Killing Hitler

Terry Parssinen

     ... historian. With The Oster Conspiracy of 1938, Dr. Parssinen both enriches our understanding of the never-ending need to resist tyranny and spotlights unsung heroes intent on overthrowing the Nazis and killing Hitler to avert World War Two. A European historian with degrees from Grinnell College and Brandeis University, Dr. Parssinen is Professor of History at the University of Tampa. He has written extensively about the international drug trade

Terry Parssinen: Edited Excerpts
Conversation 1 RealAudio3:31

Resisting tyranny is a noble tradition to be celebrated wherever it is found. Historian Terry Parssinen has uncovered a previously unknown conspiracy to avert World War Two by removing Hitler from power in 1938. Dr. Parssinen writes about previously unsung heroes in The Oster Conspiracy of 1938, a conspiracy which included highly placed individuals at the very top of the German military, aristocrats both inside the military and in civilian life. He also describes heroic actions of ordinary Germans who defied Hitler in spite of the terrors of the Nazi regime.

Dr. Parssinen has become convinced from his studies that if it hadn't been for Hitler, there would have been no World War Two, what he calls the "hinge" of the 20th century. A specialist in European history, Dr. Parssinen was in for several big surprises. The first was that no one "blew the whistle" on Oster and his fellow conspirators, even from among high ranking military people who had been asked but declined to participate in it. From 1938 to 1944, they not only maintained their secrecy, they also continued to plot against Hitler.

Then, contrary to some historians' assertions, Dr. Parssinen thinks it is important to understand that not all Germans followed Hitler blindly, though many did. He has found stories of significant numbers of Germans actively resisting Hitler and his imperialist/colonialist vision for a "Greater Germany," in the face of great personal danger. In fact, Dr. Parssinen is convinced that the Berliners who literally turned their backs on Hitler and his troops on September 27, 1938, were the decisive factor in Hitler's decision to delay his planned 1938 invasion of the strong and democratic Czechoslovakia, which was later tragically sacrificed.

Oddly enough, it was in British documents that Dr. Parssinen came upon this previously unknown conspiracy at the very highest levels of the German society. He found traces of German emissaries from the conspiracy meeting with the British Foreign Service. While the conspirators' messengers eventually made their way as far as Ten Downing Street, preconceived and inflexible commitments to policy positions obscured first hand information coming from within the Third Reich.

Today's moral of the story? Be open to available information. People making themselves heard do make a difference. And, yes, it is useful to have history as one of the elements when current policy is debated, but it's only one element, says Dr. Parssinen. Unlike some of his historian colleagues, Dr. Parssinen believes that it's worth considering what would have been different had Hitler not stayed in power, particularly as the United States stands on the precipice of a new era in its history, when Americans would do well to learn from others who have pursued empire.

[This Program was recorded May 12, 2003 in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Dr.Terry Parssinen tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell of being drawn to study high-ranking individuals who conspired against Hitler, wondering what would have been different had they succeeded. Dr. Parssinen describes sharp divisions among historians, then summarizes the rise of Hitler.


Conversation 2

Not all Germans blindly followed Hitler, Dr. Parssinen insists, adding new evidence to a hot historical debate about the role of Germans in World War Two. He remembers being amazed that from 1938 to 1944, even military generals who declined to become part of the conspiracy never "blew the whistle" on those who plotted against Hitler. He expands, then considers what kind of nation the conspirators had in mind had they succeeded."Legitimacy" is explored, then and now.


Conversation 3

Dr. Parssinen addresses the question: When, if ever, is military confrontation against an armed dictator appropriate? He describes Europe in 1938, certain of Hitler's intention to go to war. Dr. Parssinen puts the Great Depression, the Treaty of Versailles and Hitler's version of colonialism and imperialism in perspective, then describes what was simultaneously happening in Great Britain, factoring in the British Empire. Neville Chamberlain is discussed.


Conversation 4

The perils of inflexible and closed-minded foreign policy are considered. Dr. Parssinen describes being drawn into this project through British documents, finding faint traces of the German conspirators' emissaries seeking British cooperation. He expands, with chilling examples of discarded information. He details the conspiracy's actions on the night of September 27, 1938, and beyond. Preemptive strikes are discussed, as is the role history should take in making current decisions and in the democratic process.


Conversation 5

Resistance to Hitler from the German people went far beyond the conspirators, Dr. Parssinen declares, with vivid examples from 1938. He explains why he believes Hitler delayed the war almost a year because of resistance from the German people. Noting how strong Czechoslovakia was in 1938 and the tragedy of how the Czechs were sacrificed, Dr. Parssinen contrasts Hitler's nationalistic vision to that of other nationalists. The role of the French is noted. Dr. Parssinen reiterates his conviction that had it not been for Hitler, there would have been no World War Two.


Conversation 6

After offering several more examples of individuals who made heroic efforts to circumvent Hitler's tragic vision, Dr. Parssinen suggests ways the world might have been different had World War Two been averted. History, he says, needs to be included in debating current policy, but it's only one of many elements as the United States enters a new era in its history.



We thank Dr. Parssinen for including us in his semi-annual migration. It was twice rewarding to learn of the giants on whose shoulders he stands.
Special thanks to Dr. Neal Klausner, Professor Emeritus at Grinnell College, for setting a very young Terry Parssinen on the path that brought us together so very many years later


Related Links:

The Oster Consipracy of 1938: The Unkown Story of the Military Plot to kill Hitler and Avert World War II is published by HarperCollins.

In her memoir The Devil That Danced on the Water Aminatta Forna tells another story of resistance to tyranny by a government minister ... in this case, Sierra Leone. The official was the finance minister and her father, who also paid for his courage with his life.

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