TO THE BITTER END: AN INSIDER’S ACCOUNT OF THE PLOT TO KILL HITLER 1933-1944 is an interesting take on Hitler and his dictatorship, written by someone who was a quiet maverick and mischief-maker, and also a somewhat unreliable narrator.
Hans Bernd Gisevius wanted to be head of the Gestapo in 1933, when he was a young and up-coming lawyer. He was rejected. Perhaps that rejection stung, or maybe, he was revolted by the Night of Long Knives, which took place in June 1934. In any event, he became disillusioned with Nazism, and by 1937 was part of the “Schwarze Kapelle”, a shadowy group of people gathered around Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, ostensibly head of the Abwehr (German intelligence) but in actuality gathering around him people who devoted their lives to quietly resisting Nazi rule.
And so Gisevius is well placed to discuss not only the Oster Conspiracy of 1938, but also the July 20 plot of 1944, both attempts out of many to assassinate Hitler. Alas, the only person who successfully assassinated Hitler was Hitler himself, and many had to pay the price.
Gisevius does not come across as a pleasant person, he is too sly and devious for that. But he does provide many astute observations about Nazi rule. What I found most memorable about this book was his account of how Hitler’s government lurched from one crisis to another. Here is a description of the beginning of the second world war:
Our mood, however, was tinged with fatalism; we no longer doubted that the marching orders would be issued. Although we had virtually abandoned hope, Schacht and I waited throughout the day, firmly resolved that the moment the command was given we would try one last desperate step. Twice Schacht tried to see Halder of Brauchitsch. Both times he was refused. Everything was hanging in the balance, they declared; there would be no point to a conversation.
Around four o’clock word reached the Abwehr that the order to advance had been given. Admiral Canaris’s key position by no means entitled him to any priority in receiving news of important decisions. We got into Schacht’s car to hunt up Thomas, at his home perhaps. After a painful wait of more than half-an hour, we saw Oster instead of Thomas approaching us. “That’s what happens when a corporal tries to conduct a war,” he said. “What now?” I asked. Oster looked at me in frank astonishment. “The Fuehrer is done for.”