Resistance Within Germany

Resistance of German Aristocracy

1938 -  First Coup Attempt

1942 - Plan Valkyrie

1943 - The "Perfect" Assassination Attempt

July 15, 1944

July 20, 1944

General Friedrich Olbricht

An Obsolete Honor
Hitler's Demons-Kindle Edition

Codename Valkyrie

Allies Response to Germany's Resistance

Hitler's Popularity

Sources - Further

German Army Military Ranks




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Valkyrie Conspiracy Title
Author Interview

Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to be joined by Helena P. Schrader, who is here to inform us about some fascinating details of World War II, as detailed in her new historical novel, "An Obsolete Honor."

Helena Schrader earned a Ph.D. in History with a biography of the German Resistance leader who initiated the plot against Hitler on July 20, 1944. She has also written a study of women pilots in World War II, "Sisters in Arms," and her non-fiction book about the Berlin Airlift, "The Blockade Breakers," will be released shortly. She has published two previous novels set in World War II, as well as novels set in Ancient Sparta, and a trilogy about the Templars. Helena is an active Foreign Service Officer. Her current novel is the result of years of research and twenty years of living in Germany.

Tyler:  Welcome, Helena. I'm happy you could join me today. It strikes me that "An Obsolete Honor" is a story long overdue.
Helena:  First, let me say it is a pleasure to be here. I really appreciate this opportunity to talk more about a project that consumed me for nearly a decade.

Tyler:  Helena, who are the main characters in "An Obsolete Honor" and how are they involved in the German resistance movement?

Helena:  The main protagonists in the novel are fictional characters. I chose to use fictional characters at the heart of the novel in order to free myself from real biographies. Fictional characters enabled me to address the topics I felt were essential to understanding Nazi Germany and the Resistance. However, while the principal characters are fictional, their fictional biographies bring them in contact with a variety of real historical figures. These historical figures are always in the places they really were at that time, doing the things they really did and holding the views ascribed to them. Wherever a historical figure appears, he or she is as accurately described as possible.

The main fictional character in the novel is Philip Freiherr (Baron) von Feldburg. He is a General Staff Officer, who falls in love with a secretary at General Staff Headquarters and through her is introduced to and becomes involved in the military conspiracy. The secondary plot line revolves around Marianne Moldenauer, a medical student who personally witnesses the conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto and is so appalled that she starts trying to help the victims of the regime.

Tyler:  Will you tell us about Marianne's relationship with a Gestapo commissar?  What is the conflict or the point you hoped to create by depicting their relationship?

Helena:  Marianne represents all the basically decent people in Germany who recognized how inhumane and horrible the Nazis were but were NOT in positions of power that enabled them to work toward an overthrow of the government.  If you were a general, an intelligence officer, or a diplomat you had many more opportunities to take action against the brutal, criminal regime than a college student, housewife or shopkeeper.

Marianne's relationship with Peter is designed to show how horribly difficult it was for an ordinary individual in a totalitarian regime to do anything against that regime.  A totalitarian regime controls every aspect of life, and 90% of the population is in some way working for that regime.  It is also more likely that you will fall in love with someone who is part of the regime than someone who is opposed to it.

Let me illustrate this point with one example.  One of the most tragic interviews I conducted was with the widow of Generaloberst Jodl, a man who was sentenced to death by the Allied Military Tribunal at Nuremburg for complicity in the Nazis war crimes.  His widow was a lovely, gentle woman, who had been the personal secretary to the leader of the German military resistance, Generaloberst Beck, in the mid-1930s, when he was Chief of the General Staff.  She was furthermore a close friend of the fanatical opponent to Hitler, Henning von Tresckow.  One of the few survivors of July 20, 1944, Ludwig Baron von Hammerstein, defended her with great compassion because he felt strongly that she was no less intelligent or moral than those in the Resistance, but "how can we ever know where the heart will lead us?"  This is Marianne's story.  She is truly an opponent of Hitler, but she falls in love with a Nazi….

Tyler:  Helena, what about the German Resistance movement intrigued you enough to write a novel about it?

