Monday, 15 December 2014

The Kleist-Schmenzins

Ewald, Count von Kleist-Schmenzin

Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin

Ewald, Count von Kleist-Schmenzin, was born on 22 March 1890. An early and public opponent of Nazism, he was arrested on several occasions for his outspoken criticisms.

He was a lawyer and estate owner, and a cousin of Field Marshal Ewald von Kleist.
In 1932 he wrote a paper National Socialism - a Danger. He continued to battle with the Nazis after they came to power. He was on the list of those to be liquidated in 'The Night of the Long Knives' in 1934, but escaped when he was forewarned.

In 1938, with key figures in Germany poised to overthrow Hitler, he travelled to London on behalf of the German resistance, using a false passport provided by the Abwehr. He had gone to urge Britain to stop engaging in appeasement of Hitler and to threaten force if Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia. He met with Churchill (then out of power) and with Robert Vansittart (then Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office). He made a powerful impression, having travelled, as he said, 'practically with a noose around my neck'. He wanted some proof that Britain and France were not bluffing - if possible a public speech by a leading British statesman. Churchill provided him with a letter advising that if Germany attacked the Sudetenland, Britain would fight, and the democracies of the world with her. To protect the identity of the recipient, he addressed it simply 'My dear sir'.

Chamberlain disregarded these and similar overtures - and entered into the Munich agreement which ceded the Sudetenland to Germany.

Despite being at risk and under constant surveillance, Kleist-Schmenzin continued to be involved in the resistance.

His son, Ewald-Heinrich, was born in 1922. The names are confusingly similar, but the son had the hyphenated first name. He was a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht in the Second World War. He was recruited into the resistance by Claus von Stauffenberg.

In January 1944 Claus asked Ewald-Heinrich - then 21 years old - to blow up Hitler with a bomb strapped to his body while modelling new army uniforms for the Führer to inspect. It was obvious that the attempt was likely to cost the young man his life.

Ewald-Heinrich first wanted to discuss the undertaking with his father. He took the train journey home and asked his father's advice.

Once the proposition was explained to him, Kleist-Schmenzin senior stood up, went to the window, and after a moment's thought replied: 'You have to do it. Anyone who falters at such a moment will never again be at one with himself in this life.' He urged his son under no circumstances to miss this opportunity to fulfil so vital a duty.

Ewald-Heinrich told Claus he would do it.

In Berlin, conspirators waited for the code word - in vain. Repeatedly, Hitler postponed the inspection. 

In the end, they had to find another way of killing Hitler.

In the lead up to the July plot, Claus appointed Kleist-Schmenzin senior a political representative for the military district of Stettin in the post-coup regime.

Lieutenant Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin was present at the Bendlerblock (coup headquarters) on 20 July 1944. He later recalled:
What I will never forget about 20th July 1944 was the sensation we all felt of being part of a moment in which history was balancing on the edge of a knife.

When General Kortzfleisch refused to obey the conspirators' orders, and tried to leave, Ewald-Heinrich drew his pistol on the general.

Ewald-Heinrich was arrested on the night of the coup. His father was arrested the next day.

At one stage during the investigation Ewald-Heinrich was made to stand in a room facing a wall. Another prisoner was brought in to stand beside him. It was his father, who indicated with his expression to say nothing. Ewald-Heinrich did not see his father again.

Ewald-Heinrich was sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp, but later released and posted back to the eastern front.

On 23 February 1945 Ewald was tried before the People's Court, and executed the same day.

Ewald-Heinrich survived the war, and went on to found a publishing house and to participate actively in German public life. 

He died on 8 March 2013 - the last survivor of the German resistance.

Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin in later life

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The Boeselager brothers

Georg von Boeselager

Philipp von Boeselager

Georg and Philipp Boeselager were born into a Catholic and aristocratic family in 1914 and 1917 respectively.

Georg enlisted in the army in 1934. With the outbreak of war, he won rapid promotion and several decorations for gallantry. He was opposed to Hitler whom he saw as the antithesis of his religious upbringing.   

His younger brother Philipp was the aide to Field Marshal von Kluge, who commanded Army Group Centre on the Russian front. In June 1942 Philipp received a message from the SS which included the note ‘special treatment for five gypsies’ which he did not understand. He was present when Kluge asked the SS officer the meaning of the phrase. Kluge was told that all the Jews and Gypsies the SS picked up were shot.

Philipp became a firm opponent of the regime.

In late 1942 and early 1943 Georg, by then a cavalry captain, was also based with Army Group Centre.

On 13 March 1943 Hitler visited Army Group Centre headquarters in Smolensk – largely to discuss with Kluge ‘Operation Citadel’ – the proposed attack on the Red Army’s salient around Kursk.

