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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2010-06-01
  • Publisher: Vintage
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When the Second World War broke out, Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager, then 25-years-old, fought enthusiastically for Germany as a cavalry officer. But after discovering Nazi crimes, von Boeselagerrs"s patriotism quickly turned to disgust, and he joined a group of conspirators who plotted to kill Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler. In this elegant but unflinching memoir, von Boeselager gives voice to the spirit of the small but determined band of men who took a stand against the Third Reich in what culminating in the failed "Valkyrie" plot-one of the most fascinating near misses of twentieth-century history.

Author Biography

Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager was born in Bonn, Germany, in 1917, the fifth of nine children. He was raised with a liberal education, strong moral and religious values, and a love of hunting. In 1938, he enlisted and was placed in the cavalry regiment. He rose to the rank of commanding lieutenant, only to join the German resistance in 1941. His participation in Valkyrie went undetected, and he lived to be the last surviving member of the plot. In 2003, France awarded von Boeselager the Legion of Honor. He died on May 1, 2008.

Florence Fehrenbach is the granddaughter of Karl von Wendt, a coconspirator and close friend of Philipp von Boeselager. She and her husband, Jérôme Fehrenbach, convinced Boeselager, at the age of eighty-nine, to recount his experience.

From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

Forewordp. ix
A Taste for Freedomp. 3
The Time of Choices (1933-36)p. 12
The Phony War (1939-40)p. 25
A Dive for Victory (June 9, 1940)p. 27
A Promise (June 17, 1940)p. 31
A Lightning Campaign (June-November 1941)p. 35
A Christmas in Hell (December 1941-January 1942)p. 46
The Conspiracy Begins (1941-42)p. 60
An Encounter with the Demon (June 1942)p. 71
An Incident at the Führer's Headquarters (July 1942)p. 84
A Poisoned Gift (October 1942)p. 89
The Tresckow Group (1942-44)p. 95
When Horses Make Meetings Easier (1943)p. 105
The Three Failed Attempts (March 1943)p. 113
Stopping the Barbariansp. 122
Cavalrymen in Tormentp. 125
The Valise Full of Explosivesp. 140
Obligatory Inactivityp. 143
The Dangerous Ride (July 1944)p. 149
A Time for Mourningp. 163
The Bridge over the Mura (1945)p. 176
Epiloguep. 184
Afterwordp. 189
Notesp. 193
Bibliographyp. 199
Illustration Creditsp. 201
Indexp. 203
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


A Taste for Freedom

My brother Georg was born in August 1915, I in September 1917. We were the fourth and fifth in a family of nine children.

My family had settled in Heimerzheim, in the Rhineland, in 1910, leaving our old home in Bonn, which in the eighteenth century had been one of the residences of Prince-Archbishop Clemens August of Bavaria. With its  network of canals and moats, its great central building—white, gabled, and flanked by corner towers—it stood on an island reached by a succession of bridges, like a summer palace in ancient China. Its immense grounds were left in a half-wild state where deer peacefully grazed and the familiar mixture of mystery and nature on the doorstep made Heimerzheim seem to us like a fairy-tale castle. Nothing was easier there than to retreat into a secret world. Imagination and children’s games could hardly have found a more propitious place to develop.

We had a liberal upbringing at Heimerzheim, something that always surprised the guests who passed through—and they were many, since our mother be-lieved that those who had the good fortune to live in a great residence should keep an open house. But for all that, our upbringing was not permissive. Life was very clearly structured, framed by a few strictly defined moral principles: for example, it was forbidden to torture animals. Within this framework, we enjoyed a great deal of latitude.

My father, Albert von Boeselager, was a cultured man of letters. His mother’s side of the family hailed from Brussels, and he considered the European nobility a unitary body. He hunted all over the Continent and spoke four or five languages.

Because of this, he attached particular importance to learning how to make proper use of freedom—and the capacity for Christian discernment that was for him its corollary—and also of hunting. Georg received his first rifle as a Christmas present in 1928, when he was only thirteen years old. At fifteen, my brother’s list of kills already included some 150 head of game. His passion was such that he managed to sneak a disassembled rifle into our boarding school—with my complicity, I must admit. When Father Strasser made the rounds of the bedrooms to check the students’ bags, we were forced once again to engage in a ruse. Each of us slipped part of the rifle into his shorts—Georg the barrel and I the stock—while the inspection took place. The maneuver was acrobatic, be-cause it was strictly forbidden to put our hands in our pockets, but we somehow had to prevent the parts of the rifle from slipping out.

It was hunting that truly shaped our behavior in nature, and profoundly influenced our way of life. Georg, in particular, learned to find his way in the forest even before the sun came up; to creep up to within a few meters of a woodcock without scaring the bird away; to slip through the bushes without making the leaves rustle so as not to frighten the deer; to disappear into the vegetation, perfectly camouflaged; to wait patiently, silent and inactive; and to act at the right fraction of a second. In a word, hunting, practiced in a group or in the course of long solitary hikes, with that passion for animals that marks true nature lovers, made Georg a real Indian. He remained one. He was later to find this training ex-tremely valuable.

Hunting was not only a way of hardening the body. It prepared us, without our being aware of it, for the laws of life, for the struggles of existence: saving one’s strength, fleeing from an adversary, recovering, knowing how to use cunning, adapting to the enemy, assessing risk. We learned how to keep our sangfroid in the tumult of dogs excited by the battle, how to strike the throat of a stag or a boar in the coup de grâce and look without revulsion at the dark red fluid bubbling out of mortal wounds. We did not shiver upon seeing the brown trickle runnin

Excerpted from Valkyrie: The Story of the Plot to Kill Hitler, by Its Last Member by Philip Freiherr Von Boeselager
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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