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Valkyrie: The Story of the Plot to Kill Hitler, by Its Last Member

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When World War II erupted, Philipp von Boeselager, son of an aristocratic Catholic family, fought enthusiastically for his country as a cavalry lieutenant. But in the summer of 1942, when he witnessed the regime's criminal brutality toward Jews and Gypsies, his patriotism quickly turned to disgust, and he joined a group of officers intent on killing Hitler.

After one aborted attempt—in which Boeselager was assigned to shoot both Hitler and Heinrich Himmler—it was decided that a ...

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Valkyrie: The Story of the Plot to Kill Hitler, by Its Last Member

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When World War II erupted, Philipp von Boeselager, son of an aristocratic Catholic family, fought enthusiastically for his country as a cavalry lieutenant. But in the summer of 1942, when he witnessed the regime's criminal brutality toward Jews and Gypsies, his patriotism quickly turned to disgust, and he joined a group of officers intent on killing Hitler.

After one aborted attempt—in which Boeselager was assigned to shoot both Hitler and Heinrich Himmler—it was decided that a bomb would be used to assassinate the Führer. Boeselager delivered the explosives and then led his unwitting men toward Berlin in order to carry out the coup d'état. When the bomb failed to kill Hitler, the SS launched a terrifying purge of senior army officers. Boeselager managed to return his units to the front before, one by one, the other conspirators were rounded up, tortured, and executed. None of them betrayed Boeselager.

In his unvarnished, harrowing testimony, Philipp von Boeselager—who died on May 1, 2008—gives eloquent voice to the courageous spirit of these men whose profound sense of honor could not be dimmed by the diabolical propaganda of the Third Reich.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The July 20, 1944, plot to kill Hitler has received much historical attention from historians (and lately from Hollywood, in the recent eponymous film starring Tom Cruise), and this slim volume adds a little to that literature. As a rare firsthand memoir by a participant, this narrative gives a personal account of the events and conspirators' motives. The first half of the book is less thriller than an account of von Boeselager's military exploits leading a German cavalry division on the Russian front, and illustrates his growing disillusionment with the Nazi regime. He and his brother Georg, a fellow army leader and co-conspirator, were persuaded to join the plot co-hatched by Col. Henning von Tresckow. Readers already familiar with the history of Valkyrie will gain an insider's perspective, the portrait of a man of honor and independent mind, but readers new to the subject may want to read this along with histories of the plot. 17 photos. (May 13)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
Written by a former German cavalry officer and Legion of Honor recipient shortly before his death in 2008, this work covers many facets of his wartime career, ranging from a firsthand account of the German army at the Soviet front to portraits of co-conspirators in the attempt to assassinate Hitler, especially the author's brother Georg. The narrative reads like snatches of memories, infusing the story with a sense of drama and immediacy and confirming what other conspirators felt—that there was a fine line between duty to and love of country and being a traitor. The author's involvement in Valkyrie was peripheral: he supplied explosives that may have been used by Stauffenberg in the July 1944 assassination attempt, and he diverted troops from the Soviet front toward Berlin (a situation reversed in time to let his service to the plot go undetected). VERDICT More detailed information on the German Resistance and Operation Valkyrie can be found in Joachim Fest's Plotting Hitler's Death and Hans Gisevius's Valkyrie: An Insider's Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler. This tangential memoir is recommended, with reservations, to interested students and general readers. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/09.]—Maria C. Bagshaw, Knowledge & Information Resources, Ecolab, Inc., MN
Kirkus Reviews
An extraordinary memoir, 65 years after the fact, of the German military officers' plot to assassinate the Fuhrer. Von Boeselager, an aristocratic cavalry officer and antifascist, "does not believe in chance," write his collaborators, and thus "he knows that he has survived in order to testify." (The author died May 1, 2008.) The Tom Cruise film vehicle notwithstanding, the plot to kill Hitler was exciting only in the aftermath; its planners spent months concocting plans and contingencies, leaving nothing to chance. They failed, of course, because chance intervened. Von Boeselager writes of his background as the child of minor nobility who, with his brother, was educated by Jesuits who believed in true German patriotism, and thus opposed the Nazi regime. None of his classmates became a Nazi, he writes, "which was rather exceptional in my generation." Nevertheless, he and his brother entered the army, becoming officers on the forefront of action in the invasion of France. Von Boeselager distinguished himself early on, not always to his advantage, since he resisted unjust orders that were against the code of chivalry he embraced. Wounded in Russia, he was sent to a headquarters on the Eastern Front whose principal officers were tentatively forming an anti-Nazi resistance movement. Had chance not placed him there, "I would have remained captive to private scruples and insoluble internal conflicts." Willing to commit treason-particularly as the war in the East dragged on and whole units of the German army were annihilated for naught-he managed to escape the dragnet after the failure of Operation Valkyrie. Luckily, one of his fellow conspirators, when arrested, insisted that von Boeselager wasloyal to the Reich, and that fellow conspirator managed to escape death by a wonderfully unlikely turn of events. A one-of-a-kind eyewitness account, essential for students of the Third Reich and all champions of freedom against tyranny.
From the Publisher
"A one-of-a-kind eyewitness account." —-Kirkus Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307270757
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/12/2009
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 538,219
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Florence Fehrenbach is the granddaughter of Karl von Wendt, a co-conspirator and close friend of Philipp von Boeselager.

