler. These men all held right-wing views but believed that Hitler wanted the "destruction of the upper-classes" and the "transformation of the churches into meaningless sects." Hassell believed that fascism was "completely soulless, its intrinsic creed being power, we shall get a godless nature, a dehumanized, cultureless Germany and perhaps Europe, brutal and without conscience. Hassell wrote in his diary: "The worst is, perhaps, the frightful devastation wrought on German character, which often enough has shown a tendency to servility." (30)

Hassell wrote in his diary, after the successful invasion of France, that the German upper-classes had mixed feeling feelings about Hitler: "Among the upper strata in Berlin I found some indulging in unrestrained triumph, accompanied by plans for dividing up the world in great style. Others were in the deepest despair because we now have to expect the unrestrained tyranny of the Party for years to come, linked to the notion of giving up public life and devoting oneself to study. Among the populace in general there is, to be sure, joy over the victories which they think will bring peace nearer, but at the same time there is an astonishing apathy. The demoralization of the Germans has never before shown up so clearly." (31)

Hassell was initially very impressed with Goerdeler: "I find it a relief, though, to speak with a man prepared to act rather than grumble. Of course, his hands are tied just like ours, and he is desperate about the losses we have suffered in the Army since February 1938. Nevertheless he believes there are elements of resistance already resurgent throughout the country, though scattered and lacking organization. He sees the development of the Third Reich both home and abroad, morally and economically, in the darkest light." (32) However, in a meeting in June 1941, he commented: "During the conversation it became apparent that Goerdeler is often handicapped by quite outmoded conceptions." (33) On another occasion he said "he is too sanguine, always sees things as he wishes to see them, and in many ways is a true reactionary". (34)

Hassell and Goerdeler were both monarchists: "Hassell was a conservative, even a reactionary, and his political principles and social vision were out of step with the world of modern politics, both democratic and totalitarian... For Hassell the monarchy was one of the safeguards of a realistic, conservative social outlook; a form of corporate state, 'an organic state' as he called it, derived from the Hegelian tradition of state theory, was in his view a safer path to a sound society than the parliamentary path. He was a firm opponent of Communism in all its guises and disliked the brand of populist socialism that he identified with Hitler." (35)

Another important figure in the Popitz-Goerdeler group was Colonel-General Ludwig Beck, Hassell wrote: "This evening I dined alone with Beck. A most cultured, attractive and intelligent man. Unfortunately he has a very low opinion of the Army leaders. For that reason he could see no place where we could gain a foothold although he is firmly convicted of the vicious character of the policies of the Third Reich. (36) On another occasion he commented: "The principal difficulty with Beck is that he is very theoretical. As Popitz says, a man of tactics but little will power, whereas Goerdeler has much will power but no tactics... Nevertheless all three are capital men." (37)

Hjalmar Schacht was another member of the group. In August, 1934, Hitler had appointed Schacht as his minister of economics. Deeply influenced by the economic ideas of John Maynard Keynes and the way Franklin D. Roosevelt had brought in his New Deal, Schacht encouraged Hitler to introduce a programme of public works, including the building of the Autobahnen. However, Hitler and Schacht fell out over how to run the economy and in November 1937 he resigned as Minister of Economics but remained President of the Reichsbank. (38)

Hassell met Schacht on 3rd September, 1941, to discuss tactics. Schacht believed it was important to remove Germany's Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, from power. Hassell found it difficult to trust Schacht who never fully committed to the task of overthrowing Hitler: "Schacht sees things very clearly, but his judgement is affected by his boundless personal ambition and his unreliable character. I believe that if Hitler knew how to handle him properly, Schacht would even now place himself at his disposal, unless he has given up the ship for lost." (39)

Hassell also met with Adam von Trott, a leading figure in the Kreisau Circle, a Christian Socialist group who opposed Hitler, that had been formed by Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg and Helmuth von Moltke. A. J. Ryder has pointed out that the Kreisau Circle "brought together a fascinating collection of gifted men from the most diverse backgrounds: noblemen, officers, lawyers, socialists, trade unionists, churchmen." (40) Joachim Fest argues that the "strong religious leanings" of this group, together with its ability to attract "devoted but undogmatic socialists," but has been described as its "most striking characteristic." (41)

Trott explained how the group was trying to build a broad coalition but totally disagreed with Hassell and his colleagues about certain issues. For example, the group were opposed to the idea of the reintroduction of the monarchy. Although the monarchy would win the support of some sections of the German population but "not confidence abroad." He explained that members of the outlawed Social Democratic Party "would never go along with us on the monarchy and would wait for the next group." One thing they did agree on was that Martin Niemöller would make a good Chancellor after the war. (42)

On 8th April, 1941, Hassell was told by Hans Oster at the home of Ludwig Beck, about orders given to German commanders to carry out collective reprisals against civilians in the Soviet Union. He wrote in his diary: "It makes one's hair stand on end to learn about measures to be taken in Russia, and about the systematic transformation of military law concerning the conquered population into uncontrolled despotism - indeed a caricature of all law. This kind of thing turns the German into a type of being which had existed only in enemy propaganda." (43)

Hassell also received information about these atrocities from German soldiers returning from the Eastern Front: "A young officer now in Munich received an order to shoot 350 civilians, allegedly partisans, among them women and children, who had been herded together in a large barn. He hesitated at first, but was then warned that the penalty for disobedience was death. He begged for ten minutes' time to think it over, and finally carried out the order with machine-gun fire, finishing off the survivors with a machine-pistol. He is so shaken by this episode that, although only slightly wounded, he is determined not to go back to the front." (44)

In April 1942 he was warned by Ernst Weizsäcker, State Secretary in the Foreign Ministry, that he was under investigation by the Gestapo. "He carefully closed the windows and doors, and announced with some emphasis that he had a very serious matter to discuss with me. He brusquely waved aside my joking rejoinder. For the time being he had to ask me to spare him the embarrassment of my presence. When I started to remonstrate he interrupted me harshly. He then proceeded to heap reproaches on me as he paced excitedly up and down. I had been unbelievably indiscreet,... This was all known in certain places (the Gestapo), and they claimed even to have documents. He must demand, more emphatically, that I correct this behaviour. I had no idea, he said, how people were after me (the Gestapo). every step I took was observed. I should certainly burn everything I had in the way of notes which covered conversations in which one or other had said this or that." (45)

