Erwin Rommel, the World War Two German field marshal celebrated as the brilliant and humane “Desert Fox”, is portrayed in a new film as a weak man torn by his loyalty to Adolf Hitler and the dawning realisation that he was serving a devil.
The drama, due to be broadcast on the public ARD television on Thursday, has angered Rommel’s son and granddaughter who believe it underplays his role in the resistance against Hitler.
Rommel was forced to commit suicide in 1944 after Hitler suspected the general of being linked to the July 1944 plot to kill him, though historians disagree about how close he was to the failed assassination attempt.
Nazi propaganda feted Rommel as a military genius after his successful, bold offensives against the Allies in North Africa from 1941 until late 1942 when his Afrikakorps was defeated at El Alamein, a battle commemorated in London last week by the dwindling band of surviving British and Commonwealth veterans.
Even wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill hailed Rommel as a “great general”.
Rommel’s standing among his enemies was enhanced by his humane treatment of prisoners. The Afrikakorps eschewed the atrocities committed by the German army in other theatres of war, especially on the Eastern Front.
By 1944, in Normandy trying to defend the coast from an impending Allied landing, Rommel realised the war was lost and grew disillusioned. Despite having links to some of the plotters, he never joined the abortive July 20, 1944 conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.
“The idea is to demystify Rommel,” producer Nico Hofmann told Reuters.
“There is a lot of speculation surrounding the myth of Rommel. To some he is a brave, proud soldier, the ‘Desert Fox’. Some people don’t know he committed suicide under pressure from Hitler and think he perished in the war and there are many questions about how close he was to the resistance.”