Nazi Bomb Plot’s 70th Anniversary…

The German Government has honoured a group of Third Reich-era Wehrmacht officers who tried to kill Adolf Hitler on this day, 70 years ago… In a sombre ceremony in Berlin, German president Joachim Gluck called the bombing of Hitler’s ‘Wolf’s Lair’ in Eastern Prussia on July 20th 1944 a: “significant day in German history for showing the world that there were Germans who opposed the Nazi regime, as it was from this legacy that the newly founded Federal Republic, (once it belatedly recognized the significance of the military resistance), was able to draw legitimacy…”

The ‘July Bomb Plot’ as recently depicted in the Hollywood movie ‘Valkyrie’ (with Tom Cruise in the leading role), was actually not the first attempt to kill Hitler, but it was the one that came the closest to success: after the German disaster at the hands of Russian Forces at Stalingrad in 1942, many senior military figures believed that a greater German defeat was only a matter of time and by the summer of 1944 this feeling had grown to such an extent that these self-same senior Wehrmacht officers felt that only by opening secret peace negotiations with the Allies could Germany be saved from total & utter disaster… but they realised that the Allies would only take them seriously, once Adolf Hitler had been successfully assassinated..!

Following the previous assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich in Prague in 1942, then a failed attempted on Goebbels life, Hitler had often warned his immediate inner circle that all of them were open to such attacks and he himself took great personal steps to avoid being liquidated by his enemies. So it was that he frequently changed his itineraries and kept all but his closet aides in the dark when it came to his movements around Germany and increasingly spent a great deal of time either secure within in the Reichschancellery in Berlin or up at his favourite mountain-top retreat, the ‘Eagles Lair’ at Berchtesgarten in Bavaria in Southern Germany.

However from 1944, he took further steps with his security by increasingly basing himself within the heavily fortified bunkers of the ‘Wolf’s Lair’ at Rastenburg in East Prussia from where he ran the war with his military high command, safe behind the thickest of concrete walls and with an elite SS guard permanently on duty…as such, any assassin would have found it the most difficult of tasks getting anywhere close to the Führer to launch an assassination attempt.

However plans were indeed being laid down with a view to effecting exactly this, led by the Wehrmacht career-officer Claus von Stauffenberg, a veteran of the 1940 campaigns in Poland & France, before suffering serious wounds in the North African campaign as the result of a low-level Allied fighter attack, resulting in the loss of his right arm, three fingers on his left hand and his right eye. Upon his eventual recovery he was promoted Chief of Staff on the Army Reserve in Berlin whereupon, as a noted patriot, he was approached by a growing band of senior Wehrmacht plotters against Hitler and he agreed to join with them to plan the assassination of the Fuhrer and then open up negotiations with the Allies.

Previous attempts onAdolf Hitler’s life had failed, but in June of 1944 the conspiracy took a major step forward when Stauffenberg was promoted to full colonel and made the Chief-of-Staff to General Fromm, whereupon it was now necessary for him to actually attend meetings that were headed by Hitler, whom he first met on June 7th, 1944, just one day after the Allied Invasion of Europe on the Normandy coast-line on ‘D-Day’.

Now  the German Army was facing defeat on both the Eastern & Western Fronts, speed was of the essence if the conspirators were to put their deadly plan into effect and open peace negotiations with the Allies while Germany was still putting up a fierce & stiff rear-guard action.

However in early July the Gestapo got wind of things and starting rounding up those they believed were involved with a potential assassination plot, allied to which a number of senior army officers involved in the plot were being posted away from the capital to both Fronts in France & Russia, whilst former Afrikakorps Commander Erwin Rommel, a senior figure in the plot, was badly injured when his staff car was bounced by a low flying Allied fighter… so with matters going badly astray, Stauffenberg decided to act..!

