Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Georg Elser

There were many attempts on Hitler's life, but Georg Elser stands out. He acted alone and he acted very early in 1939, when for example the more famous members of the 20 July plot were still strongly supporting Hitler (in spite of their misgivings and doubts).

For a very long time, Elser was ignored by historians or it was assumed that he had been a pawn of the Nazis. It used to be common knowledge that he was a socially incompetent loner, whom people thought weird long before the assassination. This started to change with Hellmut G. Haasis biography "Den Hitler jag ich in die Luft" (I'm going to blow up Hitler) in 1999.

The author is passionate about his subject and it shines through in the book. This is frowned upon in non-fiction, but I enjoy it, as long as passion doesn't replace facts. Haasis gathered a lot of facts that were ignored for a long time and we're introduced to a very different person: not very chatty, but still sociable and well-liked. The book follows Elser as he decides to act upon his opinion that Hitler is a danger for Germany and comes up with a diligent plan to assassinate him. If you want to learn about Elser, there is no way around this book (go for the revised 2011 edition).

Here's a question: did he have the right to do what he did? Is tyrannicide allowed, is it ethical? Elser also knew that his bomb would kill and injure many more people than just Hitler, but he also knew that all or at least the vast majority would be dyed in the wool-Nazis. is that a tolerable price for getting rid of a tyrant?

My first impulse would be to answer that question hell, yes. Even though it's not possible to say what would have happened, the Nazi party would have lost many of its leaders in addition to Hitler if the bomb had gone off a little earlier and I think it would have collapsed. It was easy to see in 1939 that Germany was steering into a catastrophe and that the regime was about as far from lawful as you can get.

So, how many innocent lives are an acceptable price? There were not only Nazis at the Bürgerbräukeller, but also the people who just worked there (who may or may have not supported the party). Is it worth sacrificing their lives as well? And how many are too many - we can weigh their lives against the millions killed during the war and the Holocaust. But that hadn't happened yet, although it was clear that a war was very likely (and it did start a short while before the assassination) and that the regime was a murderous one.

It is my opinion that Elser did the right thing. He deserves a lot more recognition that he is getting in Germany.

There's a movie about him, Seven Minutes, that I can recommend. It's a good idea to read up on the actual facts, though, since some are changed in the movie. Still, it's worth watching.

42. book for the Library Challenge

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