Georg Boeselager deployed a unit of heavily-armed cavalry officers and NCOs willing to assassinate Hitler as he drove through forest from the airfield to headquarters.

There was also a plan for nine officers, including both Boeselager brothers, to shoot Hitler at lunch in the mess. However, on the morning of the proposed assassination (or possibly the previous day) Kluge forbade it. The attempt did not go ahead.

Georg also proposed an attack with his troops on the Wolf’s Lair to assassinate Hitler, but his superiors considered that the loss of life could not be justified.

Philipp helped construct the ‘Cointreau’ bomb which Fabian von Schlabrendorff gave to Heinz Brandt to take onto Hitler’s aircraft that day. It failed to detonate.

Shortly before Claus von Stauffenberg’s assassination attempt and coup in July 1944, Georg visited Field Marshal von Kluge on the western front and tried to persuade him to take the initiative by opening the front to the west. Georg also helped obtain the plastic explosive used in the attempt on Hitler’s life on 20 July 1944.

On 19 July 1944, in anticipation of the coup, Philipp disengaged 1,200 cavalry troops from the front line near Rybno in Belarus and they began the long ride west to take transport for Berlin. Their role would be to surround and neutralize SS units as well as Gestapo headquarters.

They rode all night without rest and did not slow to a walk over cobbled streets, but maintained a steady trot – normally strictly forbidden where there was any risk of a fall.

At about 3 pm the troops arrived at the small village of Lachovka, just east of Warsaw. They had ridden some 250 kilometres without stopping, bypassing Brest-Litovsk on the way. They had almost reached their transport, and now rested for a few moments. Here Philipp was passed a message from his brother Georg ‘Everyone to the old foxholes!’

This was code to indicate the assassination had not been carried out. Philipp immediately ordered his troops back into the saddle to reverse the arduous journey. The conspirators would not have these troops in Berlin.

Philipp and his 1200 cavalrymen continued the march back to the front lines in the east – already considerably closer than when they left. A friend and fellow officer, Captain Hidding, rode his mount over a mine and was killed. Boesalager had to extract the bloodied maps of Berlin – with all their objectives marked out in pencil – from Hidding’s saddlebags before anyone else could find them. Major Boeselager expected to be closely questioned on his return, but the chaos at the front did not permit time for any questioning.

The Boeselagers escaped initial suspicion. However, when the Gestapo investigators sent a message to his old unit in France requesting that ‘First Lieutenant von Boeselager’ be detained for questioning, they replied they knew of no such officer (he had long since been promoted).

On 29 August 1944, Georg was killed in action on the eastern front. Philipp survived the war. His full role was not disclosed until many years later.

He wrote an account of his experiences: Valkyrie: the Plot to Kill Hitler. He died on 1 May 2008 – one of the last surviving conspirators against Hitler.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Did the Libs win the 2010 election because they preferenced the Greens last?

Many psephologists continue to assert that the Liberals won the Victorian state election in 2010 when they made the bombshell announcement that they would preference the Greens last on their How-to-Vote cards. 

This decision is seen as 'decisive' and as turning the election in their favour.

Commentators offer no evidence to support this theory, but it continues to feature as conventional wisdom. William Bowe, who produces the Poll Bludger website, put it this way in a Guardian article on 17 November 2014:
The gambit of putting the Greens in last place decisively energised their [the Liberals] campaign last time, and it comes as no surprise that they have opted to do so again.

The Liberals announced they would preference Labor over the Greens on Sunday 14 November 2010 - just 13 days before the election. Pre-polling would start the following morning.

This was a surprise. They had always preferenced the Greens over Labor previously, diverting Labor resources from marginal Liberal/Labor seats. However, at a federal level the Greens had just entered into an agreement to support the Gillard government, and there was a mood for change.

In 2010 the Liberals went on to win the Victorian election by one seat. Although the Greens came very close in Melbourne, Richmond and especially Brunswick, they did not win any of those lower house seats. They would have won all of them with Liberal preferences, and come close in Northcote.

But did this decision to put the Greens last win the election for the Liberal party?

Labor, through its Griffin report into the 2010 Victorian loss, has released its internal polling in the lead up to the election. The figures are in this graph:

Looking at the figures for 14 November and immediately thereafter, Labor was on 50% two party preferred before the announcement, and then went up to 51 2PP just after it, before dropping back to its 50 2PP thereafter. 

It is clear that the announcement on 14 November 2010 made no demonstrable difference to the figures, and Labor ran very close to the wind all the way to election day. 

In the wake of the coalition's announcement that it would preference Labor ahead of the Greens, no major shift to the coalition can be observed from these figures.