Jérôme Fehrenbach helped his wife, Florence Fehrenbach, to convince Philipp von Boeselager to recount his experience in the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler.

Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager, a commanding lieutenant in the German army, joined the German Resistance in 1941 and lived to be the last surviving member of Valkyrie, the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Michael Prichard is a professional narrator and stage and film actor who has played several thousand characters during his career. An Audie Award winner, he has recorded well over five hundred books and has earned several AudioFile Earphones Awards. Michael was also named a Top Ten Golden Voice by SmartMoney magazine.

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Read an Excerpt

A Taste for Freedom My brother Georg was born in August 1915, I in September 1917. We were the fourth and fifth in a family of nine children. My family had settled in Heimerzheim, in the Rhineland, in 1910, leaving our old home in Bonn, which in the eighteenth century had been one of the residences of Prince-Archbishop Clemens August of Bavaria. With its  network of canals and moats, its great central building—white, gabled, and flanked by corner towers—it stood on an island reached by a succession of bridges, like a summer palace in ancient China. Its immense grounds were left in a half-wild state where deer peacefully grazed and the familiar mixture of mystery and nature on the doorstep made Heimerzheim seem to us like a fairy-tale castle. Nothing was easier there than to retreat into a secret world. Imagination and children’s games could hardly have found a more propitious place to develop. We had a liberal upbringing at Heimerzheim, something that always surprised the guests who passed through—and they were many, since our mother be-lieved that those who had the good fortune to live in a great residence should keep an open house. But for all that, our upbringing was not permissive. Life was very clearly structured, framed by a few strictly defined moral principles: for example, it was forbidden to torture animals. Within this framework, we enjoyed a great deal of latitude. My father, Albert von Boeselager, was a cultured man of letters. His mother’s side of the family hailed from Brussels, and he considered the European nobility a unitary body. He hunted all over the Continent and spoke four or five languages. Because of this, he attached particular importance to learning how to make proper use of freedom—and the capacity for Christian discernment that was for him its corollary—and also of hunting. Georg received his first rifle as a Christmas present in 1928, when he was only thirteen years old. At fifteen, my brother’s list of kills already included some 150 head of game. His passion was such that he managed to sneak a disassembled rifle into our boarding school—with my complicity, I must admit. When Father Strasser made the rounds of the bedrooms to check the students’ bags, we were forced once again to engage in a ruse. Each of us slipped part of the rifle into his shorts—Georg the barrel and I the stock—while the inspection took place. The maneuver was acrobatic, be-cause it was strictly forbidden to put our hands in our pockets, but we somehow had to prevent the parts of the rifle from slipping out. It was hunting that truly shaped our behavior in nature, and profoundly influenced our way of life. Georg, in particular, learned to find his way in the forest even before the sun came up; to creep up to within a few meters of a woodcock without scaring the bird away; to slip through the bushes without making the leaves rustle so as not to frighten the deer; to disappear into the vegetation, perfectly camouflaged; to wait patiently, silent and inactive; and to act at the right fraction of a second. In a word, hunting, practiced in a group or in the course of long solitary hikes, with that passion for animals that marks true nature lovers, made Georg a real Indian. He remained one. He was later to find this training ex-tremely valuable. Hunting was not only a way of hardening the body. It prepared us, without our being aware of it, for the laws of life, for the struggles of existence: saving one’s strength, fleeing from an adversary, recovering, knowing how to use cunning, adapting to the enemy, assessing risk. We learned how to keep our sangfroid in the tumult of dogs excited by the battle, how to strike the throat of a stag or a boar in the coup de grâce and look without revulsion at the dark red fluid bubbling out of mortal wounds. We did not shiver upon seeing the brown trickle running down the pale pelt of a young deer, or the bloody foam staining the chops of an animal exhausted by the chase. We withstood the glassy stare of the dead animal and, finally, collected these bloody, damp trophies, the spolia opima of modern times. Hunting also accustomed us to the laws of violent death, internalized the notion of an offering. Yes, hunting was a preparation for the supreme sacrifice—the sacrifice of life. The education we received at Godesberg did not differ from what we were taught at Heimerzheim, which I would call relaxed Catholicism. My family was profoundly Catholic, with a centuries-old history linked to that of the German Catholic princes. In the seventeenth century, our ancestors, the