claus von Stauffenberg

Document Sample
claus von Stauffenberg Powered By Docstoc
					                                         were about to be shattered.
Sources:;_         “By then the war was getting
ylt=A2KIc2aiZeNM82kBRBubvZx4             uncomfortably close,” Claus’s
?p=claus+von+Stauffenberg+-              eldest son, Berthold, recalled in
+The+Man+Who+Tried+to+Kill+Hit           a recent interview—which
ler&toggle=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-             made the escape from their
                                         house in Bamberg, some 130
claus von Stauffenberg - The Man
                                         miles to the northeast,
Who Tried to Kill Hitler                 especially welcome. “Even in
   Enraged by the attempt on his life,   that provincial backwater there
   Hitler insisted that the very name    were constant air raids and raid
   ‘Stauffenberg’ be wiped from          alarms, and I had to sit my
   history                               school exams in an
July 20, 1944, found the                 underground shelter. The
Stauffenberg family gathered,            continual memorial services for
as they had so many summers              those who had fallen at the
before, at their rambling country        front—at which I often served
house in the village of                  as a Catholic altar boy—were
Lautlingen, in the rolling               another grim reminder of the
Swabian Alps of southern                 war.
Germany. With the war in its
5th year and taking an                   Nevertheless, Nazi control was
increasingly ominous turn for            still absolute. We were fed a
Germany, most of the adult               constant diet of propaganda
male members of the                      promising us Endsieg, or ‘final
aristocratic Catholic clan—twins         victory,’ in the state-controlled
Alexander and Berthold, and              press and radio, which I
their brilliant younger brother          naturally believed.”
Claus—were absent. Presiding
over the household of 6                  So keen a young Nazi was the
boisterous children were                 then-10-year-old that he was
Claus’s wife, Nina; the                  bitterly disappointed to be just 3
children’s grandmother,                  days too young to join that
Caroline, and their great-aunt           year’s intake of the Jungvolk,
Alexandrine; and their great-            the junior branch of the Hitler
uncle Nikolaus Üxküll, known to          Youth. “My dearest wish was to
all as “Uncle Nux.”                      march through Bamberg
                                         carrying a Nazi banner at the
Only he knew that their lives            head of a youth parade,” said
Berthold. “Fortunately my          Stauffenberg was a popular
mother who, unknown to me,         and able career soldier, singled
shared my father’s anti-Nazi       out by his superiors for a
views, prevented this.”            glittering future.