On 8th January, 1943, a group of conspirators, including, Ulrich von Hassell, Helmuth von Moltke, Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg, Johannes Popitz, Eugen Gerstenmaier, Adam von Trott, Ludwig Beck and Carl Goerdeler met at the home of Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg. Hassell was uneasy with the utopianism of the of the Kreisau Circle, but believed that the "different resistance groups should not waste their strength nursing differences when they were in such extreme danger". Wartenburg, Moltke and Hassell were all concerned by the suggestion that Goerdeler should become Chancellor if Hitler was overthrown as they feared that he could become a Alexander Kerensky type leader. (46)

Moltke and Goerdeler clashed over several different issues. According to Theodore S. Hamerow: "Goerdeler was the opposite of Moltke in temperament and outlook. Moltke, preoccupied with the moral dilemmas of power, could not deal with the practical problems of seizing and exercising it. He was overwhelmed by his own intellectuality. Goerdeler, by contrast, seemed to believe that most spiritual quandaries could be resolved through administrative expertise and managerial skill. He suffered from too much practicality. He objected to the policies more than the principles of National Socialism, to the methods more than the goals. He agreed in general that the Jews were an alien element in German national life, an element that should be isolated and removed. But there is no need for brutality or persecution. Would it not be better to try and solve the Jewish question by moderate, reasonable means?" (47)

Some historians have defended Goerdeler from claims that he was an ultra-conservative: "Goerdeler has frequently been accused of being a reactionary. To some extent this results from the vehemence with which differing points of view were often argued between the various political tendencies in the opposition. In Goerdeler's case the accusation is unjustified. Admittedly he, like Popitz, wished to avoid the pitfalls of mass democracy; he was concerned to form an elite... and some stable form of authority. This he wished to achieve, however, through liberalism and decentralization; his stable authority should be so constructed that it guaranteed rather than suppressed freedom." (48)

The conspirators eventually agreed who would be members of the government. Head of State: Colonel-General Ludwig Beck, Chancellor: Carl Goerdeler; Vice Chancellor: Wilhelm Leuschner; State Secretary: Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg; State Secretary: Ulrich-Wilhelm Graf von Schwerin; Foreign Minister: Ulrich von Hassell; Minister of the Interior: Julius Leber; State Secretary: Lieutenant Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg; Chief of Police: General-Major Henning von Tresckow; Minister of Finance: Johannes Popitz; President of Reich Court: General-Major Hans Oster; Minister of War: Erich Hoepner; State Secretary of War: General Friedrich Olbricht; Minister of Propaganda: Carlo Mierendorff; Commander in Chief of Wehrmacht: Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben; Minister of Justice: Josef Wirmer. (49)

Ulrich von Hassell and Johannes Popitz believed that he could exploit the differences inside the Nazi leadership and bring about a split by persuading Heinrich Himmler to lead a coup against Adolf Hitler. In August 1943, Popitz had a meeting with two senior figures in the resistance: General Friedrich Olbricht and General-Major Henning von Tresckow. They gave their approval to the strategy. So also did Colonel-General Ludwig Beck, who "believed a putsch carried out by generals was bound to fail" and he was only willing to participate "on the condition" that the putsch had the support of Himmler." (50)

Carl Langbehn, Himmler's lawyer, was also a member of the resistance. Hassell had discussions with Langbehn and he described him as an "intelligent man but rather restricted by his good personal relationship with Himmler." (51) Langbehn approached Himmler and managed to persuade him to meet Popitz. On 26th August, Popitz had an interview with Himmler in the Reich Ministry of the Interior. "Apparently Popitz began by flattering Himmler's vanity as the guardian of National Socialist values under attack by Party corruption and misdirection of the war effort. The war was no longer winnable, he went on, and if they carried it on as formerly they were heading for defeat or stalemate at best." (52)

According to Peter Hoffmann: "Adroitly he suggested that Himmler assume the role of guardian of the true Holy Grail of Nazism; someone was required to re-establish order, both at home and abroad, after all the corruption and the unhappy conduct of the war by a single overloaded man. The war could no longer be won, he said, but it would only be lost if it continued to be conducted on these lines." Popitz pointed out that because of their fear of communism, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt were still willing to negotiate, but not with Hitler or Joachim von Ribbentrop. (53)

Popitz and Himmler agreed to further talks but these never took place because in September 1943 Langbehn was arrested by the Gestapo. It seems that they had intercepted an Allied message that had been sent to Langbehn. It was shown to Himmler and he had to choice but to act, though he contrived to avoid ordering a trial. Popitz retained his freedom but now his fellow conspirators tended to keep their distance as it was feared that he was being closely observed by the authorities. (54) It seems that Hitler was also highly suspicious of Popitz. Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary: "Hitler is absolutely convinced that Popitz is our enemy. He is already having him watched so as to have incriminating material about him ready; the moment Popitz gives himself away, he will close in on him." (55)

Hassell was very worried by these developments. He received news that two senior figures in the Gestapo, Heinrich Müller and Walter Schellenberg, were involved in the interrogation. Hassell was worried that if Langbehn was tortured he might mention that he was a member of the German Resistance. He was afraid for his wife and children as Langbehn's wife and secretary were also arrested. "The Gestapo have locked up Langbehn, his wife, secretary and Puppi Sarre (a close friend)... Now Langbehn will disappear from circulation, the man who helped so many victims of the Gestapo, quite apart from the political consequences." (56)

In October 1943, Lieutenant-Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, joined Operation Valkyrie. While serving in Africa, Stauffenberg was wounded in the face, in both hands, and in the knee by fire from a low-flying Allied plane. According to one source: "He feared that he might lose his eyesight completely, but he kept one eye and lost his right hand, half the left hand, and part of his leg." After he recovered it was decided that it would be impossible to serve on the front line and in October, 1943, he was appointed as Chief of Staff in the General Army Office. (57)

The group was pleased by the arrival of Stauffenberg who brought new dynamism to the attempt to remove Hitler. Stauffenberg volunteered to be the man who would assassinate Hitler: "With the help of men on whom he could rely at the Führer's headquarters, in Berlin and in the German Army in the west, Stauffenberg hoped to push the reluctant Army leaders into action once Hitler had been killed. To make sure that this essential preliminary should not be lacking, Stauffenberg allotted the task of assassination to himself despite the handicap of his injuries. Stauffenberg's energy had put new life into the conspiracy, but the leading role he was playing also roused jealousies." (58)