Heyden-Belderbusches, from whom we had inherited the Heimerzheim castle, had been ministers of the powerful archbishop of Cologne. During the same period, the Satzenhovens, from whom we had inherited the Kreuzberg estate, had served the prince electors of Mainz. As children, Georg and I were very close. Only two years apart, we were like Castor and Pollux—natural playmates, and accomplices in the same practical jokes. But this intimacy, which made us almost a separate unit among our siblings, did not prevent us from developing different qualities; nor did it diminish the natural ascendancy of the elder child over the younger. As a duo, we complemented each other. Georg was physically more robust, more athletic, more intuitive, and instinctively perceptive regarding people, situations, and things. I, on the other hand, was more reflective and analytical. Two anecdotes from our early childhood clearly show our difference in character. At Heimerzheim, the grounds were full of wild deer. The animals sometimes came quite close to the house. One day, our older brothers Antonius and Hermann, who were then not quite ten, were amusing themselves by throwing pebbles at one of the deer, trying to provoke it. Sitting behind a stone bench, Georg was watching carefully. The roebuck, suddenly responding to the little devils’ challenge, was about to attack. Georg reacted with lightning speed; all of five years old, he seized the rifle that Antonius had left leaning against the bench and shot at the animal. Ka-boom! Bowled over by the rifle’s recoil, Georg fell backward. Fortunately, he was not injured. But the explosion had frightened away the roebuck. As for me, when I was four years old I distinguished myself at a family dinner. Our cousin zu Stolberg-Stolberg had been seriously wounded in the head during the Great War. The surgeons had installed a silver plate on his skull to close the hole left by enemy fire, and he lived until the 1960s. I had heard about this extraordinary operation and wanted to see the result for myself. Climbing silently onto a chair, I leaned over my cousin’s head and began to examine, discreetly and carefully, the bald area where the precious metal shone. They say that I then cried, disappointed, “That’s not silver! There’s no hallmark!” As a reward for this impertinent observation, I received a couple of slaps. To tell the truth, our father never took much interest in his children’s scholastic progress. After several years of taking lessons at home, however, the boys had to be subjected to modern education. “School,” our father said, sighing, “is an obligation these days. It’s very boring, but you’ve got to do it!” So we were enrolled in the Aloïsius Jesuit secondary school in Godesberg, on the outskirts of Bonn. As it turned out, entering boarding school was not very traumatic. Heimerzheim was then less than an hour’s drive from the school. The Jesuit tuition at Aloïsius did not seek to train priests, but to reconcile the sacred and the profane in human beings, and to keep alive the flame of faith amid the chaos of the world. The practice of religion was not supposed to be an end in itself; it was intended to slip naturally into the schedules, the lives, and, as it were, the skins of the young boys. The five or six years we spent in Godesberg helped root in us a solid, authentic, uncomplicated, moderate faith. Ultimately, we acquired more a way of behaving than a body of knowledge, although nothing was omitted from the regular curriculum. In any case, we learned the most important thing that can be taught how to learn. The headmaster of the boarding school was a patriot. As he saw it, the Christian values, humanism, sense of honor, respect for others, and tradition of intellectual rigor and critical vigilance that had long characterized Jesuit pedagogy were not incompatible with patriotism. Interestingly, none of my classmates later became a Nazi supporter. This fact, which was rather exceptional in my generation, deserves to be noted. The Time of Choices 1933?36 In 1933, when the Nazis came to power, Georg was not yet seventeen years old; I was only fifteen. This event, although it later turned out to be crucial for us and our families, left us rather indifferent at the time. Our parents, though they certainly did not adhere to the ideology of the Nazi Party, were not sorry to see the end of the Weimar Republic. We knew what it was to feel humiliated after a defeat. Because we lived on the left bank of the Rhine, which was under Allied occupation between 1919 and 1926, we saw Canadian, British, and then French troops—chiefly drawn from the colonies—march past. These six years of peacetime occupation were long and burdensome. For Germans, the situation was incomprehensible: enemy troops had not entered the country on the western frontier, there had been no invasion during the war, and it was the Treaty of Versailles, a treaty considered unjust and designed to ruin the country, that had brought about foreign occupation. An occupation, even a tranquil one, is hardly likely to strengthen friendship among peoples. But the occupation of the Ruhr from 1923 to 1926 was accompanied by violence and turmoil, and resulted in 121 summary executions and tens of thousands of expulsions. It also led to a general strike, instigated by Chancellor Cuno, and the economic collapse of the industrial heart of Germany, which