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01 May 2007

Bomb Shelter

World War II turned decisively against the Axis Powers when they were pushed back on the eastern front by the armies of the Soviet Union. It was after this failure that the German Resistance became determined to assassinate Adolf Hitler and his closest deputies, in order to form a government that would surrender to the Allies instead of being overrun by the Soviets. Hans Georg Klamroth was a member what became known as the July 20 Plot, was captured just like the rest, and executed in August 1944. I was in Germany on the anniversary of this attempt, and made this composite photograph of the TV movie about the assassination, aired on that day.

Klamroth’s youngest daughter, Wibke Bruns, wrote a book about her family and how they entered the World Wars; it sheds light on the thoughts of the German aristocracy around that time. (The book is titled: Meines Vaters Land: Geschichten einer deutschen Familie.) Wibke Bruns would present the German television news when I was a young boy. We watched German television much more than Dutch television because of the bad reception and limited programming at home.

The Red Army marched into Berlin in April of 1945. Ultimately, not only did the German Resistance fail to assassinate Hitler, but their larger goal was never realized: the part of Berlin occupied by the USSR became the capital of Soviet-controlled East Germany.

This man was the uncle of the guy who helped me prepare my trip to Germany. He told us about life in the area close to what was then the East German border. Back then there was a big military compound just across the border, and he was afraid that if a confrontation arose between East and West Germany, the compound—and his home nearby—would be a target for an American nuclear bomb.

He was the only one in the whole neighborhood who had a bomb shelter built in his yard. He showed us how he could survive an atomic attack and how he would live off his supply of food and water. It was a strange experience to see how anyone could have thought to survive an attack like that at all. It must have cost him a fortune to have it installed; his neighbors never really took him seriously.

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