While by no means a masterpiece, I can recommend “Valkyrie”, a conventional Hollywood treatment of the General’s plot to kill Hitler. This is now the fourth movie that I have seen about the German resistance to Hitler. White Rose and Sophie Scholl, two German films about the underground student movement against Hitler, are outstanding. So is Restless Conscience, a documentary about the General’s plot that would be a good companion piece to “Valkyrie” and which unfortunately is not yet available from Netflix. If you have more than the routine interest in the topic, as I do, you might want to buy Restless Conscience from Amazon.com. It is $36 but well worth the money.
Since “Valkyrie” starred Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who planted the bomb intended to kill Hitler, I expected the movie to be something like the latest installment in Mission Impossible with von Stauffenberg up to all sorts of deeds of derring-do.
To my surprise, the movie is a sober, understated straightforward account of the failed plot with a minimum of melodrama. There is even little in the way of personal interaction between von Stauffenberg and his wife Nina, played by Carice van Houten. One of the great things about Restless Conscience was its interview with Nina von Stauffenberg who died at the age of 92 not long after the movie was made.
Co-written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander, the script makes a point of steering clear of trying to characterize Claus von Stauffenberg’s motives—something that they admit having trouble figuring out. Unlike the students or Christian activists involved in the struggle against Hitler, he is probably somebody who would have been more than happy to see WWII fought on the same basis as WWI. He only turned against Hitler when it became obvious that the ambitions of the 3rd Reich would lead to the complete ruin of the nation. It is also possible, although more difficult to make a case for, that he was appalled by the treatment of Jews and Russians. Giving the Nazi officers the benefit of a doubt, we can accept the premise that the aristocratic elements of the German bourgeoisie were never quite happy with a psychopath like Hitler in power, especially when he could not deliver the goods.
In one key scene, after Tom Cruise is arresting various loyalists to Hitler, he shouts out words to the effect that the plotters were restoring Hitler’s Germany to its former glory. It was not clear whether these words were intended to divide the loyalists or as an expression of von Stauffenberg’s true beliefs.
The movie was dogged by controversy from the moment that Tom Cruise was named to play von Stauffenberg. Apparently Scientology is much less popular in Germany than it is in Hollywood. Initially Germany banned the film crew from using German military facilities as a backdrop for various scenes.
While the movie can best be described as workmanlike—almost plodding in its adherence to strict chronological detailing of the conspiracy—it compels your attention strictly through its subject matter. For those who reject the Goldhagen thesis that the German nation, to a person, was demonically committed to Hitler’s insane project, the movie is a reminder that men and women of good will existed, just as they have existed in nearly 8 years of the “war on terror”.
“Valkyrie” is available from Netflix and well worth watching.
High-Born Prussians Who Defied Their Origin
BERLIN — Monday is the anniversary of the July 20, 1944, plot to kill Hitler, and services will be held here, as they are every year, where the conspirators were executed. Among those remembered, Count Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg may not ring many bells these days outside Germany, or even inside it. Others came to be famously associated with the plot. But as the German historian Hans Mommsen wrote, “Schulenburg was the inner driving force of the conspiracy.”
Schulenburg’s sister, Countess Elisabeth von der Schulenburg — Tisa, as she was called — was an artist. They constituted an extraordinary pairing.
The Schulenburgs were a very old, very high Prussian clan, staunchly Nazi, and as such a reminder of the complexity of families, not least German ones, aristocratic or otherwise. Their story is a cautionary tale about judging history, or a people, any people, in black and white.
Tisa’s sculptures and drawings can bring to mind the work of Käthe Kollwitz or Otto Dix. Pictures she drew about the Holocaust are among the first by a German. Charismatic, liberated, uncompromising and fearless, she thrived before and after the war in the circles of Henry Moore and Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht and Oskar Kokoschka. A convert to socialism as a very young woman, she found a calling teaching art among the coal miners in Britain, to which she moved in 1933 with her first husband, Fritz Hess, who, to her family’s horror, was a Jew.