Claus von Stauffenberg now decided to carry out the assassination himself. But before he took action he wanted to make sure he agreed with the type of government that would come into being. Conservatives such as Johannes Popitz and Carl Goerdeler and wanted Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben to become the new Chancellor. However, socialists in the group, such as Julius Leber and Wilhelm Leuschner, argued this would therefore become a military dictatorship. At a meeting on 15th May 1944, they had a strong disagreement over the future of a post-Hitler Germany. (59)

Stauffenberg was highly critical of the conservatives led by Carl Goerdeler and was much closer to the socialist wing of the conspiracy around Julius Leber. Goerdeler later recalled: "Stauffenberg revealed himself as a cranky, obstinate fellow who wanted to play politics. I had many a row with him, but greatly esteemed him. He wanted to steer a dubious political course with the left-wing Socialists and the Communists, and gave me a bad time with his overwhelming egotism." (60)

On 20th July, 1944, Claus von Stauffenberg and Werner von Haeften left Berlin to meet with Hitler at the Wolf' Lair. After a two-hour flight from Berlin, they landed at Rastenburg at 10.15. Stauffenberg had a briefing with Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of Armed Forces High Commandat, at 11.30, with the meeting with Hitler due to take place at 12.30. As soon as the meeting was over, Stauffenberg, met up with Haeften, who was carrying the two bombs in his briefcase. They then went into the toilet to set the time-fuses in the bombs. They only had time to prepare one bomb when they were interrupted by a junior officer who told them that the meeting with Hitler was about to start. Stauffenberg then made the fatal decision to place one of the bombs in his briefcase. "Had the second device, even without the charge being set, been placed in Stauffenberg's bag alone with the first, it would have been detonated by the explosion, more than doubling the effect. Almost certainly, in such an event, no one would have survived." (61)

When he entered the wooden briefing hut, twenty-four senior officers were in assembled around a huge map table on two heavy oak supports. Stauffenberg had to elbow his way forward a little in order to get near enough to the table and he had to place the briefcase so that it was in no one's way. Despite all his efforts, however, he could only get to the right-hand corner of the table. After a few minutes, Stauffenberg excused himself, saying that he had to take a telephone call from Berlin. There was continual coming and going during the briefing conferences and this did not raise any suspicions. (62)

Stauffenberg and Haeften went straight to a building about 200 hundred yards away consisting of bunkers and reinforced huts. Shortly afterwards, according to eyewitnesses: "A deafening crack shattered the midday quiet, and a bluish-yellow flame rocketed skyward... and a dark plume of smoke rose and hung in the air over the wreckage of the briefing barracks. Shards of glass, wood, and fiberboard swirled about, and scorched pieces of paper and insulation rained down." (63)

General Friedrich Fromm arrested Lieutenant-Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, Colonel-General Ludwig Beck, Colonel-General Erich Hoepner, General Friedrich Olbricht, Colonel Albrecht Metz von Quirnheim and Lieutenant Werner von Haeften. Fromm decided that he would hold an immediate court-martial. Stauffenberg spoke out, claiming in a few clipped sentences sole responsibility for everything and stating that the others had acted purely as soldiers and his subordinates. (64)

All the conspirators were found guilty and sentenced to death. Hoepner, an old friend, was spared to stand further trial. Beck requested the right to commit suicide. According to the testimony of Hoepner, Beck was given back his own pistol and he shot himself in the temple, but only managed to give himself a slight head wound. "In a state of extreme stress, Beck asked for another gun, and an attendant staff officer offered him a Mauser. But the second shot also failed to kill him, and a sergeant then gave Beck the coup de grâce. He was given Beck's leather overcoat as a reward." (65)

The condemned men were taken to the courtyard. Drivers of vehicles parked in the courtyard were instructed to position them so that their headlight would illuminate the scene. General Olbricht was shot first and then it was Stauffenberg's turn. He shouted "Long live holy Germany." The salvo rang out but Haeften had thrown himself in front of Stauffenberg and was shot first. Only the next salvo killed Stauffenberg and was shot first. Only the next salvo killed Stauffenberg. Quirnheim was the last man shot. It was 12.30 a.m. (66)

Heinrich Himmler gave order for the arrest of Hassell the day after the failure of the July Plot. Other members of the group were also taken into custody. This included Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, General-Major Hans Oster, General-Major Helmuth Stieff, Helmuth von Moltke, Peter von Wartenburg, Fabian Schlabrendorff, Johannes Popitz and Hjalmar Schacht. Others such as General-Major Henning von Tresckow committed suicide rather than be arrested and tortured. (67)

Although there is no evidence that Hassell knew anything about the July Plot he appeared in court before Judge Roland Freisler with Josef Wirmer, Wilhelm Leuschner and Paul Lejeune-Jung, on 2nd September, 1944. According to Peter Hoffmann, the author of Hassell's behaviour in The History of German Resistance (1977): "seemed to be the prosecutor rather than the accused when before the court". (68) Theodore S. Hamerow added that Hassell "stood in the dock, steadfast and composed, courageously facing the charges of treason... still calm during the legal proceedings, still dignified, more the accuser than the accused." (69)

Ulrich von Hassell was convicted of high treason and executed on 8th September, 1944. In the previous six years he had kept a diary. The first diaries up to 1941 were taken successfully to Switzerland, but the others were buried in a Ridgeway's Pure China Tea box and buried in a wood outside Munich. The final entries were tucked into a photo album when the Gestapo came to search on 28th July 1944, but were not found. Richard Overy has argued: "This was not a private concern; clearly Hassell wanted this diary to be a record of Germany's disgrace, 'a bequest' to the future if the worst happened to him." (70)

In 1947, The Other Germany: Diaries 1938-1944 was published. As Louis L. Snyder has pointed out: "The diaries... are a main source of information about the Resistance movement. Published posthumously, they give an extraordinary picture of the daily activities and dangers of those who served in the attempt to remove Hitler... He traveled widely in Europe. Supposed to report on economic activities, he kept in touch with those who had been sympathetic to the Resistance." (71)

The role played by the Spanish conflict as regards Italy's relations with France and England could be similar to that of the Abyssinian conflict, bringing out clearly the actual, opposing interests of the powers and thus preventing Italy from being drawn into the net of the Western powers and used for their machinations. The struggle for dominant political influence in Spain lays bare the natural opposition between Italy and France; at the same time the position of Italy as a power in the western Mediterranean comes into competition with that of Britain. All the more clearly will Italy recognize the advisability of confronting the Western powers shoulder to shoulder with Germany.

