Last surviving 20th July 1944 plotter died

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by CWPZM, May 2, 2008.

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  1. Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager died in the night from 30th April to 1st May. I thought this could be of general interest to the ARRSE community.

    He gave his last interview to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a conservative German daily, three weeks ago. http://www.faz.net/s/RubCF3AEB154CE64960822FA5429A182360/Doc~E0E54C29AE31345D9B93C3E2478D9B1CA~ATpl~Ecommon~Scontent.html

    I read it and thought that some of you would like to read it, too. So I translated it. I think the FAZ published it before it actually planned to do so as the original text seems to have received only cursory editing and contains bizarre punctuation and spelling mistakes. I wanted to translate and not edit, so if it is a bit confusing sometimes, that is probably because it is close to the original.

    WARNING: LONG TEXT FOLLOWS! (I thought about uploading it as a .pdf but I thought some might want to use the forum quote function and so I decided to make it a post.)

    Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager
    “I could have shot him”

    1st May, 2008. Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager passed away in the night between 30th April and 1st May. He was the last surviving plotter of the resistance that conducted the attempt on Hitler’s life on 20th July, 1944. Three weeks before his death, he gave the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung a last interview.

    Is it true that you were travelling with a corpse during the war?
    You have to keep in mind that at the time it was strictly forbidden to send coffins home from abroad. I had seen on my last holidays how much it had meant to my mother that she could be near my brother’s grave.

    Then, the following year, my close friend Wendt was killed, and I - I knew his wife well - I had a wooden box made and lined with zinc. Then I dug him up. That was really complicated; the earth was frozen and we had to burn petrol to warm it up, and then people came who wanted to put out the fire. Of course we were not allowed to do what we were doing at all. To cut a long story short, we got him into the box, I took him with me.

    As I got back to my soldiers, I took him with me, because I thought one day we would be coming home. He was in my room for one and a half years. There were three leather cushions on the box, and people were sitting on them during planning meetings, nobody had chairs during the war. And everybody knew “that’s dead Wendt down there”. No one cared particularly. And when there was fighting, he was among my baggage; and when there wasn’t, he was with me in my tent or temporary quarters.

    And then I was sent off to serve in the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH). Of course I couldn’t get him onto the plane. So I told a friend of mine who was a forestry superintendent, “now [it’s time to] dig a hole, put him there and make a map, so we can get him back later”.

    If one goes on to live for as long as you did, how far removed does one feel from the attempt on Hitler’s life of 20th July 1944?
    It feels very close. But, normally I don’t talk about it. I later told my wife about the resistance because it was over just like the war. But there was also no one else to talk to about it, they were all dead and with the others it would have seemed like bragging.

    At the time, there was also not a small part of the population who thought of it as treason.
    Among the people I knew and with my upbringing at home, that was different. I was lucky in that way; I was at the Oberkommando des Heeres, and back then, the two cavalry divisions that my brother took part in standing up were in East Prussia. And it was obvious to any passing idiot that East Prussia was going to be cut off and besieged the way Hitler was fighting the war.

    I then went to Bonin, he was the head of operations, and already back then Hitler was planning this completely mad attack with the SS-Panzerarmee from Vienna and the south east. “The last great and glorious attack with everything the country still had.” And after I saw that our soldiers in East Prussia were going to be cannon fodder, I said to Bonin that planned attack would be the turning point of the war and the two cavalry divisions, the best ones that we still had, should really take part. Then Bonin blinked at me and said, “I will see what I can do”. The two cavalry divisions were barely moved into Vienna by January 1945, to take part in that attack.

    Afterwards, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, did you get the feeling that people treated you warily because of your part in the resistance and in the attempt on 20th July?
    No, nobody "treated" us at at all. No one talked about it, it was taboo. It was all about rebuilding the house [trans.: “country” would have been a better term but I wanted to preserve his imagery]. For a long time, it was inconceivable to the ordinary German that the government had been criminal. Gauleiter, individual SA-people, yes; but that the government lied and stole, that was difficult to believe. And if that thought crossed the mind, it was pushed back, one didn’t want to know.