caused terrifying inflation. All that, I think, accentuated the Rhinelanders’ already very strong prejudice against the French, who had been seen for  centuries as troublesome neighbors. The humiliations inflicted by the occupying forces did not escape my notice when I was a child. I remember that my parents were forbidden to attend my grandmother’s funeral, on the pretext that my father was a reserve officer. I also recall how we congratulated Father Seelen, who had dared to sing the German national anthem, which was strictly prohibited on the left bank, in full view of the French troops. Fortunately Father Seelen was a Dutch citizen, and the French could not arrest him. That is how, as young men, we practiced as much resistance as possible. My father believed in European unity before it became fashionable; he was not at all inclined to vindictiveness. But as a former officer in the Great War, he was a patriot, and he wanted to see Germany regain all its rights as a great nation. He communicated this desire to us without imposing it on us. And our elder brother Antonius quite naturally joined the paramilitary organization Stahlhelm. I can understand if a foreign reader mistrusts German patriots’ political position in that period, and is tempted to see in it an inadmissible compromise with the goals pursued by Adolf Hitler. However, we German patriots were nonetheless able to tell the difference. We had no more cause to be ashamed of wanting to restore Germany than had the French, who, in 1914, wanted to restore Alsace and Lorraine to France. I must describe something that happened to me at that time that taught me a little about the methods of Hitler’s men. In 1934 the chancellor of the Reich came to Bonn. Curious, I climbed over my boarding school’s wall, accompanied by a classmate. We approached the Dreesen Hotel, where the chancellor was supposed to be staying, and found a hiding place where we might at least catch a glimpse of him on the steps. We were found out. Two SS men picked us up and, without further investigation, simply locked us in a garage. We were terrified that the headmaster of the school, informed of our escape, might punish us. Our internment, without food and without sleep, lasted until the early hours of the morning, but once the chancellor had departed, we were set free. Miraculously, our desertion had not been noticed at school. During that day and the following night we had plenty to think about. The somewhat suspicious nature of the Nazi movement was soon revealed in another way. The headmaster of the school in Bad Godesberg, Father Rodewyck, a Jesuit and a former military officer in the Great War, was not indifferent to the revival of patriotism. But he was able to channel the ardor of the boys entrusted to him by providing a Christian framework within his school and avoiding any pollution by Nazi ideology. Thus in 1933 George founded a Catholic patriotic movement in the school whose scouting spirit was indicated by its attachment to moral and religious values. It was called the Jungstahlhelm. Along similar lines, the Jesuit school founded a movement on the model of Hitler’s Deutsche Jungvolk or Pimpfen, whose activities (camping, hik- ing, and the like) then seemed quite innocent. Father Rodewyck had seen the risk that hearts and souls might be won by the Nazi Party’s youth organizations, and he preferred to infiltrate the movement using boys like us. Our principal thought he had done what was necessary to keep control of the organization. But it gradually escaped his grasp and that of the school. It was at this time that another important episode occurred. I belonged to a club devoted to Our Lady: the Congregation of Mary. One fine day in the summer of 1937, the head of my group of Pimpfen, a nice fellow, came to tell me that belonging to the valiant Pimpfen was incompatible with religion, and so I had to choose between the two. I was intelligent; he was sure that he would succeed in persuading me to give up my membership in the Congregation of Mary without hesitation. But I flatly refused. I found it intolerable to be forced to make such a choice, and did not hesitate. I have to admit that I did not reveal the precise motive for my refusal. I told him only that preparing for my final school examination prevented me from continuing to participate in Pimpfen activities. The pretext seemed valid, and it was accepted. Georg took his final exam in the summer of 1934. He had already made a decision regarding his future: he wanted to be a military officer. My brother had a taste for action and initiative. He excelled in all athletic disciplines, had inexhaustible energy, and showed great endurance. He liked the outdoor life. And in the end, he was interested in human psychology. Objectively, everything pointed him toward this profession. At that time people believed, not without a certain naïveté, that entering the army was a way of serving one’s country without serving the government. It seemed to us that the army was the only institution that had remained faithful to its principles and was capable, through its vitality and culture, of preserving its identity and, especially, its autonomy. In 1934, for a young man like Georg, a military career still seemed to make it possible to reconcile a taste for action with independence.
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2013

