On Christmas Day 2008, two new movies
with stories related to World War II opened in America. One of
these movies was Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise, which is about
the attempt to kill Hitler by Claus Schenk, Graf von Stauffenberg
on July 20, 1944. The other was a movie entitled The Reader,
based on an autobiographical novel by German writer Bernard Schlink.
The movie Valkyrie was a big disappointment
to me. It is an action movie with no human interest at all, but
if you like James Bond movies, you will love Valkyrie.
The movie gets its title from Operation
Valkyrie which was the code name for a plan, hatched by German
Army officers, to kill Hitler and take over the German government.
The word Valkyrie (Walküre) was taken from Hitler's code
name for his contingency plan to use the Replacement (Ersatzheer)
soldiers stationed at Army Headquarters on Bendlerstrasse in
Berlin in case of civil unrest or an attempted coup. The Army
officers who were plotting to kill Hitler intended to use the
Replacement Army, commanded by Colonel-General Friedrich Fromm,
to take over the government after Hitler was dead.
Tom Cruise plays Claus Schenk, Graf von
Stauffenberg, who volunteers for the assignment to assassinate
Hitler on July 20, 1944 at his field headquarters in East Prussia.
Cruise bears a remarkable physical resemblance to the real Stauffenberg,
except that Stauffenberg was much taller. This is not a problem
because, in the movie, Cruise is frequently photographed from
a low camera angle, which makes him appear to be taller.
I thought that Tom Cruise did a great
job of acting the part of Stauffenberg, although there was no
occasion for him to show his famous smile. Tom accurately portrays
the contempt that Stauffenberg had for the Nazis and Hitler.
In the scenes with Stauffenberg's wife, Baroness Nina von Lerchenfeld,
who outranks her husband, Tom acts like an aristocrat in an arranged
marriage, which is accurate. Unfortunately, Stauffenberg appears
to be the same height as his wife, which is not accurate.
Most of the professional movie critics
have complained about Cruise speaking English like an American
instead of affecting a British or a German accent. Have they
been to Germany lately? After more than 60 years of American
occupation, that's the way the Germans speak English now. In
fact, I was once told by a German in the British zone of occupation
that my English is easy to understand because I speak like an
American, not with a British accent.
An important point that is not mentioned
in the movie is that the men involved in the plot to kill Hitler
and take over the government were almost all aristocrats with
a von in their names, including Otto von Bismarck and Gottfried
von Bismarck, the grandsons of the "Iron Chancellor."
Von means from and it is always followed by the name of the ancestral
castle or estate. Stauffenberg was a count (Graf) and his ancestral
home was named Stauffenberg. His wife Nina was a Baroness from
an ethnic German aristocratic family in Lithuania.
The characters in the movie mispronounce
Stauffenberg's name which is inexcusable. The German er is pronounced
like the English word air and the German au is pronounced like
the ou in ouch.
The purpose of the assassination of Hitler
was to put an end to World War II before the Soviet Army could
invade Germany. At this point in time, Germany had no chance
of winning the war: the Normandy invasion had recently taken
place on June 6, 1944 and American troops were fighting their
way across France, while the German army in the East was in retreat.
The Army of the Soviet Union had just crossed the Polish border
and was advancing toward Berlin.
Stauffenberg and his fellow plotters
wanted to negotiate a separate peace with the Western allies
to save Germany from complete destruction. Hitler had already
made several attempts to negotiate peace, allegedly even sending
his deputy Rudolf Hess on a peace mission to meet with the British
on May 10, 1941, but Winston Churchill had instructed his Foreign
Office on January 20, 1941 to ignore any peace offers from Germany.
Hitler's government was not acceptable to Churchill and Roosevelt,
who were both upper class aristocrats, living in a completely
different world than Hitler, the "people's Chancellor."
In January 1943, President Franklin D.
Roosevelt had announced at a conference in Casablanca that only
unconditional surrender by the Germans would be acceptable to
the Allies. Stauffenberg thought that Roosevelt and Churchill
would be willing to negotiate with his band of aristocrats after
Hitler was eliminated. However, none of this is explained in
The plotters were mainly officers in
the regular German army, called the Wehrmacht. Germany also had
another army, called the SS, which was commanded by Reichsführer-SS
Heinrich Himmler. The Waffen-SS, an elite volunteer army that
was loyal to Hitler, was the equivalent of the Roman Praetorian
guard. Another unit of the SS served as concentration camp guards.