    After the war, you knew of course that Stauffenberg was executed, were you in touch with the families of others who had been in the resistance?
    No. It was strictly forbidden to note down addresses, anywhere from anyone. I only knew “they are from Pommern”, Kleist and others, but I didn’t even know who was still alive, never mind where their families might be. Very slowly, with Schlabrendorff and Gerstenmaier, it came back - that we met. But, for example, I had no idea who the mother of Schlabrendorff was, that she came from Southern Germany. Schlabrendorff was an East Prussian to me. And before the war, I want to point that out once again, that was a like a different country to someone from the Rhineland.

    Far, far away, this Prussia, the Protestants. I keep telling people, in this context, about how my grandfather Salis became district president in Kassel because he took part in the Fronleichnam processions [Corpus Christi processions]. Then it was said that “it is not within the remit of a Prussian public servant to promote Catholic traditions” and he was scheduled to transfer to Königsberg [East Prussia]. He retired.

    And on the other side [of the family?], my great uncle Boeselager, the brother of my grandfather, he was “Quadronchef” [ed.: could not find a translation for this title, or a definition in German, could be misspelt or local dialect] in Bonn. After the “70s war” [1870-71], he became a Jesuit and had to emigrate because Jesuits were not allowed in Prussia. And my father always said that if my grandfather had still been alive, he would never ever have been allowed to become a Prussian soldier. An Austrian, an English soldier, yes, but not a Prussian soldier.

    The hatred for Prussians was unbelievable. And then it was superseded by hatred for the French after the first [world] war. The French were handling it so ineptly. I also keep telling people, I was at school in Godesberg [Rhineland] and we went to the cadets there, and it was forbidden on the left side of the Rhine to play the Deutschlandlied, to hum it or anything. There were French officers, and the priest who was walking at the front started to hum the Deutschlandlied in a deep voice together with the first one in the column. And then they wanted to arrest him but couldn’t. Priest Selen was Dutch. We shouted with joy.

    Did you talk to Stauffenberg about anything other than politics?
    Actually, I never talked to Stauffenberg, never, not a single word. I saw him a few times; but it was forbidden to talk to someone of whom it was known that he was part of it. There was talk, I don’t know if it was true, that a third of the people involved were informers. I saw him a few times, and then we nodded at each other and blinked at each other but never said a word, not even “guten Tag”.

    There has been much talk about Hitler’s fits of anger. Did you see him that way?
    No. I have seen him several times with Kluge (Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge; Boeselager was his orderly and also met fellow conspirator Henning von Tresckow through him - FAZ ed.). And we did experience how stupid he was militarily, yes. Amazingly stupid and also criminal.

    There is a story from Autumn ’42/Spring ’43. Three Ukrainians came to Tresckow and offered to recruit people for the Army if Ukraine was offered some sort of self-government during the war and regional autonomy after the war.

    Tresckow came to Kluge with one of the three Ukrainians and said there were by then between 800,000 to one million Russian soldiers fighting in German uniforms, and also 3.6 million prisoners of war. If one could motivate them through these Ukrainians, then there might still be a small chance to win the war.

    Then, Tresckow wrote a report; Kluge signed it, and the three men were sent to Hitler because of course he had to authorise it all. We didn’t hear or see anything afterwards, and after three weeks we asked around unofficially what was going on. Hitler, it was said, had never read the report and had the three people shot immediately - as members of the “Russian elite”, they had to be exterminated. If you hear about something like that, even if you’re walking on a cane already, you just cannot grasp the scale of the stupidity.