Hitler's speeches are all demagogic and spiced with attacks on the entire upper class. Hitler is fired up against them and calls them "cowardly". At the same time there is a growing aversion to all independent people. Whoever does not grovel is regarded as haughty. One of Ribbentrop's adjutants told Frau Schoningh recently that I am very full of my own importance. Therein lies the explanation of my own situation. Heydrich told Plessen in Rome that the Party considered me haughty. Ribbentrop cannot abide me either. However, "on the outside", the slight chance of successful opposition would be even smaller.

I am writing under the crushing emotions evoked by the vile persecution of the Jews after the murder of vom Rath. I am most deeply troubled about the effect on our national life which is dominated ever more inexorably by a system capable of such things.

Goebbels has seldom won so little credence for any assertion (although there are people among us who swallowed it) as when he said that a spontaneous outburst of anger amongst the people had caused the outrages and that they were stopped after a few hours. At the same time he laid himself open to the convincing reply that if such things can happen unhindered, the authority of the state must be in a bad way. As a matter of fact there is no doubt that we are dealing with an officially organized anti-Jewish riot which broke out at the same hour of the night all over Germany! Truly a disgrace!

As early as Wednesday 9th, a neighbouring mayor expressed his sorrow to Pastor Weber that he had orders to take action against a respectable Jew. He then added that on the 10th all the synagogues in Germany would be burning. They were shameless enough to mobilize school classes. Leyen says that in a Swabian village the Catholic teacher gave in, but the Evangelical teacher refused to let the boys go.

There is probably nothing more distasteful in public life than to have to acknowledge that foreigners are justified in criticizing one's own people. It is futile to deny, however, that the basest instincts have been aroused, and the effect, especially among the young, must have been bad.

The effect of Hess's flight ... was indescribable, but immeasurably increased by the stupidity of the official communique, which could clearly be traced to Hitler's personal explosions of wrath. The first one especially, which implied that for months, even for years, he had presented to the people a half or even entirely insane 'Deputy' as heir-apparent of the Fuehrer.. .

The background of Hess's flight is not yet clear. The official explanations are, to say the least, incomplete. Hess's sporting and technical performance alone showed that he could not be called crazy.

He carefully closed the windows and doors, and announced with some emphasis that he had a very serious matter to discuss with me. I had been unbelievably indiscreet, quite unheard-of; as a matter of fact, "with all due deference", so had my wife. He mist demand, more emphatically, that I correct this behaviour. I should certainly burn everything I had in the way of notes which covered conversations in which one or other had said this or that.

(1) Agostino von Hassell, The Ulrich von Hassell Diaries, 1938-1944 (2011) page xiv

(2) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 138

(3) Richard Overy, The Ulrich von Hassell Diaries, 1938-1944 (2011) page ix

(4) Agostino von Hassell, The Ulrich von Hassell Diaries, 1938-1944 (2011) page xvii

(5) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (17th September, 1938)

(6) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (20th July, 1943)

(7) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (29th September, 1938)

(8) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (10th October, 1938)

(9) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (15th October, 1938)

(10) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1987) page 67

(11) Reinhard Heydrich, instructions for measures against Jews (10th November, 1938)

(12) Heinrich Mueller, order sent to all regional and local commanders of the state police (9th November 1938)

(13) Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1996) page 100

(14) Joseph Goebbels, article in the Völkischer Beobachter (12th November, 1938)

(15) Erich Dressler, Nine Lives Under the Nazis (2011) page 66

(16) Reinhard Heydrich, instructions to the Gestapo for measures against Jews (11th November, 1938)

(17) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1987) page 67

(18) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (25th November, 1938)

(19) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (22nd March, 1939)

(20) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (10th September, 1939)

(21) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (23rd October, 1939)

(22) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (23rd February, 1940)

(23) Patricia Meehan, The Unnecessary War: Whitehall and the German Resistance to Hitler (1992) page 272

(24) John Wheeler-Bennett, The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics (1964) page 488

(25) Gregor Schöllgen, A Conservative Against Hitler: Ulrich Von Hassell Diplomat in Imperial Germany, the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich (1991) page 80

(26) Patricia Meehan, The Unnecessary War: Whitehall and the German Resistance to Hitler (1992) page 273

(27) James Lonsdale-Bryans, Blind Victory (1951) pages 73-74

(28) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (15th April 1940)

(29) Richard Overy, The Ulrich von Hassell Diaries, 1938-1944 (2011) page ix

(30) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (17th May, 1940)

(31) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (29th May, 1940)

(32) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (18th August, 1939)

(33) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (15th June, 1941)

(34) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (21st December, 1941)

(35) Richard Overy, The Ulrich von Hassell Diaries, 1938-1944 (2011) page x

(36) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (18th August, 1939)

(37) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (21st December, 1941)

(38) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 308

(39) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (20th September, 1941)

(40) A. Ryder, Twentieth Century Germany: From Bismarck to Brandt (1973) page 425

(41) Joachim Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death (1997) page 157

(42) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (21st December, 1941)

(43) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (8th April, 1941)

(44) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (18th August, 1941)

(45) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (27th April 1942)

(46) Joachim Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death (1997) page 164

(47) Theodore S. Hamerow, On the Road to the Wolf's Lair - German Resistance to Hitler (1997) page 295

(48) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 184

(49) Joachim Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death (1997) page 227

(50) Allen Dulles, Germany's Underground (1947) pages 148-149

(51) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (1st January, 1942)

(52) Peter Padfield, Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991) pages 426-427

(53) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 296

(54) Joachim Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death (1997) page 229

(55) Joseph Goebbels, diary entry (September, 1943)

(56) Ulrich von Hassell, diary entry (9th October, 1943)

(57) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 332

(58) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 738

(59) Elfriede Nebgen, Jakob Kaiser (1967) page 184

(60) Roger Manvell, The July Plot: The Attempt in 1944 on Hitler's Life and the Men Behind It (1964) page 77