The plot to kill Hitler was known as
"the Conspiracy" by the thousands of people who were
involved. When the plot failed, there were 5,000 people arrested.
There were many other low-level clerks involved in the conspiracy,
who were never identified.
Hitler was the first common man to become
the leader of Germany. For thousands of years, the Germans had
been ruled by royalty until November 9, 1918 when the Kaiser
was overthrown by a small band of Social Democrats in a "bloodless
revolution." The German aristocrats had a hard time accepting
Hitler, who was an Austrian high school dropout of low class
ancestry. The previous Chancellor of Germany in 1932 was Franz
von Papen, a member of the nobility, and the German president
was Paul von Hindenburg, an aristocrat who was a German general
in World War I. German generals were traditionally aristocrats,
but Hitler had allowed common men to become high ranking army
officers for the first time.
In Hitler's Germany, class distinctions
were eliminated. Workers marched in parades carrying a shovel
over their shoulder, right behind the soldiers who were carrying
rifles. Everyone had to work, including the aristocrats. Hitler
called the German people the "Herrenvolk." Herren means
aristocratic when used as an adjective, and volk means both folk
By April 1944, Heinrich Himmler, the
number two man in Nazi Germany, was also trying to negotiate
with the Allies. In June 1944, Himmler had made an unsuccessful
attempt to contact the British with an offer of peace; some people
suspected that Himmler knew about the assassination plot, and
that he let it happen because he wanted to take Hitler's place
as the leader of Germany. None of these facts are pointed out
in the movie.
Hitler's Wehrmacht generals had been
plotting against him since 1938. Hitler temporarily won them
over by giving them money and property. After World War I, the
Treaty of Versailles limited the German military to 100,000 men.
When Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany in 1933, the German
Army was secretly expanded and the soldiers secretly trained
in the Soviet Union. So, from the very beginning, there was secret
plotting going on, sometimes with Hitler's knowledge and sometimes
The plot to kill Hitler and set up a
new regime had been in the works since 1941, long before Stauffenberg,
a Colonel in the Wehrmacht, joined the traitors in 1943 after
becoming disillusioned while fighting on the Eastern front.
The movie opens with a scene in North
Africa in which Stauffenberg is writing in his journal; he deplores
the way the war is being fought by the Waffen-SS soldiers on
the Eastern front in the Soviet Union. Stauffenberg is a Bavarian
Catholic whose family history dates back to 1250. He thinks that
the Germans should fight like gentlemen in the East. Instead,
the German Waffen-SS soldiers are killing Russian partisans who
are fighting illegally, while the men in the Einsatzgruppen,
who followed the soldiers into the Soviet Union, are shooting
the Communist Commissars and members of the NKVD, which is the
equivalent of the German Gestapo, as well as Jewish women and
children. This is total war, with neither side following the
Geneva Convention, although, according to the Germans, the crimes
of the Soviet soldiers were far worse. Of course, none of this
is mentioned in the movie.
Audiences are led to believe that Stauffenberg
and his band of traitors must kill Hitler in order to stop "the
greatest evil ever known," which most people will assume
is a reference to the Holocaust. However, the first concentration
camp (Majdanek) was not liberated until July 22, 1944, three
days after the attempted assassination, so there was as yet no
proof that millions of Jews were being gassed, although the BBC
had been broadcasting news of the gas chambers since June 1942.
One of the big problems with the movie
is that it is hard to identify the participants in the plot.
Throughout the movie, the date and location of the scenes are
shown on the screen, but some of the minor characters are not
identified. Unless there is some reason for their names to be
mentioned by one of the characters in the movie, we don't know
who is who. Some of the players, such as Josef Goebbels, can
be identified by the actor's resemblance to the actual person,
but this is not always the case, and the audience cannot be expected
to know the names of the conspirators and Hitler's henchmen.
