Erwin Rommel's Nazi Rebel Role Revisited

Film Portrays 'Desert Fox' as Weak Acolyte of Adolf Hitler

Wily ‘Fox’? Nazi field marshal Erwin Rommel is often portrayed as a rebel who tried to stand up to Hitler. A new movie takes aim at that assessment.
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Wily ‘Fox’? Nazi field marshal Erwin Rommel is often portrayed as a rebel who tried to stand up to Hitler. A new movie takes aim at that assessment.

By Reuters

Published November 01, 2012.
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Although he had contact with some of those involved, his son has written that he knew nothing of the assassination attempt.

Rommel was wounded by a Spitfire attack on his staff car days before the July 20 coup attempt, but soon after the plot ringleaders were executed Hitler grew suspicious about him.

Realising the potential damage of putting Rommel on trial for treason, Hitler sent two officers to put an ultimatum to his once favourite general: if he wanted his wife and son to be looked after, he should swallow a cyanide capsule.

Hitler wrote to his widow and gave the field marshal a state funeral with his coffin draped in a swastika flag.

“I don’t see him as a hero. He is a tragic figure. He was a weak man drawn into an incredible internal conflict,” Stein, the director and author of the screenplay, told Reuters.

“I hope young Germans watch. We’re talking about our grandparents. It explains a lot about the way people act in a dictatorship.”

With popular actor Ulrich Tukur playing the main role, Stein thinks people will identify with Rommel but not necessarily sympathise with him. “Perhaps they will be shocked when they realise he is not so clean,” he said.

Underscoring the many contradictions of his character, Rommel’s legacy has shifted over the years.

Immediately after World War Two, Germans latched on to the myth of Rommel as a “soldier’s soldier” who had no close links to Nazi ideology and was forced to kill himself by the regime.

Much was made of the behaviour of his Afrikakorps and his decision to disobey Hitler’s “victory or death” order at El Alamein and instead oversee a retreat which saved many lives.

“By the 1970s a German destroyer and army barracks were named after him,” said history Professor Soenke Neitzel, who has written about Rommel and advised the filmmakers.

He was favourably portrayed in 1951 by James Mason in “The Desert Fox”, which gave prominence to his disputed role in the von Stauffenberg plot.

But many historians say it is implausible that a field marshal who regularly met top Nazis, including Hitler, did not know of the Holocaust, a point critics say the film brushes over.

“On the one hand he didn’t commit war crimes that we know of and ordered a retreat at El Alamein despite Hitler’s order,” said Neitzel.

“But he took huge German casualties elsewhere and he was a servant of the regime. He was not exactly a shining liberal or Social Democrat. Mostly, he was interested in his career.”


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