Germans honor plotters against Hitler

July 21, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- In the brilliant July sun, the day lilies and the gladiolas blaze red-orange before the memorial plaque in the courtyard of what was once the War Ministry of Nazi Germany.

And you could wonder if it was a bright, pleasant summer's day when the men whose names are on the plaque tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944.

They failed. And against the wall of this courtyard about where the flowers are now, just after midnight on July 21, some of the leaders of the attempt were shot: Col. Claus Graf von Stauffenberg, Gen. Friedrich Olbricht, Col. Albrecht von Quirheim and Lt. Werner von Haeften.

Col. General Ludwig Beck was allowed to shoot himself in a room upstairs.

Many, many more men were rounded up, perhaps 200, and executed as conspirators. The July 20 plot has come to symbolize German resistance to the Nazis, a kind of validation of the idea that there were good Germans during the war.

And so people came to what was the old War Ministry building and honor the men of July 20 on the anniversary of their failed attempt on Hitler's life.

The building has not changed much since the four conspirators were shot. It's still a government office building. The third floor is the German Resistance Center. The street out front is now called Stauffenberg Strasse. The other side of the courtyard is an apartment building. Somebody had their laundry drying on a balcony in the sunlight.

The courtyard filled with people yesterday. A military band played. Two soldiers put a wreath beneath the plaque.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who in an odd irony was disabled in an assassination attempt two years ago, said: "These men died that we may live."

He remarked how lucky Hitler was to have escaped with only minor injuries. Hitler says the same thing in a new film about German resistance shown as part of the memorial

services.

About 200 people crowded into a small, hot viewing room to watch the film, "The Restless Conscience," which was made by a Jewish woman born in Germany, Hava Kohav Beller. She grew up in Israel and lives now in New York.

UI The film is sad in its catalog of resisters' deaths, appalling in the

footage of Nazi torchlight parades through Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, touching in the recollection of a woman whose husband was executed, grotesque when a "judge" screams in a piercing, cracking voice at one of the conspirators, "you filthy louse."

An ecumenical prayer service was held in the chamber where many of the plotters were hanged or slowly garroted on Hitler's orders. Roman Catholics and Lutherans took Communion beneath the hooks upon which men were placed.

And in the late afternoon more wreaths were laid and bouquets were brought to the execution chamber. A single potted geranium was placed at the base of a memorial statue in the courtyard, and another summer's day in July ended.

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