Paddy Ash­down on re­sis­tance to Hitler

Speak­ing about his new book at the Malvern Fes­ti­val of Mil­i­tary His­tory, Lord Ash­down re­veals the ex­tra­or­di­nary story of high-level Ger­man re­sis­tance against the Third Re­ich

All About History - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view by Tom Garner

His­tory of War’s Tom Garner talks to the Lib­eral Demo­crat peer about his new book on the Ger­mans who de­fied the Nazis

Oc­cu­pied Europe be­came fa­mous for its var­i­ous re­sis­tance net­works to Nazi tyranny, but the fight against Adolf Hitler’s regime in­side Ger­many has re­ceived less at­ten­tion. Paddy Ash­down’s new book Nein! tells the story of those within Hitler’s high com­mand who be­came com­mit­ted to de­stroy­ing the Ger­man leader both be­fore and dur­ing World War II.

This pow­er­ful in­ter­nal re­sis­tance to Nazism in­cluded many plots to kill Hitler, as well as the sys­tem­atic pas­sage of mil­i­tary se­crets to the Al­lies through de­ter­mined spy rings. Those au­tho­ris­ing th­ese ac­tions in­cluded gen­er­als and the head of the Ab­wehr (Ger­man mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence), Vicead­mi­ral Wil­helm Ca­naris.

Speak­ing at the Malvern Fes­ti­val of Mil­i­tary His­tory, Ash­down re­vealed the plot­ters’ mo­tives, Al­lied com­pla­cency and how the danger­ous world of the 1930s-1940s echoes our own un­sta­ble times.

WHAT AS­PECTS Of THE GER­MAN RE­SIS­TANCE DOES THE book COVER?

This is not about the ‘small peo­ple’ in the Ger­man re­sis­tance like the White Rose stu­dent move­ment or Ge­org Elser, although they were re­mark­able too. This is about peo­ple at the very top of Hitler’s regime, in­clud­ing his gen­er­als and the head of his spy ser­vice.

From 1934-35 on­wards, they quite de­lib­er­ately set out to frus­trate his plans, at­tempted to as­sas­si­nate him on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, passed his plans on to the Al­lies to tell them what he was go­ing to do and sue for an early peace if that was pos­si­ble.

It’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary story, but it has al­most been to­tally for­got­ten, and there is a rea­son for that. Af­ter WWII, it was in­con­ve­nient for us to be­lieve that there were good Ger­mans. They were not flaw­less but they did un­der­stand the evil he posed and un­der­stood it early on. I think it’s time to bring it back to light, not as an al­ter­na­tive his­tory but a com­ple­men­tary part of World War II.

WHAT WERE THE MO­TIVES Of THOSE WHO RE­SISTED THE THIRD RE­ICH?

They were of­ten very strongly mo­ti­vated by re­li­gious prin­ci­ples. Most of them were Luther­ans and many were also Catholics, in­clud­ing Wil­helm Ca­naris and Claus von Stauf­fen­berg. It’s a bit ro­man­tic, but I don’t think it’s in­ac­cu­rate to say that their Ger­many con­sisted of Beethoven, Schiller and Goethe. It wasn’t the Ger­many of Hitler and it was so of­fen­sive to all of the ba­sic things that they be­lieved ex­isted in a broadly lib­eral so­ci­ety.

They felt that they could do noth­ing other than op­pose Hitler by treach­ery.

ONE Of THE key MO­MENTS IN THE book WAS AN AT­TEMPTED Coup TO RE­MOVE HITLER IN SEPTEM­BER 1938. HOW did THAT plot un­fold?

In Au­gust 1938 Ewald von Kleist-schmen­zin, the per­sonal rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Ger­man Gen­eral Staff, flew to Lon­don about six weeks be­fore the in­va­sion of the Sude­ten­land. He saw [Un­der-sec­re­tary for For­eign Af­fairs] Robert Van­sit­tart and Win­ston Churchill and told them the date of the in­va­sion was 28 Septem­ber. He also told them that a coup was be­ing as­sem­bled and that if the Bri­tish stood up to Hitler, the Ger­mans would re­move him. Churchill rang Lord Hal­i­fax and drafted a let­ter for Kleist-schmen­zin to take back [to Ger­many] say­ing that the Bri­tish would op­pose Hitler if the in­va­sion hap­pened.

In Septem­ber, the diplo­mat Erich Kordt went through the back door of 10 Down­ing Street and re­con­firmed the in­va­sion date and planned coup to Hal­i­fax. Hal­i­fax gave him a rather equiv­o­cal an­swer, but on 28 Septem­ber the coup was in place with some 60 armed ‘des­per­a­does’, in­clud­ing

“It’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary story but it has al­most been to­tally for­got­ten, and there Is a rea­son for that. af­ter wwii, it was In­con­ve­nient for us to be­lieve that there Were good ger­mans”

Paddy Ash­down is the for­mer leader of the Lib­eral Democrats, but he be­gan his ca­reer as an of­fi­cer in the Royal Marines and Spe­cial Boat Ser­vice

Ash­down’s new book ex­plores the high-rank­ing Ger­man con­spir­a­cies to re­move Hitler

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