April 8, 1943, a few months after the defeat of the Germans at Stalingrad, but long before the moment when it became clear that the war was lost by Germany (on the same day, the Soviet command reported to Stalin: a large German offensive is impossible, but they can reach the line Liski - Voronezh - Yelets), in Berlin in the Plötzensee prison, a couple of workers were beheaded.
Otto and Elisa Hampel worked at the factory. After Eliza's brother died at the front in 1940, they decided to fight the regime in their own way: they wrote postcards calling for the overthrow of Hitler, for refusing to cooperate with the Nazis and military service, as well as for donating money. In two years they wrote more than 200 postcards - most of them were immediately delivered to the Gestapo.
The story of the Hampels formed the basis of the book "Everyone Dies Alone", which was written in 1947 by the German writer Hans Fallada. It was the first novel of its kind from an author who did not emigrate. In addition to a couple of silent workers with their postcards, a whole gallery of Resistance appears there - a youth cell of underground workers at a factory, a communist with a portable printing press in a suitcase, a retired judge who hides a Jewish neighbor, and so on.
It is important to appreciate the scale of the resistance movement within Nazi Germany, which, of course, was heterogeneous and not coordinated from a single center. This can be done indirectly. For example, according to the numbers of those arrested and executed - like Hampeli.
In Nazi Germany, during the Second World War, from 15 to 77 thousand people who fought against the regime were executed. Up to 800 thousand people were arrested and ended up in the Gestapo for political reasons. Those who fell into the cellars were almost automatically beaten and tortured.
In Nazi Germany, during the Second World War, from 15 to 77 thousand fighters against the regime were executed
If we structure the Resistance within Nazi Germany, we can distinguish the following categories:
- Unorganized resistance: it included both individuals (like the already mentioned Hampels), and those who sheltered and rescued Jews, as well as participants in sporadic street protests.
- Youth groups "White Rose" and "Edelweiss Pirates", as well as swing youth.
- Resistance in the German army and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including their leadership.
- Opposition-minded priests: both Protestants and Catholics.
Rescue of Jews in furniture boxes and mini-strike
Resistance is a very vague term that today's historians use to unite a wide variety of people in Hitler's Germany: from the "righteous of the world" to truants of work shifts (there is another one in English-language literature - everyday resistance, that is, everyday, everyday protest).
It is mainly applied to the most ordinary Germans, whose dissatisfaction with the authorities and the war most often took "passive" forms - deliberate absenteeism from work, feigning illness, spreading rumors, listening to "enemy" radio voices, trading on the black market and evading semi-enforced Nazi levies ( Hampels called for this especially often in their postcards).
However, this everyday protest was sometimes not so quiet. More active forms of it are warning people about the impending arrest, hiding them or helping them escape, as well as deliberately turning a blind eye and condoning "illegal activities." Occasionally, there were also short strikes: if the demands were purely economic, the instigators were not even severely punished.
Another form of individual resistance (but with completely different risks for all those involved) was helping the persecuted Jews.
Despite the fact that the deportation of German and Austrian Jews to the death camps in occupied Poland went unnoticed by the vast majority of Germans, a minority continued to try to help the Jews, despite the serious risks to themselves and their families. This was most pronounced in Berlin, where, according to various estimates, up to two thousand Jews successfully hid until the very end of the war (and officials and army officers were among those who sheltered them).
Countess Maria von Malzahn saved about 60 Jews, working with the Swedish Furniture Company - the persecuted were taken out in furniture boxes under the guise of luggage of Swedish citizens. Protestant pastor Heinrich Grüber smuggled Jews into the Netherlands. And the headmistress of a private school for girls, Elisabeth von Thadden, despite all official decrees, continued to enroll Jewish girls right up to May 1941. When this was revealed, the school was nationalized, and she herself was fired (three years later she was executed).
German dudes against the Hitler Youth, fights and brochures
It is important to understand that Nazism relied from the very beginning on the German youth, especially from the middle class, and at the same time had a strong influence on them. Researchers show that German universities were "strongholds of Nazism" even before Hitler actually came to power.
The official youth organizations of the Nazis - primarily the Hitler Youth - very successfully coped with the task of mobilizing children and adolescents. Some difficulties arose only in rural Catholic regions in the south of the country. But after 1938, and especially after the outbreak of World War II, this began to change: the rising generations looked with greater skepticism at the Nazis in power.
Frankly speaking, in most cases their "opposition" to the regime was of a passive nature - they seemed to "drop out" from society, from the official ideology and withdraw into themselves, their lives and their entertainments. There was even a term - Swingjugend (German: Swing-Jugend) - as a kind of antithesis to the Hitler Youth, which was especially popular in Hamburg.
