Saturday, Feb. 28, 2009

Target Hitler

By David Luhrssen
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They tried to shoot him but could never get close enough, storm his office but was gone too soon, blow him up but the bombs never went off, went off too late or ignited inches too far away. The target was Hitler, who evaded so many assassinations that one understands why he felt protected by Providence. He finally died by his own hand, trapped in his Berlin bunker by the Red Army, his empire in ruins.

Capitalizing on interest surrounding Valkyrie, the well made feature film that fictionalized the greatest plot to bring down the Fuhrer, the History Channel documentary “Hunting Hitler,” paired with a bonus documentary “Plotting to Kill Hitler,” is out now on DVD.

Although some historians were interviewed, it’s easy to see that a historian wasn’t in charge. According to “Hunting Hitler,” the carpenter whose explosives nearly killed Hitler during a speech in 1939, was apolitical. “Plotting to Kill Hitler” identifies the lone bomber as a socialist. Likewise “Hunting Hitler” shows the elaborate security surrounding the Fuhrer but later interviews bodyguards who claim protection was lax. No attempt is made to reconcile the apparent contradiction.

On the plus side, the single DVD gives a concise History 101 overview of a series of related and occasionally unrelated conspiracies against Hitler, beginning at the eve of World War II and continuing through the events depicted in Valkyrie. As several survivors of Nazi Germany make clear, dissent in an efficient police state supported by a significant percentage of the population, is dangerous and action almost impossible. The military was in the best position to strike and even they were hampered by fear of being discovered. “Hunting Hitler” also reports a plot by British intelligence that sounds straight out of Hollywood—a commando team in German uniforms infiltrating the grounds of Hitler’s Eagles Nest in the Bavarian Alps and assassinating him as he went for his afternoon walk. Alas, the commandos never got off the ground.

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