Valkyrie (2008)  



Director:  Bryan Singer.

Starring:     Tom Cruise (Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg),  Kenneth Branagh (Major-General Henning von Tresckow),  Bill Nighy (General Friedrich Olbricht),  Tom Wilkinson (General Friedrich Fromm),  Carice van Houten (Nina von Stauffenberg),  Thomas Kretschmann (Major Otto Ernst Remer),  Terence Stamp (Ludwig Beck),  Eddie Izzard (General Erich Fellgiebel),  Kevin McNally (Dr. Carl Goerdeler),  Christian Berkel (Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim). 

1944 plot to kill Hitler


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Tunisia.  German officer Stauffenberg writes that there is widespread disgust in the army with the way things are going.  His duty is no longer to aide Hitler, but to come to the aid of Germany by getting rid of Hitler, the man who is not only the archenemy of the world, but also of Germany.  Stauffenberg speaks to the commander of the troops and suggests that they disobey orders (and then cover it up) in order to get out of a difficult situation alive.  The General agrees.  Just then enemy aircraft come in dropping bombs.  Stauffenberg is knocked down by the blast, but not seriously hurt.  He gets up and discovers that the General is dead.   He gets into an army vehicle and tries to start it, but it just won't cooperate.  He continues to try as the airplanes return to strafe the survivors.  Stauffenberg is hit and badly wounded.

Smolensk, Russia,  March 13, 1943.  Hitler visits the Eastern Front.  His plane lands.  General  Tresckow is there to meet him.  Tresckow and an aide put the finishing touches on a bomb that they place inside some liquor bottles in a wooden carrying case.  Just before the plane with Hitler leaves, he gives the liquor as a gift for Hitler to one of Hitler's staff.  The staff member carries it aboard the plane.  Tresckow and his aid sit around waiting for a call indicating that the plane was destroyed and crashed.  But when they finally do get a call it is to say that the plane has landed. 

Army High Command, Berlin.  General Friedrich Olbricht hears the news that there has been a round up of plotters.  This makes him very anxious, until Colonel Heinz Brandt tells him that it is the usual sources, not of any plotters in the army.  The conspirators did, however, lose one of their men and need to find a replacement.

Munich, military hospital.  Mrs. Stauffenberg visits her husband in the hospital.  He has lost his left eye, his right hand and the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand.  When he gets better Stauffenberg hands out medals to the military wounded in the hospital. 

 Gen. Olbricht recruits Stauffenberg for the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.  Stauffenberg attends one of the meetings of the conspirators.  What he wants to know is what they plan to do after Hitler is dead.  Dr. Carl Goerdeler takes offense to the question.  But if they are not going to plan for what happens after Hitler, Stauffenberg says, then they don't need him.  He starts to leave.  Tresckow stops him.  Stauffenberg says that the SS will wipe them out after the death of Hitler.  To Tresckow it doesn't really matter.  It would be worth it just to show the world that they weren't all like Hitler in Germany. 

Stauffenberg spends time with his family.  The air sirens go off and they have to seek shelter. 

The conspirators talk about Operation Valkyrie.  Its purpose is to contain possible civil unrest.  But it could be used, if changed, as a plan for what to do after Hitler's death.  This, of course, is high treason.  General Friedrich Fromm is the commander of the reserve army that would be used to subdue the forces loyal to Hitler in Berlin.  They need to gain his cooperation. 

Reich War Ministry, Berlin.  Stauffenberg and Olbricht talk with Gen. Fromm about the necessity of acting.  They promise Fromm the possibility of becoming the supreme military commander.  Gen. Fromm, however, will not commit himself to the conspiracy, even though he won't stop it.  Stauffenberg next speaks with General Erich Fellgiebel.  This General is incensed at hearing about the project.  He says he could have Stauffenberg killed in an instant.  He is very close to Hitler.  But like Fromm, he wants to sit on the fence.  He tells Stauffenberg not to push him.  But Stauffenberg insists that he has to push, because they need his cooperation.  He says that Germany is going to lose the war and the General should do something to redeem himself.  Stauffenberg adds:  "Only God can judge us now." 