(61) Ian Kershaw, Luck of the Devil: The Story of Operation Valkyrie (2009) page 39

(62) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 400

(63) Joachim Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death (1997) page 258

(64) Joachim Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death (1997) page 278

(65) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) page 250

(66) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 508

(67) Ian Kershaw, Luck of the Devil: The Story of Operation Valkyrie (2009) page 65

(68) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 526

(69) Theodore S. Hamerow, On the Road to the Wolf's Lair - German Resistance to Hitler (1997) page 376

(70) Richard Overy, The Ulrich von Hassell Diaries, 1938-1944 (2011) page xi

(71) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 138

Ulrich von Hassell

Christian August Ulrich von Hassell (12 November 1881 – 8 September 1944) was a German diplomat during World War II. A member of the German Resistance against German dictator Adolf Hitler, Hassell proposed to the British that the resistance overthrow Hitler, under the condition that Germany would keep all of its territorial conquests. He was executed in the aftermath of the failed 20 July plot.

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The Families Who Tried to Kill Hitler

On July 20th this year, President Joachim Gauck of Germany led the country's political elite in commemorating the 70th anniversary of the best-known assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler, in 1944. The plot's leader, Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg (played by Tom Cruise in the movie Valkyrie), put a briefcase containing a bomb underneath Adolf Hitler's table at the Führer's headquarters in East Prussia. The bomb exploded, but Hitler sustained only minor injuries. Von Stauffenberg, who initially believed that Hitler had been killed and had made his way to Berlin to lead the coup, was summarily shot, along with three other participants at the Bendlerblock, the then-military headquarters now housing the Ministry of Defence, where this year's commemoration ceremony took place.

Almost all the other members of the July 20th plot &ndash officers, jurists, trade unionists, clergymen, diplomats &ndash were also executed. Had the assassination succeeded, the plotters had planned to overthrow the regime, arrest leading Nazis, liberate the concentration camps, establish the rule of law, and negotiate peace with the Allies.

Today, the 200 or so participants of the plot are treated as heroes. But for a long time they were considered ­traitors. Dr. Axel Smend, a corporate lawyer, recalls how his mother was often called in to meetings with his teachers because of his and his siblings' poor grades. "Once," recalls Smend, "she mentioned to my maths teacher that my father had been a member of July 20th. 'Well, then it's no surprise that he's bad at maths', my teacher responded. 'He's the son of a traitor.'"

Smend's father, Günther Smend, was 31 when he was hanged at Berlin's infamous Plötzensee prison, strung up from a meathook and condemned to a slow and painful death for the crime of having tried to recruit his superior to the plot. Hitler's command was that the plotters should be killed like ­animals. The plot had been carried out by "a tiny clique of criminals who will now be exterminated," the dictator raged on national radio. Some 88 other July 20th participants suffered the same fate as Günther Smend at Plötzensee, while several dozen others were executed in concentration camps. A few lucky ones awaiting their execution were saved only by the arrival of the Allies.

Smend, who was four months old when his father died, sheds a tear as he recounts the painful meeting with his teacher, one of many indignities that Smend's 26-year-old mother and her three young children underwent. Neighbours avoided the family "traitor widows" were, a court later decided, not eligible for the pension every other war widow received. Renate Smend didn't discover that her husband had been executed until the postman delivered a small package containing Günther's wedding ring, a notebook he'd kept at Plötzensee, and the bill for his execution. "It wasn't until my mother took me to Plötzensee when I was nine that I understood how my father had died," Smend says.

Had the plot succeeded, Ulrich von Hassell would have become Foreign Minister. The veteran diplomat, a friend of Mussolini's who had been Germany's ambassador to Italy in the early 1930s but was dismissed by Hitler, envisioned a Europe of shared values. Instead, he too was hanged.

Von Hassell's grandson, Corrado ­Pirzio-Biroli, recalls an incident relayed to him by his grandmother: "My grandfather had heard about this new agitator Adolf Hitler, and in 1928 he went to see him to find out who he was. Hitler was famous for staring at people, so he stared at my grandfather. My grand­father stared back. That's how the meeting ended, with not a word being spoken. Afterwards, my grandfather wrote to my grandmother: 'If this man comes to power, it's the end of Germany'."

Pirzio-Biroli, born to von Hassell's daughter Fey and her Italian husband Detalmo, still remembers the plot's failure: Fey von Hassell was arrested and little Corrado and his brother Roberto, then aged three and two respectively, were sent to an orphanage in the Tyrolean town of Hall. Their fates were common enough. The regime tended to arrest the wives and older children of plotters, while younger children were sent to orphanages for subsequent adoption by 'reliable' families. Corrado and Roberto were renamed von Hof. "We had been adopted by an Austrian family when my grandmother von Hassell managed to track us down," recalls Pirzio-Biroli. "So before I was proud of my grandfather, I was proud of my grandmother, because she saved us." Today Pirzio-Biroli, who identifies as Italian and German in equal measures, takes great comfort in the efforts of his grandfather.


Outside Clarita Müller-Plantenberg's Berlin home, children of different ­ethnicities are playing in the park. This is the kind of Germany for which Müller-Plantenberg's father fought. Adam von Trott zu Solz, born into a distinguished family that included John Jay, the United States' first Chief Justice, was a cosmopolitan young lawyer who had also read politics, philosophy and economics as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University.

In 1939, von Trott travelled to Britain with secret information about Hitler's military plans, hoping to persuade the British government to prevent a war. Later, his crucial role in the July 20th attempt included trying, without success, to win British support for the assassination. "The British government dismissed the plotters as just dissidents," says Richard Evans, Regius professor of History at Cambridge University and a leading authority on World War II.

"From its point of view, the war was not about concentration camps but about German efforts to dominate Europe. The plotters wanted to keep Germany a major power in Europe, and Britain wanted to prevent that."

Von Trott, says Müller-Plantenberg, knew that the plot could fail. "He always told my mother, 'If something goes wrong, please tell the world about us'." The widows tried, but even after the war many ordinary Germans considered the July 20th members traitors. In a 1951 survey, only 43 percent of men and 38 percent of women had a positive opinion of them, and in a 1956 survey a mere 18 percent of the respondents approved of naming a school after von Stauffenberg or the civilian leader of the plot, former Leipzig mayor Carl Friedrich Goerdeler. A planned law granting the plotters' widows pensions was never introduced, although, as a compromise, the families eventually received an annual sum. Amid such disapproval, one of the few conspirators who had escaped the gallows, a young lawyer named Fabian von Schlabrendorff, took on the thankless task of shoring up support for the shunned families. "He received death threats until his death [in 1980]," recalls his son Jürgen-Lewin, a banker. "Germany had lost the war but Nazism still permeated the country."

