The Prussian aristocratic resistance to Adolf Hitler provides the fulcrum of this documentary about efforts to unseat and eventually to eliminate the Nazi dictator. A tribute to their individual courage and sad collective failure, THE RESTLESS CONSCIENCE is composed of interviews with
the relatives of the executed conspirators, the few surviving plotters and sequences from the filmed trial of the arrested resistance figures.
A fascinating footnote to history, the German resistance movement falls into two phases and groups, though there is some overlap: the diplomats, civil servants and senior military who tried to take advantage of foreign pressures to overthrow the Nazi regime and later the younger officers who
attempted to kill Hitler. As filmed by Nazi cameramen, they appear haggard and worn, in civilian clothes without ties or belts, to be prosecuted in the People's Court under the jurisdiction of Roland Friesler who bellows at them when they refer to the reasons for their actions. Flanked by
policemen who also wear their military decorations, the accused are contrasted with audience members picked out by a partial lens, uniformed and loyal soldiers of Hitler's Reich.
The film's producer and director, Hava Kohav Beller, uses stills from famly photo albums to return us to the days of the condemneds' youth, so they appear as the titled and landed scions of clans whose names resound down through German history: Moltke, Dohnanyi, Tresckow and Schulenburg. Some,
like Count Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg, were early Nazi Party members, while others like the trade unionist Julius Leber, were its early victims, who found themselves in the recently created concentration camp system. Quite a few like Adam von Trott zu Solz, a diplomat, had strong ties to
the English-speaking world, and some of the surviving relatives will amaze audiences with their impeccable English accents. Many were army officers, with a long line of Prussian military ancestors, and they have often captured the popular imagination, since they were soldiers who had decided to
kill their own commander-in-chief to whom they had sworn a quite unprecedented and unconstitutional oath. As one of them, Axel von dem Bussche notes, Hitler had taken on the trappings of an emperor without any of the moral restraints.
Some of the plotters were almost born to the task, like military intelligence chiefs Wilhelm Canaris and Hans Oster, but their talents were far too rare among the anti-Nazi circle. In the film it is revealed that Canaris spirited Jews out of Berlin under the pretext of using them as spies. With
Hitler's amazing diplomatic victories before 1939, and military successes after 1939, the decision to assassinate him developed near the end of 1942 and is attributable to Henning von Tresckow, the effective commander of the German Army units in central Russia. Tresckow tried several times to kill
Hitler, but was thwarted by bad luck, ill timing and technological failures. After the final defeat on July 20, 1944, he walked out toward Russian lines and blew himself up with a hand-grenade rather than risk the Gestapo's torturers.
If Tresckow is one of the bigger heroes of this documentary, Adam von Trott zu Solz may be another since he not only opposed Hitler but also tried to get the British governmnet of Neville Chamberlain to, as well. That failure, climaxed by the Munich settlement and the well-known newsreel of
Chamberlain waving a piece of paper, was a tragically wasted opportunity. To illustrate the war that followed. Beller uses a somewhat unusual swirl of non-sequential images, including what appears to be a group of Waffen SS troops picking flowers in what looks like Russia for the graves of fallen
comrades. It was in the occupied east that the younger officers witnessed the systematic liquidations and regimented pogroms that prompted them to join the anti-Hitler conspiracy.
With their admittedly "coddled" backgrounds, as von dem Bussche describes them, it took a while for the realization that they would simply have to "bump him off" without the formal courtmartial preferred by their seniors. In this regard it is odd that Beller cites, at the film's end, the name of
Georg Elser. A cabinet-maker who had flirted briefly with the Communist Party, Elser tried, all on his own, to kill Hitler in the fall of 1939. Staying nights at a restaurant frequented by the Fuhrer, Elser constructed and hid a bomb that missed its target by 15 minutes; Hitler had changed his
schedule once again. Elser was secretly killed in Dachau during an Allied air-raid by express orders.
The story of Henning von Tresckow is not all that unfamiliar to American audiences; he was the subject of a 1959 television drama, and he is mentioned in Hans Helmut Kirst's 1965 novel about the famous July 20, 1944, plot. Brave and attractive though they were, these professional soldiers and
diplomats, lawyers and civil servants had few ties to their lesser fellow citizens. Major-General von Tresckow and Colonel von Stauffenberg could not trust a company of armed troops to join them in a forthright effort to kill Hitler. Instead they had to rely upon a loose network of friends linked
by family ties and regimental traditions. They simply were not enough. (Adult situations.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: NR
- Review: The Prussian aristocratic resistance to Adolf Hitler provides the fulcrum of this documentary about efforts to unseat and eventually to eliminate the Nazi dictator. A tribute to their individual courage and sad collective failure, THE RESTLESS CONSCIENCE i… (more)