Stauffenberg works to rewrite Valkyrie to transform it into a plan to seize control of the government for the rebels.  He tells the other conspirators that if they control Berlin, they control all other command centers.  Olbricht is going to be transferred to the front, so Tresckow puts Stauffenberg in charge of the conspiracy.  Stauffenberg is made Chief of Staff of the Reserve Army.  This position will give him access to Hitler himself.  Stauffenberg also gets an adjutant to assist him.  He tells his new aide that he is set to engage in high treason with all means available.  Will he cooperate?  Yes, is the answer. 

Berghof.  Hitler's private residence.  Stauffenberg goes with Gen. Fromm to see Hitler.  Hitler tells everyone that Stauffenberg is the ideal of a German military officer.  Stauffenberg is there to get Hitler to sign the Operation Valkyrie plan.  (The new plan.)  Hitler says not to worry because Goering says everything is completely under control.  Stauffenberg says he has an amended copy for Hitler's approval.  Hitler looks at it briefly, expresses confidence in Stauffenberg and signs the document.  

Stauffenberg and his aide are shown how to use plastic explosives by Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim.  Just one bomb will destroy Hitler and his staff, but they will have two bombs to arm.  But, says Olbricht, they must get both Hitler and Himmler at the same time. 

July 15, 1944.  Olbricht mentions that Dr. Goerdeler will become the new chancellor after the take-over.  At 8:30 a.m. Olbricht takes the liberty of telling the reserves to go on standby.  This irritates the hell out of Major Otto Ernst Remer who is in direct charge of those troops.  At 9 a.m. Stauffenberg and his aide fly to Rustenburg, East Prussia.  At 2:45 they arrive at the Wolf's Lair.  The problem is that Hitler is there, but not Himmler and the conspirators told Stauffenberg that there was no sense in killing one demon without the other.  Stauffenberg calls Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim, the aide for Olbricht.  He asks Olbricht for permission to proceed; Olbricht calls Beck;  Beck says no.  The answer is relayed to Stauffenberg, but he doesn't like it.  So he asks Quirnheim what he says, and Quirnheim says yes.  So Stauffenberg proceeds forward.  But by the time he gets back to the conference room everyone is filing out. 

When Gen. Fromm learns that Olbricth and Stauffenberg put the reserve on standby he is furious.  He says that they put a target on his back.  He warns them to never do this again without his consent. 

Dr. Goerdeler says that he wants to relieve Stauffenberg and replace him with someone else.  But Beck tells him that he heard from his sources that Himmler has issued a warrant for Carl's arrest.  He has to leave Germany immediately.  Carl tells Stauffenberg "good luck" as he leaves. 

July 20, 1944.  Stauffenberg and his aide get up at 6 a.m.   He deliberately knicks himself shaving and lets the blood get on the shirt collar.  Around noon they arrive at the Wolf's Lair.  General Keitel tells them that Mussolini will be arriving on the afternoon train.  Stauffenberg is disappointed when he learns that, because of the hot weather, the briefing has been transferred from the bunker to the conference hut.  (The bunker would have increased the impact of any explosion.)  He tells General Erich Fellgiebel to put an expected call through to him even if he is with Hitler.  Stauffenberg then asks to use the bathroom to change his bloody shirt.  His aide goes with them.  They work on arming the explosives.  But they are so rushed for time that they only have time to get one of the explosives armed, instead of both of them.  In the conference room Stauffenberg carefully places the bomb in a good position.  The call comes through for Stauffenberg.  He leaves.  Col. Brandt moves the briefcase against a heavy support beam for the table.  As Stauffenberg walks away from the hut, the explosion goes off.  Taking advantage of the consequent confusion, Stauffenberg and his aide drive away from the compound. 

Gen. Olbricht is supposed to start Operation Valkyrie, but he refuses to do so until he gets confirmation that Hitler is dead.  Col. Quirnheim begs him to call, but the General refuses.  He goes to lunch.  Col. Quirnheim uses his own initiative to issue the order to start Operation Valkyrie.  The standby order is given to the reserve.  And again Major Remer is upset.  At 3:30 p.m. Stauffenberg arrives back in Berlin. There is no one to greet him.  He phones and finds out that the operation was delayed by three hours because of Gen. Olbricht. 

