Peter Hoffmann
William Kingsford Professor
The Department of History, McGill University
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  • Stauffenberg. A Family History, 1905-1944. 
    Second Edition (Revised), Montreal & Kingston, London, Ithaca:  McGill-Queen´s University Press, 2003, 424 pp. 


    The Stauffenberg brothers were born in the first decade of the century.  As children and adolescents they lived within three dominant ambiances:  In their family with traditional forms and values, with possessions in Swabian and Frankish lands, integrated into the royal court of Württemberg in Stuttgart, into service of the state; they lived in the spirit and teaching of their school which gave them a classical course of instruction, and in the world of poetry and the poets.  Service of the fatherland stood above all, much as Bismarck once suggested with the brevity that was sufficient among his kind, saying he did not see why Prussia should have the sons of its farmers shot for aims that were not Prussia's--'I am not talking about the nobleman, he was born for that'.(1) The brothers' professions and external circumstances forced them, however, to take positions on their own nation's history and on the state of their nation under National Socialist rule between 1933 and 1945, and on crimes without parallel in the history of mankind.

    What road led to the sandpile in the courtyard of the War Ministry building in Berlin where Claus Count Stauffenberg was shot, and to the hook in the execution hut of Plötzensee Prison on which his brother Berthold had to give up his life?  What is the meaning of these sacrifices, of the anguish of the surviving brother, mother, widows and children?

    Whoever seeks to become familiar with the Stauffenberg brothers will encounter a number of difficulties.  He will find that they are not to be categorized.  They were extraordinarily unlike their contemporaries in their own families, in the nobility, within the Catholic community, in their school, in their professions.  This characterizes the primary sources.  The more closely a witness was acquainted with the Stauffenbergs, the more cautious he was in describing them, in uttering judgments beyond respect, admiration, and acknowledgment of the extraordinary in them.  This was particularly true for Claus and his whole, unbroken personality.  The less well a witness knew the Stauffenbergs, the more his evidence reflected his own limitations and categories.  There is a nearly complete lack of negative information on Claus Stauffenberg which a skeptical researcher might well attribute to piety.  But closer scrutiny reveals this skepticism as misguided.  Indeed, a very great number of the Stauffenbergs' contemporaries stressed first of all and above all the extraordinary in the Stauffenbergs' intellectual and physical appearance.

    The Stauffenbergs' consciousness of being much unlike the rest which is not unconnected with their holding with family and nobility traditions may put off present-day observers or confirm their biases.  Taboos against differences of natural endowments, and class differences, the assumption of the equality of all human beings will make it difficult to understand a culture which rejected comprehensive levelling.  The current clangor concerning a fictitious equality, of course, cannot make it less fictitious.  Individuals have different social and cultural origins, genetic heritages, education, positions, achievements and even privileges if not 'rights' in a legal sense. In a larger context, however, there were negative aspects in the Stauffenbergs' lives, which Claus Stauffenberg himself addressed:  'As General Staff officers we are all co-responsible.'(2)  Claus Stauffenberg's cousin and friend, Peter Count Yorck von Wartenburg wrote two days before his execution concerning his part in the attempted uprising that he had been driven to it 'by the feeling of the guilt weighing down everyone'.  Both Stauffenberg and Yorck were deeply afflicted by the number and enormity of crimes committed in the German name.(3)  Under secret-state-police interrogation Yorck singled out for his condemnation the 'extermination measures' against Jews, and in the 'People's Court' trial in which he was condemned to death by hanging he confirmed his own and his cousin Stauffenberg's loathing at the persecution of the Jews which the presiding judge, Roland Freisler, referred to as 'the extermination of the Jews'.(4)  Axel von dem Bussche, referring to the mass shooting of Jews he had witnessed at Dubno on 5 October 1942, declared that 'the 20th July in essence would not have happened without those things'.(5)    The guilt that Yorck, and also his cousin Stauffenberg, accepted was that they had not early enough opposed the evil, and that they had been inactive in helpless outrage too long after they had seen it.  But it would be unhistorical to demand that an individual must always have been what he became.

    The confession of co-responsibility arose from ethical principles which raised the Stauffenbergs and their friends high above the herd of fellow-travellers in all classes of society.  After three months of investigation following the failed uprising of 20 July 1944, the head of the secret-state-police investigating commission, SS Lieutenant-Colonel Walter von Kielpinski, summarized the results of the investigation:  'The entire inner alienation from the ideas of National Socialism which characterized the men of the reactionary conspiratorial circle expresses itself above all in their position on the Jewish Question.  [...] they stubbornly take the liberal position of granting to the Jews in principle the same position as to every German.'(6)   Claus Stauffenberg's own utterances from April 1942 on, and the testimony of Berthold Stauffenberg, Alexander Stauffenberg and Peter Yorck to the secret state police and in the 'People's Court' confirm the general finding in their individual cases.

    The Stauffenbergs were not governed by programs, or by a 'world view', rather by the rejection of thought systems.  Claus Stauffenberg never inclined toward a political party.  A close friend said if Claus had ever thought in earnest about political parties he would have formed one himself.(7)   But at the end of his life Claus Stauffenberg insisted that a document be drawn up containing the fundamental tenets of what it meant to be German, as he saw them.(8)

    The principal motives of the Stauffenberg brothers were rooted in the consciousness of a family of the service nobility as well as in the intellectual and political history of their country.  Their main motives were family honour, adherence to the ideals Stefan George had taught them, and the soldier's ethos.  All three led to the recognition of the criminal nature of Hitler's war.  All three developments are to be discerned again and again from early youth.  From about April 1942 they emerged to dominate all else.