    Did you ever see Hitler make a decision up close?
    Of course. I saw acrimonious decisions. Together with Kluge, I met Hitler several times. Then it was always about Hitler planning an attack that the Army was against or vice-versa. And then Kluge fought him desperately and several times I thought “now, he’s going to get fired”. And in the end, Hitler always waved his hand diplomatically and he said, “by the way, Field Marshal, I sent your wife 23 yellow roses for her birthday. We have to think about this situation some more and sleep on it. I’ll call you again tomorrow [before I decide]”. He did not call. He could not be reached and it was done the way Hitler wanted it. But Herr Kluge fought him hard. But in those meetings I never admired Hitler.

    So, to you he did not have any charisma?
    Not at all, although - one did get a certain feeling of power. When you got there, there were two SS-men, then you went a further twenty paces, then there were another two SS-men. You were breathing deeply and were happy, when you were allowed out of the last SS-ring.

    Tresckow was a charismatic person. When he entered a room, you noticed without looking. Very well educated, lyrical, he quoted Rilke, spoke several languages and was one of those very few who had been abroad before [the war], and that is why he was so skeptical. And he ordered Schlabrendorff, who was intelligent, to listen to enemy radio stations and to read all the [foreign?] newspapers that could be gotten in those days. And he had to report back to him every two weeks about the armaments-potential of the Americans and the English [ed.: in those days, Britain/UK was called “England” in Germany].

    And then it came out that they, well, built ten tanks for every one that we built. I overheard that once and then I told Kluge and then Schlabrendorff had to report to Kluge as well.

    There has been tremendous debate about the decision to blow up Hitler. Now, documents have turned up in Russia that even [ed.: implied touch of surprise] prove that awareness about the Holocaust actually did play a role, which has often been argued was not the case, that is now seen in interrogation protocols. And also, that the decision to oppose Hitler was made not when the “Reich” was already crumbling but at the time of its greatest expansion. What is your perspective on this?
    It was made much earlier. As you know, in 1937 Hitler declared to the commander-in-chief of the Army, the chief of the general staff, the foreign minister that he wanted war, eastwards expansion, and that was the sticking point. Until then they were, Tresckow told me this, with reservations in favour. It was about building the armed forces, that is understandable, but that [in 1937] would have made clear that war means to lose.

    There was no doubt at all for him that if Hitler wanted a war then that war was lost. And 1938, there was this assault team in the Reich Chancellery to kill Hitler, if he had made war because of Czechoslovakia. And until ’42 there had been several attempts. At that time, it was the desire to keep the “Reich” in its borders of 1938, with Austria, Sudetenland, and Czechoslovakia. And after that, it was not about saving the country anymore but to stop the criminal outrages.

    Nowadays, some historians strongly emphasise that the German elite, of which you were a part, were in a mad fear of an attack by the Soviet Union. Is that true?
    No, I never thought about that. I was living comfortably in France. No, really, I mean in the ‘30s. I was in school then. I took my leaving certificate in 1936. When the war broke out, I did get a bit scared. By chance, I had studied Napoleon’s attack on Russia very closely at school and knew that, ultimately, he failed because of lack of supplies. That supplies were not going to be better then, that was obvious to me. 1934 and the Röhm-putsch, that was the sticking point for many. For those, who had a certain idea of moral standards, that was the sticking point.

    And the Nuremberg Race-laws?
    That, too, but that touched people less. Nowadays, it is believed that one was mainly dealing with things like that. No. We were totally immersed in dealing with soldiers [trans.: can mean ‘military issues’ in general], with all the rebuilding that was all very complicated.

    How did it come to pass that the decision was made to kill Hitler? Was there a connection to the order that all Russian political commissars were not to be treated as soldiers but to be summarily shot?
    I never got that order as Schwadronschef [~ “cavalry company leader”], that was never passed down. But we have... as soon as I got to Kluge, very soon we heard about the Holocaust. Via Nebe, Oster, Tresckow. (Arthur Nebe was Chief of the Reichspolizeiamt and commander of the SS-Einsatzgruppe B, which committed many massacres against Russian civilians, mostly Jews. At the same time, Nebe maintained contact to the resistance through General Hans Oster, for which he was executed on 21st March, 1945 - FAZ ed.)

