Valkyrie: Lest We Forget (Satis Shroff)

Film-review: Tom Cruise, Dankeschön for Valkyrie (Operation Walküre) (Satis Shroff)

‘Operation Walküre’ was Hitler’s own Emergency Plan which was used by Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg to put an end to the Fuehrer, take over his Nazi regime and remove the Third Reich’s military and political administrators and replace them with his own men. Stauffenberg and his men risked their own lives, and those of their own families, for the fate of millions of people.

Tom Cruise shone in his role, although some German critics have described the film as being rather ‘plakativ’ and trivial. Nevertheless, Cruise’s film is successful in comparison to George Wilhelm Pabst’s ‘Es geschah am 20. Juli’ and Falk Harnack’s ‘The 20th of July.’ Both films were released at the same time in 1955. A German critic found it irritating that ‘Walküre’ (Valkyrie) is all about the ‘pathetic hero-worship of Stauffenberg.’

Well, why not a hero-worship, even though it’s through the courtesy of a Tom Cruise, when the old war heroes are slowing disappearing with Alzheimer, Parkinson’s and other diseases in gerontological homes, and many in their own four walls. I’m awfully glad and proud that our children are taught about the holocaust in their schools (Abitur classes), that there are memorials, museums and that school-kids have to write essays about Anne Frank, Schindler’s List, the Third Reich and that school classes and students go to see where, and how it happened in the concentration camps in Germany, Poland, France and elsewhere: lest we forget.

Germany does have quite a few resistance heroes, and if more people had the desire to show civil courage like Stauffenberg, Sophie Scholl and a host of others, then such atrocities like World War II, Auschwitz and other concentration- camp genocides would not have happened. I think that the Germans, as a folk, have learned their lessons well.

Actually, the idea to undermine the Hitler regime with the help of Hitler’s own Walküre plans through the implementation of the Auxillary Army to mow down revolts, was General Olbricht’s brain-child. In ‘Operation Walküre,’ however, it is shown as Stauffenberg’s geistesblitz to assassinate Hitler and to put the blame on the SS and Nazi big shots, and to use the ‘Walküre’ plans to make the Nazis surrender their weapons.

According to Norse mythology, Walküren were those who decided who ought to die in the battlefield. In Germanic mythology, the messengers of the highest God Wodan (Odin), ride over the killing-fields and give the slain eternal life by means of a kiss and take them to Asgard, whereby Asen is the mightiest dynasty of Gods with Odin (Wodan) at the top, seconded by Thor (Donar), Baldr, Zyr (Zin) and Frigg (also known as Frija , Frea). Odin was the sovereign God, whom the Germanic dynasties of England and Scandinavia, originally regarded as their divine founder. These Gods are perhaps a reflection of the tripartite division of the Indo-European society into: priest, warrior and cultivator.

Recently, at Thomas Gottschalk’s ‘Wetten, dass’ TV show, Mittermeier, a popular tongue-in-cheek cabaretist said as a joke that instead of Hitler, Tom Cruise would have done well to have laid the leader of the Scientology church cold, which caused a big laugh. Mittermeier’s parody of Obama and Merkel brought the house down with more laughter. In Germany’s first channel ARD Oliver Pocher, a comedian moderated a show (Schmidt & Pcher) dressed as Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, complete with an eye-patch, and the blurb: “You can see better with the First (Channel). The chairman of the ARD Herr Volker Stich wasn’t amused and said, ‘Herr Pocher isn’t do the ARD any good.’ If this fun-making goes on in in good olde Germany, then a lot of Stauffenbergs-in-uniform will be appearing during the Carnival (Fasnet) next month.

Be that as it may, I found Tom Cruise’s film-timing, and his performance as Staufenberg superb, and the film didn’t possess the clichès that critics expected from Hollywood about the role of the Germans at all. It’s a breath-taking film which releases your adrenalin constantly as you identify yourself with the protagonist, when he sets out to achieve his goal of eliminating the Führer: coute que coute, no matter what, after General Henning gives his rather belated signal in the film, and Operation Walküre begins rolling.

You know how it is going to end, due to your pre-knowledge in prior critical scenes, but Stauffenberg doesn’t, and it’s gripping to hear him mutter that he’d personally seen the explosion. Although a cat is accredited with seven lives, Hitler survived fifteen attempts on his life. By the time the news reaches Stauffenberg that the Führer has survived the murder attempt, you know it’s only a matter of time when the Gestapo gets him.