Helena:  The fact that the German Resistance had to be traitors to their country in order to do what their conscience demanded.  That is a huge burden! Members of the Norwegian, Dutch or Czech Resistance movements were brave men and women.  They risked their lives because they were fighting a powerful and ruthless invader—but they knew that the vast majority of their countrymen were on their side.  They were the best and bravest of their countrymen, but they were not alienated and alone.  They did not endure self-doubt or face a continuous conflict between moral and patriotic duties.  It is the moral and ethical dilemma of the German Resistance that sets it apart.

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Tyler:  What else about "An Obsolete Honor" do you think makes your novel stand out among the several other novels about World War II?

Helena:  First, I do not rely on stereotypes.  For example, many of my readers may find my portrayal of German generals "unrealistic" because I have not turned them into humorless squareheads, bigots and martinets.  That is because I personally interviewed many German officers, including Generals.  I have read their memoirs and more important their diaries and letters.  I know that among the German officer corps the pig-headed, uneducated, unsophisticated men were the rare exception.  American officers will understand what I mean!

Second, my novel is designed to show how very difficult it was to oppose Hitler inside Nazi Germany – rather than treating it as self-evident and easy.  Furthermore, my novel will hopefully help people to understand those who chose not to resist as well as those who did—whether it is Marianne's mother, who doesn't have the nerves to become a criminal after years of being a law-biding citizen, or General von Rittenbach, who believes the Communist threat has to be defeated first.

Far too many books about WWII are crude caricatures, painted in black-and-white without any nuances, shades-of-grey or subtly.  I can hear the screams of protest already.  How could there be any "shades of grey" when facing such a diabolical regime? Well, because the regime was incredibly crafty and subtle and well disguised at first.  Unless we recognize that evil is not always evident at the first instant, we run the risk of being deceived again and again.

Tyler, you asked me earlier, how or why I got interested in the German Resistance.  Let me say something a little provocative: It is because I cannot be 100% sure that my own beloved country could not be misled into committing crimes against humanity.  When I saw the images from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, I could only shudder at my own premonitions.  We Americans no longer have the right to assume that we would never have done anything like what the Nazis did.  We can no longer claim moral superiority over the Germans.  We all have to realize that our own—elected! —government has committed crimes against humanity.  No, the scale is not the same as the Nazi crimes—yet.  But then our government is not a totalitarian dictatorship either.  What if it was?  What if the people responsible for the crimes at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib faced no legislative censure?  What if there was no free press?  What if they could do whatever they liked without fear of being called to account

Tyler:  Helena, that makes me have to ask you about Hitler himself.  He is a very minor character in the novel, even though the book centers around attempts to assassinate him.  Why did you choose not to provide a more detailed portrait of him?  Do you think any novelist could do him justice?  And finally, how do you see him yourself—was he just a monster—is he to blame for everything that happened in Germany? Decades later, is it possible for us to understand him?

Helena:  Frankly, Hitler doesn't interest me in the least.  I don't like murder mysteries either.  I am not a criminal or pathological psychologist.  What interests me is how sane, rational, ordinary people can be misled, even fascinated, by a madman—and even more what enables some people not to be mesmerized by a clever, charismatic political seducer while all those around them are following along like sheep.  I suppose that someone who specializes in writing about the criminally insane could do a very good job of writing about Hitler, but I suspect that most novelists would fall into the trap of demonizing or trivializing him.  I have personally always found that I cannot write extensively about people I do not understand or admire in some way.

As to Hitler's role, of course he wasn't to blame for everything.  If he had not received financing, support and votes, he would have remained in complete obscurity.  Only because others were willing to follow his orders, hitch their wagons to his campaign machine and exploit the political situation that he created did he get into a position to seize dictatorial powers and then use those powers to create a police state focused on genocide and wide-spread aggression.  Hitler had thousands of accomplices and millions of willing minions.  Most Germans, ultimately, were very happy to reap the rewards of his aggressive policies as long as all was going well.  The fact that the German Resistance was so isolated, so small, and ultimately so ineffective is an indictment of the vast majority of Germans who just carried on with their lives, closed their eyes to the injustices around them, and latter were the first to claim they had "never been Nazis."

