Directed by Bryan Singer, this 2008 extravaganza is based on actual events that took place in Germany during the Second World War. It pays tribute to Lt. Col. Claus von Stauffenberg and his involvement in the July 20, 1944, attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Portraying Stauffenberg is Tom Cruise, a Golden Globe winner, four-time Academy Award nominee and one of the highest grossing stars in movie history.

A member of an aristocratic family, Stauffenberg is a career officer in the German Army. As WW II erupts, he sees extensive combat in Poland, France and Russia. Highly decorated and promoted up through the ranks, he is transferred to the vaunted “Afrika Korps” and posted to North Africa. In 1943, he is severely wounded in action, resulting in the loss of his left eye, right hand and two fingers on his left hand.  After several months of hospitalization and recuperation, he is placed back on active duty and assigned to the position of chief of staff of the reserve army.

However, his experiences in Russia and North Africa and the turning fortunes of the war cause him to reassess his beliefs. He begins to question the Nazi regime, led by Hitler, which is leading his beloved Germany toward utter destruction. He joins a like-minded group of German officers who hatch a plot to assassinate Hitler, arrest his Nazi cronies, seize control of the government, and bring about an end to the war.

In his new position, Stauffenberg has direct and personal contact with Hitler, so he volunteers to plant a time bomb at an upcoming staff meeting that Hitler will be attending. Stauffenberg hides the bomb in a briefcase, which he brings to the meeting. After planting and arming the device, he excuses himself from the meeting. As he does, the bomb explodes. Having personally witnessed the massive explosion, he notifies his co-conspirators that Hitler is dead, and the coup d’état is on. More than 20 are injured in the explosion, four fatally, but unbelievably, Hitler survives the blast with only minor injuries. Revenge by Hitler and the Nazis is swift and without mercy.

Stauffenberg is arrested and summarily shot in the predawn hours of Aug. 21. Some 7,000 others — co-conspirators, military and civilians alike, their families and those even suspected of having sympathies toward the plotters — are arrested and tortured. In all, just under 5,000 are eventually executed as a result of their participation, or perceived participation, in the plot.

Technically accurate in its portrayal of World War II uniforms, decorations, vehicles, weapons and equipment, this movie provides us with an insight into an event that is seldom talked about today. Had the plot succeeded, it would have changed the course of World War II in Europe and potentially saved millions of lives. Ever the patriot, Stauffenberg’s last words were “Long live sacred Germany.”

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Steve Corbo

A founding member and corporate secretary of the Italian American Veterans Museum, Steve Corbo is the museum’s curator and a military consultant for Fra Noi. He has served for 25 years as president of S.A. Corbo & Associates Inc., providing professional liability insurance to health care providers. The son and nephew of World War II veterans and a passionate military historian for over 50 years, he has written and published articles on a variety of topics, including military history, and serves as the military consultant for Fra Noi, the Chicago-area Italian-American magazine.

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