Von Schlabrendorff, who had been a member of the resistance since 1933, was involved not only in the July 20th plot but in an earlier assassination attempt on the Führer as well. A year earlier, in a plan that seemed foolproof, he had given an officer travelling with Hitler a bomb disguised as some cognac bottles. Inexplicably, the bomb failed to explode. Though he risked being discovered, von Schlabrendorff travelled back to retrieve the bomb, and returned with it to Berlin, knowing that it might yet explode.

The failure of the July 20th plot meant certain death for von Schlabrendorff. Roland Freisler, the exceptionally sadistic judge at the "People's Court" that handled political cases, was known to deliver death sentences with incredible speed: three to four per day, followed by swift execution. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels planned to make a film of the July 20th trials, but when he saw the dignified behaviour of the accused, he decided against the idea. Harrowing snippets of the trials can still be viewed online.

Between 1942 and 1945, Freisler sent not just the July 20th plotters but a total of 3,600 individuals convicted of politically motivated crimes to the gallows. On February 3rd, 1945, von Schlabrendorff was in the midst of receiving his death sentence when an American bomb caused a beam to fall on Judge Freisler, instantly killing him. The severely-tortured von Schlabrendorff was sent to a string of concentration camps he was later liberated by American soldiers.

Yet at home, von Schlabrendorff rarely spoke about his ordeal. "He wanted to shield us from his experiences," explains Fabian Jnr, Jürgen-Lewin's younger brother and a lawyer. "And all his friends had been executed. Besides, every time he spoke about what had happened, he felt sick."

In the Gestapo's Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse prison in Berlin, the father of three had been subjected to an induced heart attack. "As a result, his health was always precarious," recalls the eldest brother, Dieprand, who is also a lawyer. "But we never doubted that he did the right thing. And when the July 20th families got together, we were always the privileged ones, because we were the only ones with a father."

Luitgarde von Schlabrendorff gave birth to Fabian Jr. during her husband's Gestapo incarceration.


It's largely thanks to Fabian von Schlabrendorff's efforts that the July 20th plotters were not lost in the collective post-war amnesia. Officers against Hitler, published in 1959, was von Schlabrendorff's tribute to his executed friends and perhaps also a form of self-therapy in an era that long preceded the recognition of post-traumatic stress disorder.

But while von Schlabrendorff, von Trott and others such as Hans von Dohnanyi had been early foes of the Nazis, other plotters joined the resistance much later. "Initially my grandfather was a committed Nazi, no doubt about it," explains Robert von ­Steinau-Steinrück, sitting in the execution chamber at Plötzensee, where his grandfather was hanged. "He wasn't exactly a democrat, but as time went by, he realised that the Nazis were criminals. For him, it was a matter of the rule of law."

Von Steinau-Steinrück's ­grandfather, reserve officer Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg, was a government ­official in eastern Germany who joined the resistance after witnessing the Nazi regime's crimes. Had the plot ­succeeded, he was supposed to become Minister for the Interior. "For him, acting against Hitler was a matter of decency," says von ­Steinau-Steinrück, one of Germany's top labor attorneys. "The plotters could have decided to do nothing, saved their life and played a positive role in postwar Germany. But they knew that somebody had to do something."

What the July 20th plot has done, reflects von Stauffenberg's granddaughter Sophie Bechtolsheim, is show that there was another kind of Germany. "Otherwise, how would we be able to look the victims of the Nazi regime in the eyes?" she asks. "We can learn [from the plotters] that taking a stand and taking the resulting action is not just necessary but ­possible."

The conspirators, however, faced a conundrum: not only did Hitler have considerable support he'd initially also enjoyed a certain democratic ­legitimacy. As a result, it was easy for the regime to dismiss them as a resentful minority. "The resistors' programme was not a democratic one," adds Evans. "One can understand why it wasn't, because democracy had failed in the Weimar Republic. But they provided a moral example of courage in a dictatorship."

At his trial, a composed von der Schulenburg told Judge Freisler: "We took this act upon ourselves in order to save Germany from [ . . . ] misery. I'm aware that I'll be executed but don't regret my deed and hope that somebody else will carry it out in a more fortuitous moment." That lack of courage plagued West Germany after the war, and the country's initial response was simply to try to forget the Third Reich. The parliament passed amnesty laws not once but twice, in 1949 and 1954. The 1949 law granted amnesty for crimes committed prior to 1949, including Nazi-related crimes. Some 800,000 people benefited from this law. The law passed five years later helped some 400,000 individuals, including a smaller number of Nazis.

But von Schlabrendorff's bestseller, emerging research by historians, and a generation of children probing their ­parents' actions during the war changed that. So did the emerging government-supported reassessment of Third Reich guilt. For the July 20th families, that constituted a restitution of sorts.

"My mother had tried to talk about the plot, but politicians only started talking about the resistance when it became politically necessary to do so," recalls Müller-Plantenberg. Growing up, she felt like an outsider in school. "We thought you were Jewish," a classmate later told her. But like other plotter children, she'd found community in the unorthodox fold of July 20th families.

Gradually, the so-called "traitors" gained respect. In 1967, Berlin politicians decided that the Bendlerblock should feature a memorial to the asssassination attempt, and in the 1980s a resistance documentation centre was added. By 1970, 39 percent of Germans viewed the would-be assassins positively. In 2004, only 5 percent of Germans said they opposed or despised the plotters. Today, the July 20th families' association, which initially disbursed the government compensation, makes presentations to schools and jointly organises the commemorations.

Since 2002, German military recruits have sworn their oaths on July 20th. This year's speakers at the Bendlerblock were the Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and von Stauffenberg's oldest child, retired general Berthold Schenk von Stauffenberg.

"When the Bundeswehr [German military] introduced the [July 20th oath] I thought, of course!" exclaims Müller-Plantenberg. She's not resentful of her father's fate, arguing instead that today's Germany strives for the values he died for: "democratisation, the rule of law and the protection of minorities."

