The Americans have July 4th. The French have July 14th.
And not to be left out, the Germans have 20th July. Not perhaps celebrated with quite such enthusiasm as the other two; but, desperate to bury the national shame of her recent past Germany celebrates the attempt by Colonel Claus Schenk Count von Stauffenberg to murder Hitler and take control of his hideous regime with his co-conspirators von Tresckow and others.
The legend that has been allowed to grow over the years is that these brave men, sickened by the attrocities committed against the Jews in Poland and Ukraine they have begun to learn about, are determined to do something about the monster who has taken control of their country and effectively enslaved its people, tragically the plot failed, Stauffenberg and others died heroes’ deaths and the war continued until the German people were liberated from the Nazis by the allies.
I read a brilliant and timely article in the Speccy this morning in which historian Matthew Olex-Szczytowski comprehensively debunks the myth.
Uncomfortable truths (the plotters were a tiny band, most had been Nazis or enthusiastic supporters) … discoveries which the archives are still yielding…show the full extent to which key players, such as Stauffenberg himself, were full-blown Nazi criminals before they ever came to oppose the regime…A reckoning with such facts will be tough. After all, the Ministry of Defence is in the Stauffenbergstrasse in Berlin, the army schools officers at its Stauffenberg barracks in Dresden, and the Bundeswehr runs global missions from the Tresckow base near Potsdam.
For Stauffenberg and Tresckow, the charge sheets might have started in 1939 when, as senior military men invading Poland, they aided the SS Einsatzgruppen squads in murdering thousands. Stauffenberg’s division was implicated in burning 70 Poles and Jews alive in a barn; his people were there when the Germans staged a pogrom to ‘celebrate’ Yom Kippur; he welcomed ethnic cleansing and German colonisation. Tresckow was directly involved in atrocities too. During and after the fighting, 20,000 Poles and Jews were unlawfully put to death, but in the classic accounts Stauffenberg and Tresckow noticed nothing…From late 1940 to early 1943, Stauffenberg was a key aide to the head of the army’s high command, General Franz Halder. The future frondeur shaped the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. This saw the German army run mass executions, starve more than three million POWs to death and support the Einsatzgruppen in shooting 1.2 million Jews and 800,000 others. In 1942 Stauffenberg planned compulsory labour culminating in the induction of
3.6 million Soviet civilians — men, women and children — into slavery in Germany and Austria. Tresckow helped lead the Army Group Centre, the largest force to invade Soviet-run territory, so shared in myriad army crimes. We know his people murdered and helped the Einsatzgruppen to kill. By the end of 1941 he had presided over the death of a million Soviet prisoners left to starve and freeze.
Far from being disgusted by these crimes it is quite clear that the plotters in the general staff were steeped in blood to their elbows, and were motivated entirely by the growing realization that Hitler’s increasingly demented and disastrous running of the war was leading to certain defeat and they aimed to replace what they saw as a failing regime with what they believed would be a more successful one, involving themselves enjoying the fruits of power.
… they concocted reactionary schemes which were either risible (for Germany’s internal governance) or ominous (for continued German rule over Europe)… Albert Speer might have been a minister, Tresckow would have run the police.
These facts have been known for some time and more is being unearthed all the time. Olex-Szczytowski rightly asks why Germany is so reluctant to confront this truth? And concludes that given the continued interest in this history in Germany and the activities of the revisionists will lead to a reckoning:
Only last month the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland party … caused uproar by pooh-poohing the impact of Hitler when seen against the country’s 1,000 years of achievement.
Quite what these 1000 years of achievement consists of I’m not so sure. Germany didn’t exist as a unified state untl the 19th century when their single greatest statesman, Bismarck, merged a motley collection of independent duchies and principalities into a militaristic giant which fought a won a series of wars of conquest against its neighbours culminating in a shocking victory over France in 1870.
Germany’s most important contribution to human wellbeing was the invention of protestantism but even that only led to the enlightenment after it had transplanted to Great Britain. Plus they had some very great writers and composers, as did other nations.
Germany’s military adventures in the 20th century are too tragic to mention save to say that we are all still living in the baleful afterglow of the conflagration.
And after the inevitable but agonising and costly defeat we have the economic miracle, funded largely by the Americans and by default on her debts.
A generally unknown fact pointed out by James Holland in his outstanding book “The War In The West” is that compared to the western allies (excluding the USA) at the start of the war Germany was very weak in terms of motorisation. Even quite late in the war an awful lot of men and materiel were moving on foot or horsedrawn. The excellent but overworked railway system could not make up for this. The rather small British was far better equipped in terms of motor transport, this being the result of a conscious decision to replace men with machines as far as possible.
I think it is for this reason that the German motor industry is such an important thing for modern Germany. The Germans are always fighting the last war.
All the important technical innovations in the 20th century were made by the British or the Americans. In the first there was the tank. In the second there was overwhelming logistical dominance. It seems that the understandable desire to win the peace has led to this enormous industry being the cornerstone of their economy.
But globally the economy has moved on. Modern economies are not based on massive manufacturing plants. However much Grauniad columnists and Labour Party MPs might deplore the fact, modern economies are mixed, flexible, and post-industrial.
In the last decade Germany’s astonishing dominance of the euroland economy has been based on control of a currency rigged in its favour, and at the expense of her southern neighbours. She has built up a Target 2 imbalance of a trillion euros which she might as well write off now as it will never be repaid.
Viewed from the lofty heights of Castello Italicus it is clear that Germany, far from winning the peace has in fact hoist herself with her own petard and in fact the German people are in for a very serious economic reaming at some point in the next decade or so, when this whole mess collapses under the weight of its own internal contradictions. A reckoning is coming and it won’t be pretty.
As for the Stauffenberg plot, had it succeeded, one monster would have been replaced by others and the war might have dragged on even longer. Let’s celebrate the fact that they failed.