Knowing that a major military staff conference was being organised at the ‘Wolf’s Lair’ in Rastenburg, as a severely disabled war hero above suspicion, Stauffenberg would be the perfect officer to carry a bomb… So carrying an attaché case in which a timed capsule full of acid would eat through a wire detonator when broken, thus activating a firing pin on a bomb, Stauffenberg went into a map room with Field Marshall Keitel and placed the bag against a leg of the table top upon which Hitler was looking at various campaign maps; after which Stauffenberg made an excuse that he had to take a telephone report from Berlin and left the map-room.

Instead he went straight to his staff car and as he reached it the bomb went off but Stauffenberg was able to bluff his way through the Lair’s main gates, past the SS guards who thought an air-raid was in progress, and a short while later reached the nearby air-strip and was on a Luftwaffe transport Ju-52 flying back to Berlin.

Unknown to Stauffenberg, just before the bomb exploded, another officer attending the briefing had moved the briefcase to the other side of the table leg he had chosen and the blast was directed away from Hitler who survived with his just clothes burned, a cut hand and damaged ear drums.

The planned coup d’état in Berlin that was due to follow the assassination was now thrown into complete disarray with nobody sure whether Hitler had been killed or not, with the only senior Nazi in Berlin at the time being Joseph Goebbels. A Major in the ‘Grossdeutschland’ Wachbataillon, Otto Remer, was sent to arrest Goebbels by the conspirators directing the doomed uprising in the capital, but Remer, a dedicated Nazi was put him in direct telephone contact with Hitler by Goebbels to prove that the Führer was still alive.

Promoted on the spot by Hitler to a full Colonel, Remer was ordered to round up the conspirators and, following a radio broadcast that there had been a failed attempt on Hitler’s life and the Fuhrer was still alive, all of the conspirators, including Stauffenberg, were identified and arrested.

The assassination attempt had failed in a clumsy & spectacular fashion and after a number of speedy courts-martial, the leaders of the coup were immediately executed on the spot by firing squad… but these men got off lightly in comparison as Adolf Hitler’s revenge was then most terrible to behold!

A nation-wide hunt across the Reich then ensued for anybody even faintly conected to the July 20th Bomb Plot and many individuals faced arrest and an immediate sentence of death, but not before enduring a most degrading public show-trial in front of the notorious Nazi Judge, Roland Freisler.

In the most terrifying & unjudicial of court-like like proceedings, this publicity-seeking judge and fervent Nazi publicly harangued & crucified many honourable & long serving senior Wehrmacht officers before also finding them guilty and pronouncing the death sentence on them.

Whilst a firing squad bullet was the ultimate fate for many of the convicted officers, a number of them were summarily hanged by piano-wire hastily thrown over beam in a nearby shed in brutal retaliation for this attempt on the Fuhrer’s life! (Though fate ultimately caught up with Freisler and he was killed in an Allied bombing raid on Berlin not long after!)

Today’s official recognition of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, (alongside 200 other plotters either executed or who committed suicide), as a symbol of the war-time resistance, some 70 years after the July 20th Bomb Plot, finally honours all the brave German patriots who stood up to the tyrannies of the Third Reich and gave their lives in an attempt to prevent Germany’s destruction in the ashes of the Second World War…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Images Courtesy of Tomahawk Films & Reuters

Lale Andersen & ‘Lili Marleen’…

From the early days of Tomahawk Films when I stated to delve deeper into the field of Third Reich music and began to uncover the history and myriad stories that lay behind both the wonderful military & civilian songs, like many such enthusiasts, it was the distinctive war-time voice of Lale Andersen, the German equivalent of our British ‘Forces Favourite’ that soon caught my attention and I have been captivated by her voice and an assiduous collector of her images ever since…

Born Liese-Lotte, Helene, Berta, Bunnenberg in Bremerhaven on March 23rd 1905, the daughter of a dock-worker, she was first married, at the age of 17, to a local painter Paul Wilke, but following their later divorce (and after their third child), she moved to Berlin in 1929. Just two years later she found herself debuting on stage at the famous Kabarett der Komiker and became a regular feature of the city’s famous night-club scene in the immediate pre-war years of the late 1930’s. This was before Radio Belgrade was to catapult her to stardom, thanks to one abiding song that will forever live in the hearts of almost every soldier that served in World War Two.