Clarita von Trott, Müller-Plantenberg's mother, tried to gain entry to her 34-year-old husband's trial, in which the raging Freisler had called Adam a pretentious "intellectualist", denouncing his "un-German education". But she and her two girls never saw him again. (The girls, too, were sent to an orphanage.) One photo of herself with her father is all Müller-Plantenberg has left.

"The plotters," explains Evans, "knew at the later stages that they'd fail. The coup was a moral gesture." In fact, the conspirators must have felt that destiny was conspiring against them. In one particularly inspired plan, the handsome young soldier Axel von dem Bussche, who'd been selected to model the new army uniform for Hitler, was to conceal a bomb on his body. The assassination was thwarted when an Allied air raid destroyed the kit the night before it was due to be shown. In another 1943 plan, General Major Henning von Tresckow was to simply stand up and shoot the dictator at a dinner. It failed when von Tresckow's ­superior got wind of the plan.

And in 1938, a carpenter called Georg Elser almost succeeded in killing ­Hitler by planting a bomb in the Führer's favourite Munich pub. Hitler, displaying a habit that would frustrate several later attempts as well, left the pub early. In total, historians have documented some 40 assassination attempts by the July 20th members and other conspirators.

As a concentration camp survivor, Fey von Hassell was entitled to German government compensation. Von ­Hassell's family physician near her home in Rome, a German Jew, kept writing the required doctor's notes long after her concentration camp-induced ailments had subsided. "That's the least I can do for Ulrich von Hassell," he said.

Like Clarita Müller-Plantenberg, Axel Smend has only one photo of himself with his father. But he also has the notebook that the postman delivered to his mother after Günther's execution.

Our meeting is over, and Smend has to rush to the airport for a court case in Munich. Still misty-eyed, he gets into the waiting taxi he looks the epitome of post-war success. On top of the legal documents in his briefcase, he's put Günther's green notebook.

Correction: This article originally mispelt Ursula von der Leyen as von den Leyen.


Although he is a military historian, Hassell has made an effort to break away from the familiar.

When Hassell was 5, his father took him to a Protestant cemetery in Rome. There, he read the tombstone of the son of Goethe. All it said was that he had been the son of Goethe.

“That was unforgettable,” he said. “His merit was that he was the son of a famous man…I realized I could not live under the laws of my ancestors. I went my own way.”

Instead of becoming an ambassador or military leader, Hassell’s interests have run the gamut from foodie and photographer, to prepping the FBI’s upper echelon on counterterrorism techniques.

He was an adjunct professor for the graduate program of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where he taught NYPD officers lessons on counterterrorism and leadership.

“It’s not an easy subject to cover, but it’s something that is desperately needed,” Hassell said.

(Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

Hassell is currently president of The Repton Group LLC, a corporate intelligence firm.

He has a wall for his photography in his office, including a photo he took of police officers standing in a destitute office in 1977 during one of blackout riots in Williamsburg. When asked why he was there, he said, “just for the hell of it.”

Ulrich von Hassell

Ulrich von Hassell was born in Anklam, Germany, on November 12, 1881. After studying law he entered the Foreign Office in 1908. He married to the daughter of Alfred von Tirpitz and later served as Counsul-General in Barcelona (1921-26), Ambassador in Copenhagen (1926-30), and Ambassador in Belgrade (1930-32).

In 1932, Hassell was appointed Ambassador to Rome. Initially a supporter of Adolf Hitler, Hassell became increasingly critical of his aggressive foreign policies and, in 1938, was sacked by Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Hassell became an active opponent of the Nazi government and joined forces with Ludwig Beck and Carl Goerdeler.

During the Second World War he tried to recruit leading generals such as Franz Halder, Friedrich Fromm and Erwin Rommel to the idea of a negotiated peace with the Allies. Later he tried to persuade them to carry out a military coup.

In April 1942, he was warned by Ernst Weiszacker, State Secretary in the Foreign Ministry, that he was under investigation by the Gestapo. However, he ignored this warning and continued to conspire against Adolf Hitler.

Hassell was arrested by the police following the July Plot. He was convicted of high treason and executed on September 8, 1944. After the war, his diaries were found buried in the garden and published as The Other Germany: Diaries 1938-1944 (1947).

The Lost Boys by Catherine Bailey review – a Hitler vendetta and a remarkable family tale

I n 1987, Fey von Hassell, younger daughter of the former German ambassador to Rome, published her memoirs. A Mother’s War told the story of the vendetta carried out by Hitler against the families of the men implicated in the July 1944 coup plot – of which her father Ulrich von Hassell was one – and the survival, against all the odds, of herself and her small children. Catherine Bailey, author of two successful family biographies, has retold Fey’s story, filling in gaps and setting it in a wider context. It is indeed an extraordinary tale.

Ulrich von Hassell, an aristocrat and diplomat of the old school, was posted to Rome in 1932. From the first opposed to the Nazis, his opposition grew stronger as Europe moved towards war. Watched by the all too efficient German and Italian fascist spy networks, he was dismissed in December 1937 and returned to Germany to join the resistance. Von Hassell was one of the first men to be arrested after the failed coup, brought before the infamous People’s Court and slowly strangled, the process filmed for Hitler to watch later. Then the Nazis moved on to the plotters’ families, the “brood of vipers”, under a directive known as Sippenhaft, which decreed that a traitor’s family was also guilty.

Fey was then 24, married to an Italian called Detalmo Pirzio-Biroli and living on his family estate, Brazza, a 12th-century castle overlooking the plains of Venice, where local families made lace, kept silkworms and farmed. With her were her two sons, four-year-old Corrado and two-year-old Roberto. German soldiers were billeted in the castle, but Fey, as a German speaker, was treated civilly, though she lived in constant fear of being taken for a collaborator by the Italian resistance. As the allies, having landed in Salerno, were fighting their way up Italy, Pirzio-Biroli joined the partisans and disappeared. Bailey paints a vivid picture of the violence and chaos of Italy’s civil war, with the partisans in the mountains, the fascists and the German occupiers carrying out reprisals, and Italian former soldiers and escaped allied prisoners of war trying to evade capture.