Berthold’s father, Claus           He had served as a staff officer
Schenk, Count von                  in the conquest of Poland in
Stauffenberg—a religious man       1939, the invasion of France in
with a philosophic bent, an        1940, and the campaign
accomplished horseman, and a       against Russia in 1941.
lover of poetry—was about to
become infamous for those          Initially Stauffenberg gave the
anti-Nazi views. At about the      prewar Hitler regime the benefit
same time his family was sitting   of the doubt. But from 1942
down to lunch at Lautlingen on     onward, that changed
that sweltering July day,          dramatically.
Stauffenberg was placing a
bomb, hidden inside his            Nauseated by the mass murder
briefcase, under a conference      of Jews and the treatment of
table at Wolfschanze (“Wolf’s      civilian populations on the
Lair”), Hitler’s headquarters in   eastern front, and by Hitler’s
East Prussia, in an attempt to     insatiable appetite for war and
assassinate the führer and         his reckless military
overthrow his regime.              incompetence, Stauffenberg
Stauffenberg came within a         joined fellow officers in actively
hair’s breadth of accomplishing    conspiring against Nazi rule.
his goal when the bomb
exploded at approximately          In early 1943, Stauffenberg was
12:40 p.m., demolishing the        posted to Tunisia as senior staff
room and killing three officers    officer to the 10th Panzer
and a secretary. But Hitler was    Division for the last days of the
merely wounded—and it was          North African campaign.
the Stauffenberg family instead    Rommel’s once-vaunted Afrika
that was torn apart in the         Korps was now penned in
aftermath of the attempted         against the sea, trapped by the
coup.                              Americans advancing from the
                                   west and the British from the
Young Berthold had not seen        east.
much of his father since the war
began. 36-year-old Colonel von     The fighting was intense, and in
April Stauffenberg was                overthrow the regime in the
seriously wounded when an             confusion following a
American aircraft strafed his         successful assassination of
Horch staff car. One officer in       Hitler.
the back seat was killed and
Stauffenberg, whose body was          The decision to topple Hitler
pitted with shrapnel, lost his left   weighed heavily on
eye, his right hand, and two          Stauffenberg. Was it right, he
fingers on his left hand.             asked a relative in mid-1943, to
                                      sacrifice the salvation of one’s
Evacuated to Munich, he               own soul if one might thereby
astonished doctors with the           save thousands of lives? He
speed of his recovery.                concluded that it was not only
                                      right, but imperative. Around
Within weeks he had learned to        that same time, he told several
dress himself using his teeth         people, including Margarethe
and his three remaining fingers.      von Oven, a Replacement
His performance was so                Army secretary who typed the
dexterous that he joked he            orders he drafted, that he was
didn’t know what he had ever          consciously “committing high
used his other seven fingers          treason.”
                                      He added that, faced with such
In the summer of 1943,                an evil regime, he had had to
Stauffenberg joined his family        choose between action and
at Lautlingen for a prolonged         inaction, and as an active
convalescence.                        Christian there could only be
                                      one decision.
Once he returned to his duties
that fall, the conspiracy took on     In June 1944, Stauffenberg was
momentum as his fellow                named Replacement Army
plotters got him assigned to a        chief of staff.
staff position with the
Ersatzheer, or Replacement            This was a key post, giving him
Army, headquartered in Berlin.        regular access to Hitler at the
There, he directed revisions to       führer’s military conferences.
Replacement Army mobilization
orders, code-named “Valkyrie,”        As Germany’s military situation
as cover for a military putsch        steadily worsened,
that would use its troops to          Stauffenberg worked to perfect
the plot and overturn the            Stauffenberg’s plans to kill
regime in time to prevent a          Hitler.
Soviet invasion of Germany.
                                     She shared her husband’s
Able, energetic, and                 disgust with the increasingly
charismatic, he became the           criminal Nazi regime. “The
head, heart, and guiding hand        papers were full of the dire fate
of the conspiracy.                   of those who listened to foreign
                                     radio stations, traded on the
 Berthold saw his father just 3      black market, or spread
times after he joined the            defeatist rumors,” said
Replacement Army: for two            Berthold. “Such cases usually
days at Christmas; in January        ended in a death sentence.”
at the funeral of Berthold’s
maternal grandfather; and for a      In mid-1944 the situation
week’s leave in June 1944,           looked increasingly grim and by
which coincided with the Allied      mid-July, Stauffenberg was en
invasion of Normandy.                route to Wolfschanze. In his
                                     briefcase he carried a bomb
Despite Germany’s increasingly       composed of plastic high
precarious position, Berthold        explosive, which he had
maintained his boyish belief in      decided—despite his crippling
final victory—placing his faith in   injuries—to prime and detonate
the V-1 flying bombs and V-2         himself.
rockets designed by Wernher
von Braun and raining down on        Only his closest confederates in
Britain                              the conspiracy knew this. He
                                     had asked Nina -- so that he
“Naturally,” Berthold recently       might first speak with her, likely
recalled, “I had absolutely no       for the last time.
idea what my father was
planning and preparing, nor did      But he couldn’t reveal the
I realize how much my mother         reason, and she had already
knew of his views.”                  made travel arrangements, so
                                     on July 18, she and the children
For security, she nor anyone         left Bamberg for Lautlingen.
else in the family, save Uncle
Nux and Claus’s brother              Claus’s eldest son recalled with
Berthold—a participant in the        precise clarity how he learned
plot—were aware of                   of the event that shattered his
family’s lives.                     She revealed that he had been
                                    executed by firing squad late
                                    that same day, after the failure
                                    of his desperate attempts to
“On 21st July I heard a radio       launch the Valkyrie putsch in
report of a ‘criminal attack on     the wake of the bombing.
the führer,’” Berthold said. “But
my questions about this were        Finally, as if all this was not
evaded, and the adults tried to     enough, she told the boys that
keep me and my next youngest        she was expecting her fifth
brother Heimaren away from          child.
the radio.
                                    “Our world split apart at a
“Instead, we children were          stroke,” Berthold said. “When I
taken for a long country walk by    asked in perplexity why my
our great-uncle Nux—a former        father had wanted to kill the
general staff officer in the        führer, my mother answered
Austrian Imperial Army—who          that he had believed that he
kept us entertained with stories    had to do it for Germany’s
of his youthful adventures as a     sake.
big-game hunter in Africa,” said
Berthold. “Naturally, none of us    “The news of the bomb attack
knew that he, too, was a            came as a thunderbolt. Not only
member of the anti-Hitler           did we love our always-cheerful
conspiracy. Today, I still ask      father above all things; he was
myself what thoughts were           also the absolute authority over
going through his head during       our lives—even if he was often
that walk.”                         absent soldiering. The shock
                                    was so profound that I believe I
Uncle Nux would be tried and        was unable to think clearly
hanged a few weeks later for        about anything from that
his part in the plot.               moment until the end of the
                                    war. Actually, there was no time
The following day, Nina took        for thinking at all because from
her two eldest sons aside and       then on the blows started to fall
gently told them that it was        on us thick and fast.”
their father who had
attempted to assassinate            That night, the Gestapo
Hitler.                             arrested Nina and Uncle Nux
                                    and took them to Berlin.
The following night, even            and his brother Berthold’s two
Claus’s aging mother and aunt        were taken from their home and
Alexandrine, a Red Cross             put on a train. Their destination
official, were arrested.             was Bad Sachsa, a Nazi
                                     children’s home near
The Nazis were carrying out the      Nordhausen, set amid the Harz
brutal Sippenhaft (“kin              Mountains of central Germany.
detention”) decree, under which      Here they were separated
not only the conspirators but        according to their age and
their entire family, children and    gender and housed in chalets.
the elderly included, were to be     Over the next few weeks the
arrested and punished.               children of other conspirators
                                     joined them. Berthold was held
For the moment, the children,        in a chalet with around 9 other
bewildered and afraid,               boys roughly his age. Their
remained at Lautlingen under         confinement was not stringent.
the care of a nanny and their        Although the home’s director,
grandmother’s housekeeper—           Fraulein Kohler, was a strict
and under the watchful eyes of       and authoritarian Nazi who
2 Gestapo officials billeted at      proudly sported her party
the house.                           badge, her deputy, Fraulein
                                     Verch, and the other staff
“Isolated as we were—even            treated the children of the
from our playmates in the            “traitors” kindly.
village—we felt like outcasts
from society,” recalled Berthold.    Unlike many other Germans in
“I will never forget that feeling.   the closing days of the war,
The only person we were              they were fed well, albeit
allowed to see was the village       sparsely, with a secular Nazi
priest, who gave us his              “grace” before meals replacing
blessing, and warned us that         the religious prayers of their
hard times might be coming for       family.
us. Nevertheless, he told us
above all never to forget for         “Our biggest deprivation was
what our father had died. Only       having no news from the
today do I realize how brave it      outside world,” Berthold said.
was of him to say that.”
                                     “There was no radio and no
 On August 17, 1944, Claus           newspapers, and until
von Stauffenberg’s 4 children        Christmas 1944 we had no idea
whether our mother was alive         the Nazis agreed to these
or dead.” Christmas, however,        terms.
brought a surprise gift they had
not dared to hope for: an            As a result, she blew into Bad
unexpected visit from their aunt     Sachsa at Christmas with an
Melitta, the wife of Claus’s         armful of presents and the
brother Alexander, who—partly        news that Nina, though in
because he was posted to             detention, was still alive.
occupied Greece and partly
because of his dreamy,               “That was the best Christmas
unworldly nature—had not             present we could have wished
been made privy to the plot by       for,” Berthold recalled.
his two brothers.
                                     A month later, the sympathetic
Melitta von Stauffenberg had         Fraulein Verch told the children
forged a successful career as        that their mother had given birth
an aircraft designer and test        to a daughter. She was born
pilot in the Luftwaffe,              the same day, January 27,
reaching the rank of                 1945, that the Red Army
Flugkapitän and receiving the        occupied both Auschwitz and
Iron Cross.                          Hitler’s Wolfschanze
                                     headquarters—the scene of
Her talents were so                  Stauffenberg’s abortive
extraordinary—she specialized        bombing.
in dive-bombers and had made
more than 2,000 test flights—        Even as the war neared its end,
that the Nazis willingly             however, the outlook for the
overlooked both her gender           children was darkening.
and her Jewish heritage.
Although she had been                Enraged by the attempt on
arrested along with Alexander        his life, Hitler had insisted
under the Sippenhaft decree,         that the very name
Melitta had, with incredible         “Stauffenberg” be wiped
chutzpah, not only persuaded         from history.
the Nazis to release her, but
also insisted, as the price of her   The decision was made to
continuing work as a test pilot,     rename the children “Meister”
that she be allowed to visit her     and to have them adopted by a
husband, her sister-in-law Nina,     loyal Nazi—even possibly SS—
and the children. Amazingly,         family and brought up
accordingly.                       Mustangs and Lightnings
                                   roaring overhead,” Berthold
The first step was to remove       recalled. “Once the war got too
them from their relatively         close for comfort when the
comfortable quarters at Bad        strawberry patch in the chalet’s
Sachsa and send them to the        garden got shot up.” American
notorious Buchenwald               soldiers searched the chalet,
concentration camp.                and the mayor of Nordhausen
                                   arrived to tell its occupants
Only a miraculous twist of fate    they were free.
prevented this.
                                   Although two nurses remained
The Stauffenberg children          behind to look after the
departed for Buchenwald on         children, they were largely left
Easter, 1945, traveling in an      to their own devices and spent
army truck to the Nordhausen       the time roaming the local
railway station to board a train   woods in search of spent
for the camp. They were on the     ammunition and other war
outskirts of Nordhausen when       booty.
an Allied air raid hit the town.
“It destroyed the whole quarter    Then, as if by magic, another
around the station, including      aunt came to their rescue.
the station itself,” Berthold
remembered. “The Nazis had         On June 11, the children’s
no option but to take us back      great-aunt Alexandrine arrived
to Bad Sachsa, much to our         in a Red Cross bus.
                                   She had come to take them
April 11, the American 104th       home to Lautlingen, where their
“Timberwolf” Infantry Division     world had fallen apart almost a
arrived in Nordhausen.             year before.

German resistance in the hills     Back in Lautlingen, Berthold
around the town was stubborn,      and his siblings mourned the
and the U.S. Army had to           deaths of their father, their
threaten to level those parts of   uncle Berthold, and their
the town still standing.           great-uncle Nux—all
                                   executed by the Nazis—and
“We had a grandstand view of       of their maternal
the fighting, with U.S.            grandmother, who had
succumbed to typhus in an            where other Sippenhaft
SS camp.                             captives were held, but the war
                                     was almost over and his only
Their brave aunt Melitta had         wish was to go home,” said
also perished. In the last days      Berthold.
of the war, the plane she’d
been flying to visit her husband     “Before abandoning them to
had been strafed by an               their fate he got my mother to
American fighter. Although she       write him a certificate saying
had managed to land the plane,       that he had done his duty as far
her leg was severed and she          as he could—so very German!”
bled to death. Still worse for the
children, their mother was           Left near the town of Hof, Nina
missing.                             and baby Konstanze had
                                     become the first Sippenhaft
Within a few days Nina, too,         captives to be freed by the U.S.
arrived at Lautlingen—cradling       Army.
her new daughter Konstanze.
                                     “Not that anyone felt very free
She filled in the story of the       in the devastated state that was
missing months: after her arrest     Germany,” Berthold said. The
she had been brought to              home at Lautlingen became a
Gestapo headquarters in Berlin       sanctuary for frightened
and interrogated about her           villagers after French
husband.                             Moroccan troops occupying
                                     the village ran amok, looting
From there she was moved to          and raping. The refugees at the
the women’s concentration            house also briefly included the
camp at Ravensbrück and,             families of the Gestapo officials
later, to a maternity home to        who had been billeted there.
give birth; then mother and
baby were hastily evacuated by       At the railway station, Berthold
train ahead of the advancing         watched the luckless remnants
Red Army. They picked up an          of the Vlasov Army—a force of
infection on the overcrowded         Russian renegades who had
train and were treated in a          fought with the Germans
hospital at Potsdam before           against their Communist
being entrusted to a single          countrymen and who, ironically,
policeman. “He was supposed          his father had helped raise and
to take them to Schonberg            equip—being herded onto
trains for forced repatriation to
Stalin’s tender mercies.

Finally, however, the surviving
Stauffenbergs began to pick up
the pieces of their lives. The
recovery process was a long
one. Their townhouse in
Bamberg, for instance—which
had been used by the U.S.
Intelligence Corps and was
badly damaged—was not
restored to them until 1953,
and they had to wage a long
legal battle to win back much of
their family property.

Berthold eventually chose to
follow in his father’s footsteps,
becoming a soldier in the West
German Bundeswehr. But
circumstances dictated a very
different military career from his
father’s. Maj. Gen. Berthold
Schenk, Count von
Stauffenberg, now 74, spent
most of his years of service in
the cold war, preparing for
another war with Russia that
never came, and he never
heard a shot fired in anger. He
retired in 1994.

Claus von Stauffenberg - The Man
Who Tried to Kill Hitler

Shared By: