Berlin. It is cold. I watch as a breeze blows dry leaves down the wide, clean street as the Diplomat explains the papers were torn from the board by last night’s storm. One of the posters was brought back by a passenger from the local U-Bahn station, but the others. We don't know.
I looked around at the bright, empty street. A whisper rustled in the air surrounding me. I could almost distinguish words, could almost see faces. What were they saying? Who were they?
My colleague invited me into the Embassy, I turned and we walked into the tall, white building
Later, outside. The air was still. With my coat buttoned tight and gloves on, the whisper of knowledge accompanied my journey. Listening, I sought more.
A little time passed without any great, immediate discovery. Letting the matter rest as other duties and tasks had to be addressed, I noticed things. Things like a book about to fall off a shelf in the library, I reached out to right it, a random film on tv, dates on documents, more unexpected books, a message began to come together. Names were spoken, faces emerged.
Henning von Tresckow, Ludwig Beck, Friedrich Olbricht, Claus von Stauffenberg, resistance to the Nazi regime, that was the whisper I sensed.
Europe in 1944 was on the way to total destruction. Guiding principles in my work are Compassion and Equality. The events of World War II are so foreign to my way of being that I needed to study some of this period to try to understand.
One of the names that seemed to float on the air is Claus von Stauffenberg. He is known for carefully placing a briefcase loaded with explosives and a silent timer within a couple of metres of Adolf Hitler.
Claus Shenk Graf von Stauffenberg was born in 1907. His mother, Caroline encouraged her children to study the Arts, learn music and to engage with culture. Claus was particularly interested in Architecture. His Catholic upbringing imbued in him, from an early age, with a sense of duty towards society as a whole. He was deeply instilled with the Christian principles of Catholicism.
As a young man he regularly attended Mass in Dresden, he visited museums and played the cello. Among the 23 students in his class, Stauffenberg stood out as a practising Catholic, and a humanist with intellectual interests. In September 1933 Claus married Nina, described as ‘extremely good looking' in St. James' Church in Bamberg, southern Germany. Descriptions of Claus say he was handsome, gifted, a superb horseman who practised haute ecole. He studied english and russian, read history, had a great sense of humour and a generous capacity for friendship.
Reading about the attempt to kill Hitler which so nearly succeeded, I carefully analysed any original accounts I could find about the events on that hot summer day which may have ended the brutal war a year early.
The 20th July 1944. A meeting with the Führer. An early start. As Claus was a Colonel, Chief of the General Staff to the Chief of Army Equipment and Commander in Chief of the Home Army, he was provided with a car. By 7am his Driver, named Schweizer, drove Claus and his brother Berthold, who had decided to accompany Claus to see him off, to Rangsdorf Airfield.
There they met up with Claus' Adjutant Werner von Haeften, the plane was delayed by fog, but around 8am Berthold and Claus wished each other the best of luck and the plane set off.
Landing at Rastenburg in East Prussia (now Poland) at 10:15, just to the south of Wolfschanze, Hitler’s Headquarters, they were met by a car and taken through several perimeters and levels of security. After Claus had breakfasted with fellow staff, Werner von Haeften rejoined him, it was around 11:30, Werner waited in a narrow hallway outside General Keitel's office while Claus discussed work with him. Shortly before midday Hitler’s personal servant telephoned to say the meeting in the Briefing Room had been changed to 12:30. The same afternoon Mussolini was scheduled to visit.
Around 12:25 General Keitel wanted to hurry up and end his meeting with Stauffenberg but Claus had to delay going to the Briefing Room until he knew Hitler was in there, so in order to stall and prepare the explosives, Stauffenberg asked where he might freshen up, change his shirt, the day was very hot, also, due to his injuries while he was with the Afrika Korps, Claus could use the opportunity to call his assistant, von Haeften to help.
Offered the use of a nearby sitting room, one officer noticed them handling an unusual package but he didn't think anything of it at the time. Waiting for him to walk across to the Meeting with them, Claus' colleagues loitered outside. Inside Claus and Werner were carefully and quickly preparing the explosives, setting the timer, then concealing the bomb within the briefcase.
Hurrying out to join his colleagues, one helpful chap took the briefcase! Claus reefed it away from him causing another to admire his energy and enthusiasm for the meeting.
Claus had given this situation a lot of consideration, he did not want to kill. According to Fabian von Schlabrendorff, a fellow conspirator, Stauffenberg’s contempt for Hitler had a spiritual basis, it sprang directly from his Christian faith and moral convictions.
Early in 1944 Stauffenberg asked a friend, who was Lutheran, whether she thought it would be right to sacrifice the salvation of one’s own soul if one might thereby save thousands of lives?
At this time Konrad von Preysing was Bishop of Berlin, he was a decided opponent of the Nazis. Remember Catholics were also targeted during the Nazi regime. According to some accounts it is believed that when Claus spoke with Preysing, the Bishop said he did not regard himself as justified in restraining him on theological grounds, and it is known that in 1944 Preysing met with and gave a blessing to Claus von Stauffenberg not long before the 20th July.
In order to absolutely minimize hurting others Claus moved over to stand very close to Hitler, placing his briefcase of explosives almost beside the Führer. Hitler leaned over the table, almost lying across it, to peer at maps while officers gave their reports. Judging the best time to leave, Stauffenberg made the excuse of having to make a phone call and stepped out of the room...
