From Hitler's rise to power in 1933 onwards, his persecution of the Jews and other policies of racial 'purification', the brutal behaviour of his henchmen and police, and his suppression of all forms of dissent, disgusted large numbers of decent Germans. It is hard for Britons, who have never lived in a police state, to imagine the courage required to perform even minor acts of resistance in one so complete as Nazi Germany. Yet many found the nerve to do so, and died as a consequence.
The Communists were among the first to suffer. Many were rounded up in 1933. Others tried parading their opposition on the streets, with often fatal results, before choosing the path of emigration to Moscow. The inclusion of Communist leaders in a new exhibition in Berlin devoted to the resistance has prompted outspoken protests from Franz Ludwig von Stauffenberg, youngest son of Claus von Stauffenberg, the colonel who planted the bomb that almost killed Hitler 50 years ago. His reaction is surely misplaced: loathsome though their post-war actions were, the Communists, especially those who stayed in Germany, were as much a part of the resistance as the aristocratic army officers prominent in the 20 July plot.
The officers' heroism, heightened by the grisly fate they and many of their relatives suffered when Hitler survived, should not obscure the courage of all those other Germans, be they Protestants, Catholics, Social Democrats, trade unionists, students or ordinary people from all levels of society, who risked their lives in active or passive forms of opposition. Some sheltered Jews, others helped prisoners used as slave labour.
These were the 'good Germans', whose existence the Allies found it inconvenient to recognise, let alone support. There were good arguments for the policy of unconditional surrender agreed at the Casablanca conference of 1943. But Britain's leaders had been deeply suspicious of the German opposition from its first formal pre-Munich approach in 1938 onwards. Ultimately, it was simpler to paint the German people as a collective enemy, and one deserving to be bombed into the ground. Today is a good moment to recall that this was an injustice to many brave men, women and children.Reuse content