The other day my wife and I took our kids to see Valkyrie, the movie about the attempt to assassinate and overthrow Hitler in July of 1944–to see Part I of my discussion of the film, click here.
The movie focuses on the main conspirators in the plot, including von Stauffenberg, von Tresckow, Olbricht, and others. But I also thought it would be interesting to look at Valkyrie from the perspective of a humane German civilian who had longed for the day when Germany would be delivered from the madness that Hitler’s tyranny brought. In this case, Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who connived to save 1,200 of his Jewish employees during World War II.
The excerpt below is from Thomas Keneally’s 1982 novel Schindler’s Ark, which led to Steven Spielberg’s 1993 hit movie Schindler’s List.
In the excerpt, Herr Direktor Schindler is at his factory late at night when he hears the news that there’s been an attempt on Hitler’s life. He summons his friend Adam Garde, a Jewish engineer who worked for him and who is one of the employees Schindler saves.
From Schindler’s Ark (excerpt)
Adam Garde, engineer and prisoner of Emalia, also saw symptoms of this shift on Oskar. On the night of July 20, an SS man had come into Garde’s barracks and roused him. The Herr Direktor had called the guardhouse and said it was necessary to see engineer Garde, professionally, in his office.
Garde found Oskar listening to the radio, his face flushed, a bottle and two glasses in front of him on the table. Behind the desk these days was a relief map of Europe. It had never been there in the days of German expansion, but Oskar seemed to take a sharp interest in the shrinkage of the German Fronts. Tonight he had the radio tuned to the Deutschlandsender, not–as was usually the case–to the BBC. Inspirational music was being played, as it often was a prelude to important announcements.
Oskar seemed to be listening avidly. When Garde came in, he stood up and hustled the young engineer to a seat. He poured cognac and passed it hurriedly across the desk. “There’s been an attempt on Hitler’s life,” said Oskar. It had been announced earlier in the evening, and the story then was that Hitler had survived. They’d promised that he would soon be speaking to the German people. But it hadn’t happened. Hours had passed and they hadn’t been able to produce him. And they kept playing a lot of Beethoven, the way they had when Stalingrad fell.
Oskar and Garde sat together for hours. A seditious event, a Jew and a German listening together–all night if necessary–to discover if the Fuhrer had died. Adam Garde, of course, suffered that same breathless surge of hope. He noticed that Oskar kept gesturing limply, as if the possibility that the Leader was dead had unstrung his muscles. He drank devoutly and urged Garde to drink up. If it was true, said Oskar, then Germans, ordinary Germans like himself, could begin to redeem themselves. Purely because someone close to Hitler had had the guts to remove him from the earth. It’s the end of the SS, said Oskar. Himmler will be in jail by morning.
Oskar blew clouds of smoke. Oh, my God, he said, the relief to see the end of this system!
The 10 P. M. news brought only the earlier statement. There had been an attempt on the Fuhrer’s life but it had failed and the Fuhrer would be broadcasting in a few minutes. When, as the hour passed, Hitler did not speak, Oskar turned to a fantasy which would be popular with many Germans as the war drew to a close. “Our troubles are over,” he said. “The world’s sane again. Germany can ally itself with the West against the Russians.”
Garde’s hopes were more modest. At worst, he hoped for a ghetto which was a ghetto in the old Franz Josef sense.
And as they drank and the music played, it seemed more and more reasonable that Europe would yield them that night the death vital to its sanity. They were citizens of the continent again; they were not the prisoner and the Herr Direktor. The radio’s promises to produce a message from the Fuhrer recurred, and every time, Oskar laughed with increasing point.
Midnight came and they paid no attention anymore to the promises. Their very breath was lighter in this new post-Fuhrer Cracow. By morning, they surmised, there would be dancing in every square, and it would go unpunished. The Wehrmacht would arrest Hans Frank in the Wawel and encircle the SS complex in Pomorska Street.
A little before 1 A. M., Hitler was heard broadcasting from Rastenburg. Oskar had been so convinced that that voice was a voice he would never need to hear again that for a few seconds he did not recognize the sound, in spite of its familiarity, thinking it just another temporizing Party spokesman. But Garde heard the speech from its first word, and knew whose voice it was.
“My German comrades!” it began. “If I speak to you today, it is first in order that you should hear my voice and should know that I am unhurt and well, and, second, that you should know of a crime unparalleled in German history.”
The speech ended four minutes later with a reference to the conspirators. “This time we shall settle accounts with them in the manner to which we National Socialists are accustomed.”
Adam Garde had never quite bought the fantasy Oskar had been pushing all evening. For Hitler was more than a man: he was a system with ramifications. Even I f he died, it was no guarantee the system would alter its character. Besides, it was not in the nature of a phenomenon such as Hitler to perish in the space of a single evening.
But Oskar had been believing in the death with a feverish conviction for hours now, and when it turned out to be an illusion, it was young Garde who found himself cast as the comforter, while Oskar spoke with an almost operatic grief. “All our vision of deliverance is futile,” he said. He poured another glass of cognac each, then pushed the bottle across the desk, opening his cigarette box. “Take the cognac and some cigarettes and get some sleep,” he said. “We’ll have to wait a little longer for our freedom.”
In the confusion of the cognac, of the news and of its sudden reversal in the small hours, Garde did not think it strange that Oskar was talking about “our freedom,” as if they had an equivalent need, were both prisoners who had to wait passively to be liberated. But back in his bunk Garde thought, it’s amazing that Herr Direktor should have talked like that, like someone easily given to fantasies and fits of depression. Usually, he was so pragmatic. [end of excerpt]
In the film excerpt below, the war has ended, and Schindler’s Jews have survived and have gathered to say goodbye to Schindler. Schindler is fleeing the advancing Soviet troops who are liberating the concentration camps and who, Schindler feels, may not take the time to make a distinction between him, who saved the lives of his workers, and the other Nazi slave labor profiteers. This particular scene is partially fictional.