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date: 29 November 2020

Valkyrie: The Anti-Nazi Underground in the Wehrmacht, 1938–1945locked

  • Danny OrbachDanny OrbachDepartment of Asian Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Summary

Most Germans supported Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship between 1933 and 1945. Yet, a small group of officers and politicians who did not support Hitler formed a clandestine anti-Nazi underground. Retrospectively known as the German Resistance Movement, it began its activity in 1938 with a desperate attempt to prevent war in Europe and culminated in the coup d’état and failed assassination attempt on Hitler of July 20, 1944.

The resistance was led by General Ludwig Beck, former chief of the general staff, who resigned in 1938 because of significant disagreements with Hitler’s foreign policy. Beck supervised the work of three successive military directors, Colonel Hans Oster, Colonel Henning von Tresckow, and Colonel Claus Schenck von Stauffenberg. All three attempted to overthrow the Nazi regime, with different strategies shaped by the structure of their conspiratorial networks and the pressure of wartime conditions. Oster, a senior officer in the military intelligence service, tried to exploit his connections in the general staff to stage a coup in the name of the entire army. Tresckow led a vanguard underground of loosely connected cliques, designed to assassinate Hitler and then exploit the ensuing chaos to take power. Stauffenberg led a “wheel conspiracy,” a highly centralized underground, thinly spread over large parts of the Nazi empire. Under his leadership, the movement staged the famous coup of July 20, 1944.

While the evidence clearly shows that the conspirators acted out of principled opposition to Nazi policies, their precise motives are still controversial. Were they moved by disgust at National Socialist war crimes, or more by the patriotic goal of saving Germany from a doomed war? In fact, the worldview of most conspirators saw the universal and the national as closely intertwined. This particular style of patriotic morality and moralistic patriotism is a key to understanding their motives, as well as to the debate on their complicity in National Socialist war crimes.

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