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The Infiltrators /Norman Ohler

I have always been interested in the degree of complicity of the German people – das Volk – in Nazism and its crimes and conversely the resistance domestically to the regime.

This readable and well-researched account of two such resistants – Harro Schultze-Boysen and his wife Libertas – is therefore illuminating

At first sight neither Harro nor Libertas were from the normal background of those resisting.

Harro came from Prussian military stock – his grandfather was the admiral Von Tirpitz.

His wife came from an aristocratic lineage.

Herman Goering gave her away at her marriage and through the Air Marshal’s offices Harro was given a high position in the Air Ministry assessing allied aircraft materiel.

After arrest when he was young Harro witnessed the death after interrogation of his close Jewish friend Hans Erlanger.

Harro was forced to run around a small courtyard by his interrogators whilst being beaten causing lifelong injuries.

His wife after working in the publicity department of MGM held a senior position in the Film Institute.

Both held parties attended by fellow travellers opposed to the Nazi regime. Their organisation, known as Red Orchestra, had little structure or leadership.

Their best campaign was to place stickers in public places during the Russian offensive. These were negative and critical of the Reich.

The only Allied power to offer any assistance to the group was Russia and the former KGB – the NKGB – soon had agents controlling the main activists.  This happened after Liberias dropped an envelope with key information in the letter box of the Russian embassy in Paris.

The organisation was provided with a receiver operated by Johannes Wenzel. The Gestapo intercepted the transmission and descended on the organisation.

There was a show trial where the prosecution relied on evidence obtained under torture to convict Harro, Libertas and others who were sentenced to death.

The only flaw in this story – as gripping as any fiction – is that  it’s hard for the reader to keep track on those who join the organisation.

A chapter will often begin with a new couple and their friends joining the group. A glossary would have been useful.

To return and resolve my initial question on complicity and resistance my view remains that das Volk were more than aware of Nazi happenings.

Hitler himself rose in fame by addressing beer halls in Munich in the 1920s that could and did hold over 3000 drinkers.

The rallies were well-attended and the Gestapo, a relatively small organisation,  relied on informers.

A revisionist approach that there were Good Germans developed with such films as The Desert Fox (1951) and German films like Downfall.  

Philip Kerr in the excellent Bernie Gunther series took as his hero a decent German cop.

The Infiltrarors adds to the revisionism.

Norman Ohler (author)

Certainly the Allies could have done more and the Iron Curtain led to Harro and Libertas being treated after their death as heroes (stamps featured them in East Germany).

The chief prosecutor of the trial Manfred Roeder became a MI6 agent after the war.

For all that Ohler ‘s account of the two Infiltrators is worth reading.

About Henry Elkins

A keen researcher of family ancestors, Henry will be reporting on the centenary of World War One. More Posts