Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008

Operation Valkyrie

By David Luhrssen
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Tom Cruise looks a bit stiff in an eye patch and a Nazi uniform in the trailer for Valkyrie, but we’ll withhold judgment until seeing the movie after its release next month. Meanwhile, a new documentary gives the facts behind the subject of Cruise’s film—the failed military coup against Hitler in the summer of 1944.

Operation Valkyrie, out now on DVD, offers a quick run-through on Nazi Germany and World War II by way of explaining what happened. While the Nazi regime enjoyed widespread support among Germans, resistance came from various segments of the populace, including Catholics and Communists, Protestants and lone gunmen. But the police state was so efficient that aside from an Allied victory, only the German army could have dislodged the Nazi Party. As World War II dragged Germany closer to defeat a circle of mostly conservative officers came to believe that Hitler had overstepped the norms of good governance and of civilization itself. They plotted to kill him and seize control through a plan codenamed Valkyrie.

As the documentary shows, Hitler enjoyed an incredible run of luck, sidestepping a variety of assassination attempts before the fateful day when Count von Stauffenberg (played by Cruise in the upcoming fictional version) planted a bomb under the conference table in the Fuhrer’s underground Wolf’s Lair. His luck continued when an officer absent-mindedly pushed the bomb behind a heavy table leg, which absorbed much of the blast. Hitler escaped with minor wounds to reap his vengeance.

Operation Valkyrie benefits from the presence of Ian Kershaw, perhaps the world’s leading contemporary authority on the Third Reich. What could have happened had Hitler died that day? The Holocaust would have been terminated and Germany’s new rulers would have sued for peace, saving millions of lives in the final year of the war.

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