Von Haeften was waiting for him, it was around 12:45 as they walked towards their car when an enormous explosion reverberated around the compound, Stauffenberg and his colleagues saw a person covered with Hitler’s own cloak being carried out, they could only conclude that it was Hitler
Immediately and with urgency Stauffenberg and his Adjutant had to get out of the Wolf's Lair and back to Berlin. Back to Rastenburg Airfield, but all the gates out were closing! With skill Stauffenberg negotiated their way through, on the narrow road von Haeften threw an unused second explosive out of the car. This time they did not have to wait for a courier plane, they had a Heinkel He 111 ready to go, they boarded quickly and took off at 1:15! Flying back to Rangsdorf Airfield they landed at nearly 3:45. At 4pm von Haeften made a telephone call reporting Hitler’s death. Around 4:30 Stauffenberg and von Haeften returned to the offices of the Home Army High Command and General Army Office Headquarters on the Bendlerstrasse in Berlin. The Home Army Headquarters became the centre of the Coup to overthrow the Nazi Regime.
Despite some confusion about Hilter's demise, Stauffenberg and his close colleagues pressed forward with the planned coup d'etat, however too many others lost their momentum and the change of leadership began to fail, more and more men became determined to make a display of loyalty to Hitler. To maintain their connection with the corrupt regime, measures were taken against the responsible people who had seized the initiative to try to end the war, demands were made, orders issued, shots were fired in the offices and sadly Stauffenberg accepted their attempt was not working.
The same night, the leaders of the coup were rounded up, led out to the courtyard of their office building in Berlin, and in front of a pile of sand lit by the headlights of cars and vehicles, one by one the conspirators were shot by firing squad, it is said that when Claus stood in front of the sandpile his Adjutant Werner von Haeften leapt out in front of him to take the bullets,
Nevertheless, Claus von Stauffenberg was killed on the night of the 20th July 1944, his words, shouted as he was being shot, 'Long live holy Germany' are his last earthly endeavour in defiance to Nazism.
Two days later the Gestapo arrived at the family’s country house in Southern Germany to arrest Claus' wife Nina, Nina described those two days as 'a gift from Heaven', Claus had told her not to stand by him but to do everything to save their children.
When their three boys and one girl woke up their Mother was gone, instead there were two Gestapo officials running the house looking after the young children with their Nanny. They were kept there until 4th of August when the children were collected by the National Socialist Welfare Service. Before they were taken, their Nanny brought them to the local priest for a blessing, which he did with tears in his eyes.
Nina, taken by the Gestapo, was three months pregnant. She was brought to Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she was kept in isolation for five months. In January, due to give birth, she was moved over 100 miles to a Nazi maternity home where her and Claus' last child, a girl named Konstanze, was born on the day that Auschwitz was liberated.
The failure of this last attempt to end the war through ending Hitler’s reign allowed the war to continue for almost another year, resulting in the deaths of approximately 40 million people.
The role of the Artist in society is constantly considered. Both by the Artist and the people who view Art. Do Artists stand on the sidelines, do they stand a little outside of society. Or do they immerse themselves in the centre of whatever vogue is in fashion? Is an Artist even important to society? There is so much more to an Artist than taking pictures or creating pretty objects which are changed into commodities to be bartered.
How should we use our talent which I believe is a gift from our Creator, should we put it aside in order to fit in and achieve domestic goals which change with each generation? Shouldn’t we embrace our God given talent and be a conduit for good.
It is my belief that Artists are almost like aerials, picking up signals, we can 'tune in' and separate the white noise and flotsam in order to decipher a truth.
And a truth I discovered is, on the afternoon of the 20th July, whether Hitler was dead or not didn’t really matter, enough work had been done to rid Europe of one ruthless gang, but deliberate ignorance, fear and lack of conviction caused the supreme efforts of brave people to unravel.
About the author: artist Eve Parnell raises and discusses issues which our Society often struggles to address.
A solo show of her large pencil drawings on tissue paper with the title 'Let me sing dreams as words of truth', from a poem written by Claus von Stauffenberg in 1923, was exhibited in the Humboldt University in Berlin 2017. Her work has been selected for several important exhibitions such as the Royal Academy of Art Annual Summer Show, The Royal Society of Marine Artists, The Society of Graphic Fine Art Annual Exhibition, plus solo shows across Europe
Dr. Peter Hoffmann, William Kingsford Professor of History at McGill University, Montreal and Author of "Stauffenberg. A Family History" McGill-Queen's University Press: Montreal, 3rd ed., 2009 writes "Eve Parnell in her delicate drawings of birds, plants, sculptures, even of dead pigeons expresses dream-like compassion and confidence in life, "dream as truth"."
Anne Stewart, Curator of Fine Art, National Museums Northern Ireland: "Eve Parnell has established an international career as a resourceful and highly accomplished draughtswoman. The impressive quality of her work is due in part to her decision to work in pencil on tissue paper, possibly the most sensitive and demanding of all surfaces. Parnell's technique requires enormous skill and confidence, as each mark is irreversible, yet despite these difficulties her drawings possess a fluidity that suggests the lightness and immateriality of thought. The fragility of Parnell's materials, and the graceful assurance of her drawing style combine to create work of remarkable subtlety."
Dr. John Turpin Professor of the History of Art, Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin describes Parnell's work "Her work over the years has had a conceptual content as well as a strong technical delivery. She welcomes unconventional exhibiting locations in which to show her work as these challenge the viewer to question and to reflect on the work."