    Nebe told you about it?
    Yes. Tresckow knew even before the war against Russia that Nebe would be coming to him, and Oster had recommended him. There were a few under consideration and it was said, “Nebe is best, he is not a Nazi”.

    And he knew as a policeman: outraging crimes are being committed?
    All reports of such outrages went over his desk. I know for sure that much later, let’s say, in Spring ’44, when the war was utterly lost, then I sometimes had a few doubts about taking part in the assassination attempt.

    No personal doubts, but I knew the Führerhauptquartier, and I could not imagine that Stauffenberg would get out of it. There were the three rings around it, and I had been in there several times with Kluge. Well, if there was going to be a shoot-out, it was clear that the gates would be closed and that Stauffenberg would never get out. But Stauffenberg had to get out, he had to sign the order for Operation Walküre in Berlin, otherwise nothing would happen at all. I sort-of believed that it could not work. And if the assassination had worked, it was also clear to me that the East Prussians, the Silesians and the people from Pommern would say: “if you hadn’t killed Hitler, then we would still be in East Prussia”.

    That was clear to you?
    That was completely clear to me. Public opinion was very closely watched and known. 80% of the Germans believed in Hitler.

    Did you not think, we kill him and then at least we keep Germany in the borders of 1938?
    No. It was completely clear that Germany would surrender immediately. West [Germany] was meant to surrender immediately and then we would have tried to come to an agreement with the Russians as soon as possible. And the only thing I know of that would have happened then were free elections.

    So, you knew about the Holocaust but did you know about the scale as well?
    As I was in doubt, “should we really [attempt a coup]”, I told Tresckow. Tresckow replied: “More than 16,000 people are murdered daily, we can stop that.” It was clear [what to do] then, you wouldn’t have been able to sleep well, if you had said no. And it wasn’t about the Germans who died as soldiers or civilians - Tresckow said “murdered”.

    And when the assassination had failed?
    I had only received a message from my brother “Zurück in die Alpenlöcher” [~ back into the hideouts in the Alps]. That meant: assassination has not been carried out. I didn’t know if it had failed. It had been cancelled a few times before. And as we rode back at a slow pace in order not to draw attention, because we had been riding away from the front [earlier], then the news arrived that the assassination had failed. I realised, “tomorrow morning, you’re arrested”, because everyone knew that we were friends with Tresckow. I knew, “now everyone will be killed”. But I didn’t know that Goerdeler had been so stupid that he kept all the names in his safe.

    But how do you explain that even in December ’44 the elite of the Third Reich was making plans for ’46, ’47, that Goebbels was planning a tax reform and such things?
    Let me tell you a story. Burgdorf (Wilhelm Burgdorf, chief adjutant to Hitler - FAZ ed.) was head of the Heerespersonalamt [~ Army Staff Agency]. In 1945, I had become a member of the OKH, as a representative of the cavalry because my role in the assassination attempt on 20th July had not been discovered. And then I got invited to a glass of wine by Burgdorf in January ’45. One couldn’t get invited to dinner anymore, because everyone only had food stamps. In his apartment, I was the only one who was not a general.

    While I was talking to someone, I heard Burgdorf say in an adjoining room, “when the war is over, we are going to, after we’ve made all the Jews leave from the Army, make all Catholics leave, too. At that, I went to him and said it was of interest to me as a career officer that I would have to look for a different line of work after the war. I had been wounded five times and had received the Knight’s Cross, and that it was interesting that I would have to leave immediately after the war. Sudden silence, and Burgdorf was even a bit ashamed and said “individual cases would have to be considered”.

    That means, they lived in a make-believe world.
    They planned to have the SS take over the Army after the war.