The German youth “dropped out” of society, of the official ideology, and withdrew into themselves, their lives and their entertainments.
They were sort of German dudes. Groups of apolitical youth who were going to listen to jazz and swing and dance. Their speech was full of anglicisms, they dressed in defiance of the Prussian military, colorful and baggy, to which the girls added defiantly bright make-up. They almost did not speak directly about politics, only in some cases they could jokingly greet each other with a cry: “Swing heil”. The Nazis at first looked at this through their fingers, but later, during the years of the World War, they began to persecute them as opponents of the regime.
However, there were also much more serious youth groups - first of all, the Edelweiss Pirates, the Leipzig Bandits and the White Rose.
The so-called Edelweisspiraten (Edelweiss Pirates) are a scattered network of working-class youth groups in a number of cities that held unauthorized meetings and engaged in street fights with the Hitler Youth. More radical than the "pirates" were the so-called "Leipzig Bandits" (Leipzig Meuten), a pro-communist anti-Nazi group. According to the Gestapo, on the eve of World War II, the “bandits” numbered about 1,500 people.
Well, perhaps the most famous was the "White Rose" (Weiße Rose) - a non-violent intellectual resistance group led by five students (and one professor) at the University of Munich: Willi Graf, Kurt Huber, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl. Alexander Schmorell was, by the way, a Russian German from Orenburg. He was later canonized by the Orthodox Church.
The group ran an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign calling for active opposition to the Nazi regime. Their activities began in Munich on June 27, 1942 and ended with the arrest of the main group by the Gestapo on February 18, 1943. Three times in February 1943 (in the atmosphere of the defeat at Stalingrad, it is important to understand this) they wrote on the walls of the University of Munich and on other buildings in the city slogans like: “Down with Hitler!” and "Freedom!"
Soon the "White Rose" was waiting for failure. They printed leaflets, and when one of the members of the group, Sophie Scholl, carried them into the university and began to scatter them from the balcony, this was seen by the guard, who called the Gestapo.
Sophie Scholl, as well as other members and supporters of the group who continued to distribute pamphlets, were tried in show trials at the Nazi People's Court ( Volksgerichtshof ); many of them were sentenced to death.
In July 1943, Allied aircraft dropped the sixth and final White Rose leaflet over Germany, with the title "Manifesto of the Munich Students". Altogether "White Rose" issued six leaflets, which were reproduced and distributed with a total circulation of about 15,000 copies. They denounced the crimes and oppression perpetrated by the Nazi regime and called for resistance. In their second leaflet, they openly condemned the persecution and mass murder of Jews. By the time they were arrested, the members of the White Rose were just about to establish contacts with other German resistance groups.
Unrest among the elites: conspirators and assassination attempts on Hitler
Of course, there was no “split of the elites”, as political scientists like to say now, in Nazi Germany. But there were dissatisfied - both among the military and among civilians (primarily in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
On several occasions, this dissatisfaction amounted to the formation of real groups of conspirators who planned both coups d'état (beginning with the Czechoslovak adventure in 1938) and assassination attempts on Hitler (in 1943 and 1944 respectively).
Initially, relations between Hitler and the military leaders escalated after the dismissal of the Minister of War, Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg and the commander-in-chief of the ground forces, Colonel-General Werner von Fritsch, as a result of the Blomberg-Fritsch crisis, when Hitler finally untied his hands to attack new countries.
The failed plots of 1938–1939 showed both the strength and weakness of the officer corps as potential leaders of the resistance movement. Their strength lay in loyalty and solidarity. As the American historian, Columbia University professor Istvan Deak noted: “Officers, especially higher ranks, discussed (some as early as 1934) the possibility of overthrowing or even killing Hitler.”
The officers discussed the possibility of overthrowing or even killing Hitler.
Remarkably, for more than two years, this widespread and loosely structured conspiracy has remained undiscovered. One explanation is that at this time Himmler was still preoccupied with the traditional enemies of the Nazis - the SPD and the KPD (and, of course, the Jews) - and did not suspect that the real center of the opposition was within the state itself. Another factor was the success of Wilhelm Canaris (the head of the military intelligence and counterintelligence service, who, by the way, also saved about 500 Jews during the war) in protecting the conspirators.
Then the groups of conspirators hid for a while. After the swift victories of the Nazis in Poland, France and other European countries, the moment seemed inopportune - Hitler's popularity was too high. But plans for his removal also existed in the future, however, due to the indecision of the conspirators, they were not implemented.