Who was Claus Stauffenberg really? He was a noble German, a count, who lived in the Castle of Jettingen, which lies in the vicinity of Günzburg. He was born in November 15, 1907 and shot by the Nazi execution squad in Berlin on July 20, 1944. Stauffenberg was an officer and resistance fighter. He did his military duty in Poland and France. Between 1940-43 he worked in the organisation department of the General Staff of the Army. He belonged to the German elite, was conservative, but was also open to new social changes, and was initially impressed by Hitler’s success. He developed a growing skepsis regarding the national socialist politics of conquest, critic on the military, Hitler’s mistakes and his disgust regarding the terror meted out to the people of the conquered countries culminated in his decision to be ready for the revolt in 1942.

Claus Stauffenberg was severely wounded in April 1943 in North Africa. He was promoted to the rank of Stabschef in the Reichsarmy department and became the force behind the diverging resistance groups. Since July 1, 1944 he had access to Hitler’s HQ as an Oberst. He personally carried out the plan to blow up the Führer on July 20, 1944 and flew to Berlin because he was a key figure in carrying out and coordinating the technical plans of the operation to take over the state.

Tom Cruise has done justice to his role as Stauffenberg and deserves a big ‘Dankeschön’ for brining this film to the world. Even though there are still old and neo-nazis who raise their voices now and then in Germany even today, we believe in the norms and values of democracy: freedom of opinion, cultures, togetherness (Miteinander) and vive la difference. Yes we can, as you can see. Come to Germany and see it for yourself.

Stauffenberg’s last words in the film are: ‘Long live holy Germany! Es lebe das heilige Deutschland!’ before he is riddled by a firing squad on the night of July 20, 1944. The attempt to assassinate backfired but for many Germans it was a sign, a symbol for another Germany which has lasted even to this day. The men and women of July 20, 1944 were instrumental in shaping the goals (Leitbild) of the present-day Bundeswehr, which is battling against the Talibans in Afghanistan, keeping-off pirates in Somalia and elsewhere, is a Nato member and works closely with the USA and other nations, not to speak of its many development projects in many poor countries.

If you’d like to visit the Military Archive located at the Wiesentalstrasse 10 in Freiburg, just give them a call: 0761-47817-801 and ask for Herr Michael Steidel. Tom Cruise’s crew were at the Archive two weeks long to do their research on German SS and Gestapo uniforms, documents and other historical paraphernalia. At the Military Archiv you’ll find five halls and 55km of files dating back from 1867 till today.

On January 27,2009 like in many other European cities, we Freiburger remember the ‘Persecution Children and Youth from 1933 till 1945’ as the day of liberation of the prisoners from the concentration camp in Ausschwitz in 1945, and we discuss about the families that were separated from the German mainstream in those days, persecuted and exterminated by the National Socialists (Nazis). Their only crime was that they were: Jews, Sintis, Romas, Jehova’s witnesses or disabled human beings, who were regarded as lesser beings in comparison to the so-called master Germanic race. The youth will have a chance to speak to witnesses and survivors of the holocaust who still live in Freiburg or have been invited to speak about their sad, moving, traumatic experiences. In the German language we call them Zeitzeugen.

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Comment by Satis Shroff on February 2, 2009 at 4:56am
Hi Anjali!
How right you are. History repeats itself. But the sensible thing is to learn from the mistakes of the past and head for cooperation, humanity, strive for democratic values in both the East and the West, North and South.All men are equal but there are always some who think they are more equal than the others. In Germany we call such people "die ewig gestrigen," people who live in the past and do not want to change themselves. Like Ruth Cohn said, you have to speak for yourself and not for others in daily life.We are daily responsible for our deeds and where there is hope, there is change.I find it amazing that the pope has had no second thoughts about his sheep who deny the holocaust.What a crazy world we are living in.
Regards and thanks for your views,
Comment by Anjali Purohit on January 27, 2009 at 4:18am
Thanks Satis, for such an informative article. Lest we forget, yes, but alas too many of the powers that be seem to have forgotten these lessons of history as we see them repeating the same inhumanities again and again even today!


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