    Were you afraid until the end of the war?
    Until the end of the war. We used to fly in “Storks” when we got close to the front; always in two’s so that if one had to abandon one’s own, he could transfer. Then one day, Model, who had been shot and wounded in a Stork, he came back from holidays and on the next day we flew again. And then Kluge said, “What are you going to do, if you are shot down?”, of course there were no German soldiers anywhere. Then I said, there was no other choice but to, well, shoot oneself. Because I knew about every company in the army group and I also knew that the Russians had ways of “squeezing” [people for information]. So, there is not really much choice but to shoot oneself, is there. Then Kluge said, “I have something better. Here’s a tablet, take that and then you’re dead in two minutes and won’t feel a thing”.

    What was that?
    That was potassium cyanide. And he had gotten that, he said, from his son-in-law Professor Esch in Münster, he was a medical doctor. I have no idea what kind of medical doctor he was. He had organised that tablet for him [Kluge] and he had several of them, and he gave us two.

    When was that?
    That was in ’42. But that wasn’t because of the resistance but because of the possibility of being shot-down. And I kept it until 8th May here in my pocket, from that day onwards. And after 20th July I always had the button unfastened. It should’ve been kept fastened, and I always had a stupid excuse, because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get to it quickly enough. One was afraid, when you wake up in the morning, the ruffians are there.

    Back to the assassination attempt. What was that about the explosives?
    Back then, I was a member of a so-called “Versuchstrupp” [~ experimenting group]. And obviously we had to experiment with something. I don’t know who got the idea with the explosives. Because I had, by chance, received sapper training in Höxter still in peacetime, my detachment was tasked with that. That had nothing to do with the resistance at that point. We made lots of experiments with it, mainly caught fish. It was all very relaxing.

    And one day, my brother called me and I reported that the English explosive was the best, the fuses quiet. They were some kind of glass fuses, they were really quiet, all the others hissed terribly. And I just innocently told him that. Some time later, my brother called again: “Have you got some of the English explosive left?” I said, “yes, quite a lot, I have to find out”. Then we inquired and called back, “we have still got a lot, about half a hundredweight [ca. 110 lbs]” and then he said, “pack a suitcase full and take it to Stieff” (Generalmajor Hellmuth Stieff - FAZ ed.). Of course, then I knew. And we arranged with Stieff that he’d send a man to my plane because my knee was busted at the time.

    Is it fair, how Stieff has been judged? He is always portrayed as a somewhat dubious character.
    No, Stieff was alright. But carrying out an assassination and being an honourable man more generally are not the same.

    Did you think about fleeing afterwards?
    No. There were my Paderborn soldiers, whom I had trained, I knew all their first names. They would have used their weapons if anyone had come to get me, that is completely certain. But that wouldn’t have made a difference of course, I would have been arrested [anyway]. I knew that I’d take the potassium cyanide. That’s why one always rode light - it was really quite an awful time.

    Especially for you, a Catholic?
    My brother and me, no one can imagine that anymore either. He was the better one, the more gutsy one, I perhaps the more intelligent one, and there never ever was a time when we had different points of view in military matters. He said, “the situation is like this and that”, and I already told him what I was going to do. He never gave me an order. It worked. When he fell, one could talk to him, that was terrible for me.

    And then I also had two cavalry captains, Heding and König; Heding was from Dortmund and König from Müster [trans.: probably misspelled and should be well-known Münster; otherwise it would have been customary to add the name of the county or region]. They still had maps from Berlin, I had confided in them, because it could have been that something happened to me.

    And Heding led the last cavalry company, we were 1200 men, and suddenly I heard a bang behind me. We had been riding with large gaps between us because everything was so dusty, so the column was very large. And I heard something and thought, “that was a mine” and then news reached me that company captain Heding was dead. At the same time, I realised that… we had strict orders that the personal effects of a dead soldier had to be taken immediately and be sent home. I realised, “now some guy is going to get all his stuff and then he finds the map with Berlin marked, headquarters SS 1 and 2 and then they’ve got us”. So, I had to ride back, crouch down at his body and take the map out of his pocket.

    Did anyone see you?
    Of course, they saw me. The commander saw me, but I bent over the body in such a way that they could not see what I got. But it was all very extraordinary.

