“I do not know how future generations will judge our actions or what they will think of me, but I know for a fact that none of us acted from baser motives. Only the desperate situation forced us to risk everything to save Germany from complete destruction. I’m convinced that one day, posterity will recognize this and understand.”
General Friedrich Olbricht, July 20, 1944
My grandfather served in World War II. He took part in the great push by allied forces across Europe to Berlin, and I take pride in knowing that. If you grew up in Germany, you might be able to say the same thing, but you would not necessarily do so with pride. Even if your grandfather had served honorably (as many German soldiers did), that fact is so overshadowed by the horror and cruelty of the Third Reich you probably wouldn’t dare to say anything.
If you’ve watched any educational channels you know there’s no lack of documentaries on Hitler and the Nazi party. I think most people watch those programs, or movies like Schindler’s List, and wonder what they would have done if they lived in Germany at that time. It’s human nature to think that you would do the morally upright and correct thing. However, if you look at what actually happened, the vast majority of people at the time did not do the morally correct and upright thing. That is not to say that those people actively participated in the atrocities of the Third Reich, but that through a combination of inertia, willful ignorance, and shame everyone ended up with some dirt on their hands. So the hard truth is that if you were put into the same set of circumstances you would most likely do nothing, and hope it would all go away. Most people, I think, really just want each day to be the same as the last, and are willing to overlook a great deal to make that happen. That is the same today as it was then.
We tend to have a monolithic vision of the German people during the war that is a combination of movie portrayals, video games and countless melodramas on TV. In fact there were pockets of resistance to National Socialism both before and during the war. Most are largely unknown in the US at least until the film Valkyrie came out in 2008. Continue reading