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Hitler plot movie omits key facts – expert

Media Release
February 25, 2009

Hitler plot movie omits key facts – expert

An expert on the background of the plot to kill Hitler says Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie movie omits key facts.

Waikato University academic Dr Norman Franke has a keen interest in the life of Karl Wolfskehl, whose poetry is considered by many to have been one of the inspirations for the 1944 bomb plot to kill Hitler. The Jewish exile spent the last 10 years of his life in Auckland.

Dr Franke says considering the story of the plot has had Hollywood - rather than arthouse - treatment, it’s not a bad depiction of a piece of history and it should stimulate more interest in the July 20 plot.

However, he says the movie is simplistic in depicting the motivations behind the assassination plot, and is very light on showing any actual atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences lecturer is also an expert on the three von Stauffenberg brothers, two of whom were executed for their part in the ultimately unsuccessful plot. Dr Franke says there were actually 15 separate attempts to kill Hitler over a period of 12 years. When the bomb was finally placed under a desk and detonated, Hitler survived, and recovered to have Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and his brother Bertold executed.

Wolfskehl knew all the brothers well and correspondence between him and Alexander, who was left out of the plot, survives. “Wolfskehl had been part of a group of conservative elites – they were a group of writers who had a very anti-modernism outlook,” Dr Franke says. “The Stauffenberg brothers were also in this group from the mid-1920s.”

Dr Franke says many of the group were initially not opposed to the Nazi regime because it had conservative views, some of which matched their own. However, the Jewish members were soon forced out; Wolfskehl left Germany in 1993, spending some time in Italy before ending up in New Zealand. His long, moving, anti-Nazi poem, entitled Lebenslied, An die Deutschen (Song of Life, To the Germans) inspired members of the Stauffenberg group to actively oppose the dictator and eventually carry out the plot.

Dr Franke says the movie ignored important scholarly work on the background to the plot, such as that by German-born historian Peter Hoffmann, a detailed book by Edward Robert Norton, and Dr Franke’s own work on the Wolfskehl/Stauffenberg link. There were three more important books in the pipeline when the movie was being written, and good scriptwriters would have been aware of that, he says.

“Valkyrie doesn’t deal with the very complex background of the plot such as the group, the influence of the poetry, the fact that church leaders and Socialists were crucially involved, or even the fact that all these people who were underground were in constant danger and were always spied on.”

Valkyrie was the name given to the operation to deploy the German Reserve Army in the event of a national emergency – a plan which the Resistance modified, ready for use once Hitler had been killed.

Says Dr Franke: “It is good this movie was made, and it’s important to make history accessible to the wider public but over-simplification and over-mystification do not do justice to those men and women who opposed the dictator. Over-simplification and over-mystification also make it harder to draw parallels to today’s totalitarian regimes.”

The plot was also the focus of a book by Christchurch-born Michael Baigent, best known for claiming that popular author Dan Brown plagiarised some of his ideas for the Da Vinci Code. He co-wrote Secret Germany: Claus v. Stauffenberg and the Mystical Crusade against Hitler which also discusses some conspiracy theories.

ends

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