Norbert Schultze’s Lied eines Jungen Wachtposten’ (better known as ‘Lili Marleen’) became not only an favourite with soldiers of all nations, but was subsequently recorded by many artistes around the world; however such was the power & emotion that Lale Andersen put into each performance of the song, that every German soldier instantly fell in love with her; and not just German soldiers. In the wake of the 8th Army’s success in North Africa, many members of the Afrikakorps found themselves prisoners of the Allies and, as many British veterans will testify, the young German prisoners, now safe from the fighting, well fed & provided with cigarettes, were happy to sing to keep themselves entertained and their spirits lifted.

It was also this world-wide fame with soldiers of all nations that was to save Lale Andersen’s life, for whilst an undoubted favourite with the combat troops at the front, Lale was to fall foul of the Nazi authorities and come close to finding herself sent to one of the German Reich’s many concentration camps.

Just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War Lale, who was living in Zurich with her lover Rolf Liebermann, (a Swiss-Jewish composer in whose pre-war plays she had acted), was asked to perform at a private birthday party for a high-ranking Nazi official at Lübeck as part of a troupe of famous German celebrities. However she was so upset by the anti-Jewish comments made by those present that she left early, totally disillusioned with life under Nazi rule!

Propagandaminister Goebbels, who liked to claim responsibility for all burgeoning show-business careers, ( and was by now well aware that Lale Andersen was becoming successful without his help), was becoming increasingly jealous of her growing fame and now ordered her to be kept under surveillance by the state secret police.

In 1938 the screws then tightened for Lale as she returned to Berlin for another concert, after which Goebbels refused to let her leave, and she was forced to remain in Germany and base her career there.

After recording ‘Lied eines Jungen Wachtposten’ in early 1939 and its subsequent popularity, Lale was  increasingly worried that Rolf Liebermann, left behind in neutral Switzerland, would think she had given up all hope and had thrown her lot in with the Nazis. So she took the risk of writing to him in Zurich, pleading for his help in making an escape from Germany back to Switzerland and both continued an exchange of letters until Rolf came up with a plan: in 1942, whilst entertaining German troops in a military hospital in Northern Italy, Lale would link up with Rolf’s friends who would smuggle her across the Italian-Swiss border.

However, as Lale was about to make good her escape, she was arrested by the Gestapo on Milan’s railway station and escorted back to Berlin; told she would no longer be allowed to sing to the troops and almost certainly be sent to the concentration camps, was allowed home to put her affairs in order where, unnoticed, she managed to take an over-dose of sleeping tablets in an attempt to commit suicide; however her attempt on her own life was spotted and prevented just in time.

But the Gestapo had blundered, for whilst Lale Andersen was a German citizen liable to Hitler’s law, the fictional character Lili Marleen was now an international cult figure, and in most eyes Lale and Lili had actually become one and the same person!

Propagandaminister Goebbels, more than aware of her immense popularity with the combat soldiers, fighting on the various fronts, and realising what a propaganda disaster it would prove if news of her attempted suicide were to leak out, personally intervened realising that she was more use to him alive than dead, though the price she had to pay for Goebbels intervention was a continued surveillance by the Gestapo, to whom she had to report on a weekly basis. But by 1944, she was allowed her to quietly slip away from Berlin for the last time to live with her grandparents on the German Friesian island of  in the North Sea, where she saw out the remaining year of the war.

Not long after the surrender, wrongly thinking that all interest in Lili Marleen had died with the Third Reich, Lale Andersen was invited by British Forces Radio in 1945 to sing for them, and her career was thus resurrected. Lale then made a complete return to the stage and toured the holiday resorts of Southern Germany as a singer with the Lutz Templin, (of ‘Charlie & his Orchestra’fame) jazz band, still very much in demand from the war-time generation and especially with the veterans of the Afrikakorps and the British 8th Army, both famous units having adopted her as their own!

