A Prussian in the Resistance: Biography of Fabian von Schlabrendorff. – Politics

Fabian von Schlabrendorff is one of the few survivors of the conservative military resistance against Hitler. About a month after Assassination attempt of July 20, 1944 arrested, an Allied bombing raid on Berlin at the beginning of February 1945 prevented the trial against him from ending with the expected death sentence. Not only was the courthouse badly hit in the attack, the President of the People’s Court, Roland Freisler, was also killed. Although the charges were dropped when the trial resumed in March, the ordeal continued.

The SS deported him with other “special prisoners” to stations in the Flossenbürg and Dachau concentration camps near Innsbruck, where he was finally liberated in mid-April. Immediately after the war and later in West Germany, he made a name for himself as a courageous defender of the memory of murdered and persecuted German resistance fighters and as a judge at the Federal Constitutional Court.

Blunt insights into the sources

In his dissertation supervised by Frank-Lothar Kroll, Mario Müller, currently a teacher of history, ethics and social studies in Saxony, tells of the life and work of this “Prussian-conservative ideal” who was arrested and even flirted with the NSDAP at the end of the 1920s officers. Its meaning as Liaison between various resistance circles and “co-conspirators” actively involved in planning an assassination have repeatedly emphasized the relevant research, but a comprehensive assessment has so far been lacking.

For his detailed reconstruction of the political world of thought and the motives that made this conservative “old school” become a determined opponent of Hitler, Müller was able to rely on Schlabrendorff’s estate, above all on the correspondence with his mother Ida and his sisters Ursula and Leonie. The total of 380 documents from the years 1922 to 1945 provide some very blunt insight into the experiences and views during the time as a student, journalist, speaker and “campaign helper” in the service of the German National People’s Party (DNVP) and finally as a soldier. Other important sources were Schlabrendorff’s publications, in particular the book “Officers against Hitler”. First published in 1946, its value as a source is viewed critically in recent research.

As a “young firebrand” on the far right

Schlabrendorff, born in Halle an der Saale in 1907, grew up in an environment that was decidedly Prussian and patriotic – at least on his father’s side: for him, Prussianism meant “duty fulfilment, legal consciousness, strict discipline”, but also “free thinking” and “mockery to the point of self-irony”. . In addition to studying law, he wrote articles for German newspaper, main organ of the nationalist-anti-Semitic “All-German Association”. Müller leaves open whether his protagonist shared the association’s political and ideological positions. After all, he admits that the “young firebrand” went through a “radicalization process” that threatened to drive him into the Nazi camp.

Henning von Tresckow (4th from right) gathered Hitler opponents around him in Army Group Center: In the picture from 1943 Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist can be seen to his left, Fabian von Schlabrendorff on the far right.

(Photo: German Resistance Memorial Center/AFP)

According to Müller, it was above all the acquaintance with the “confessed monarchist” Ewald von Kleist-Schmenzin in April 1931 that prevented a complete drift away. Schlabrendorff “started fighting Hitler and his followers with verve and vehemence from the middle of 1932” to the same extent as he had previously approached the National Socialists. In November 1932 he wrote to his mother: “Hitler must be destroyed.” By he by no means a straight path to becoming an opponent of Hitler emphasizes, Müller confirms a finding of recent research: It was not uncommon for later resistance fighters to initially sympathize with the regime or parts of the Nazi ideology before they decided to switch sides for a wide variety of reasons.

The Political Book: Mario H. Müller: Fabian von Schlabrendorff.  A life of resistance against Hitler and for justice in Germany.  Bebra Wissenschaft Verlag, Berlin 2023. 384 pages, 40 euros.

Mario H. Müller: Fabian von Schlabrendorff. A life of resistance against Hitler and for justice in Germany. Bebra Wissenschaft Verlag, Berlin 2023. 384 pages, 40 euros.

(Photo: BeBra Wissenschaft Verlag)

In the middle part of the book, Müller describes the stations in the resistance: work as “political adjutant” of the DNVP member of the Reichstag, Herbert von Bismarck, retreat to the Thuringian provinces as a trainee lawyer at a district court, establishing and maintaining contact with Hitler opponents of various stripes. The latter strengthened his conviction that killing the dictator was the only way to prevent war. In the summer of 1939, Schlabrendorff claims to have used his honeymoon trip to England – he had married Luitgarde von Bismarck in June – to convince Winston Churchill and other opponents of the official policy of appeasement to take action against Hitler’s Germany – no other hard evidence exists to move. With the beginning of the war against the Soviet Union, the lieutenant was assigned to Army Group Center, a center of military resistance. For another unsuccessful act of resistance – the bomb in an airplane that Hitler used in March 1943 did not detonate – one has to rely on Schlabrendorff’s account. Other attempts to kill the dictator also failed. It is possible that the assassination plans of the military “conspirators” were too “general staff”.

Attacks on “right-wing slanderers”

The last, most extensive part deals with Schlabrendorff’s role in post-war Germany: with the tireless efforts on behalf of former resistance fighters, the representation of the bereaved in court and the enforcement of compensation and reparation claims. Trials against “right-wing slanderers” and “provocateurs” such as Hans-Ulrich Rudel and Otto Ernst Remer, who sought to cast doubt on the reputation of the resistance fighters, cost him a lot of nerves and time. Nevertheless, he was outraged by the “blanket discrimination” against the German general staff as a “criminal organization” – an assessment that he felt was “wrong and unjust”. For him, the guiding principles remained a revived Christianity, the Federal Republic’s ties to the West and the rejection of communism. In his view, a democratic society needs an “elitist group as a necessary cornerstone”.

Mario Müller has presented an easy-to-read study based on admiration for his protagonist, which, however, never takes on hagiographic traits because he Controversies about the role of the military resistance or the proximity of national conservative and national socialist positions are not ignored. A really successful contribution to resistance research.

Werner Bührer is a contemporary historian. He lives in Munich.

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