Tyler:  Our reviewer at Reader Views commented that she could tell you really visited the places you wrote about.  Will you tell us more about your research for "An Obsolete Honor"?

Helena: I lived in Berlin for over 20 years.  I could visit the historical sites, but more importantly, I or my friends lived in the apartments, used the public transport, walked in the parks and boated on the lakes described.  I love Berlin.  It is a beautiful city.  At the invitation of friends, I also visited and stayed in a number of manors and castles, some of which are described in the novel.

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Tyler:  You must appreciate the opportunity to interview so many of the people who lived through and were involved in the war, an opportunity that in just a few more years, writers will no longer have.  How would you describe this opportunity?  What did you learn about people from hearing their stories?

Helena: It was a privilege.  It was humbling too.  I always felt so insignificant and almost embarrassed to ask people who have truly proved their moral courage to tell a young American woman about what they experienced and felt.  Clearly, I had experienced nothing but peace and prosperity!  I remember Axel von dem Bussche's wife, who in the war had been married to a member of the Stauffenberg family, joking about "well, I was only condemned to death once."  I talked to a former officer who had been in the Gestapo's central interrogation prison and realized his brother was being held in a near-by cell because he recognized the towel outside the door.  I talked to people who had been in Concentration Camps, people who survived in hiding, people who contracted crippling diseases while in Nazi prisons.  And yet the worst moment was when I was interviewing the widow of one of the leaders of the Resistance whose husband had been tortured by the Gestapo.  I knew this from the literature.  There was no question about it, and I made reference to it.  She stopped me cold.  "I didn't know that," she said.  No one had ever told her about it before.

Amazingly, she did not throw me out.  We even continued to be friends.  And the longer I worked on the project and the more I learned, the more people opened up to me.  I remember interviewing the widow of Helmuth James Count Moltke, and sensing her relief when she realized I already knew about the German Resistance Movement and she didn't have to start by telling me, "yes, there were Germans who opposed Hitler," and "no, we didn't all vote for him in 1932," etc. etc. etc.  Others, Axel Baron von dem Bussche and Philipp Baron von Boeselager increasingly opened up to me about military affairs when they realized I was fully conversant with the jargon, ranks, organization etc.

In a way it was like peeling an onion.  You got one set of answers in a first interview, and then in a second and third or over a long friendship more and more details and nuances of feeling came to light.  And there is no end to the story.  Each person who lived through this period had a unique experience and a unique point of view.  Each and every one of the people I spoke to was worthy of a novel.

That was the hardest part of writing "An Obsolete Honor": cutting out hundreds of events, episodes, characters, insights etc. etc.  Throwing out invaluable material for the sake of making a novel that worked—that was coherent and fast-paced enough to retain reader interest.

So to return to your question: What did I learn?  More than I could ever convey in a hundred novels, much less a short interview.  "An Obsolete Honor" is only a tiny, almost pathetic, start to telling the whole of what I learned.

Tyler:  What about this period and the events of the war did you find most difficult to write about?

Helena:  The interrogation scenes.  Although I interviewed and read accounts of people who had been held by the Gestapo, I still found it very difficult to imagine exactly what Marianne would have been subjected to and felt.  Most books opt for the sensationalist aspects of interrogation, the torture, but like any good police force (and the Gestapo was good!), most methods of breaking people were far more subtle.  I had hoped one of my acquaintances who had police experience would review and revise these scenes, but he never found the time so I had to go ahead with what I had.

The other thing I found difficult was the Warsaw Ghetto Scene.  This is too much of a cliché and I really dislike it.  But no matter how hard I searched for an alternative, I failed to find one that would be early enough in the novel and have the consequences necessary for the rest of the plot.

Tyler:  Thank you, Helena. It was a very educational experience for me. I wish you much success with "An Obsolete Honor" and your other works.
Partial transcript of Reader's View Interview
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