Green Party leader Antje Vollmer has written a terrific book which examines a little-known aspect of the July 20 Plot to assassinate Hitler. The full title of the book is Doppelleben - Heinrich und Gottliebe von Lehndorff im Widerstand gegen Hilter und von Ribbentrop ("Double Life: Heinrich and Gottliebe von Lendorff in the Resistance against Hitler and von Ribbentrop") Von Lehndorff was a reserve lieutenant in the German Army who played a critical supporting role in the conspiracy as the information conduit between Henning von Tresckow - the plot's architect - and Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg.
Through documents and interviews Vollmer reconstructs the family history and lives of "Heini" and his young wife Gottliebe. But this is also the story of a place - Steinort, the vast estate in the Masurian Lakes region of East Prussia which had been in the von Lehndorff family for generations. Steinort would also be a central venue for the July 20 Plot: Hitler built his Wolf's Lair (Wolfschanze) - just a few miles from Steinort in Rastenburg and his foreign minister von Ribbentrop actually moved into a wing of the von Lehndorff's castle along with his entourage, interacting with Heinrich and Gottliebe and thier young children on a daily basis. The presence of von Ribbentrop vastly increased the risk of planning the conspiracy at Steinort, but also provided a kind of cover, for who would suspect Ribbentrop's host of treasonous activities?
Why did Heinrich join the conspiracy? He was anything but political - preferring his horses to debating ideology. Vollmer provides several clues. Gottliebe later related that her husband was greatly disturbed by atrocities against Jews he personally witnessed as the Germany army pushed eastward. Undoubtedly he was angry as the Nazi "outsiders" built a command center on his beloved land, disrupting the rural life he cherished. And then there was the general animosity of the aristocracy - especailly the landed gentry - to Hitler and his followers. (In this connection, see also Hans Mangus Enzensberger's Hammerstein oder der Eigensinn.) Remarkably, 12 graduates of von Lehndorff's high school Klosterleben Rossleben, all of aristicratic origin, took part in the July 20 Plot.
Most of what we know about von Lehndorff and his role in the conspiracy comes from the testimony of Gottliebe, and Vollmer inserts entire transcripts of taped interviews with her as well as letters and diary entries. Heinrich had shared details of his involvement with his wife. Gottliebe was with Heinrich when he was arrested by the Gestapo the day after the failed assassination attempt. Heinrich later escaped during his transport in Berlin and fled on foot to the north, enjoying four last days of freedom in the woods he loved until he was turned in to the Gestapo by a forest ranger. Gottliebe describes how she and her children were taken into Sippenhaft. Gottliebe gave birth to her fourth daughter in prisson, while her other children - the oldest was just five - were transported to unknown locations and given new names. The youngest contracted diptheria and was left untreated (she survived). The children were later rescued and reunited with their mother by Gottliebe's sister-in-law, Marion von Dönhoff, who, after the war, founded Die Zeit.
We catch glimpses of Heinirich in prison, where he endured severe beatings and torture. He was found guilty of high treason by the Nazi court and, in what is the high point of Doppelleben, Vollmer reprints Heinrich's heartbreaking ten page letter to Gottliebe on the eve of his execution.
The book includes a warm tribute by legendary actress Hanna Schygulla to her close friend Gottliebe von Lehndorff.
Vollmer writes that the July 20 conspiracy has never been fully appreciated by the postwar generations in Germany:
"Ein nicht erfolgriecher Widerstand aus dem Inneren eines Gewaltregimes heraus hat immer doppelt verloren: in der Wirklichkeit und im Gedächtnis der nachkommenden Generationen."
("A failed resistance that takes place within a regime of terror always loses out twrce - once in reality and secondly in the memory of the generations to follow.")
Antje Vollmer's book Doppelleben offers us a partial corrective to this forgetting.