Thu, Jul 15, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Plotter recalls failed attempt to kill Hitler

After 60 years, one man isgaining recognition in Germanyfor his boldness in tryingto bring down the Fuehrer

REUTERS , Berlin

"Of course it helped me. Some talked, and as a result some people were unnecessarily sent to the gallows," he said.

The purge that followed the uprising claimed around 140 lives, among them that of Kleist's father, who had long been an opponent of the Nazis. Executions dragged on until just weeks before the war ended, with the Third Reich already in freefall.

In total, some 5,500 conspirators and political opponents were rounded up and interned after the abortive putsch.

EITHER TRAITORS OR COLLABORATORS

Long a divisive topic, July 20 is now seen as a day Germany can be proud of, one which proved there were Germans in positions of high authority ready to risk their lives to end the tyranny that plunged the country into its darkest hour.

"The history of July 20 is one of the few things that makes the history of the Third Reich bearable," Hartmann von der Tann, editor-in-chief of the German public broadcaster ARD, said recently.

It was not always so, according to Christian Hartmann from the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich.

"For years after the war [the plotters] were regarded as betrayers of the Fatherland," Hartmann said.

Later generations of leftist students dismissed them as collaborators with a fascist regime, he added.

"Now, though, I think they've become a fixed part of the German consciousness," Hartmann said. "But it did take a while."

A recent nationwide poll by ZDF television on the "best German" of all time featured a number of prominent resistance fighters in its top 50, including Stauffenberg.

The plot's 60th anniversary has coincided with a surge in media interest in the subject in Germany and the release of the first new feature films on the events in almost 50 years.

Kleist, who became a publisher after the war, is loath to dwell on the past and gives few interviews about the conspiracy.

"The matter's closed for me now. There's nothing more that can be changed about it," Kleist said. "I pay much more attention to the future than I do to the past."

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