Monday, September 22, 2014

An Honourable Defeat

An Honorable Defeat: A Hiastory of German Resistance to Hitler
© 1994 Anton Gill
293 pages


No civilized nation on Earth is as haunted as its history as Germany. For twelve years, one of the worst governments conceivable reigned over the heart of Europe, and the people in the land of poets and thinkers seemed content to let it be so, even to do his bidding. But some acted on that disquieting sense that something was amiss with the NSDAP;  some took action. An Honourable Defeat examines the record of those Germans who did more than quietly dissent, those who took action.  In the end their efforts did little to drive the monsters from power, but they were the nation's conscience, and reflecting on what they thought and attempted to do can only work to the good.

An Honourable Defeat sees resistance against Hitler and company being driven by a few main groups:  youth movements,  the Catholic Church, disenfranchised political rivals on the left, and -- lastly, conservative forces within the army.  Of these, leadership from the army was the most effective,  although at war's end all it could show for itself were a few stalled assassination attempts and one destroyed conference room.  In general, resistance took two forms, passive and active. Youth groups often engaged in passive resistance, organizing literary circles and  groups to dance to music forbidden by the regime.   Dissenting officers within the military threw the odd wrench in the wheel, fighting against their own sense of duty and obedience to do so. Some were placed in truly awful positions; one "SS spy" had to oversee a death camp while collecting and forwarding information.  In terms of active sense, no mention is made of any organized attempts to sabotage war material production, but Gill does cover youth leaflet campaigns,   pulpit condemnation, and (of course)  military officers' attempts to effect a coup. 

In many ways this is a tragic history; in addition to the people destroyed by Hitler and his memory, and the tortuous stress endured by many members of the resistance who lived double lives, there remains the fact that not much was accomplished. In some cases, plots were ruined by bad luck, or misinformation; one early attempt to blow up Hitler's plane in flight failed because of the cold at high altitude. The military officers were slow to take decisive action, struggling with where their duty lay; this was especially quarrelsome once the war began in earnest. It was one thing to kill Hitler for merely threatening conquest, but once Germany was embroiled in a fight to the death against Russia, who would dare leave the nation leaderless?  The civilians who took action were limited by their lack of experience; one promising leader's career was cut short early on when he was seen out in public wearing a "ROT FRONT" button. First rule of resistance: don't advertise being an enemy of the state.

An Honourable Defeat is by no means complete (efforts by civilians to shelter Jewish neighbors are overlooked, for instance), it demonstrates how early and how varied German resistance to tyranny was. While it never brought forth the kind of world-shaking fruit anyone would prefer, the fact of that little seed of righteous defiance existing within us offers hope against the threat of future malfactors.

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