    Did you think about confiding in someone, a priest, a confession?
    No, one couldn’t talk to anyone. There was only oneself. What got me down all the time was that I knew, 16,000 people. It was obvious that the war was lost, it could only get worse. You know the story about the five gypsies?

    When I was at Kluge’s for a few days, I was the one who got the reports from the rear, which at that time still belonged to the military, and some kind of intermediate territory that was probably meant to become part of the Reich later. We were interested in the condition of the roads and bridges that were there and we normally got a report every eight days.

    The first report that I received was on 10th June, 1942, and its last point read: “Fifth: Gypsy Sonderbad" [~special bath]. I told the field marshal that I didn’t know what that meant. To which he replied, “no worries, the SS-Obergruppenführer is coming here for a talk in three days. Remind me and I’ll ask him.”

    He did come and at the end, as he was saying goodbye, I reminded him and Kluge asked “what did you do?” - “Well, shot them dead.” - “Well, why... ‘shot them dead’.” Then, there was a lively disagreement between Kluge and Bartelewski and Bartelewski said: “All Jews and gypsies that we find in enemy territory, are being shot”. That was the first time that I’d heard that officially, not from some drunk SA man, but from the top.

    Then I asked around in the army group, they knew of such things. And it got increasingly worse. 1938 my cousin Kettler was Papen’s personal advisor in Vienna. SS men drowned him in the bathtub and threw him into the Danube to make it look like a suicide.

    It was adding up like that over time. In March ’43 were the assassination attempts by Tresckow, in which I was involved, and on 1st April captain Bettermann came to me at the cavalry regiment. Bettermann was tank commander and I knew him from the campaign in France and I knew that he was a reasonable man. He had been on a train with SD people for two days, they had had lots of alcohol with them and told him that they had killed 250,000 Jews in the army group Manstein South. And they had gone into details about how they had done that.

    And in what manner did they relate that?
    They had been in high spirits and had been proud of how they had done it, how they had gassed them and the devil knows what else. Bettermann was in complete shock. So I called my brother and told him that I had to go to Kluge right then and there. I reported everything to him. I could rely on Bettermann, it was very important in the war that one could actually rely on such information. And Kluge dispatched an order to Tresckow “this must be prevented” and Tresckow then gave orders that every local military authority had to prevent forced gatherings of civilians and to immediately report it, if they were to happen. After the war, I asked around and apparently no more Jews were killed [in our area] with the exception of eleven in Minsk.

    Do you have an explanation, that the same SD or SS man, who was bragging about 250,000 murdered Jews on the train in 1943, was, if he wasn’t caught, ten years later a completely normal German citizen here in Cologne or Bonn?
    That’s why I think everyone is suited to that. There were SS people who, in the end, jumped into the oven as well after they’d locked Jews in it countless times before and couldn’t bear it anymore. We are much more suited to that than we think.

    Even the conspirators of the 20th July assassination attempt?
    As humans, we need to be damned careful.

    If you look back, was it right that initially no one talked about it after the war?
    No, but you also have to understand that. There weren’t many of us left alive. Globke couldn’t have talked anyway. Eugen Gerstenmaier finally achieved after much effort in 1953 that the widows of those executed got a pension.

    When did the state recognise you?
    The state never did. I was called by soldiers a few times, because I had been in the “Personalgutachterauschuss”, I knew soldiers and then I did some training and they also asked me [things]. But I never did a speech for soldiers about 20th July. I did that everywhere, but never in front of soldiers.

    Never in front of soldiers?
    I’d have to ask my wife, I have had many talking engagements in the last fifteen [sic] years, but mainly in schools from Friedrichshafen [in the very South, on Lake Constance] to Bremen.

    Do you think the Bundeswehr still has a problem with that? Because it denies that.
    The Bundeswehr officially says that it does not want to have anything to do with the tradition of the Wehrmacht. That is grotesque. One could say: “partly, we have committed criminal outrages but we are glad that we did not commit all of them”.

    And those few who didn’t do them could give those of the future the strength to know that it’s possible [to resist].
    It is possible. It can be done.