Since the beginning of the war, the generals and officers of the Wehrmacht, especially on the Eastern Front, turned a blind eye to the cruel treatment of civilians and prisoners of war, and in some cases participated in war crimes. We are talking about the actions of the SS, and about the Einsatzgruppen of the security police and the SD, which carried out massacres of the civilian population (in particular, they were engaged in the “final solution of the Jewish question”), as well as about the “order on commissars”, which provided for the immediate execution of all those taken prisoner political workers of the Red Army as "carriers of resistance", which violated all existing rules of warfare.
Again, the idea of a conspiracy materialized only in 1942. The plan then developed into a two-stage operation that included assassinating Hitler, seizing the main lines of communication, and suppressing SS resistance with a reserve army.
Repeated attempts by a group of conspirators to kill Hitler were unsuccessful. On March 13, 1943, during a visit by Hitler to Smolensk, explosives were planted in his plane, but the fuse did not work. Eight days later, Rudolf-Christoph von Gersdorff was ready to blow himself up with Hitler at the exhibition of captured Soviet weapons in the Zeuchhaus Museum in Berlin, but the Fuhrer left the exhibition prematurely, and Gersdorff barely had time to deactivate the detonator.
Hitler managed to survive on July 20, 1944, during an explosion at his Wolfschanze headquarters - a briefcase with a bomb exploded under the table at which he was sitting: four were killed, but the Nazi leader himself survived. Soon Nazi propaganda replicated his words about "a small cabal of criminally stupid officers." This rhetoric had a noticeable impact on post-war West German society in the assessment of the participants in the Resistance for many years to come. For a long time they were considered traitors to the country, who stabbed the fighting warriors in the back. The Allies were also not interested in a positive image of the German Resistance, as it contradicted their thesis of the collective guilt of the German people.
The image of the German Resistance contradicted the thesis of the Allies about the collective guilt of the German people
The reassessment of the German Resistance began in the mid-1950s, aided by speeches by leading representatives of West German society. In the 1960s, this led to the fact that the pendulum swung in a radically different direction: the attempt on Hitler was considered to be a heroic deed, and the conspirators were considered impeccable heroes who defended the honor of the German army. It wasn't until the 1980s that historians painted a more critical picture of the Resistance, pointing to the illiberal, authoritarian, and anti-Semitic ideas prevalent among the conspirators. This trend culminated at the beginning of this millennium with the revelation of the active participation of some members of the Resistance in the war of annihilation and the Holocaust.
Quiet church resistance: crowded services and sermons
Although neither the Catholic nor the Protestant churches as institutions were prepared to openly oppose the Nazi state, it was the clergy that essentially became the first major component of German resistance to the policies of the Third Reich, and the churches as institutions provided the earliest and most enduring centers of systematic opposition to Nazi policies.
From the very beginning of Nazi rule in 1933, problems arose that brought the churches into conflict with the regime. They offered organized, systematic and consistent resistance to government policies that infringe on church autonomy.
As one of the few German institutions to retain some independence from the state, the churches were able to coordinate the level of opposition to the government and, according to the German historian Joachim Fest, they continued to provide, more than any other institution, "a forum in which people could distance themselves from the regime."
Christian morality and the anti-church policies of the Nazis also motivated many of the German resistance and served as the impetus for the "moral rebellion" of individuals in their efforts to overthrow Hitler. Another historian, Wolff, writes that events such as the July 1944 conspiracy would have been "inconceivable without the spiritual support of church resistance."
The sharpest public criticism of the Third Reich came from some of Germany's religious leaders, as the government was often reluctant to speak out against them. A high-ranking cleric could count on some popular support from the faithful, and therefore the regime had to consider the possibility of nationwide protests if such figures were arrested. Thus, the Catholic Bishop of Münster, Clemens August Graf von Galen, and Dr. Theophil Wurm, the Protestant Bishop of Württemberg, were able to generate widespread public opposition to the murder of the disabled.
The churches waged a bitter war of attrition with the regime, receiving the demonstrative support of millions of parishioners. Applause for church leaders whenever they appeared in public, increased attendance at events such as Corpus Christi Day processions, and overcrowded church services were outward signs of the struggle, especially of the Catholic Church, against Nazi oppression.
While the church ultimately failed to protect its youth organizations and schools, it did have some success in mobilizing public opinion to change government policy. The British historian Alan Bullock wrote that "among the most daring demonstrations of opposition during the war were the sermons delivered by the Catholic Bishop of Munster and the Protestant pastor, Dr. Niemoller", but, nevertheless, "neither the Catholic Church nor the Evangelical Church <...> how institutions did not find it possible to take a position of open opposition to the regime.