Most people will have heard of Claus von Stauffenberg, one of the main conspirators of the 20th of July assassination plot. Many books have been written about him and several movies were made about him, one the most recent ones ‘Valkyrie’ with Tom Cruise in the title role.
But there was another von Stauffenberg involved in the 20th July plot,Berthold Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg.
I am not going to go to deep into his early life but will focus more on his last days and will also go in to the question of how heroic the von Stauffenberg brothers really were.
Berthold was the oldest of four brothers (the second being Berthold’s twin Alexander Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg) born into an old and distinguished aristocratic South German Catholic family. His parents were the last Oberhofmarschall of the Kingdom of Württemberg.
In 1939, he joined the German Navy, working in the High Command as a staff judge and advisor for international law.
Berthold’s apartment at Tristanstraße in Berlin, where his brother Claus also lived for some time, was a meeting place for the 20 July conspirators, including their cousin Peter Yorck von Wartenburg. As Claus had access to the inner circle around Hitler, he was assigned to plant a bomb at the Führer‘s briefing hut at the military high command in Rastenburg, East Prussia, on 20 July 1944. Claus then flew to Rangsdorf airfield south of Berlin where he met with Berthold. They went together to Bendlerstraße, which the coup leaders intended to utilize as the centre of their operations in Berlin.
Hitler survived the bomb blast and the coup failed.
Berthold and his brother were arrested at Bendlerstraße the same night. Claus was executed by firing squad shortly afterwards.
After his arrest, Stauffenberg was questioned by the Gestapo about his views about the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. Stauffenberg told the Gestapo that “he and his brother had basically approved of the racial principle of National Socialism, but considered it to be ‘exaggerated’ and ‘excessive’” Stauffenberg went on to state.
“The racial idea has been grossly betrayed in this war in that the best German blood is being irrevocably sacrificed, while simultaneously Germany is populated by millions of foreign workers, who certainly cannot be described as of high racial quality”
Berthold was tried in the Volksgerichtshof (“People’s Court”) by Roland Freisler on 10 August and was one of eight conspirators executed by strangulation, hanged in Plötzensee Prison, Berlin, later that day. Before he was killed Berthold was strangled and then revived multiple times.The entire execution and multiple resuscitations were filmed for Hitler to view at his leisure.
Although their acts could be seen as heroic but both of the brothers had signed to the idea of the Nazi regime, and it was clear from the outset what that regime’s policies were.
Claus von Stauffenberg and his regiment took part in the attack on Poland. He supported the occupation of Poland and its handling by the Nazi regime and the use of Poles as slave workers to achieve German prosperity as well as German colonization and exploitation of Poland. The deeply rooted belief common in the German aristocracy was that the Eastern territories, populated predominantly by Poles and partly absorbed by Prussia in partitions of Poland, but taken from the German Empire after World War I, should be colonized as the Teutonic Knights had done in the Middle Ages. Stauffenberg said, “It is essential that we begin a systemic colonization in Poland. But I have no fear that this will not occur”.
By July 1944 it was pretty clear that the Germans were going to lose the war. And I wonder if it had been different, would the von Stauffenbergs (or any of the other conspirators)have been such willing participants in an assassination plot?