    There is the sentiment that it’s now enough with Hitler and the Third Reich, let’s move on.
    I don’t think so. Talking engagements are exhausting to me and I always sleep badly afterwards but I still do them. I think, if I am already the last one left, I need to warn the young ones. I need to warn the school-leavers to whom this already seems as remote as the Thirty Years War. It is quite hard to make them understand that one couldn’t mess around and didn’t have all kinds of possibilities, that it took almost a whole year until Operation Walküre was prepared because we had to take the train.

    All of that is very hard to imagine these days. There was a lieutenant on night shift whose job it was to receive messages from the armies in the field, if anything was going on. Or, if Hitler had a question, which was often the case. I remember, one time someone called, “the Führer wants to know why the bridge in Hintertupfingen [trans.: the name is often used as a synonym for any kind of small backwater], was taken by the Russians”. Normally, they’d call the army in question, the regiment and so on. “I’m going to tell you, the cannon that was meant to defend the bridge was jammed and the soldier on guard was killed instantly”. [In reality,] there was no one left anywhere to defend that bridge. “Alright.” Of course he knew that it was completely made up but Hitler was happy.

    May I tell yet another story? We had a colonel, von Kleist, a charming man, poor, great character but very strict, a “good Prussian” in every way. After the war, I was here in Rhineland-Palatinate one of the few who had had [a particular kind of] connections before and that’s how I knew that the vineyard of the government minister didn’t have an administrator. And then I heard that Kleist didn’t have work and no pension or anything. I called him, if he could come, he wouldn’t need to know anything about wine, he would only have to check the bills and books and make sure everything was proper. So he did and everything went well.

    One day I received a call from the bishop, that was Bornewasser [at the time], asking if I knew a Herr von Kleist. “Jawohl.” Then I was told a horrible story: he had said that the Fronleichnam [Corpus Christi] procession was a “Muckenscheiss”. I said, “that’s impossible, he’s from Pommern”. Alright, I called my uncle Bernd and asked him what had happened: they had a silver cuirass and it was kept on the piano. At Fronleichnam, the sexton who is going at the front of the procession comes and borrows the cuirass to put it on. Kleist [a Protestant] of course had no idea about any Fronleichnam procession [a Catholic custom] and only had a vague idea of carnival processions [also a Rhine-ish custom]. And so the sexton had come and wanted the cuirass. “For what?” - “For the procession.” - “What? For such a “Muckes”? Forget it!”

    After I had cleared that up I spoke to the bishop and asked him what I should do. Laughter. “This is a big affair, the whole diocese is talking about it. He must come to me in a black suit, apologise and bring a pastor.” So, I called Kleist and told him to put on a black suit and apologise, “but also bring a pastor, that means you will be given “bischoefliches Konvikt”, lots to drink.” One day later, he called me, they had only talked about his wine and not at all about the cuirass.

    Do you understand the polemic attacks against the “Junkers”, who supposedly resisted far too late? Do they hurt you?
    Stupidity does not hurt me. I’m quite unfazed. In September ’45 I began to study in Godesberg. The university had been transferred to Godesberg because Bonn was only rubble. After fourth year, I was ordered to come to the Education Officer and he asked why I was studying, me “an aristocratic Knight’s Cross thief”. He immediately kicked me out of university. I was not allowed to study.

    I went to my professors and told them that I was not allowed to study but I would like to learn, would I be allowed to come and listen anyway? Yes, I was. So, I studied covertly for two semesters. Then I was ordered to go the very same officer again. He had heard that I had been in the resistance and I was allowed to study. That’s how it was back then.

    You mentioned that you sleep badly after giving speeches?
    Yes, in my mind’s eye I can still see Hitler walk in front of me from here to the fireplace and think “if only you had shot him dead”. Kluge forbade it.

    You could have done it?
    No problem at all, the pistol was there.

    Could you have done it? I mean, mentally?
    I could have but it was forbidden. Kluge was right, I think, now, in hindsight. All of us were furious [at the time].

