With a title like Disobeying Hitler, University of Toronto professor Randall Hansen’s second book is likely to grab people right from its cover. The text itself, which focuses on the last days of the Third Reich from the perspective of German officers who refused to follow their Führer’s increasingly irrational orders, does not disappoint.
The book begins with an overview of the attempt on Hitler’s life known as Operation Valkyrie. The attack – which took place on July 20, 1944 – failed, but demonstrated to both Germans and their enemies that the country was not peopled exclusively by Nazis. The book also discusses the successful coup in Paris, where resisters took control of the city only to return it when it became clear Hitler had survived.
Hansen then traces the retreat of the German forces in Western Europe. The abundance of names, places, and details about ground troop movements is overwhelming, but the narrative remains interesting, as city after city decides how vigorously to resist Allied armies. German disobedience ranged from turning a blind eye to offering surrender, and the disintegrating chain of command made it easier for orders to be ignored. A shorter discussion of disobedience on the Eastern Front follows; Hansen argues that surrendering to the Soviet army was much less likely to save a city from reprisal and was therefore less appealing.
Disobeying Hitler includes a good amount of analysis about why German officers chose resistance. It is clear that few felt remorseful or had become anti-Nazi. Rather, these soldiers’ feelings for Hitler changed only because he failed militarily. Hansen is careful to take evidence from postwar memoirs with a grain of salt, as the authors clearly had a vested interest in overstating both their motivations and their impact on the war’s outcome. Aside from a staggering amount of detail that would deter readers uninterested in military history, this book is a fascinating look at a complex subject.