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SPOTLIGHT: Best Books on the German Resistance

Thursday, September 24, 2015

My novel THE BEAST'S GARDEN is a retelling of the Grimm Brothers' version of 'Beauty & the Beast', set in the underground German resistance in Nazi Berlin. I first got the idea in a liminal dream - as I drifted in the shadowlands between sleeping and waking, I saw an image of a young woman, dressed in a 1940s golden gown, singing to a nightclub full of men in black SS uniforms. I knew - I don't know how - that she was German, and a member of an underground resistance movement sworn fight against Hitler.  (You can read the whole story about that first moment of inspiration here).

I had not realised that there was a German resistance movement before.  

had heard about Sophie Scholl and the White Rose group, and knew there had been numerous attempts to assassinate Hitler, but that was the extent of my knowledge. 

I got out of bed and went down to my study to see what I could find out.  Within a day or two, I had most of the plot of THE BEAST'S GARDEN roughly planned.

Over the next few years, I read many books about the German Resistance, and I thought I would share some of them with you, if you were interested on going on to read more.

GERMANY'S UNDERGROUND: The Anti-Nazi Resistance - Allan Welsh Dulles

This is the classic account of the German Underground, written by someone who was there on the ground and published in 1947. 

Allen W. Dulles was the head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Switzerland during the war. This was the predecessor of the CIA and was formed to conduct espionage behind enemy lines. He concentrates on the 1944 Generals Plot to assassinate Hitler, best known as Operation Valkyrie, but does touch upon many other resistance groups, such as the Kreisau Group. A really good place to start, as I discovered.   

OPERATION VALKYIE: The German Generals' Plot Against Hitler - Pierre Galante
This account of the Generals' Plot looks at the sequence of events from the beginning of the conspiracy to the bitter failure of the end. The Generals' Plot has been immortalised by Tom Cruise in the 2008 movie 'Valkyrie', so most people will know the basic story arc - the madness of Hitler, the growing unease at many in his army command as the Holocaust began its terrible human toll, and the repeated failed attempts to assassinate the dictator.  This is a very readable and persuasive account of the events which led to the July 1944 plot to blow up Hitler at his Wolf's Lair headquarters, and the violent aftermath of its failure. 

ON THE ROAD TO THE WOLF'S LAIR: German Resistance to Hitler - Theodore S. Hamerow
A scholarly examination of the men and women who worked to bring about the Operation Valkyrie, with many references to primary documents such as letters, diaries, and reports. It is particularly concerned with the slow awakening of conscience in the generals and other army personnel, and their individual decisions to risk their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, to kill Hitler. A fascinating but rather heavy read.

COUNTDOWN TO VALKYRIE: the July Plot to Assassinate Hitler - Nigel Jones

A very readable account of Operation Valkyrie, with a close look at the personalities of the men involved, and the chronology of the events. Very useful to me as I built my timeline!

CONFRONT! Resistance in Nazi Germany - ed. John J. Michalczyk 

A more scholarly look at the topic, with a variety of different essays each focusing on a different aspect of resistance within Germany. 

CANARIS: Hitler's Spy Chief - Richard Bassett

A biography of the fascinating and enigmatic man at the centre of the plot to assassinate Hitler - the dictator's own spy chief. Canaries was head of the Abwehr, the German secret intelligence service, yet he worked quietly for years to feed information to the Allies and  misinformation to Hitler. He paid for it with his life, just days before the liberation of the concentration camps by the Allies.  

RESISTING HITLER: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra  - Shareen Blair Brysac

RED ORCHESTRA: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends who Resisted Hitler - Anne Nelson 

At the heart of THE BEAST'S GARDEN is the tragic story of the Red Orchestra, a circle of writers, actors, artists, journalists and academics who played a dangerous double game as they lived and worked in Berlin yet passed on secret information to the Allies. These two books were absolutely crucial to me in building my story, and I studied them again and again.  It is an absolutely fascinating and largely unknown part of German history, and I really encourage anyone interested in the German resistance to read these two books.  

BERLIN GHETTO: Herbert Baum and the Anti-Fascist Resistance - Eric Brothers

A little known circle of resisters were a group of young Jewish couples and friends who tried to blow up Goebbels' anti-Soviet exhibition, smuggling the fuses and gunpowder out of the armaments factories in which they worked as slave labour. The bomb attempt largely failed, and most paid for their defiance with their lives, but its a significant example of Jewish resistance to Hitler. 

SOPHIE SCHOLL: The Real Story of the Woman Who Defied Hitler - Frank McDonough 

The story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose group of friends is probably the most famous account of resistance in Germany, and - like so many others - it has a tragic ending. This is a really balanced and beautifully written account, and a great place to start if you want to discover more about those courageous Munich students. 

WOMEN HEROES OF WORLD WAR II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue  - Kathryn J. Atwood

A fascinating account of brave young women of many different nationalities, including Germany as well as the Netherlands, Poland, France, Denmark and the UK and US.   


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