History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945, The

by Peter Hoffman
This is probably the most thorough and exhaustive book that I’ve ever read. Actually it’s both exhaust-ive and exhaust-ing (I definitely used it as a soporific agent on more than one sleepless night). It took me an extremely long time to read but in the end I feel that it has been worthwhile. While it hasn’t been the most gripping historical account for me personally, I’m sure there is a faction of WWII buffs who could get really into it. As well, the amount of research that clearly went into this book on Mr. Hoffmann’s part is nothing short of amazing.

I approached this book more interested in organized resistance to an oppressive regime from a tactical, moral and psychological perspective, and Hoffman doesn’t really go at it from that angle. What he does instead is tirelessly catalogue all of the facts concerning the events of any sort of semi-serious anti-Nazi resistance effort from the time period of the title. The first five or so sections were extremely dry as they dealt primarily with discontented grumblings and premature attempts at conspiracy formation.

Almost despite himself, Hoffmann still managed to build a certain amount of tension in his account at various points, particularly beginning with the “Stauffenberg and the Replacement Army” section VIII. He is at his best when describing the assassination attempts in detail and speculating on the mindset of the would-be assassins and conspirators, or speculating on why the coup was not more successful. Unfortunately, my main criticism of the book is that these moments of analysis and interpretation of events are lacking. Instead, Hoffmann seems to just post a bunch of facts on the blackboard and leave them for you to make sense of. As a reviewer of his other book on Stauffenberg said, Hoffmann simply lists more names, ranks, and army groups than you can reasonably be expected to follow. Or perhaps he is assuming a certain amount of background knowledge in his reader that I simply did not have. I would have preferred to have him more often spell out the implications of the facts he was providing. Particularly egregious is the complete lack of summative conclusion, epilogue or otherwise-appropriate ending.

Overall, I quite respect this book (and Mr. Hoffmann) without having really enjoyed it that much. I know much more now about the existence of an organized resistance to Hitler, their motivation, and the reasons for their failure (indeed they almost seemed doomed from the start). It was astonishing to learn that even if many top officials refused to participate in the coup, they certainly had knowledge of it and did not report it to the Gestapo. Just as astonishing was the fact that conspirators could openly discuss their feelings against the regime, and even attempt to recruit army officers with little to no repercussion. It was almost like an open secret, and Hitler et al. were the last to know. In other words, Hoffman paints a portrait of a Germany that as a whole was very ambivalent about their charismatic leader, yet did not quite possess the conviction (or courage?) to do anything about it.

An interesting aside: Anyone interested in this topic without wanting to wade through all of the 534 pages (and endnotes) might check out the Tom Cruise movie “Valkyrie,” on which Peter Hoffmann served as a consultant to make sure all of the facts were historically accurate. I haven’t seen it but I imagine it would be a good summary.

A quote to sum it all up poignantly:

The conspirators were fully aware of the danger of what they were doing; they knew that they were risking their necks, as Tresckow once said to Schlabrendorff in words already quoted: “None of us can complain of his lot. Whoever joined the resistance movement put on the shirt of Nessus. The moral worth of a man is certain only if he is prepared to sacrifice his life for his convictions.” 359


Original Review


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