JANESVILLE — Want to read about the dangers of a dictator who feels betrayed?
Award-winning author Ann Bausum has released her newest book “Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge” and is planning a virtual event at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 24 at the Hedberg Public Library. To participate in the event people can go to the library’s YouTube Channel.
“This book offers an insight into the depth of evil that existed in the regime that can be set alongside the misdeeds we are much more familiar with such as the Holocaust. It helps to illustrate the breadth and consequence of allowing such evil to take hold,” Bausum said.
Published by National Geographic, her book brings a unique moment in history alive by connecting readers to the personal stories of four eyewitnesses she interviewed.
During the summer of 1944, a secretive network of German officers and civilians banded together for Operation Valkyrie in order to make a last attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Their plot was meant to take place at the Wolf’s Lair, the dictator’s headquarters in East Prussia where he spent nearly half of World War II. The assassination attempted by Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg failed and an enraged Hitler demanded revenge by taking family members including children of the Valkyrie conspirators.
Within weeks, Gestapo agents had taken as many as 200 relatives from their homes, separating the adults from the children, and punishing them all.
Bausum said some are familiar with the failed coup because of the movie “Valkyrie” starring Tom Cruise.
She noted Germans mounted a broad and ongoing resistance to the Nazi regime. Even as one group was exposed or eliminated, others stepped forward. This history is captured at the German Resistance Memorial Center (Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand) in Berlin.
There were so many travesties linked to the Nazi regime, principally the Holocaust, that sometimes smaller but also evil behaviors fell below the radar.
“There were about 700 people arrested following this failed coup, and more than 150 of them were executed after ‘show trials,” Bausum said.
While family members and older teens were taken to various jails and prisons and often interrogated, some of the youngest children were taken to the Borntal, a collection of state-run homes where the children stayed located in Bad Sachsa, Germany. With the resemblance of a summer camp, the Borntal had children as young as 10 days old detained three to six weeks prior to liberation by American forces in 1945.
Bausum interviewed the oldest son of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, a military officer who planted the explosives to kill Hitler at the Wolf Lair. She was able to spend a couple hours with Berthold Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg who was 10-years-old at the time of the coup.
“It was very poignant to hear this man’s childhood memories of his father,” Bausum said.
The other man she interviewed was Friedrich-Wilhelm von Hase who was 7-years-old at the time of the assassination attempt.
Although the boys were not physically abused at the site and things had an outside appearance of normalcy, Bausum said it was traumatic. Children were separated by siblings as they were housed by age and gender. They also were told they had new last names, had their possessions such as photos taken and knew almost nothing about their fate or that of their families.
“It’s a reminder terror can take many forms,” she said.
The two other grown children were interviewed via phone during the pandemic in the United States including 97-year-old Maria-Gisela von Hase Boehringer who was age 20 at the time.
“She was placed in prison,” Bausum said
Christa von Hofacker Miller, age 12 at the time, shared her diary.
She said her account illustrates how regimes can manipulate and control others by exploiting their fears and enveloping them in uncertainty.
While researching the book, Bausum traveled twice to Europe to get to know the people and places that became intertwined in 1944 after the failed effort to kill Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair. Bausum’s son Sam Boutelle, who had lived in Germany for a year after college as a Fulbright Scholar, lent his German-language skills to the project during these travels.
Lauren Rachel Woolf, an intern from Beloit College served for a semester as a research assistant for the project.
“Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge” is Bausum’s 11th book for National Geographic Kids and her fourth look at international history. She’s published a total of 16 books. Her first, a photobiography of Beloit-born explorer Roy Chapman Andrews, came out in 2000.