Alexandra asked Philip to go for a walk with her around Lake Grünewald in the fading light of the long summer day. They took the bewildered family dog with them. The sky was luminous, the stars were coming out, and the forest was black. Alexandra could walk neither fast nor far in her condition, but she needed the fresh air. Soon, they found a bench and sat down. Alexandra had her arm through Philip’s. “Philip, don’t be angry with me,” she started timidly, “but I’ve started to wonder if Graf Moltke is right after all. I mean, what if we make our coup and then get blamed for losing the war? Won’t all the Nazis then be stronger than ever? Won’t they destroy whatever government we try to establish? I don’t even know what Moltke and his friends have thought up. Do you?”
“I’ve heard some things. There is no one plan, really—just a lot of ideas. That is, everyone agrees we have to have a government based on the Rule of Law—a constitution that guarantees basic human rights such as equality before the law and freedom of religion, association, and movement. Almost everyone agrees that we have to have a state based on the fundamental principles of Christianity, such as respect for life and for our fellow man and responsibility toward the weak and poor. But, as you know, the devil is in the details. Some people argue that we need to restore a monarchy because Hitler’s success demonstrates that Germans need a ‘leader,’ and if they don’t have a hereditary one, they’ll follow every megalomaniac that comes along. Others want to see American-style democracy, and others want to see more Socialism. Claus is throwing his weight in with the Socialists at the moment.”
Alexandra actually managed a smile, even if a sad, weary smile. “The Revolutionary Count—it suits him. Can’t you picture Claus with Robespierre?” Philip looked at her in astonishment, unable to follow her intuition when she gave it free rein like this. “Where does General Olbricht stand?” she asked.
“As so often, we have much the same opinion.”
“Olbricht told Claus: first act, then let’s see who’s left over.”
“But, Philip, if my stepfather’s right—if the war isn’t going to last more than a few weeks after the Americans land in France—then why not let them win the war? Why risk the lives of the very best men Germany has? Beck and Tresckow, Olbricht and Uncle Erich—and you? Why not let Hitler sign this merciless Unconditional Surrender and take the blame for the war he started and lost? Why should Beck or Olbricht—who were always against the aggression—be forced to swallow the bitter pill?”
Philip held her closer to him and kissed the top of her head. He understood her thinking. With Stefan already dead, her compulsion to shorten the war—even if only by a single day—had eased. Instead, she saw that he was in a relatively safe staff position and was at greater risk from a failed coup than a marginally prolonged war. As usual, her logic was impeccable, but he shook his head, nevertheless. “First of all, your stepfather underestimates us. The Americans may have endless material resources, but their troops and officers are inexperienced. I think we may be able to hold both fronts for as long as six to eight months after the Americans land—and they haven’t done that yet. So, the war could go on another nine to ten months. In that time, we could have lost another half-million men on the front and maybe half that again in our shattered cities.” He dropped his voice. “Then there are the Concentration Camps and the death camps. We’re systematically slaughtering people, Alix—as if they were animals with an infectious disease …” His voice faded into the darkness.
“You mean the Einsatzkommandos?” Alexandra asked.
“No, I mean we’ve built special slaughterhouses for people. The SS is diverting rolling stock—which we desperately need to keep the Eastern and Italian Fronts supplied with ammunition and other war materials—to transport people to these camps. They transport people in freight cars and then herd them into big chambers and gas them.”
Alexandra wanted to say, “That can’t be”—but it was too horrible for Philip to have made it up. “How do you know?”
“Olbricht told me. I don’t know his source. It doesn’t matter. After what I saw the Einsatzkommandos do, it’s impossible to question. We have to stop it, or at least try to stop it. Or maybe just demonstrate before God and the Allies and history that German officers opposed these atrocities. The coup isn’t just about stopping the war—at least that’s not what it’s about for Olbricht or Tresckow or me anymore. It’s about taking a moral stand against a morally depraved regime. It’s about—if you like—trying to save Sodom and Gomorrah by finding ten just men who are willing to stand up and be counted—even if it costs them their lives.”
Alexandra gazed at her husband in frightened awe. It was almost completely dark, and his face was in shadow. She could make out the curve of his dark hairline against his high forehead, the glasses hiding his eyes, and the set of his lips. She was frightened and she shivered, but she couldn’t protest. She had set him on this path. She had supported him at every step. What right did she have to lose heart now?
Philip took her hand and entwined his fingers in hers. “Now, do you understand why I’ve been so selfish? So reluctant to let you take our child to safety in Altdorf?”
All her nightmares were true. After she left Berlin, she would never see him again. “When?”
“Just as soon as our current volunteer assassin with access to Hitler finds the right opportunity.”
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