Labor should not have been surprised about their loss in 2010. Their own internal polling told them it was coming. The debacles of MYKI, the desalination plant, channel deepening, and the north-south pipeline cost Labor government - not the Liberals' decision on their how-to-vote cards.

As we move towards the 2014 election, the same preferencing decision will not help the Liberals, and Labor's decision not to reach an accommodation with the Greens will take the edge off a likely victory.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Adam von Trott zu Solz

Adam von Trott 

9 August 1909 – 26 August 1944

The son of a Prussian minister for culture, Adam von Trott studied law and political science. He was a Christian who saw Nazism as standing against everything he considered important.

He travelled to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, where he met David Astor (later the editor of the Observer, and one of the founders of Amnesty International) Astor regarded Trott as the most influential person in his life.

Subsequently, Trott travelled to the US and Asia, returning to Germany in the late 1930s. In 1939, he travelled to Britain. He was able to meet Halifax (then Foreign Secretary) and Chamberlain (Prime Minister) to urge greater opposition to Hitler. He found Chamberlain’s response ‘icy’.

In 1940, Trott joined the Nazi party – having repeatedly been refused employment in key diplomatic posts because he was not a member. His membership also provided cover for his resistance activities.

As a diplomat involved in the resistance group later known as the Kreisau Circle, he took the lead on foreign policy matters. He sought a united Europe – in a union without conquest, and not under a German hegemony, but with a common market and even a common currency – a vision largely realised today.

Trott’s position enabled him to travel to neutral countries. From 1942 to 1944 he travelled abroad, on conspiracy business, at least sixteen times, visiting (amongst other places) Switzerland seven times, Sweden four times, and Turkey once. He did his best to impress on the Allies that Nazism and Germany were distinct, and to seek support for action against Hitler. He enlisted the assistance of Dr Visser’t Hooft, secretary of the World Council of Churches, as well as that of David Astor and Sir Stafford Cripps, his friends in Britain. In this way, he was able to pass messages to Winston Churchill.

He advocated the assassination of Hitler, and recruited many people to the conspiracy.

Trott was a friend of Claus von Stauffenberg. Claus’s brother Berthold introduced Claus to Trott before the war. Especially from 1943, they became close friends. Trott’s wife later indicated that this was the closest friendship of her husband’s life. Trott told her that Claus, by his ‘fiery’ character, had given new impetus and vigour to the opposition. Trott told a female friend after the July plot collapsed that Claus had been his ‘closest friend.’

On the eve of 20 July 1944, Claus sought Trott out and spent time with him.

On 20 July 1944 Trott was in the Foreign Office, he worked on speeches for radio with General Fritz Lindemann and Dr Fritz Theil. He was waiting to hear when these speeches should be given. Although troops loyal to the conspiracy seized the radio stations, they failed to pass on this news, and the speeches were never broadcast.

Trott was with Hans-Bernd von Haeften (another lawyer, and the brother of Stauffenberg’s aide Werner) when they heard that troops under the command of Major Remer (loyal to the Nazis) were surrounding the Bendlerblock, at which point they knew the Plot had failed.

The day after the Plot, Trott went to work in the Foreign Office as usual. That day a friend offered to fly him to Madrid. He considered the offer overnight, and declined, so as not to endanger his family. Two days later he was offered a further chance of escape – this time into Switzerland – and again declined. He was arrested the next day – 25 July.

After extensive interrogation he was tried before the People’s Court on 15 August 1944. His wife Clarita went to the court in the hope of providing some comfort. When her identity as discovered she was ejected. He was sentenced to death.

Following the trial, he was interrogated for eleven days. On 25 August he received covert news that he was about to die. Just before he was taken away, Trott wrote a moving last letter to his wife Clarita (which she did not receive until the following year):
My dearest Clarita, This unfortunately now is probably my very last letter.Before all else – forgive me for the great sorrow I have had to cause you. Today we have a clear sky, Peking blue, and there is a rustling in the trees. Teach our dear, sweet little ones to understand these signs from God – and his profounder ones – thankfully but also with an active and valiant spirit. I love you very much. There would be still so much to write – but there is no more time. May God keep you. I know that you will not let yourself be defeated, and that you will struggle through to a life in which I shall in spirit still be standing by your side, even if you seem to be all alone. I pray for strength for you – please do the same for me …  Do not grieve too much on my account – for fundamentally everything is very clear – even if very painful. I embrace you with all my heart and know that you are with me. God bless you and the little ones. In steadfast love, Your Adam 

Greet Innshausen and its hills from me!
He was hanged on 26 August 1944.

He did not know that his two small daughters, the older aged two and a half years and the younger just nine months, had been taken away by the Gestapo. His wife was imprisoned.

In 1945, with the Nazi administration beginning to crumble, she was released from prison and reunited with their children.