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Photo of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg

Ever since Homo sapiens ceased their nomadic life to come together in clusters called villages and towns then kingdoms to states to countries, narcissistic leaders of tyrannical governments have tried to control the ‘subjects’ under their sovereignty with harsh rules, absurd regulations, and brute force. Nowhere in recorded history has tyranny won in the long run.

Human nature seeks freedom from want, fear, and hunger. Sooner or later, a subjugated people will first organize, then resist followed by an armed uprising using pitchforks to spears to muskets to AR-15s. Some men and women, are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice in the quest to simply be left alone. Such was the case in Nazi Germany.

Greg McClelland is a well-known authority on a subject seldom, if ever, discussed: German resistance to Adolph Hitler and the Nazi mentality, oppression, and premeditated genocide. McCelland is an encyclopedia of knowledge concerning the German people’s Resistance. He traveled to Germany several times for interviews with the few survivors of Nazi retaliation.

“I’ve been fascinated with WWII since I was a child,” McCelland stated. “I read a book Hitler Must Die in 1984 when I was 16 years old. That’s what hooked me on the German resistance which started my lifelong research on the subject.” He discovered 22 assassination attempts on Hitler by Germans; 42 total including attempts by Americans and their Allies during WWII.

McClelland: “Among the various anti-Nazi youth groups were the Rhine River Gangs, the Edelweiss Pirates, Kittelbach Pirates, the Navajo’s, and the Roving Dudes. From 1939 on, all boys aged ten and up had to be in the Hitler Youth then into mandatory labor service before entering the military. But many German teenagers dropped out because they didn’t buy into the Nazi propaganda. So they organized a resistance, mainly in towns like Frankfurt, Hamburg Essen, and Dusseldorf. Cologne was the most active center for resistance by the Edelweiss Pirates with perhaps over 5,000 members. Jean Julich was one of the leaders.”

The ‘Resistance’ started out as mainly pranks, like pouring sugar in the gas tanks of Nazi officials or attaching a rope to a car or streetcar to rip off the bumper. Then the defiance escalated with the war: trains were derailed heading to the Eastern Front, weapons were stolen from arsenals, and the Mayor of Cologne was shot in 1944. In Nov, 1944, most of the resistance members were arrested and executed.

McClelland said, “As far back as 1936, the police estimated over 1,000 resistance groups in Germany. From 1933 to 1945, 3 million Germans were imprisoned including 800,000 for active resistance. About 26 percent of the population in concentration camps were German. I mentioned Edelweiss Pirate Jean Julich. He saved a Jewish mother and daughter during the war and is one of 420 Germans to receive the Yad Vashem Award. Over 23,765 Gentiles received the award for saving Jews and are recognized in the Israeli town of Yad Vashem.”

One would-be assassin of Hitler was Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, portrayed by the actor Tom Cruise in the movie Valkyrie. McClelland stated, “Stauffenberg was a devout Catholic and believed Hitler to be the Anti-Christ. July 20, 1944 marked his third attempt to kill Hitler in an open-air conference barrack at the Wolfsschanze (Wolf’s Lair). The bomb blast failed to kill Hitler, but had Stauffenberg succeeded the war would have been shortened by over nine months, saving approximately 27 million lives.”

Stauffenberg was executed by firing squad at the Bendlerbock building on July 21, 1944, now called the German Resistance Memorial Center. A plaque at the execution site lists the names of Stauffenberg and three of his co-conspirators. The wording on the plaque: Here died for Germany on July 21, 1944.

McClelland commented, “Other Valkyrie plotters were executed in the ‘meat hook prison’, the Plotzensee Prison in Berlin. From 1933 to 1945, around 2,891 people were executed in Plotzensee Prison, half of them Germans. The victims included civilians, lawyers, officers, pastors and priests. They were hung with piano wire then impaled on a meat hook. It took 20 to 30 seconds to die, very excruciating.”

Stauffenberg’s adjutant, 1st Lieutenant Werner von Haeften, also had a briefcase with two pounds of British plastic explosives. Hitler would have been killed in the originally planned upstairs conference room, but due to the hot weather the meeting was held in the open-air facility. Hitler suffered an arm injury and about 200 splinters in his right side and leg from the blast beneath the large oak conference room table. Valkyrie planners never considered that Hitler would survive the blast. All of them panicked when they found out Hitler was still alive; few of them made it to safety, many German officers lost their entire families in the reprisals.

McClelland: “I also interviewed Arnold Hencke. He joined the party at 14 years of age in 1929 but by age 17 had been arrested for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets in Hamburg. He was beaten with brass knuckles and clubs at the Fuhlsbuttel concentration camp then thrown into a cell spiting up blood and teeth. He received 30 months for ‘high treachery’ and speaking his mind. His mother went to the Gestapo headquarters daily trying to get her son released, but without any luck. Then, quite by accident, she ran into two highly decorated and high rankings SS officers. They listened to her story and actually sympathized with her and got her son released.”

Hencke went back to school for two years but was kicked out by the Nazis. McClelland explained, “Since 99 percent of the teachers were Nazis, poor old Hencke didn’t have much of a chance. He worked in a factory and did roofing during the war, always visited by the Gestapo for questioning.”

By 1940, if a young man did not join the military he could be shot for ‘non-subservience to national defense.’ McClelland: “The resistance movement was not just German officers; this was a grass root thing, 7,000 arrested, 5,000 killed or committed suicide. After the Valkyrie incident, the resistance movement was pretty much wiped out, many arrests of both guilty and innocent people. This is something you don’t learn in high school or college. There’s always a high price to pay for freedom.”

McClelland’s final comments: “The war had a profound effect on the people of the resistance. They still wake up in the middle of the night, still in a prison cell, still sleeping with the rats, still fearful of beatings, I think we call it PTSD. We take freedom for granted in this country, but things we speak out against the Nazis would have killed us. Oppression doesn’t want competition…it kills off the competition…it can’t tolerate dissent. The German resistance applies to what’s going on today, and people need to wake up.”

“Any nation that has lost every sense of right and wrong, good and evil, that tolerates such crimes; deserves to be destroyed.”  -- General Kurt von Hammerstein, of the German resistance