For example, the man who comes to arrest
Joseph Goebbels in his Berlin office is Otto Ernst Remer, the
Commanding Officer of the Guard Battalion which is part of Hitler's
Walküre contingency plan. Goebbels has just spoken to Hitler
and knows he is alive. When Remer learns that Hitler is alive,
he acts to stop the plot to take over the German government.
Students of the Holocaust will be familiar with Remer because
he became a prominent Holocaust denier after the war and persuaded
Germar Rudolf to do a forensic report on the Auschwitz gas chamber,
which eventually led to Rudolf's imprisonment. When I saw Valkyrie
on Christmas Day, 99% of the audience consisted of high school
and college students, who might have been interested in knowing
that it was Remer who was sent to arrest Goebbels.
It would have helped if there had been
a few scenes showing what was going on in the world while the
plotters were making their several attempts to kill Hitler. In
the scenes of Berlin, there is no bomb damage shown even though
there had been vast destruction of the city by that time. Only
one of the Generals is ever shown on the battlefield and there
is hardly any indication that there is a war going on in Europe.
We have no idea of what the middle class German civilians are
doing while all the bombs are dropping on their cities, or if
they have turned against Hitler. We never see any of the 5,000
low level conspirators, who are mostly aristocrats, as they try
to maintain the lifestyle of the nobility in the midst of war.
Just one scene showing Count Gottfried von Bismarck in his Potsdam
mansion having tea with some of the aristocrats who were in on
the plot would have helped immensely to explain the assassination
attempt. On the other hand, the scenes involving German airplanes
are spectacular; the planes look authentic.
Stauffenberg's family lives in Wannsee,
an expensive suburb of Berlin. Every time his family is shown,
we see a shot of his house, taken at night, but we are not told
where the house is located and what the significance of this
is. Students of the Holocaust will know that Wannsee was the
location of the villa where the details of the Final Solution
The movie doesn't mention that the Hungarian
Jews are being transported to the gas chambers at Auschwitz during
the time that the plans to kill Hitler are being made, nor that
Himmler is trying to trade Hungarian Jews for trucks (blood for
goods) so that the German army can continue its hopeless attempt
to defeat the Russians on the Eastern front. We don't know that
the German army is desperately trying to hold on until the American
army gets to the German border, because many Germans believe
that the Americans will eventually join them in fighting the
Communist Soviet Union. In short, the movie provides no context
at all and most of the scenes are about the actual assassination
attempts. This is not history, but rather an action movie, which
some people might find thrilling, but others will be bitterly
There is virtually nothing in Valkyrie,
the movie, which shows what ordinary life was like in Germany
in July 1944. There are no extras playing the part of a German
Fräulein wearing a dirndl; no Germans drinking beer and
singing in a beer garden. There is nothing to indicate that the
action is taking place in Germany. Another movie, Revolutionary
Road, which was released around the same time, is authentic 1950s
America, down to the smallest detail.
The only scene in Valkyrie that comes
close to showing Germany as it was in 1943 is when Stauffenberg
goes to Hitler's home called the Berghof to get his signature
on a document. We see the famous picture window that looks out
on the Bavarian Alps. Hitler's henchmen are gathered around him
at the Berghof and Albert Speer can be identified: there is a
bit player who bears a resemblance to him.
Hitler is accurately shown as a broken
man, petting his dog, an Alsatian Sheppard. One bit of information
that I didn't know until I saw this movie is that Stauffenberg
put in his glass eye whenever he was in the presence of Hitler.
He obviously wanted Hitler to have a good opinion of him, and
in the scene at the Berghof, Hitler tells him that he wishes
that all his Army officers were like Stauffenberg.
In the trailers that were shown for weeks
before the movie opened, there is a brief scene where someone
kills a mosquito with the lit end of a cigarette. Undoubtedly,
there were many people who thought that this was a cruel act
committed by Hitler. As it turns out, it was a German guard at
Hitler's Wolf's Lair headquarters in East Prussia who killed
a mosquito on his arm. The Wolf's Lair was located on swampy
ground and that's why there were mosquitoes. This scene may have
been included by the film makers before they learned that Hitler
didn't smoke. In any case, the scene is totally out of context
and has no relevance to the movie plot.
This web page was created on May 19,