When the Second World War broke out, Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager, age twenty-five, fought for his country enthusiastically as a cavalry officer. His rearing on the family estate in the Rhineland had instilled in him a strong Catholic faith, a reverence for the fatherland, and a love of horsemanship and the hunt. And so, like his brother Georg, he accepted a commission when the call came to restore the pride Germany had lost in the humiliating peace of Versailles.
Soon, however, beyond the regimented and honor-bound world of the cavalry, von Boeselager would discover what shocking brutality the SS was perpetrating at the behest of the Third Reich’s highest authorities. When, in the summer of 1942, he heard that five Roma had been killed in cold blood, von Boeselager’s patriotism quickly turned to disgust. Under his commanding officer, Field Marshal von Kluge, Philipp and his brother joined a group of conspirators in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler.
It was planned that Philipp would shoot both the Führer and Himmler in the officers’ casino during a camp inspection visit, but when that attempt had to be aborted at the last moment, the plotters resolved to use a bomb to assassinate Hitler alone. Once von Boeselager had delivered the explosives to Claus von Stauffenberg, a leader of the plot, he and Georg led an unauthorized retreat of cavalry units from the eastern front, a surreal night maneuver indelibly described here. The mission: to take control of Berlin and effect the coup d’etat.
When the bomb failed to kill Hitler, the SS launched a terrifying purge of senior army officers. The von Boeselager brothers barely managed to return with their units to the eastern front in time to escape detection. One by one their fellow plotters were found out, tortured, and executed, but steadfast in their cause, they never gave up the von Boeselagers’ names. Georg would eventually fall in battle on the Russian front, but Philipp survived the war.
In this elegant but unflinching testimony, Philipp von Boeselager, until his death in 2008 the last surviving member of the plot code-named Valkyrie, gives voice to the spirit of the small but determined band of men whose sense of justice and honor could not be dissolved by the diabolical glamour of the Third Reich. Here is an invaluable new perspective on one of the most fascinating near misses of twentieth-century history.
About the Author
PRAISE FROM THE UK FOR PHILIPP VON BOESLEAGER’S VALKYRIE
“remarkable book….von Boeselager’s story is far removed from the new and sanitised Hollywood take on the July 20 plot….many insights [and] details abound….[it is] of real significance to Second World War historians….[an] astonishing memoir.”
- Henry Winter, Telegraph
“short, modest memoir….celebrates a long-since-vanished generation of scholar-warriors….von Boeselager, a cavalry officer both intelligent and honourable.”
- Christopher Hudson, Daily Mail
“brisk, illuminating description of how one German solider struggled to reconcile his profound religious and moral sensibility with his cavalryman’s patriotic code of honour and thereby became part of this conspiracy.”
- Christopher Silvester, Daily Express