Military and Civilian Consequences of the Attempt to Assassinate Hitler
Don Allen Gregory
McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2018, 260 pages
Book Review published on: June 21, 2019
Don Allen Gregory, author and distinguished professor of physics at University of Alabama, has delivered another outstanding book with After Valkyrie: Military and Civilian of the Attempt to Assassinate Hitler. After Valkyrie provides an unprecedented look at the events following the 20 July 1944 assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. After Valkyrie is more than the story of a failed assassination attempt. It is the story of Hitler’s war on German nobility and its officer class.
Gregory’s research indicates that Operation Valkyrie was named for a German emergency continuity of a government operations plan issued to the Territorial Reserve Army of Germany to execute and implement in case of a general breakdown in civil order during World War II. Operation Valkyrie was not the plan’s name but its code name. There were two versions: Valkyrie I and Valkyrie II. There is disparity to which one the conspirators transmitted on 20 July 1944 to set in motion taking control of German cities, disarming the Schutzstaffel, and arresting the Nazi party leadership. The plan was developed in the German army’s General Army Office where it was modified by Col. Claus Von Stauffenberg and other conspirators.
Gregory reveals that more than seven thousand people were eventually arrested following the assassination attempt. Hitler used this opportunity to rid himself of those who threatened his authority: the officer class, the nobility, and Germany’s prominent civilian leadership. The quick arrests suggest that the Nazi’s had kept lists of people for elimination and were awaiting the right opportunity. The investigation of the assassination attempt proceeded up to the very end of the war.
Hitler ordered the Court of Honor to convene to formally and legally expel military personnel involved in the coup, thereby making them civilians. This allowed the Volksgerichtshof (People’s Court or VGK for short) to try the cases and avoid established military judicial procedures that could have been embarrassing to the Nazi regime. There were no legally trained judges on the court, only military. The accused were not present during the proceedings, and no witnesses were called. The court relied primarily on documentation provided by Gestapo investigations, and each hearing lasted only a few minutes. Four hearings were held between 4 August and 9 September 1944 that expelled fifty-five officers connected to German nobility and other prominent families.
Gregory reveals that the Nazi Party benefited from a series of “emergency” legislative decrees passed by the Weimar Republic (German government) with the intent of holding Germany together, which were further expanded in 1933 with the “Enabling Acts” and the establishment of the VGK. The “Enabling Acts” repealed the established doctrine of basic rights: personal liberty, the right of free speech, and other basic rights. The establishment of the VGK severely limited the legal rights of individuals and their defense counsel by frequently curtailing or eliminating pretrial procedures while at the same time suppressing evidence that could clear the suspects. Readers will be amazed in learning that more than twelve thousand death sentences were delivered by the VGK between 1934 and 1940.
Gregory goes beyond previous works on Operation Valkyrie to include suspects who committed suicide or died mysteriously. Also included is a chapter of those who were fortunate in escaping arrest and death. After Valkyrie concludes by describing the rebirth of Germany after May 1945.
Gregory’s extensive research draws on twenty core books and another two hundred additional sources of information in providing an unprecedented view of events following the assassination attempt on Hitler. Gregory’s writing style makes for an ease of reading. It may be the most definitive work on Operation Valkyrie and Hitler’s purge of Germany’s officer corps in several decades. It is an excellent addition for any historian or student interested in studying Hitler, Nazi Germany, or World War II in Europe.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas