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Today I’d like to welcome Helena P. Schrader to Diary of an Eccentric. Helena is the author of An Obsolete Honor: A Story of the German Resistance to Hitler, an engrossing story that takes place during World War II and centers on one officer involved in the July 20, 1944, attempt to kill Hitler. You can read my review of the book here.

Here’s what Helena has to say about An Obsolete Honor:

My books are like children. They cause me great joy–but much worry and despair and frustration as well. They are never perfect, but I love them just the same. And they are all different, all unique, with their own strengths and weaknesses.

An Obsolete Honor is unique because it is the book which incorporates the greatest amount of primary research. While all my books reflect and incorporate my own experiences and observations of mankind combined with historical research, An Obsolete Honor is a book which reflects encounters–interviews and deep, lasting friendships–with hundreds of survivors of the Second World War. Its greatest strength is its authenticity: this is a book that shows the reader what it was like to be part of the military and humanitarian resistance in Nazi Germany. Its weakness is that–like the German Resistance itself–it is a long, complicated story.

While some of my novels virtually write themselves, An Obsolete Honor has been re-written many times as my own understanding of the events described evolved and I met more and more people with important insights into the Resistance. I lived in Berlin, Germany for over 20 years and there I came to know personally a number of the key figures in the German Resistance and/or their widows and children. Through them I was introduced to others, including the widow of Claus Graf von Stauffenberg, Nina. I was friends with the would-be assassin Axel Freiherr von dem Bussche, visiting him at his various homes over the years, and I was particularly close to General Olbricht’s widow, Eva, and his son-in-law Friedrich Georgi. (For those of you interested in more about these individuals, I have published four short articles on “Encounters with Survivors” featuring Axel von dem Bussche, Marion Countess Yorck, Philipp Baron von Boeselager and Renate Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s niece here.) All these courageous and exceptional people taught me about Nazi Germany and the German Resistance by sharing with me their memories, experiences, feelings, observations and analysis. I learned how to see Germany through their eyes, and I learned about motives, human nature and emotions in times of exceptional stress in a way that no history book can even come close to depicting.

An Obsolete Honor captures some–but by no means all–of these lessons. In fact, the very greatest difficulty in writing An Obsolete Honor was to edit it down to a coherent story without removing too much of the diversity that is a fundamental part of any historical period and the human experience of history. The stories of even ordinary people who experience exceptional events are always the stuff of novels, so by the time I had been living in Berlin only a few months, I had already heard more great stories than I could possibly put into one novel. But the men and women who had the courage to oppose the Nazi regime are more than witnesses of historic events. They were–each and every one of them–men and women of unique ethical stature and exceptional character. They may have been people from ordinary backgrounds, with ordinary education and jobs, but they were not ordinary people.

An Obsolete Honor is my tribute and my memorial to the German Resistance. It was a labor of love, which I dedicate to those who took part in the Resistance in their many different ways, but it is not about the Resistance alone. The German opposition to the Nazi regime was a series of tiny, isolated islands in a vast ocean of opportunism whipped up by the winds of Nazi fanaticism into a violent destructive force. The opposition was overwhelmed, it foundered and failed. This is why the opposition cannot be described in isolation. As important is the Resistance, is the environment in which it existed, and so An Obsolete Honor attempts to give the reader a feel for the entire spectrum of political and human attitudes toward Nazism, even while it gives pride of place to the Resistance.

If I can give my reader insight into the complexity of life in Nazi Germany and a sense of humility before the Resistance I will have accomplished what I set out to do with this particular novel. I hope that no reader finishes An Obsolete Honor without having seriously put themselves in the shoes of my characters and honestly asked themselves what they would have done in the same circumstances.

Thank you.

Thanks, Helena, for taking the time to tell your story to me and my readers. This is an important book, and I look forward to reading more about this period of history.

Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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An Obsolete Honor: A Story of the German Resistance to Hitler is a must-read for anyone who mistakenly believes all Germans sided with Hitler and his evil minions during World War II. Helena P. Schrader undertook extensive research and interviews with survivors of the failed plot to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944, as well as the spouses of those officers executed for their involvement. (This plot was recently featured in the movie Valkyrie.)

An Obsolete Honor opens in 1938 and ends after the attempted coup (with an epilogue to detail the fates of the many characters, both historical and fictional). There are so many layers to this nearly 560 page story, and I know I can’t do it justice here. The book is intense and engrossing, and though there were a lot of characters and military strategy to follow, I was never bored or overwhelmed with details. However, if you’re not overly interested in this period in history, the book might be a bit much for you.