    Mischeif [wolf bio from 'the howl']


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  • Posted November 29, 2011

    Excellent read

    Being a college student majoring in Equine Studies ,and someone who has always been very interested in learning about the World War II era I found this book very fascinating. It really showed a different side to what we know Nazi Germany was like, and revealed the unique comradeship between men in the German calvary. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone.

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  • Posted December 26, 2010

    Highly Recommended

    Incredible story and incredible man. I had the honor of meeting him years ago; he emanated a dignified strength and humility but I had no idea how much he went through in the war. Though the title is a bit misleading (he would have cringed to know it was re-named Valkyre in the English translation) this personal history is truly inspiring... The last of the old school hero's.

    When I finished the book on a flight back to the US I sat stunned for at least an hour in deep thought and admiration. Then flipped to page 1 and began again... This does not happen often. Highly recommended!


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  • Posted January 2, 2010


    The description of Freiherr von Boeselager is interesting information, yet it is a little to drawn out in areas not directly related to the subject of the assassination on Hitler. Very little is mentioned of von Stauffenberg, who actually carried to explosives to the meeting with Hitler. The book is more of a biography for von Boeselager than a description of the assassination attempt.

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  • Posted May 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The Real life Valkyrie

    This is a great book for any history nerd or to someone just wanting an interesting read.Very thought provoking to the point of almost feeling bad for German troops.It shows that there was a difference to the German troops from there Nazi Allys.Pick it up, its a quick read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted January 6, 2009

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    Posted January 16, 2011

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    Posted May 7, 2009

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    Posted December 28, 2008

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