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Rebels Stand Alone

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Posted on Feb 24, 2013
Illustration by Mr. Fish

By Chris Hedges

(Page 2)

Von Stauffenberg at the time told von dem Bussche, “I am committing high treason with all my might and means” and added that under natural law the rebels had a duty to use violence to defend the innocent from the horrific crimes of the state.

Von dem Bussche was summoned to Hitler’s headquarters in November 1943. He waited for three days about 10 miles away. He rarely left his room. He woke up every morning and wondered, he said, if he would be alive in the evening and “if my nerve would hold.” But the train carrying the winter uniforms was bombed by Allied warplanes, and von dem Bussche was sent back to the Russian front, where he lost a leg in the bitter fighting.

Von dem Bussche, 6 feet 5 inches tall and with cobalt-blue eyes and a voice that rumbled like a freight train during the interview, refused to describe what he or the other plotters did as heroism. He detested words like “honor” or “glory” when they were applied to warfare. He had no time for those who romanticized war. He said he had no option as a human being but to resist. He acted, he said, to save his “self-esteem.”

“There was no hero stuff involved, none at all,” he said. “I thought this was an adequate means to balance out what I had seen. I felt that this was justifiable homicide and was the only means to stop mass murder inside and outside Germany.”

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His was the 10th thwarted attempt on Hitler’s life. There would be one more.

On July 20, 1944, von Stauffenberg carried two small bombs in a briefcase to a meeting with Hitler. He struggled before the meeting to arm the bombs with pliers, a difficult task as he had lost his right hand and had only three fingers on his left hand after being wounded in North Africa. He managed to arm only one bomb. He placed the briefcase with the bomb under the table near Hitler. He left the room and was outside at the time of the explosion, which killed four people—including Hitler’s security double—but only slightly wounded Hitler, who was shielded by a table leg. Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels announced over the radio that Hitler had survived. Hitler spoke to the nation not long afterward. Von Stauffenberg and other conspirators were captured and hastily executed by a firing squad.

Von dem Bussche, recovering in a Waffen-SS hospital outside Berlin from the loss of his leg, anxiously followed the news of the assassination attempt on the radio. He listened to Hitler’s angry tirade against the “traitors” who had attempted to kill him. He knew it would not be long before the SS appeared at his bedside. He spent the night eating page after page of his address book, which had the name of every major conspirator who was under arrest or dead. The British explosive material from his aborted suicide bombing was in a suitcase under his bed. He asked another officer to spirit the suitcase out of the hospital and toss it into a lake. He was repeatedly interrogated over the next few days but because none of the other plotters had implicated him, even under torture, he managed to elude their fate.

He suffered lifelong guilt over his survival. As a rebel he did not succeed, at least not in killing Hitler and terminating the regime. He felt that as an army officer, even with his involvement in the assassination plots, he remained part of the murderous apparatus that unleashed indefensible suffering and death. He worried that he had not done enough. The brutality and senselessness of the war haunted him. The German public’s enthusiastic collusion with the Nazi regime haunted him. And the ghosts of the dead, including those he admired, haunted him. He understood, as we must, that to do nothing in a time of national distress is to be complicit in acts of radical evil.

“I should have taken off my uniform in the Ukraine,” he told me on the last afternoon of my visit, “and joined the line of Jews to be shot.”


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