Sell-out tours of Europe, America and Britain were followed in 1952 with a feature film on the story of Lili Marleen, (in which Lale starred), before then embarking on her final farewell tour of Germany in that same year. At the end of what was a truly magnificent musical career, both in war-time and then in peace-time, Lale eventually retired back to the North Sea island of Langeoog to become a rather jolly and much-loved guest-house landlady, before tragically suffering a heart attack on August 29th 1972 and passing away at the premature age of just 67.

Despite her tragic passing, long before her time, her wonderful legend very much lives on and Tomahawk Films and myself are most proud of the beautiful CD collection of her most famous, (and certainly most loved), songs that we have managed to lovingly restore, renovate and release from original war-time schellack 78rpm records we sourced in Germany, under the title:

‘Wie einst Lili Marleen’.. The Songs of Lale Andersen, war-time Germany’s ‘Forces Favourite’ 1939-1943’..

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

 

Sounds of War Combat SFX Archive

When Tomahawk Films acquired a pile of original tins of German Combat Newsreels films in the mid-80s, (from a British Intelligence Officer that actually liberated them from a Gestapo HQ in Hanover towards war’s end), we researched our find and eventually turned the footage into our DVD The Combat Newsreels of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

As the producer I was tasked with cleaning up and restoring this batch of superb old 16mm mute film and dubbing on original German musik sound-tracks & combat SFX to bring these exciting newsreels alive.

Originally they would have been sent out around Germany to small civilian cinemas, to be shown with often just a piano accompaniment and all of the cans were totally silent; so I travelled up to London to the sound archive, (as it was then), at the UK’s Imperial War Museum, to hopefully purchase a selection of original combat effects, including that of the instantly recognisable Stuka..!

However, having arrived at the archive, I sat expectantly at the table as the cassette, (pre-CD era as it was then), containing the eagerly awaited Stuka effect was duly produced with a flourish and inserted into the cassette-player. The sound archivist proudly stood back to watch my reaction..but with amazement I looked up said; “ that’s not a Stuka effect, that’s a man blowing through a comb & paper!’…”ah, you are right”!, he said somewhat shame-faced, “we haven’t got an original.. nor much of anything else in fact..!”

So returning to the studio empty-handed I began our long hunt for original effects and had to start looking further afield..however it made me realise that, apart from a small BBC sound effects tape that was available back then, (sadly no longer), there was absolutely nothing original for us to immediately get our hands on and it was going to be a long search..!

However, happily my various Film & TV travels then led me to working with original Allied & German aircraft, (directing flying sequences with the US’s Confederate Air Force down in Texas and then working on the ‘Wings of the Luftwaffe’ series here in the UK); plus I also contacted a number of collector-friends that legally-owned original German machine- pistols & assorted still-firing weaponry and so slowly, but surely a whole host of authentic sound effects were recorded & acquired by us.

Around the same time, we also made a very fortunate purchase of two small, but now-defunct sound-archives and as a result Tomahawk Films eventually ended up acquiring even more genuine & exiting war-time sound effects from which we were able to build up our very own Tomahawk Films WW-II Combat Effects Archive. So we now had the effects we needed to dub onto our Combat German Newsreels film..but then a little later on we also started marketing this wonderful, eclectic resource to collectors & enthusiasts as a very comprehensive war-time sound-effects library, firstly on cassette thence on CD
.
Entitled Sounds of War, this archive has also, over the years, been bought by many professional dubbing studios & archival sound engineers around the world for use on the sound tracks of numerous documentaries & movies, on The Discovery, History and Yesterday channels and and the like and which are are regularly aired on satellite TV today.

Indeed many such combat sound effects that you will hear in the background on television, (often along with the stirring German music sound-tracks) are usually from The Tomahawk Films’ SFX Archive)..and having worked with these incredible effects myself for over 25 years, in both TV & radio, I can often play ‘spot the Tomahawk effect’  myself when they are now incorporated in so much of other producers’ televisual work, (and for which, happily, they have all paid the royalties to so do!!)..

We also had a great endorsement for ‘Sounds of War’ in the shape of a nice comment from a professional weapons expert, Sgt Walla in the Norwegian Army, who was kind enough to say of our effects that: “the quality was superb and the selections spot on..!”

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012