“Can you hear my laughter at night.
Now my hour comes. Now my thread pulls you in.
Now my fish swim into my net.”
--’The Antichrist’ by Stefan George
In Nazi Germany, Operation Valkyrie was an emergency plan by Hitler which was to be used if an uprising occurred that threatened the regime. In modern times, Operation Valkyrie is known as the failed plot to kill Hitler. In 2008, Hollywood took up the task of retelling the story in the movie “Valkyrie.” Unlike the usual Hollywood fare, the movie will please history buffs with its surprising accuracy and attention to detail. Catholics, however, may find the lack of character development to be a disappointing missed opportunity to highlight a heroic Catholic figure.
The movie centers around Claus von Stauffenberg, an aristocratic Catholic and lover of poet Stefan George, who led the failed plot to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazis. The movie’s attention to historical detail goes above and beyond the norm. Instead of rebuilding tanks, planes, and teletype machines, the actual equipment was procured for use. Messages from archives were retrieved and used. The execution scene at the end was filmed at the location of the actual execution site, with actors and crew members taking a moment of silence to honor Stauffenberg and his men. Writers made sure to honor Stauffenberg’s last words, “Long live our sacred Germany!”, in his execution scene. Nearly the entire plot was historically accurate, save for a few liberties taken for dramatic purposes. For a historian, the accuracy of “Valkyrie” was quite refreshing.
Catholics, however, may come away slightly disappointed. While Stauffenberg’s Catholicism is alluded to, it is never outright declared. Catholicism was a driving force behind his convictions and action against Hitler. Hollywood fails mention the moral imperative Stauffenberg felt, thus missing an opportunity to name him as a heroic Catholic figure. Stauffenberg’s beliefs are relegated to the shadows even though they were the guiding light behind his decisions: “...it was von Stauffenberg’s Catholic faith that impelled him to assume leadership of the plot to assassinate Hitler—but only after he wrestled with his conscience over the question of whether it was his Christian duty to commit such an act of deliberate ‘high treason.’”1
In fact, “The decision to topple Hitler weighed heavily on Stauffenberg. Was it right, he asked a relative in mid-1943, to sacrifice the salvation of one’s own soul if one might thereby save thousands of lives? He concluded that it was not only right, but imperative...that, faced with such an evil regime, he had had to choose between action and inaction, and as an active Christian there could only be one decision.”2 Indeed, his decisions weighed heavily on his Catholic conscience. He asked, “Can the church grant absolution to a murderer who has taken the life of a tyrant?”3 Ultimately, he felt that his conscience was clear, as he stated, “We took this challenge before our Lord and our conscience, and it must be done, because this man, Hitler, he is the ultimate evil.”4 Clearly, Stauffenberg’s Catholic faith played a major role in his decision to plot against Hitler, which the movie woefully fails to mention. Stauffenberg’s decision even had a sacrificial element. Although his aim, since he was a young boy, was to honorably serve Germany as a soldier, he was willing to give up his honorable name. He stated, ““It is now time that something was done. But the man who has the courage to do something must do it in the knowledge that he will go down in German history as a traitor. If he does not do it, however, he will be a traitor to his own conscience.”5
Although “Valkyrie” is an excellent movie, both for its historical accuracy and for its attention to detail, it fails to properly honor Claus von Stauffenberg’s character as a Catholic hero. One can watch the entire film without ever realizing that he was Catholic and his decisions were led by the light of his faith. While secular historians may enjoy the movie’s accuracy and may claim that Stauffenberg’s religious convictions are unimportant, this is actually a glaring omission of the man’s character and purpose for undertaking such a high-risk plot. While the facts are present in the movie, the underlying motives are not. “Valkyrie” is highly recommended for historical knowledge, it should be viewed in conjunction with a documentary on the life of Claus von Stauffenberg in order to get the full picture of this heroic Catholic’s motive and driving force.
Tom McFeely, “The Real, Catholic ‘Valkyrie’”, National Catholic Register, January 13, 2009, retrieved from: https://www.ncregister.com/blog/the-real-catholic-valkyrie
Nigel Jones, “Claus von Stauffenberg”, HistoryNet, retrieved from: https://www.historynet.com/claus-von-stauffenberg.htm
Larry Slawson, “Claus von Stauffenberg’s Plot to Kill Adolf Hitler”, Owlcation, July 5, 2021, retrieved from: https://owlcation.com/humanities/Claus-von-Stauffenberg-The-Plot-to-Kill-Adolf Hitler