Opposition and resistance to the Nazi government
Although the Nazi police state made opposition difficult, there were still certain groups that opposed Nazi ideals throughout the 1930s. By the end of the decade, such groups had begun to organise opposition to the war itself.
The Edelweiss Pirates – named after a distinctive flower – listened to forbidden ‘Swing’ music and had a membership of 2,000 by 1939. They wore check shirts and dark trousers and would go on weekend hikes in the hope of meeting and beating up Hitler Youth patrols. During WWII they would gather up and distribute propaganda leaflets dropped by allied bombers. They also provided shelter to deserters from the German armed forces.
A number of the group were caught and hanged following the murder of the head of Cologne Gestapo in 1944.
The White Rose Group was set up by Professor Kurt Huber and Hans and Sophie Scholl at Munich University in 1941. Hans Scholl had served as a medical orderly on the Russian Front and had seen at first hand the atrocities that were carried out against Jews, Poles and other non-Aryans. They believed that if they widely reported these atrocities, many Germans would support them in opposing the Nazis.
After handing out leaflets, the Scholls were ‘shopped’ by a Nazi Party member in 1943. Both were arrested, tortured and beheaded and described as ‘despicable criminals’ in local newspapers.
Ludwig Niemoller was a U-boat commander during WW1 before becoming a pastor in the German Protestant Church. Though he welcomed the Nazis in 1933, his views changed when the Nazis set up the Reich Church in 1934, believing it had more to do with Nazism than Christianity. Niemoller subsequently formed the German Confessional Church constantly made clear the differences between the two and spoke out in public against the Nazi regime.
As constant thorn in Hitler’s side, Niemoller was sent to prison for seven months in 1937. On his release he continued to speak out against the Nazi regime and was re-arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He was still alive when the camp was liberated by the Allies in 1945.
The most serious opposition to Hitler came from within the army. Although army leaders had reluctantly supported Hitler during the early years of WWII, a series of defeats, most notably on the Eastern Front, changed everything. Accordingly General Ludwig Beck supported plans by Count von Stauffenberg to assassinate Hitler.
Von Stauffenberg, badly wounded as a soldier on the Russian Front and appalled by the brutality of the SS, devised ‘Operation Valkyrie’ which aimed to kill Hitler with a bomb contained in a briefcase. However, on July 20 1944, after Von Stauffenberg had taken the briefcase to a military conference in East Prussia, Hitler survived after a heavy table took the brunt of the blast.
Hitler duly took savage revenge on all those deemed to be involved in the ‘July plot.’ A total of 5,746 people were executed, including 19 general, 27 colonels and both von Stauffenberg and Beck.
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