Rows ruin salute to anti-Hitler plotters: The sacrifices made in the July Conspiracy have all but been obscured by an unseemly political dispute, Steve Crawshaw writes from Bonn

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OFFICIALLY, it will be simply an opportunity for Germans to commemorate the courage of those who risked and lost their lives on behalf of 'the other Germany'. This is supposed to be a day for tributes and collective gratitude.

In practice, tomorrow's fiftieth anniversary of the plot that almost ended the Hitler regime has become an occasion for polemics and insults. The sacrifices of those who took part are almost forgotten amid the angry noise.

There are two main protagonists. One is Franz Ludwig von Stauffenberg, the youngest son of Claus von Stauffenberg, the colonel who planted the bomb that exploded at Hitler's headquarters on 20 July 1944.

The other is Peter Steinbach, responsible for an exhibition in Berlin devoted to the anti-Nazi resistance. Both regard the behaviour of the other as intolerable.

Franz Ludwig von Stauffenberg, formerly an MEP representing the Bavarian ruling party, the CSU, is angry that Communists, including hated leaders of the East German Communist Party such as Walter Ulbricht, are included in the museum alongside his father and other members of the 'true' resistance. He complains that Mr Steinbach has allowed some of 'the worst scoundrels in German history' to be seen in the exhibition, near where Claus von Stauffenberg and his comrades were executed.

Mr Steinbach, by contrast, is adamant that all strands of the anti- Nazi struggle must be represented.

'We are living in the German Federal Republic, not in an Orwellian state. Historians, above all, have the duty to defend the independence of their work . . . 20 July 1944 is a day of German history. But it is not the property of one family. And it is certainly not an event that can be dealt with in party political terms.'

Mr Steinbach has some influential supporters defending him against Franz Ludwig von Stauffenberg's assault.

Freya von Moltke, the widow of one of the most distinguished leaders of the opposition to Hitler, described the attempt to exclude the Communists as outrageous, since the Communists had 'paid the heaviest price in blood'. Others point out that, far from glorifying the Moscow-backed Communists, the exhibition is critical of their Stalinist behaviour.

The angry debate reflects continuing unease over how to assess what the anniversary stands for. Some plotters only became convinced that it was necessary to overthrow Hitler once they believed that Nazi Germany would not win the war.

Claus von Stauffenberg had a much broader agenda. Although he was a Hitler aide, and, like many of the plotters, an aristocrat, he was also a supporter of Julius Leber, a leading Social Democrat, who was to play a role in the planned civilian government once Hitler had been overthrown.

Meanwhile, there has sometimes been an unwillingness to acknowledge just how little support the 20 July plotters could count on in the population at large. Millions of Germans remained loyal to Hitler even in 1944, just as the overwhelming majority of Russians continued to revere Stalin through the worst years of the Soviet terror. That bitter truth is difficult for some to accept.

The bomb that almost killed Hitler 50 years ago tomorrow - he was saved by a massive oak table-support, which protected him from the full force of the blast - retains great symbolic importance. It represents those Germans who were ready to say 'no', and who were ready to give their lives to that end.

But arguments over the legacy have almost drowned the significance of the legacy itself. Writing in the Frankfurter Rundschau last week, a leading historian, Hans Mommsen, argued: 'Only in such an introverted and autistic society as German society is this possible. In other Western countries, it must seem absurd.'

Heroes to honour, page 17