The Man Who Did Not Kill Hitler

Tormented Loyalty

by Christopher Sykes
Harper & Row, 456 pp., $8.95

There are few greater agonies in the world than that of divided loyalty. Especially is this true for most men when they reach the point of decision to follow a course of conduct which may lead to the destruction of their fatherland in order to assure the preservation of its soul and its ultimate rehabilitation as a member of world society.

This was the choice and the decision which confronted the members of the Resistance Movement in Germany in the Thirties and Forties, and it is the study of this conflict which forms the basis of Christopher Sykes’s biography of Adam von Trott zu Solz. Mr. Sykes has written with infinite fairness, and great understanding and compassion. His book is one of the best to appear so far on the German Resistance Movement. It is remarkable both for sympathy and for honest judgment. It is, moreover, beautifully written.

The resolution of an individual or a group of individuals to resist tyranny and oppression by their own fellow-citizens presupposes a searching reappraisal of the meaning and interpretation of the term patriotism, which the dictionary defines as “love for, and loyalty to, one’s country.”

Those who banded themselves in Germany against Hitler had at the very outset to make clear to themselves how far their actions would cut across their traditional concepts of patriotism, how far they would go in the evolution of a new patriotic concept, and how far they were themselves prepared to be called traitors in the course of so doing. Some arrived at this clarity of thought at an early date, some at a much later period; some never achieved it and only jumped belatedly upon the band-wagon of Resistance at a moment when “treason was no crime” and might indeed serve to erase the stain which earlier Nazi associations had placed upon their records.

The number of those in Germany who saw clearly from the outset was pitifully small. When Hitler came to power in 1933 he had the support, either open or tacit, of the majority of Germans, a fact which certain schools of contemporary German historians are at pains to deny but cannot disprove. The parties of the Left were in opposition from the first. The Communists in absentia and the Social-Democrats by their active vote opposed the passage of the Enabling Act through the Reichstag, but apart from the Nazis the rest of the political parties, together with the Army and the Civil Service, representing “all that was best” in Germany, in varying degrees of hope or belief entertained the thought that Hitler must be given his chance, that he was ultimately expendable and disposable, and that in the meantime he might do something for Germany. They consoled themselves for the many aspects of the Nazi regime of which they disapproved with the age-old aphorism of political “realism” which acts as a cover for moral cowardice, that “one cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.”

It was against the general condonation, this …

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