CLAUS Von Stauffenberg was butchered by the Führer after his daring plot to assassinate the tyrant failed. Now his son has revealed how the family lost a father but gained a hero.
The shrill ring of the telephone disturbed the humid summer peace of the big country house set amid the beauty of the Swabian Hills in south-west Germany. Eventually, the visibly pregnant and beautiful Countess Nina Von Stauffenberg answered it.
However, her face grew pale as she listened and her hand shook so much that she almost dropped the receiver. It was the worst possible news and this elegant, aristocratic woman sank into a chair, sobbing with grief and confusion.
Upstairs, her four children were playing in the nursery, unaware of the drama that would soon change their lives for ever.
For that day, July 20, 1944, Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg ceased being merely their loving father and became their memorable hero – 800 miles away in The Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s Eastern HQ, Von Stauffenberg had placed a briefcase packed with explosives under an oak table over which the Führer and a group of senior Nazi officers were leaning to inspect maps.
The bomb went off at exactly 12.42pm. Had it all gone to plan, Hitler would be dead and new leaders of Germany – all conspirators in the plot to kill him – would try to broker peace with the Allies.
But because the briefcase was moved, Hitler was only wounded and survived the blast – a situation of which he quickly took advantage, arrogantly claiming that God had personally intervened to save his life.
After the failed assassination attempt, the plotters, including Von Stauffenberg, were quickly rounded up, tried and executed.
Some officers were hanged by piano wire, which Hitler ordered to be filmed. He would later provide the grotesque images as an after-dinner treat for guests.
The officer smiled and said gently, ‘You are being taken to a nice, new place called Buchenwald’.”
For Von Stauffenberg, the end came rapidly. He was dragged at midnight into a Berlin courtyard and shot. Seconds before the bullets hit into him, he cried out: “Long live our sacred Germany!”
Now a new book, Countdown To Valkyrie by Nigel Jones, reveals more of the plot to kill Hitler and what became of the heroic Von Stauffenberg’s family. A controversial film version of the drama, Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise, is also due out next year.
But that grim summer’s afternoon in 1944, Countess Nina Von Stauffenberg was faced with a terrible situation – telling her children that their much-adored father was dead and why.
It took her two days to work up the courage. On July 22, Countess Nina called her two eldest sons into her study and, hands trembling, told them that their heroic father had carried out the attack on the Führer.
In a recent interview, the eldest son Berthold said: “Our world broke apart in an instant.” He was utterly devoted to his father, whom he regarded as a hero. But he was also a devout Nazi and had been instructed all his life to worship Hitler.
He would later admit: “I was a conformist and my dearest wish, which my mother fortunately prevented, was to march through our home town carrying a flag at the head of the junior branch of the Hitler Youth.”
He asked his mother why his revered father had wanted to kill the Führer and was told that he had believed he was doing it for Germany’s sake. It was shattering news for the young patriotic Berthold and the other children.
It was not too long before their mother and her uncle, Count Uxkull (their beloved “Uncle Nux”), were arrested. The Countess’s elderly mother and their aunt were also seized and the children were left in the care of their nanny, a housekeeper and two Gestapo officers.
The Nazi government had recently introduced a new law known as “Sippenhaft” (“kin liability”), which meant that families, including children, of those accused of treason would be arrested and, if found guilty, also punished. Berthold recalled those terrifying days as the children waited to know their fate.
Berthold said: “There were daily hate-filled reports about the conspiracy. Myself and my brothers aged eight and six and my three-year-old sister suddenly thought we were alone. Outcasts. I will never forget that feeling.”
A month later they were taken to see a Catholic priest and told that bad times were ahead of them but that they must never forget what their father had died for. It was at that point they realised how heroic he had been.
Shortly after, the young Von Stauffenbergs were taken to a home, along with the children of other conspirators, and separated by age and sex.
Back in Berlin, Hitler was still reeling with fury over the attempt on his life and ordered the Von Stauffenbergs be wiped out. But pressure was brought to bear on Hitler and they were reprieved. There were plans also for the children to be adopted by other Nazi families but Hitler became bored with the fate of the Von Stauffenberg family and instructed the chief of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, to deal with it.
One problem nagging the Nazis was the fact that the Von Stauffenbergs were of pure Aryan stock. Their father had been much admired by Hitler and considered to be a near perfect example of the kind of blue-eyed Superman that the Führer saw as the ideal German.
“The Gestapo kept telling us,” recalled Franz Von Stauffenberg, “that we were going away in a big shiny car and made it sound like an adventure. But finally we were all put in a large truck and I asked where we were going. The officer smiled and said gently, ‘You are being taken to a nice, new place called Buchenwald’.”
Had the children ended up at this, one of the Nazi’s most notorious concentration camps, it is unlikely they would have survived. Fortunately, their departure was delayed by an air raid and the US army broke through and the children were rescued.
“The first time I knew we were free was when a young American soldier strolled into the house,” said Franz.
After being liberated the children were eventually taken by their great-aunt to safety. They now learned Uncle Nux had been shot by a firing squad and their grandmother had died of typhus.
A year after Von Stauffenberg’s bomb had exploded the family was reunited. The Countess had been interrogated before being sent to Ravensbruck, the Nazi concentration camp for women, but she was carrying her fifth child and was removed to a maternity home.
Since the war’s end the Von Stauffenberg children have come to terms with the heroism shown by their father. Berthold and his brother Franz remain the guardians of their father’s reputation, and Berthold has already spoken out against the portrayal of his father by Tom Cruise in the forthcoming film.
In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel he said: “It is unpleasant for me that an avowed Scientologist will be playing my father. I’m not saying that Cruise is a bad actor – I can’t judge that. But I fear that only terrible kitsch will come out of the project.
“He should keep his hands off my father. He should climb a mountain or go surfing in the Caribbean. I don’t care what he does, so long as he keeps out of it.”
Berthold still reveres the memory of the brave colonel who gave his life in a foiled attempt to bring peace to his country. To the family, he was not merely a loving father; he was also a shining hero.