    The sources presented considerable difficulties.  Habits and patterns of mild reticence within the family toward the coarse outside world, and of pronounced secrecy in the closed circle of the friends of the Poet Stefan George, both tended to keep information off the record, or to encode it.  From the time the Stauffenberg brothers had been welcomed and initiated by the 'Master', there stood between them and the rest of the world an invisible wall which only those could penetrate who were familiar with and well affected toward the ideas of Stefan George.  Whoever makes the effort to penetrate this invisible wall will be surprised at the strength with which the ideas of Stefan George's circle persisted down to the Stauffenbergs' last days.

    Claus Stauffenberg's decision to become a soldier had a further effect of encoding biographical information.  Soldiers commit themselves to being ready to die for their nation.  This sets them apart from it in their daily lives and in their mentality.

    Work in the General Staff of the Army represented a third level of mystification so far as the world 'outside' was concerned.  General Franz Halder, Chief of the General Staff 1938-1942, wrote to an early Stauffenberg biographer that 'sealing off the work of the General Staff from the public' really made the writing of a history of the General Staff impossible'.(9)

    Joachim Kramarz wrote in the foreword of the Stauffenberg biography he published in 1965 that after 20 July 1944 the secret state police had confiscated even the smallest scrap of paper in Stauffenberg's Berlin flat and in his family's home in Bamberg, so that only very few items had survived, a few letters someone had not burned, a postcard, a few military files.  In 1968 Robert Boehringer, the heir of Stefan George's papers, made available from the Poet's papers five letters and six poems by Claus Stauffenberg.  Christian Müller who in 1970 published a long dissertation on Stauffenberg had found a few more letters and some files of written exercises from Stauffenberg's years of training.

    When the author began to look into Stauffenberg's thinking, every corner that might have held papers seemed to have been cleaned out.  But it soon became clear that much more had survived than Kramarz and Müller had turned up.  The author now has originals or copies of more than sixty letters by Claus Stauffenberg, and a number of further private and official documents; of hundreds of letters by Berthold and Alexander Stauffenberg, and other of their writings; and notes, communications and correspondences of friends, guestbooks, and unused archival sources.

    The inclusion in the research of Claus' brothers Berthold and Alexander proved fruitful, as did the inclusion of the other friends of Stefan George.  Even certain papers the secret state police had confiscated at Lautlingen Manor and taken to a branch office of the Reich's Central Security Department at Markkleeberg near Leipzig in November 1944 have not been lost; Robert Boehringer as Stefan George's heir claimed them, received them in 1961, and in the 1970s transferred them to the newly founded Stefan George Archiv in Stuttgart.  Contrary to reasonable expectation it was possible to learn a good deal about Stauffenberg's tour of duty in Tunisia in 1943.  Some key documents for Stauffenberg's efforts to overthrow the Hitler regime in the spring of 1944 recently became accessible in archives in Potsdam.  A body of papers confiscated by the secret state police, on the other hand, has thus far failed to re-surface and must be presumed lost.  Many documents, letters particularly, were destroyed after 20 July 1944 by their owners who feared police searches.

    I have the agreeable duty to thank more persons for their assistance than I can name in this Prologue.  For the most part their names appear in the lists of sources.  I thank above all my father Wilhelm Hoffmanné for his unfailing readiness to discuss aspects of my research and to offer thoughtful advice.  Further I wish to express special thanks to Karen Bingel, Valentin Boss, Rudolf Fahrneré, Lore Frank, Manfred Kehrig, Klemens von Klemperer, Joachim Kramarz, Richard Lamb, H.O.Malone, Rüdiger von Manstein, Frank Nicosia, Theodor Pfizer, Katherine Sams, Peter Sauerbruch, Albert Schick (representing also many other members of the 10th Panzer Division), further Bradley Smith, the numerous Stauffenberg family and particularly Nina Countes Stauffenberg, Alfred Count Stauffenberg+, Berthold Count Stauffenberg, Hans Christoph Baron Stauffenberg, and Robert Vogel, Gemma Wolters-Thiersch, Eberhard Zeller, the archivists of the Stefan George Archiv, the Bundesarchiv, the Bundesarchiv-Abteilungen Potsdam, the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv, the Bundesarchiv-Zentralnachweisstelle, the Institut für Zeitgeschichte, the Krankenbuchlager Berlin, the Deutsche Dienststelle (Wehrmacht-Auskunft-Stelle) Berlin, the Rilke-Archiv, the National Archives in Washington, McLennan Library in McGill University.

    I am grateful to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research in McGill University for their generous support, and equally to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Stifung Volkswagenwerk, and the Killam Foundation.

    McGill University, Montreal 1994   P.H.

    Endnotes to Prologue:
    1. Bismarck to Alvensleben 5 May 1859 in Bismarck, Werke in Auswahl 2 276.
    2. NS in Kramarz 132.
    3. Yorck 6 Aug. 1944; M. Yorck 10 Aug. 1972.
    4. Spiegelbild 110; Trial XXXIII 424.
    5. Bussche, interview 19 July 1984.
    6. Spiegelbild, p. 471.
    7. Pezold 25 April 1965.
    8. See below pp. (dt. 396-397) and at appendix VI.
    9. Halder to Kramarz 26 Jan. 1962. 

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