I found this “a good read”. Although it is about Germany from the late 1930s and to the July 1944 plot to kill Hitler, it is also terribly relevant for today. The people described are decent citizens or servicemen who, normally, would never think of plotting to overthrow a government or to plan to kill a leader. Yet for all of them there comes a time when they can no longer put down the stories as rumours circulated by ill wishers, but are brought face to face with murders and massacres. They have to decide whether to hear and see no evil, or whether to acknowledge it and to do something to try and stop it. We have had Brexit thrust upon us on the flimsiest of excuses by the vote of just over a quarter of the population – who achieved a majority over their opponents of c. 1.3 million votes*. The arguments for ceasing our membership of the European Union were blatant lies which the media did nothing to correct, and the current government elected in 2019 is led by a serial liar who has appointed a cabinet of equally doubtful characters. Posters on Twitter ask despairingly, “is there nothing we can do to stop them or get rid of them ?”. And the answer is that within the law, no there is not because they have a parliamentary majority and they ignore all requests to cease and desist. So, it becomes apparent that there is nothing that can be done unless violence is resorted to. And this is exactly the position of decent people in Germany in those now far off days.
The early chapters of the book were an easy read in the sense that Ashdown describes the espionage arrangements of the various great powers and the way in which they interlinked and often assisted one another to further their own purposes. But as time goes on, the enormity of the crimes being committed by the regime becomes more and more apparent, and many serving officers of high rank see for themselves what is happening and are sometimes expected to participate. At this point resistance hardens and concrete plans begin to be laid to exterminate Hitler and put an alternative regime in power. With German thoroughness this alternative regime is planned in detail and Ashdown estimates that something like 5,000 people were involved and ready to step up to the mark when the news of Hitler’s death became public. This amazing figure shows the extent to which the opposition to Hitler had grown, but also the increased likelihood that someone, somewhere, would, for whatever reason give away some vital piece of information and bring the whole thing crashing down.
For me, being on the side of the plotters, the increasing success of the authorities in weeding out agents and plotters was agonising and the fact that they got a bomb into Hitler’s HQ and that it went off successfully even though it failed in its task of killing Hitler was little short of a miracle. In this part of the book I had to read only short passages at any one time as I found it too upsetting. This might be quite common with a work of fiction, but I do not think it often happens in a factual, non-fiction account. So, I would say that, particularly at our current juncture, this is an important read from two standpoints. One is its importance as history, and the other is the relevance of the agony of the participants as even as anti-Hitler people they discover that the atrocities perpetrated by the regime are far, far, worse than ever they could have imagined, and how they feel compelled to take actions far outside their normal comfort zones. Without lecturing the reader, the tremendous difference between the traditional army officer of the Wehrmacht and those of the SS is well displayed. The former are moral beings, honourable men with a strong code of behaviour, the latter are political ideologues for whom any means is legitimate if it achieves the end required.
* This in a population at the time of about 64.9 million people, with 46.5 million of them on the electoral register.