Share This Article

Disobeying Hitler: German Resistance After Valkyrie, by Randall Hansen, Oxford University Press, New York, 2014, $29.95

In Germany toward the end of World War II members of the High Command and community leaders nationwide foresaw the Nazis’ inevitable defeat. A courageous few turned against Hitler, starting with the ill-fated July 20, 1944, attempt on the führer’s life by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and fellow conspirators. Although Hitler ordered the destruction of essential industrial infrastructure as Allied forces advanced into Germany, quietly defiant men and women pursued a hazardous path of resistance through disobedience.

Disobeying Hitler recounts the fascinating stories of French and German people determined to thwart Hitler’s scorched-earth policy, often with lethal consequences. Some officials employed bureaucratic tools to stymie Hitler’s capricious orders; others professed to follow High Command dictates but sabotaged or delayed demolition attempts in order to buy valuable time as Allied forces arrived in their sectors.

Hansen documents how confusion over Hitler’s contradictory commands further aided resistance efforts. Commanders either ignored or reinterpreted military orders according to their personal humanitarian beliefs, their recognition of Hitler’s megalomania and their reading of the prevailing political climate. Even such high-placed leaders as Nazi chief architect Albert Speer and SS leader Heinrich Himmler participated in noncompliance efforts and coups, seeking to protect their own work and preserve their political power bases.

Disobeying Hitler reveals how political figures, military commanders, local officials and ordinary people used a mixture of guile, civil disobedience, courage and capitulation to block Nazi attempts at wholesale devastation. Through their efforts these people ensured the preservation of centuries-old cities and prevented an untold number of pointless deaths as World War II in Europe ground to its inevitable conclusion.

—S.L. Hoffman