Saturday, May 3, 2008

They also had heroes

There was an article in today's paper that got me to thinking. Here is a similar article from The New York Times, and I'm including the entire thing to pay tribute to a man who, while playing for the other team, was also a hero in his own way. Commentary follows.

Philipp von Boeselager, Who Attempted an Assassination of Hitler, Dies at 90

By William Grimes

Published: May 3, 2008

Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager, believed to be the last surviving member of the inner circle of German Army officers who attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler with a briefcase bomb on July 20, 1944, died on Thursday. He was 90 and lived in Altenahr, in the Rhineland-Palatinate. His death was announced by the German Defense Ministry, which gave no other details.

Mr. von Boeselager, disturbed by the Nazi campaign of extermination against the Jews and by German atrocities that he witnessed as a lieutenant on the Eastern Front, joined an anti-Hitler conspiracy in 1942 and later took part in the plot being organized by Col. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, who, as chief of staff to Gen. Friedrich Fromm of Reserve Army Headquarters, routinely attended meetings at which Hitler was present.

Mr. von Boeselager, assigned to an explosives research team, was able to acquire top-grade English explosives. On July 20, Colonel von Stauffenberg carried a briefcase stuffed with plastic explosives and a timed detonator into a conference being held in the Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s headquarters in East Prussia, and placed it under a table being used by Hitler and more than 20 officers. After making an excuse, Colonel von Stauffenberg left the room. In his absence, Col. Heinz Brandt, trying to get a better look at a map on the table, moved the briefcase, blunting the impact of the explosion. It demolished the conference room and mortally wounded three officers (Colonel Brandt among them) and a stenographer, but Hitler escaped with minor injuries.

Had the assassination succeeded, Mr. von Boeselager was supposed to lead 1,200 men back to Berlin and take part in a general uprising against the Nazi regime, code-named Operation Valkyrie. The bomb plot is the subject of the unreleased film "Valkyrie," in which Tom Cruise plays Colonel von Stauffenberg. Mr. von Boeselager described his role in the wartime resistance in a recent interview with The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Most of the approximately 200 conspirators, including Colonel von Stauffenberg, were rounded up and executed, while others committed suicide. No one revealed Mr. von Boeselager’s role in the plot, which is described in detail by the historian Peter Hoffmann in "The History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945." As a result, he did not need to use the cyanide capsule he kept on hand. Fearing exposure, he kept the cyanide for the rest of the war.

Mr. von Boeselager was born into a Roman Catholic family in Burg Heimerzheim, near Bonn. After graduating from Aloysius College, a Jesuit secondary school in Bad Godesberg, he intended to study law and enter the foreign service, but not wishing to join the Nazi Party he instead enlisted in the army, as did his brother Georg, who also took part in the July 20 plot. Mr. von Boeselager was first approached in 1942 to shoot both Hitler and Heinrich Himmler at close range. "It was no longer about saving the country, but about stopping the crimes," he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in a recent interview.

On March 13, 1943, with a Walther PP pistol in hand, Mr. von Boeselager prepared to assassinate both men, who were scheduled to hold a strategy session with Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, Mr. von Boeselager’s commanding officer and also a conspirator. When Himmler decided not to attend, Mr. von Kluge called off the mission. In 1944, it was Mr. von Boeselager’s brother Georg who gave him the signal to move forward. "One day, my brother called and said, ‘They want explosives,’ " he told Reuters in a 2004 interview. "I knew exactly what for." When he stepped off an airplane to deliver the explosives to Gen. Hellmuth Stieff at Army High Command, however, the plan nearly came unraveled. "Getting out of the plane, I was limping, because I had been injured in the leg." he said in the interview. "Several young soldiers came up to me, offering to carry my suitcase. But I refused. I thought they would notice at once that the suitcase was far too heavy." As for the failure of the assassination attempt, Mr. von Boeselager said, "Stauffenberg was the wrong man for this, but no one else had the guts."

After the war, Mr. von Boeselager studied law and economics and served as an adviser in creating the Bundeswehr, the armed forces of West Germany. He founded several charities and welfare organizations, and often spoke at schools about German resistance to the Third Reich and the importance of taking an active part in politics. In 1948 he married Rosa Maria Gräfin von Westphalen zu Fürstenberg. The couple had four children, Albrecht, Georg, Maria-Felicitas Schenk von Stauffenberg and Monica Adelmann von Adelmannsfelden. Two weeks before his death, Mr. von Boeselager took part in a documentary, "The Valkyrie Legacy," to be shown on the History Channel in spring 2009.

Mr. von Boeselager said that the decision to call off the 1943 plot had continued to haunt him. "I always see Hitler from here to the fireplace in front of me and think, ‘What would have happened if you had shot him?’ " he told a reporter, indicating with his hands a distance of about two feet.