    When was that exactly?
    That was on 13th March, 1943. Himmler was meant to come as well because it was about an attack that Hitler was planning that involved an SS-Panzerkorps [trans.: the interview was transcribed and probably conducted by a person with no military knowledge. It keeps spelling the “Panzerkorps” as the German phonetically similar “Panzerchor”, i.e “SS-Tank-Choir”]. In the end, the SS-Panzerkorps was not going to be part of the attack and that is why Himmler was not going to attend.

    I had told Kluge about [my idea of] shooting Hitler. I got on well with Kluge and, besides, he was sitting between Hitler [and me] and it would probably have been quite a bad shoot-out.

    To cut a long story short, Kluge forbade it and said, “there will be war between Army and SS, if Himmler isn’t dead”. That was a reasonable assumption, because the army reserves had all be deployed abroad after war broke out, to Poland or later to France. But the Waffen-SS, which had had 40,000 men at the beginning of the war had 950,000 men at the end, and they were all located in Germany. In many places, there were more SS forces than Army and that is why Kluge was probably right.

    Could you have done it? Was there no SS guard?
    No, no, he went alone. I was walking with Colonel Brandt and in front of us went Hitler and Kluge. I can’t remember who the third one was.

    Back in ’43, nobody knew what was going to happen if was dead, you could have been treated as the ultimate traitor.
    I would have been shot immediately by some SS-people. But that wouldn’t have been too bad because we felt very bitter towards Hitler. Us, the soldiers and the civil population. But order was order.

    Is there anything else you would like to share?
    I hope I have made it clear: I grew up as a non-Prussian, anti-Protestant and anti-French. My hatred for Prussians was dispelled by Tresckow, Kleist, Oertzen, Schulze-Büttner and others like them. In particular, I learned to respect the Protestant church which had been our enemy. I keep saying that [German] ecumenism has its roots in the concentration camps and the resistance. We sat there at 11pm and talked - “What is going to happen, if they beat you to death the day after tomorrow, what do you think happens then?” That’s how we talked about religious themes, which are usually never talked about between men, and of course we got very close because we were convinced “in a few days we’re all dead”. It is all hard to imagine these days.


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    CWPZM
     
  2. CWPZM

    Thank you very much for this fascinating document and your meticulous and illuminating translation.
     
  3. Will have to read that properly later, but thanks. Very interesting.
     
  4. Yes, very interesting.

    "We didn't kill Hitler because it was forbidden" - the old mentality still shines through!
     
  5. Very interesting ....(should be said in a bad German accent)
    It is interesting to here him talk of the different regions and religions of Germany at that time. We always think of Germany as a country of one nation, united in a common cause.
    It must have been very difficult to have been a soldier with differing opinions in those days. I wonder if it would have been any different had Hitler been killed. Would the west have formed a coalition with the conspirators and declared war on the Soviel Union?
    One final note, he was very lucky to have survived the reprocusions of the attempted coup.
     
  6. Excellant insight, thanks
     
  7. Facsinating read... I can certainly understand why he didn't cap Hitler when he had the opportunity but imagine Goebbles took over in 1943... he might've actually listened to his field commanders. *shiver*
     
  8. That was why the allies didn't want Hitler assassinated. If you think of all of Hitlers' cock-ups - Stalingrad, leaving the Afrika Korps to rot in North Africa, all of the 'no retreat' orders that wiped out whole Army Groups - he was a bigger asset to the allies alive.
     
  9. As I read the article, that crossed my mind too. :roll: So, imagine the strength it took for these officers to finally attempt an assassination (yes, I know there were some half hearted earlier tries)?

    Thank for posting it, CWPZM, es war sehr interessant. Ich hatte von ihn nicht gehört. :wink:
     
  10. I thought the point was that just killing Hitler wasn't enough - they needed to take down the system. Otherwise Himmler would just take over...

    Nightmare thought - Heidricht gets the top job....