Killing Hitler by Roger Moorhouse

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Killing Hitler by Roger Moorhouse

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Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Hitler was responsible enough for plenty of deaths across Europe, Africa and the USSR. Here is a brilliant guide to the historical characters that came closest to the ultimate revenge.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: March 2007
Publisher: Bantam Books
ISBN: 978-0553382556

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A true story. Years ago, when I was studying for GCSE History, I decided to invest 50p at a second-hand bookshop on a book about the von Stauffenberg plot to bomb Hitler, purely in order to impress my teacher. Months later I got my 50p back when I resold it to the same store, unopened.

A true story. The first person who seriously launched an attempt to assassinate Hitler came from neutral Switzerland, of all places, and had fallen in with a rum 'un in a French religious seminary. He failed, was arrested for not paying a train fare, and was beheaded after months of anxious questioning. The surprisingly lax security around the Fuhrer was not open to the idea that a solo gunman could have been the entirety of the plot.

There were, of course, other plots to kill Hitler, and none got beyond the von Stauffenberg effort, which succeeded in injuring him, despite being bodged. This volume is an excellent historical survey of the most serious of the 42 known attempts.

Roger Moorhouse has done great work in providing future versions of myself with a volume to buy to impress any history teacher. His seven chapters generally follow the same routine, albeit one which works. In roughly historical order, they open with the world in which the would-be killers live, both on the pan-European scale, and the personal. Moorhouse then extracts the plotter from all these reasons they had to do the deed and focuses in on their activities, which are then regarded for their outcome - whether it be the tighter security of the Hitler bodyguard companies or other effects.

This is not a perfect volume, however. The editor has gone for a mix of American spelling and European kilometres, and he cannot decide between Ukraine and 'the Ukraine'. A chapter on Polish resistance efforts to assassinate Hitler is understandably patchy when you realise how fleeting the resistance movement must have been, and how limited those involved were in their chances to write their memoirs when the Soviets were just around the corner.

Similarly, chapter three is where Moorhouse loses touch of his excellent narrative style and becomes instead more intent in recording the complete history of the German intelligence agents' feelings about Hitler.

But these are very minor niggles. The research behind this volume appears staggering when you consider the fabulous quotes used and the excellent detail. The first Brits mentioned in the story to seriously try and kill Hitler were actually Soviet agents. When Hitler survived being bombed during an anniversary speech, the Pope was amongst those to send him celebratory telegrams. And as this is a literary site, I am compelled to tease you with Chekhov's nephew and his presence in the story.

Not all notes are of such levity. When another senior Nazi was chosen for despatch, the fall-out was horrific, with up to 5000 innocent people killed in reprisals. The details of the Polish ghetto and the scorched earth policy of the retreating Nazi forces are given with all sincerity.

Moorhouse surely will not be surpassed in this volume for a long time to come. It might sound an esoteric, limited subject, but even for a general reader, the volume is excellent. His writing style flows immaculately, with no diversions to the ample footnotes and bibliography that the scholar will be using. I don't have the specialist knowledge to find faults, it appears to unearth more details than others on similar subjects have considered, and it's awfully readable.

I have to recommend this volume to anyone even remotely interested in Hitler, the other Nazis, recent history, or even, Lord help us, becoming an assassin.

If this period of history interests you then you might also enjoy Rodric Braithwaite's Moscow 1941 and Keith Lowe's Inferno. You might also appreciate Defeating Hitler: Whitehall's Top Secret Report on Why Hitler Lost the War by Paul Winter.

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