First of all, I applaud this man who saw that what was happening was a crime against mankind, and had the courage to try and stop it. I don't doubt that the failure of both attempts haunted him, as he continued to see the atrocities being perpetrated by his countrymen. I would hope that the vast majority of us would have the same kind of bravery, and would try and stop anything like that from happening here. I also applaud his post-war efforts in charity work, and speaking out about resistance to the Nazi regime and the importance of being involved in politics. If anyone could redeem themselves after being part of the German army, I'd say that he did.

Secondly, this brings to mind the age-old science fiction dilemma, the storyline of so many short stories, books, TV shows, and movies: If you had a chance to change history, would you do so? And what would you do? Remember the "Star Trek" episode "The City at the Edge of Forever," in which the Enterprise crew prevents the death of the leader of the pre-WWII peace movement, which delays the entry of the U.S. into the war, which results in the Nazi regime taking over Europe and the world, which in TURN results in the space program not being developed, and BINGO, the Enterprise and the Federation are no more. I'm not making light of this--simple or even complex events and occurrences can have a profound effect on what happens.

I hope that before he died, Herr von Boeselager was able to come to terms with how things played out. While the attempt to kill such horrid men as Hitler and Himmler was admirable, who knows how things would have turned out in the war and post-war if they had succeeded? While it's easy to look back and say "I would have done something," it's foolish to speculate about how it might have changed things. Perhaps things would have been worse, and in the absence of Hitler, an even more psychopathic leader would have taken his place (How about Reinhard Heydrich or Josef Goebbels? Talk about psychotic....). He had the courage to attempt it, and I hope that it was enough for him to find peace.

We can't live our lives thinking about what we could have or should have done. We all make our own decisions, and each decision has consequences. Ken told me once that he wished he'd met me 20 years ago, but we both agreed that back then, we might not have been the people we were when we met 7 years ago. I can say that I am a very different person than I was 20 years ago, and my past experiences--both good and bad--have helped form who I am today, and I think the same goes for Ken. These are some of the reasons that we are so compatible, and in over 6 years, we have yet to have a fight!

I know we all have our regrets about things we've done in our past, and wish we would have done some things differently. I'm no exception, but I choose not to dwell on it. Look at things right now and decide whether or not you are happy about where you're at. If so, that's wonderful! Keep doing what you're doing, and resolve to let go of any regrets or anger you have against yourself or others about what happened in the past. If you're unhappy with where you're at, or with yourself, resolve to make a change. Look at the decisions you're making and be honest with yourself: could you be making better ones? Are there things you could do, even if just little things, that would improve your situation and get you on a happier path? Is your anger and resentment at past wrongs weighing you down and stopping you from finding true happiness? Do you have some serious issues that need to be dealt with in therapy? If so, don't be afraid to get help. I can't and won't pretend to have all the answers, but I believe that hanging on to resentment does nothing to help our state of mind, mental health, or personal happiness. Strength and resolve does not need to be coupled with resentment and anger. True strength will allow you to accept the situation and understand that nurturing such anger does nothing to help the situation. If you need to get help, I wish you the strength to do so.

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queeniemart said...

If only i was more like you. As i age, i may let go of some demons and ghosts but they still drive me, even today.
I have great admiration for that man for trying to kill Hitler. He DID have great courage.

rdautumnsage said...

One of the things I say repeatedly is my heroes are those individuals who overcome adversity. I often wonder if I would of had the courage to deal with my deafness and be the person I am today had I not been dealt the hand I was...

When I remember events in my past, it's simply a reminder of where I've been and where I am now in life. I've found in some ways it helps others realize you can overcome whatever obstacle you need in order to survive. A friend once told me I had the right to be bitter the rest of my life because of what I had suffered. I aked her "Why?", in being bitter I might miss the beauty of what life had to offer, a friend, a chance at a life. If I didn't find some way to make my anger and pain somehow validated by helping others, those individuals who brought about that same suffering would win.

In the end that's exactly what it is, you against them. I chose to overcome them. (Hugs) Indigo

helmswondermom said...

Thanks for bringing him to our attention.  This was a very interesting story.

krmprm said...

I was not aware that there was an active resistance against Hitler,  but I
have often wondered how an entire nation could remain passive while
such atrocities were committed.  I'm glad to hear that they did not.  Of course,
we are more informed now than they were then, I just wish it could have been
    I received an interesting though disturbing e-mail that you can access by
typing in Jim Cash,  then when it comes up going to Brig.Gen. Jim Cash's View
on the Middle East.  I enjoy your commentary and I would be interested to hear
your thoughts on this article if you choose to do it.   Thanks,  Pat