Almost Killing Hitler

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The July 20, 1944, attempt was one of perhaps 15 by the German Resistance, which was neither negligible nor contemptible.

Impressed by a written report from a colonel, Adolf Hitler exclaimed, "Finally a general staff officer with imagination and intelligence!" The report's author, who had those qualities in quantities commensurate with his courage, would be repeatedly brought to Hitler's headquarters in East Prussia. He was Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg.

Tom Cruise portrays him in "Valkyrie," the story of an attempt to assassinate Hitler. Stauffenberg's bomb that failed to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944, was one of perhaps 15 attempts, according Joachim Fest's 1994 book "Plotting Hitler's Death: The Story of the German Resistance." Fest does justice to the pathos, ambiguity, occasional absurdity and ultimate dignity of the many rivulets of resistance that culminated in Stauffenberg placing a bomb in a briefcase near Hitler's feet. "Valkyrie" attempts less. Commercial imperatives incline Hollywood to avoid diluting pleasure with instruction, so "Valkyrie," although conscientious in depicting the July 20 episode, provides scant context. By turning a complex moral drama into a mere action thriller, the movie misses a chance to revive interest in the German Resistance.

If the Munich agreements of Sept. 29, 1938, had not given Hitler the fruits of war with Czechoslovakia without the war, some generals might have rebelled: Secret arrangements had been made to open from within the doors to Hitler's chambers so that a military force could rush in. If on Nov. 8, 1939, Hitler had not cut short a speech scheduled for two hours in Munich, an assassination plan there might have succeeded. Two days later, with security thickened around Hitler, an officers' bomb plot was abandoned. In a March 13, 1943, attempt that "Valkyrie" does depict, explosives hidden in two bottles of Cointreau were placed aboard Hitler's plane. The fuse worked, the firing pins struck, the percussion cap evidently ignited. Still, the bomb did not detonate, perhaps because the explosive, carried in the plane's hold, was sensitive to cold....

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