Stauffenberg goes to the headquarters of the plot.  Olbricht learns that the order has been issued to start the operation.  He is extremely mad at Quirnheim, but the Colonel tells him that this isn't about the General, it's about Germany.  Stauffenberg arrives to insist to Olbricht that he go along with the issue of the order and use Fromm's name.  Orders are send to Major Remer saying that Hitler is dead and to begin implementation of Operation Valkyrie. 

Fromm learns about the new standby order.  He calls Keitel to find out if it is true that Hitler is dead.  Keitel tells Fromm that the leader is still alive. Stauffenberg visits Fromm and tells him that Hitler is dead.  Fromm says he is not dead and what the Colonel is doing is called treason.  He will have the Colonel put under arrest.  But instead Stauffenberg has Fromm put under arrest and taken away.  Next the German police commander promises his loyalty to Stauffenberg. 

A key communications officer gets two contradictory orders.  One is to arrest Goebbels.  The other is to arrest Stauffenberg.  The officer decides to send out both messages.

Major Remer gets the two contradictory orders.  He goes to Goebbels and tells him that he has an order to arrest him.  Goebbels gets on the phone and then gives the phone to the Major.  It is Hitler himself.  Now Major Remer knows what to do.  He goes out to reverse the actions he had taken earlier, saying:  ". . . we are the coup.  We've been duped."

The communications officer, under prodding from his sergeant, now chooses to side with Goebbels and against Stauffenberg.  All communications with Stauffenberg and his office are cut off.  Operation Valkyrie is terminated.  It's over.  The army comes to get Stauffenberg and the other conspirators.  There is a brief shoot-out in which Stauffenberg is wounded in the left arm.  The conspirators are arrested.

Fromm takes over.  He wants the main conspirators executed almost immediately.  He is concerned that they might implicate him in the conspiracy.  He judges them guilty and orders five of the six to be executed.  Beck is spared, but faces life imprisonment.  Beck, instead, asks for a pistol.  He shoots himself in the head. 

One by one the five conspirators are shot by a firing squad.  In a way, Fromm did the men a favor.  For others it was much worse.  Quite a few were slowly hung using piano wire around their throats with the wires tied to free-hanging meat hooks.  Fromm did not escape the taint of the conspiracy.  He too was executed. 


Good movie.  It's good to be reminded that not everyone in Germany merely accepted Hitler and went along with evil.  The vast majority of the film was focused on the one character of Col. Stauffenberg, so Tom Cruise gets a lot of face time on screen.  He does a good job, but there were many other important conspirators in addition to Stauffenberg.  After all, over 200 "conspirators" were executed by Hitler.  The script made a lot of smaller changes to keep the tension high for the audience, so that's all right it seems to me.  You can always check the real history on the web or in books at the library.   No real love story in this film.  Carice van Houten doesn't have much of a role as the wife of the hero of the story. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:

1901 -- birth of the future Major General Henning Hermann Robert Karl von Tresckow.

1907  --  birth of the future Colonel Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg.

1934 -- Tresckow condemned the Night of the Long Knives, in which many loyal Nazis were executed on Hitler's orders. Von Stauffenberg, who was already repulsed by the Nazi treatment of Jews and the suppression of religion, thought the event brought shame on Germany. 

1938 (Jan. 12) -- War Minister Werner von Blomberg married. Later a policeman reported that Blomberg's wife had previously posed for pornographic photos (and, therefore, had a criminal record). Hitler orders the war minister to annul the marriage. Blomberg refuses to annul the marriage.

1938 (Jan. 27) -- after Göring threatens to make the past of Blomberg's wife public knowledge, he resigned.

The Blomberg affair gave Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler an idea to get ride of Commander-in-Chief Werner von Fritsch. Goring didn't want Fritsch to replace Blomberg. So Fritsch is falsely accused of being a homosexual.

1938 (Feb. 4) -- Fritsch replaced by Walter von Brauchitsch, whom Fritsch himself had recommended for the post.

The Blomberg-Fritsch Affair alienated Tresckow (as well as others) from Hitler.  Treskow starting asking around to find civilians and soldiers opposed to Hitler.

1939-1945  --  World War II.  Tresckow's interest in ousting Hitler was deflected by the war.  He served in the invasion of Poland; the invasion of France; in the Soviet Union (including the Ukraine and Belarus) and eastern Poland.

Von Stauffenberg's uncle had asked him to join the Hitler resistance movement, but he declined.

1939 (after the Polish campaign)  --  Stauffenberg's conscience bothered him enough to consider joining the resistance against Hitler.

1941  --  in Operation Barbarossa the Germans invade the Soviet Union. 

When the Germans started including Jewish women and children in mass shootings, Treskow again started his resistance activities.  The same mass slayings alienated Von Stauffenberg into more actively supporting the idea of resistance.

1943 (March 13)  --  Tresckow's attempt to kill Hitler after the Führer had visited troops on the Eastern Front.  (Explosives were hidden Hitler's plane, but failed to detonate, probably because the fuse was made unworkable by the extremely low temperature in the luggage compartment).  Tresckow's cousin, Lieutenant Fabian von Schlabrendorff, later retrieved the package.

1943 – Stauffenberg promoted to Oberstleutnant (lieutenant-colonel of the general staff), and sent to Africa to join the 10th Panzer Division.

1943 (April 7) – British fighter-bombers strafe Stauffenberg’s vehicle. He loses his left eye, right hand, and fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand.

1943 (May 8) – for his courage Stauffenberg awarded the German Cross in Gold.

1943 (beginning of September) – Tresckow positions Stauffenberg as a staff officer to the headquarters of the the unit that trained soldiers to reinforce first line divisions at the front in Berlin.  One of Stauffenberg's superiors was General Friedrich Olbricht, a resistance member.  One of the functions of the unit was to carry out Operation Valkyrie if ever necessary.  In case of any internal rebellion of any sort the unit was to put it down ruthlessly.  The resistance was able to make use of this function to cover their plotting. 

1943 (early Sept.) To 1944 (July 21) – Stauffenberg was the driving force behind the plot.  Tresckow was there to help him. 

1943 (November) – Axel von dem Bussche was to be a type of suicide bomber and kill Hitler. Then a detailed military plan would be put into effect to occupy Berlin and take over other army headquarters.  But an opportunity for the suicide bombing never presented itself. 

1943 (late)  --  Stauffenberg told Bussche: "Let's be blunt, I am committing high treason with all my might and means....".

1944 (June 6) – Allied invasion of France on D-Day.

1944 (July 7) – conspirator General Helmuth Stieff is unable to assassinate Hitler at a uniforms display at Klessheim castle near Salzburg. Now Stauffenberg decides to run the plot in Berlin and to kill Hitler personally.

Tresckow helped overcome Stauffenberg's doubts about the possible success of the plot by telling him that just the attempt in itself would prove to the world that not all Germans supported Hitler.

1944 (July 20) – Hitler, Goring and Himmler were all at a briefing hut at Wolfsschanze (in today’s Poland). On that day Stauffenberg carried two bombs with British-made pencil detonators in his briefcase. He went into the meeting room before the others but only had time enough to arm one of the bombs. So he only planted one bomb in the room.  After a few minutes in the meeting, Stauffenberg says he has to make an urgent call to Berlin and leaves. 

After the explosion, Stauffenberg was satisfied it was a success and left for Berlin (getting back at 4:30 p.m.).  But Hitler did not die.  He was only slightly wounded, being shielded from the blast by the heavy, solid-oak conference table.   An order was issued to shoot Stauffenberg and his aide Haeften immediately, but conspirator Friedrich Georgi did not pass it on.

Joseph Goebbels got on the radio to say that Hitler had survived an assassination attempt and by 7 p.m. Hitler himself broadcast his own personal message to the public.

The conspirators were captured after a brief shoot-out in which Stauffenberg was wounded. 

1944 (July 21) --   at 1 a.m. Stauffenberg, Colonel General Olbricht, Lieutenant von Haeften, and Colonel Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim were executed by firing squad in a courtyard lit by the headlights of a truck.

1944 (July 22) – The SS exhumed Stauffenberg's body, stripped it of his medals and cremated it.

1944 (August 10)  --  Stauffenberg's brother Berthold was tried before Judge-President Roland Freisler.  He and seven other conspirators were found guilty and were executed by slow strangulation (reputedly with piano wire) in Plötzensee Prison, Berlin.

More than two hundred were condemned in mock trials and executed.



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