The main character of An Obsolete Honor is Philip Baron von Feldburg, a German staff officer who spends a lot of the war on the Russian front, growing increasingly sick of Hitler’s ridiculous military strategy and angry about the SS’s extermination of innocent Jews by rounding up women, children, and the elderly, shooting them, stacking their bodies up, and leaving them behind. Philip believes a change in command is necessary to end the war and stop the senseless killing. He serves under real-life officers involved in the Valkyrie plot, including General Friedrich Olbricht, Major General Henning von Tresckow, and Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. Philip’s wife, Alexandra von Mollwitz, also plays a large role in the story. She meets Philip in the General Staff Headquarters in Berlin and shares his feelings of hatred for Hitler and the Nazi regime, even working with Olbricht on Valkyrie.

I found many other characters in the book interesting, including Sophia Maria von Feldburg, Philip’s mother, who also is against the Nazis and does her best to care for the Polish laborers forced to work at her manor. Theresa von Feldburg, Philip’s sister, is another interesting character. She is married to Walther, a self-made man who takes over Jewish factories in Warsaw, uses forced labor from the concentration camps, and creates a home for his family by evicting a Jewish family and moving in. Theresa only cares about herself, never realizing the hardships others endure during the war. I also was captivated by Marianne Moldenauer, a young college student who lives in Philip’s Berlin apartment building and forges documents to help the Jews, all the while dating a Gestapo inspector.

There are so many other characters (there’s a list of characters at the beginning and even a glossary of German terms and military rank at the end) and subplots that I couldn’t possibly mention them all, but Schrader does a brilliant job showing different aspects of the resistance and discontent, as well as the fear that characterized daily life under the Nazis. Imagine being arrested for laughing at a joke about Hitler, being turned in by a relative or an acquaintance for making a statement not in line with Nazi ideology, watching your Jewish neighbors forced out of their homes never to return, or having your children forced into service for the Fuhrer. There were countless German men, women, and youth who opposed Hitler and many who were willing to put their lives on the line to spur change. Those behind the Valkyrie plot knew the odds were against them, yet they made the commitment to show the world that Hitler didn’t speak or act for everyone. Schrader does an excellent job blending fiction and history to give us a glimpse of what it was like for Germans under Nazi rule. Given the subject matter, it’s hard to say I “enjoyed” the book, but reading it was an eye-opening and emotional experience and well worth the two weeks it took me to finish.

Here are some passages that I wanted to share with you all:

Sophia Maria drew the horse to a halt and turned to face her firstborn. ‘Philip, we didn’t bring Hitler to power, and we cannot bring him down. All we can try to do is to survive with our personal honor intact–or as untarnished as humanly possible.’ Philip looked at her rather strangely, and she felt she had to explain. ‘Look, I think what our government has done to the Poles is outrageous, but I can’t give them back their land. I can’t reverse the injustice done to them. All I can do is treat them with as much consideration, kindness and respect as is possible within my own small realm. God knows, that realm is tiny indeed. Technically, I can’t even give my workers an old pair of boots. Common decency has been made illegal by this regime, and I have been turned into a ‘criminal.’ But I must be a criminal if I am to maintain a much higher law: the law of humanity and Christianity.’ (page 92)

‘It’s as if Hitler and his close associates were carriers of a disease–a disease which eats away at the moral fiber of the individual. The nearer or longer one is in contact with them, the weaker one’s own ethical structure and sense of humanity becomes. Over time, one’s entire system of values is corroded to nothing. In the advanced stages of the disease, not only has one’s normal sense of human decency been destroyed, but criminal values have replaced healthy ones.’ . . .

‘But if our senior military commanders can’t resist the criminal orders of Hitler, then the fate of the entire nation is in the hands of an emotionally unstable, morally degenerate madman.’ (page 129)

The Reich was to be made ‘Jew-Free’ by transporting all the Jews to the mammoth and growing ghettos established throughout the occupied territories in Eastern Europe–Warsaw, Riga, Krakow, and Lublin. ‘To the pale,’ as Herr Silber described it. ‘First the Russians sent us there and now the Germans, always to the pale. Funny–I just said ‘the Germans’ as if I weren’t a German, too. All that propaganda eventually seeps into your brain, even if you don’t want it to.’ (page 216)

‘Herr General, protectiveness toward women, respect for old people, and love for children are basic human instincts. What does it take to suck the most elemental sympathy out of a young man?”Maybe not as much as you think,’ Rittenbach countered. ‘Murders are committed in every society. If all the moral force of church, law and society is not enough to prevent such things, what can you expect from men given justification and orders to murder? We should not be so surprised when men turn back into the sadistic, bloodthirsty beasts they really are.’ (pages 222-223)

Disclosure:  I received a copy of An Obsolete Honor from Author Marketing Experts, Inc. for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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