On 27 September 1944, the Nazis came for Fey. In Innsbruck, her first place of detention, Corrado and Roberto were taken from her. She listened to their screams as they were bundled away. Instead of killing her, the Nazis made her one of their hostages, held with a group of important people by Himmler against possible future barter with the allies. Moved from prison to prison, camp to camp, for a while in a former hotel in which she and her companions played bridge and went for walks, later in special barracks attached to the camps of Stutthof, Buchenwald and Dachau, she caught typhoid and nearly died. With her were members of the other plotters’ families – the von Stauffenbergs, the Goerdelers, the Hofackers. Fey was one of four women whose children had been taken from them. The youngest was a baby of nine months.

Fey and Detalmo Pirzio-Biroli in 1940. Photograph: Brazzá Family Archive

Most of the hostages, at one time or another, became ill with scarlet fever, typhoid or bacillary dysentery. Towards the end, they were brought together with other eminent hostages, including the former French prime minister, Leon Blum, the pastor Martin Niemöller and von Schuschnigg, the chancellor of Austria. Fey grew very close to Alex von Stauffenberg, elder brother to Claus, leading plotter in the July coup, whose wife Litta, a decorated Luftwaffe test pilot, died in what was probably an attempt to rescue him. At some point, a number of children were brought to join them – but Fey’s sons were not among them. When Himmler realised that they were not going to be useful in saving his life, orders went out to have them killed. But the message came too late: the group had already been moved and were on their way to safety. Bailey deftly sets her narrative against the background of the unfolding mayhem of the closing weeks of the war as Germans, Italian fascists, the Italian resistance and the allies battled their way across northern Italy.

In some ways, The Lost Boys is an imprecise title, for almost the entire book is the story of Fey’s ordeal. But her anguish over the fate of her sons consumed much of her days and acts as an ever-present theme. It was finding them again, in the summer of 1945, more than their survival, that was little short of miraculous.

Reunited with her husband, and finally in touch once again with her mother and sister in Germany, Fey set about trying to locate her children. But postwar Europe was awash with refugees and people who had lost their families, and priority in tracing them went to citizens of allied, “non-enemy” countries. As Germans and Italians, the Pirzio-Birolis were very low on the list. Among the missing were hundreds of thousands of small children, some of them orphans, some Jewish children who had been hidden, others who had been kidnapped and “Germanised” by the Nazis. One of the most poignant sights was of posters hanging in railway stations, offices and refugee centres, with photographs of babies and young children and the words “Who am I?” written underneath. In 1948, the International Tracing Service still had 42,000 families on its books who were searching for their lost children. Most were never found.

The Pirzio-Birolis were among the lucky few. Given new names by the Nazis, the two boys had been taken to an orphanage, a former Rudolf Steiner centre and sanatorium high in the mountains above Innsbruck. Even so, the area in 1945 was a contested zone, occupied by Yugoslav troops and Garibaldi communist partisans, and out of bounds to Italian citizens. It was only the Pirzio-Birolis’ excellent connections and the extreme persistence of Fey’s mother that led to the boys’ rescue. They arrived in the nick of time: Corrado and Roberto were about to be adopted by a new family.

Fey von Hassell and Bailey essentially recount the same story, but the two books are a perfect example of the subtle and important differences between memoir and biography. Fey’s touching and elegant account is told from a single perspective, while Bailey’s is a richer and deeper portrait, as if pulling back, in a film, from a tight shot to a wider landscape. The relationship between Fey and Alex von Stauffenberg is given considerably more emphasis by Bailey, with the suggestion that it was primarily duty that caused Fey to resume her marriage at the end of the war, while in her own memoir Fey herself described finding her husband again with “utter joy and amazement”. Diaries, letters, memoirs and conversations with Corrado and Roberto, now in their 70s, as well as other friends and relations of the family, give Bailey’s version depth. Like A Mother’s War, The Lost Boys is a gripping read.

The Von Hassell Diaries 1938-1944

Von Hassell, Ulrich Gibson, Hugh (Editor)

Published by Hamish Hamilton, London, 1948

Used - Hardcover
Condition: Very Good

Original Cloth. Condition: Very Good. First Edition. Spine a little faded. Light surface marking to boards with a little surface wrinkling to the front panel and bumping to the corners. Browning to endpapers and page edges but pages otherwise clean and unmarked. First printing. No jacket.

Alliance of Enemies : The Untold Story of the Secret American and German Collaboration to End World War II

Alliance of Enemies tells the thrilling history of the secret World War II relationship between Nazi Germany's espionage service, the Abwehr, and the American OSS, predecessor of the CIA. The actors in this great as-yet-untold story were often at odds with their respective governments. Working in the face of competing ideologies and at great personal risk, these unorthodox collaborators struggled to bring about an early peace.

By mining secret World War II files that were only recently declassified, as well as personal interviews, diaries, and previously unpublished accounts to unearth some of history's surprises, Agostino von Hassell and Sigrid MacRae shed new light on Franklin Roosevelt's surprising stance toward Hitler before the U.S. entered the war, and on the relationship of American business to the Third Reich. They offer vivid details on the German resistance's desperate efforts to at first avert war and then to make common cause with enemy representatives to end it. And their work details the scope and depth of German resistance and its many plots to eliminate Hitler and why they failed.

New names and incredible wartime plots reveal the titanic power struggles that took place in Istanbul and Lisbon---cities crawling with spies. Intense, clandestine communications and spy rings come clear, as do the self-serving neutrality of Switzerland and Portugal and the shocking postwar scramble for German spies, scientists, and more, all to aid in the fight against a new enemy: communism.

Alliance of Enemies fills a huge void in our knowledge of the hidden, layered warfare---and the attempts for peace---of World War II. It will fascinate and excite historians, spy and policy enthusiasts, and anyone concerned with the uses of intelligence in trying times. Nowhere has such a complete and provocative history of the wars behind World War II been told---until now.

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ALLIANCE OF ENEMIES: The Untold Story of the Secret American and German Collaboration to End World War II

A tale of the forgotten heroes of the German resistance—forgotten because few Americans, at least, ever noticed them in the first place.It was a matter of Allied policy, spearheaded by the American . Читать весь отзыв

Alliance of enemies: the untold story of the secret American and German collaboration to end World War II

Most casual readers are aware of the failed attempt by senior German army officers to kill Adolf Hitler in July 1944. Yet from the outset of Hitler's so-called Thousand Year Reich, there were efforts . Читать весь отзыв