claus von stauffenberg Archive

01 September 1939: Other Quotations

01 September 1939: Other Quotations

Below is a collection of quotations concerning the German attack on Poland in September 1939. Not all quotes are from 01 September, but they reference the events that began that day.

You and your men must have plenty to do now. I just can’t grasp that people’s lives are now under constant threat from other people. I’ll never understand it, and I find it terrible. Don’t go telling me it’s for the Fatherland’s sake.

Sophie Scholl to Fritz Hartnagel, 05 September 1939, in At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl (US, UK, CA, DE [eng], DE [deu]).


Finis Germaniae

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, upon hearing that the final order for “Operation White”, the attack on Poland, had been given by Hitler. In An Honourable Defeat: A History of German Resistance to Hitler, 1933-1945, by Anton Gill. (US, UK, CA, DE [eng])


The inhabitants are an unbelievable rabble, very many Jews and very much mixed population. A people which surely is only comfortable under the knout. The thousands of prisoners-of-war will be good for our agriculture. In Germany they will surely be useful, industrious, willing and frugal.

Claus von Stauffenberg, reporting from his service in Poland. Here we see a Stauffenberg clearly not yet committed to resistance. From Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944, p. 115.

Later:

I do not have the impression that our friends the Bolsheviks are using kid-gloves. This war is truly a scourge of God for the entire Polish upper class. They ran from us eastward. We are not letting anyone except ethnic Germans cross the Vistula westward. The Russians will likely make short work of them, since, as is well known by now, the real danger is only in the nationalistic Polish upper class who naturally feel superior to the Russians. Many of them will go to Siberia. [ibid.]


On 1 September 1939 there were no scenes of enthusiasm, no cheering crowds in Berlin like those in Munich in which Hitler had heard the news of the declaration of war twenty-five years before. When he drove to address the Reichstag at the Kroll Opera House at 10 a.m., the streets were emptier than usual. Most of those who turned to watch the line of cars accompanying the F├╝hrer stared in silence.

Allan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, p. 547. (US, UK, CA, DE [eng], DE [deu])


I am asking of no German man more than I myself was ready to do throughout four years. There will be no hardships for Germans to which I myself will not submit. My whole life belongs henceforth more than ever to my people. I am from now on just the first soldier of the German Reich. I have once more put on that coat that was the most sacred and dear to me. I will not take it off again until victory is secured, or I will not survive the outcome.

Adolf Hitler quoted in Bullock, p. 547.


Question: You believe then that Hitler did not realize in September 1939 that he had started a World War?

Albert Speer: From what I observed, I had to assume that this was not his intention. He intended to carry his plans one step further, as with Czechoslovakia.

On the other hand, there is this consideration. From the standpoint of the balance of military power, 1939 must have been the best year to start a war, better than two or three years later.

Albert Speer responding to questions under interrogation. From Richard Overy, Interrogations: The Nazi Elite in Allied Hands, 1945, p. 331.

Peter Hoffmann, “Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944″ (Book of the Week)

Peter Hoffmann, “Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944″ (Book of the Week)

The title of the book suggests it is a history of the entire Stauffenberg family, but I would say this is slightly overstated. You cannot read Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944 (Amazon US, UK, CA, DE [english], DE [german]) without coming away thinking the book was primarily about Claus von Stauffenberg. And that’s no complaint, for Claus von Stauffenberg is clearly the Stauffenberg about whom we want to read.

If, a few years ago, you did not know who Claus von Stauffenberg was, you most likely found out thanks to Tom Cruise. If you saw the film Valkyrie, you know Claus von Stauffenberg was a member of the military resistance against the National Socialist regime and that he attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler. That’s indeed the extent of most people’s knowledge of Stauffenberg: a pity, because his character is much richer than just that.

The assassination attempt was indeed the limit of my own knowledge of Stauffenberg prior to reading Hoffmann’s book. The most important aspect of Stauffenberg’s life of which I had been entirely ignorant was his and his brothers’ very close association with the German poet, Stefan George. Claus Stauffenberg’s brother, Berthold, was one of the two persons named by George as executors of his estate; Berthold appointed Claus as his successor in that role. Hoffmann dedicates a whole chapter and much of another to describing the Stauffenbergs’ closeness to George and continues on occasion throughout the book to allude to “The Master’s” influence on Claus. Given the the brothers’ roles as executors and the fact that Claus often took time — including during the war — to look after business concerning George’s estate, it appears that Hoffmann is not overstating this influence.

As Hoffmann continues to weave Stefan George and his influence throughout the remainder of the history, he moulds the character of Claus Stauffenberg as an aristocratic officer striving to fulfill the heroic deed which was expected of him by his membership in what George called the “Secret Germany.” According to Hoffmann’s story, it was not unusual for Stauffenberg to cite George’s poems when convincing others of the need to remove Hitler by force. When one Stauffenberg friend expressed distaste over the idea of murdering Hitler, Stauffenberg reminded her that “tens of thousands of Jews are being killed most cruelly.” He explained that the officers had to choose between “action or inaction”:

He believed that God had assigned a mission to him and he had devoted himself to it entirely. His inner calling gave him the certainty that was so convincing to others. [197]

He then quoted a George poem to this friend:

If ever this nation from her cowardly slackness
Remembers her election, her mission:

Then in the morning breeze a true emblem will flutter
The royal standard and bow itself in greeting
To the Noble – the Heroes!

[198]

Hoffmann, to his credit, does not shy away from the fact that the romantic, aristocratic Stauffenberg also supported the Nazi regime until at least 1938 and only gradually turned to resistance thereafter. (“Supported” may be saying too much: he approved of the leadership principle [F├╝hrerprinzip], re-armament and what he perceived as the renewed importance of the officer corps; but he was much too aristocratic to get his hands dirty with party politics, particularly of the “brown” sort.) He came to resist later than some other prominent officers such as Ludwig Beck, who had already resigned his commission before the start of war, and also later than other aristocrats such as Helmuth James, Count von Moltke.

I haven’t researched criticisms (if any) of Hoffmann’s books on Stauffenberg. I would imagine that if any exist then one point of dispute might be the centrality of Stefan George in the Stauffenberg biography; another might be that Hoffmann simply romanticizes his subject too much. I’m not saying that this is the case; I’m merely saying that as I read the book I had the feeling that if it could be claimed that it diverts from a “scholarly” historical approach, then it probably would be in these two ways.

Personally, I was not bothered at all. I enjoyed this book immensely and very much appreciated getting to know this fascinating historical character in such depth.

(Image credit: I found the lead image for this article at Wikimedia Commons. The photo is credited to Adam Carr and is said to be in the public domain. The image shows a plaque on the wall of the inner courtyard at the “Bendlerblock”, formerly Army headquarters in Berlin, today the home of the German Resistance Memorial Center. Stauffenberg and others were shot in this courtyard on the evening of the 20th of July 1944. The plaque, translated, reads, “Here died for Germany on 20 July 1944:” and lists the officers in the resistance who were killed that night, Stauffenberg among them.)

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