Nazi Germany: Was there Passive Resistance?

A Personal View – April 2014

Like in all dictatorships, collaboration with the Regime is the norm. Is one prepared to risk one’s life in passive resistance let alone supporting some form of insurrection? Hardly ever as it requires a special type of person! Within Nazi Germany itself, it made no difference to the punishment but it was the fact that it was less risky that might have tempted people to engage in passive resistance.

Inasmuch as there were many intelligent people who understood the abhorrent nature of the regime, very few chose to actively take any active form of resistance but a few did practice passive resistance.

It has now been established, through Gestapo files that were not destroyed at the end of WW2, that the threat of detection arose not due to the Gestapo per se but rather the informal unsolicited information that was received from Nazi Sympathisers who may have been co-workers, neighbours or even friends. Such is the pernicious & ultimately malignant nature of such regimes.

Everybody has heard about the von Stauffenberg’s bomb plot against Adolf Hitler of July 1944 as this has become a movie Valkyrie but very few people are aware of the bravery of the “little people.” Acts which in & of themselves were not earth shattering but rather the fact that a solitary act could have saved a life or at least made it more congenial, needs to be applauded.

This opinion piece covers two such indomitable people.

One such person who actively & passively opposed the Nazi Regime was a formidable woman by the name of Christabel Bielenberg. I first heard her name in the mid-seventies while watching the World at War. There were three brief vignettes each no more than two minutes long. Many years later I managed to acquire her autobiography “My Past is Myself” which was a window into another world. This has been made by the BBC into a TV drama simply entitled Christabel. As the BBC has not released it on DVD, it is unavailable which is a pity.

Christabel [nee Burton] was born in Hertfordshire in the UK. She won a scholarship to Oxford but decided to study music in Germany. While there she met Peter Bielenberg (1911–2001), two years her junior, who was studying law with a view of joining his father’s practice in Hamburg.

They married in 1934 and she took German citizenship, which required her to relinquish her British citizenship. The Bielenbergs lived initially in Hamburg, then moved to Berlin and had three sons.

Both Christabel and Peter Bielenberg were opposed to Nazism and following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, participated in anti-Nazi activity.

One of the first incidents arose while she was still living in Hamburg. Through friends who were also part of the resistance, they were asked to accommodate a Jewish couple. Due to the danger of doing so, Christabel agreed to do so but on the express condition that it would be for two nights only. On the second morning, she woke up & they had left already. What subsequently happened horrified her. They were caught at a nearby railway station & were sent to Auschwitz.

Her husband, Peter Bielenberg was a close friend of Adam von Trott zu Solz, who was involved in the von Stauffenberg bomb plot against Adolf Hitler of 1944. As a result of his suspect political views and this close association, he was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp following the plot’s failure.

In an effort to secure his release, Christabel Bielenberg asked to be interviewed by the Gestapo in order to convince them of her and her husband’s political naivety and innocence. She was successful and he was released to a punishment unit but mistakenly allowed leave before joining it. He managed to slip away and remained in hiding near his family until the fighting ended.

The heavy Allied bombing raids led Mrs Bielenberg and her children to leave the city, and they eventually settled in the village of Rohrbach in the Black Forest.

On a train trip back to Rohrbach one day, she shared a compartment with an SS Officer. The train was forced to stop when a bombing raid was in progress. While the train was stationery, he poured his heart out to her about the horrific deeds that he had been forced to commit as a member of the SS, the infamous Schutzstaffel. In one incident, they were executing Jews by shooting them & throwing the bodies into communal pits. Amongst them were women & children. Suddenly a little Jewish boy looked him in the eye & proclaimed, “God is watching you.” And then he shot the child.

After the war, the Bielenbergs settled in Ireland. Subsequently she was made a Commander of the German Federal Order of Merit and was also awarded a Gold Medal of Merit by the European Parliament.

Another person who was also involved in small acts of resistance was Heinz Drossel.

Heinz Drossel’s deeds per Wikipedia:

Heinz Drossel (September 21, 1916 – April 28, 2008) was a German lieutenant in World War II who was named one of the Righteous among the Nations for helping Jews escape persecution. He was the son of anti-Nazis and shared their political philosophy, refusing to join the Nazi Party. Drafted in November 1939, Drossel served in the Battle of France before serving on the Eastern Front for the rest of the war.

His philanthropic actions began in 1941, when he saved Soviet prisoners from being executed and secretly released them to return to Soviet lines. While on leave in Berlin in 1942, he started covertly assisting Jews when he found a Jewish woman, Marianne Hirschfeld, about to leap from a bridge. Risking court-martial and execution, he sheltered her in his apartment before giving her money to find a safer place to stay.

In 1945 Drossel helped Ernst Fontheim, his wife Margot, and her parents find shelter. He was sent back to the Eastern Front that spring. On May 4, just four days before the war would end, he was ordered by the Waffen-SS to lead his troops in a suicidal attack on Soviet positions. Drossel refused and when threatened with execution, ordered his troops to open fire on the SS. He was immediately arrested and sentenced to death, spared only by the intervention of attacking Soviet troops. He was briefly imprisoned by the Soviets and released before the end of the year.

In his postwar life, Drossel served as a judge. He married Marianne Hirschfeld, the first Jew that he saved in the war. He was named as one of the Righteous among the Nations in 2000. After receiving the award he often gave inspirational speeches to German children at schools. In 2008, he died in Simonswald.

At least Christabel received some recognition for her sacrifices both in books & on TV, but apart from a biography in German “Bleib immer ein Mensch: Heinz Drossel. Ein stiller Held 1916-2008”, nothing is available in English. He did receive some recognition in German documentary entitled Wehrmacht but that is all.

Inasmuch as there are other Germans who also committed acts of passive resistance, there might be some but I have not been able to track them down. That is probably indicative of the fear of the consequences if such acts had been committed.

Rommel, one of the best Generals of the war, was forced to commit suicide for not revealing the fact that he was aware of the plot against Hitler. If that was the case with somebody so close to Hitler what chance did Christabel & Heinz Drossel stand?

Very little actually.

I am not sure that I would have even done what little they had done so as to protect myself & my family.

They were brave people indeed who risked everything saving people who they would probably never know.  Why Israel never proclaimed Christabel “Righteous among the Nations” for her attempt to save a Jewish couple in Hamburg, I cannot ascertain. Not that she expected a reward but in the interests of fairness, it would have been appropriate.


Other Articles on History:

 This Day in History: 6th June 1944 – D-Day

The largest beach landing in history

Stalin: Abandoned on his Death Bed

The Narvik Landings Fiasco: In its wake why was its progenitor Churchill appointed as Prime Minister


Hitler: Was he complicit in the death of his half-niece Geli Raubal?


The Victoria Cross: What it takes to Acquire One


Nazi Germany: Was there Passive Resistance?





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