Klaus von Menen was an Oberleutnant in the First World War and has risen to the highest rank of the German Army. But when we first meet him, the General is being made redundant, shuffled off to the Fuhrer Reserve.
Deep down, General von Menen knows that Germany will lose the war and fears the Russians will soon destroy the family estate at Mecklenburg. His number-one priority is to keep his family and friends safe.
General von Menen believes:
“Hitler’s fight is no longer for Germany. It’s not even for the preservation of the Nazi Party. It’s for himself.”
But he also cautions his family that they must keep such thoughts consigned to the private sphere: there are severe penalties for anything construed as defeatest talk.
The General’s best friend, Hans Steiger, explains to his son Carl:
“Your father’s a professional soldier, a loyal one, too, but ever since Stalingrad he’s been in a state of perpetual torment.”
This is the ongoing battle: how can General von Menen be loyal to his country without believing in its leader? How can he uphold his own morality without endangering his wife, son and daughter? Where is the line between obedience and cowardice, between bravery and recklessness?
It is against this background that the General and Steiger form their plan.