TELEVISION REVIEW / There's none so blind as he that will not see

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The Independent Culture
'NO. WE would have heard it,' replied a German general when Axel von dem Bussche, himself an army officer, passed on his belief that the Nazis were engaged in mass exterminations. He had just heard it, of course, and from a man who had seen with his own eyes the slow shuffle of naked humanity towards a slaughtering pit, but the general was adept at the selective, protective deafness employed by so many loyal Germans. Von dem Bussche told the story in The Restless Conscience (C 4), Hara Kohav Beller's detailed account of the internal resistance to Hitler, and he told it partly to illustrate the difficulties for those whose moral hearing was more acute - the conviction that criminals have seized power comes hard to those born to sustain authority.

There are those who argue that the army plotters only moved when the war was going badly for Germany, the suggestion being that their resistance was expedient rather than morally pure. It may be that there's some truth in that, at least for some conspirators. As candidates for the role of 'good Germans' the White Rose students of Munich, who printed anti-Nazi leaflets and distributed them publically during the war, are certainly less problematic. The extravagently reckless nature of their act raises no questions about motive. But they stood about as much chance as a butterfly who tries to stop a juggernaut by flying at its windscreen. The scions of German nobility, compromised for some by their high office and their conspiratorial caution, might have changed history.

In any case, the reluctance to honour their acts hardly does justice to the peculiar dilemma of the honest German patriot, the way that their scruples both set them going and then slowed them down. Beller's film reminded you that the resistance to Hitler was founded in a high- minded belief in due process, legality and Christian ethics. So the conspirators not only had to convince themselves of the criminality of the regime but also that a criminal act was the only available response. Repulsed by summary executions without trial they had to steel themselves to exactly that.

Some resisted from the very beginning, using their contacts and influence to help Jews escape; still others were converted by the systematic brutality of Kristallnacht, which finally shattered some illusions as well as synagogue windows. About the last people to be converted, on this account, were the functionaries of the British Foreign Office, which reacted with suspicion to repeated pleas for help from German conspirators, thus ruling out an early coup against the Nazi regime. They had reasons for their doubts - Adam von Trott zu Solz, one of the most committed and admirable of the resisters, looked to the outside world like a devoted Nazi party member, a condition of his employment in the German Foreign Office.

But you couldn't help suspecting that something less reputable played a part too, a public-school disdain for the sneak and the turncoat. Some emissaries, seeking backing for an early coup, were sent away after a brusque lesson in ethics: what you suggest is tantamount to treason, one was told, by a British diplomat whose loyalty to the done thing exceeded his sense of urgency. How many lives, you wondered, came to be sacrificed on the playing fields of Eton?

In their own way, British politicians were just as deaf as their German counterparts, just as reluctant to see that the rules had been transformed. Beller's film wasn't just a memorial to some noble young men with better hearing - it was also a reminder of the continuing obligation to keep our ears pricked for what's being said and done in our name.