Military History Q&A Series Q11

Brett’s Question: Was there any internal German resistance to the war? (like our version of Vietnam) It seems like German leadership had a way of “massaging the truth” / straight up lying to people to make them seem like they almost had to attack.

When it came to internal resistance groups, yes, there were several such groups in existence, but the general consensus was that they were not effective in stopping Hitler. What is also known is that none of the groups ever got together with another group for a temporary alliance or did anything more than protest weakly.

On the one hand, there were plenty of German generals who thought Hitler did a bad job in leading the war and would lead Germany to ruin. There were several key characteristics:

  1. They were not pro-Nazi, had no love for the SS; more like pro-German, patriotic but not crazy.
  2. They were all career officers; all of them had fought in WW1 and WW2. At most they tried their best to mitigate any atrocities and worst dragged their feet in obeying orders.
  3. There was no clear leader to be put forth as a counter to Hitler; perhaps they might have thought a council of generals would rule Germany after Hitler was deposed.
  4. Above all, they wanted a negotiated peace, allowing Germany to surrender with “honor” and keep its gains or old borders.

Colonel Stauffenberg (left), instigator of the July 20, 1944 plot and subject of the film Valkryie

Generals Olbrict (center) and Fromm (right). Both generals had no love of Hitler.

There were also civilian resistance groups which had no coordination with the generals. Here are some key characteristics:

  1. Again, generally disunited; e.g. the Communists did not contact the Catholics or the Protestants; the Catholics didn’t really talk to the unions or any group.
  2. Some Christians opposed Hitler on theological grounds; what the Nazis taught was incompatible with Scripture. Read Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his own protests; Bonhoeffer was certainly a modern martyr because he was arrested and died in a concentration camp. The Church did organize and rally to oppose the Nazis from co-opting Christianity.
  3. Other resistance groups outside the church and the army failed to mobilize.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor arrested and executed in 1945
You mentioned Vietnam. It’s an interesting comparison. I see several major differences:

  1. The power of the press played in the American political landscape. The press received key constitutional protections in the 1960s from the Supreme Court of the US. The press was independent and protected its independence vigorously. The impression in 1930s Germany – not so much. And if you think about the last few US elections both presidential and mid-term elections, it’s gotten more powerful and influential.
  2. General American culture and worldviews versus German culture and worldviews. In the 1960s America, the anti-war protests came from university students turned draft dodgers like the Clintons. In Germany, it was unheard of to think about avoiding the draft. Until 2001, the “draft” was still law in Germany – you showed for military service or government civilian service like forestry.

Vietnam was part of US government policy called the Domino Effect; stop communism far away to keep it from spreading elsewhere. It was based on protecting freedom.

Germany starting WW2 was based on lebensraum – living space and the superiority of the Aryan race.

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