Cover Image: White Knights in the Black Orchestra

White Knights in the Black Orchestra

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Member Reviews

My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Hachette Books for an advanced copy of this history of the efforts against Nazism and the many brave people who did what they could. 

A quick look at Twitter and well for some a glance out of the window is enough to show that there seems to be a darkness that is gathering again, a darkness that doesn't even know enough about history to know that we are repeating something that has happened in living memory. Tales about resistance, tales about people looking at events and going, oh this is not good, or even worse, well this won't do anything to my life, let me go back to my interests are important. Reading about people brave enough not only to say hey this is not right, and courageous enough to risk everything to fight is something, and I include myself in this, that not many people have. White Knights in the Black Orchestra: The Extraordinary Story of the Germans Who Resisted Hitler by Tom Dunkel is a history of brave men and women who fought and died in many cases for what they believed morally and physically was right.

As Hitler was beginning to solidify power, fooling those who thought they were smarter, more politically astute, or just had the feeling that it can't happen here, not all Germans were willing to march or even goose step to Hitler's tune. A group, made of diplomats, retired and current military leaders, spies and civilians began at first a quiet resistance, to jam the machine, slowing down efforts here and there. Later their efforts began to expand to getting Jewish targets evacuated or across the border to safety in any way possible, even the attempted assassination of Hitler. The story is told focusing on two men Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who loved jazz music and his brother-in-law who worked with Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of German Military Intelligence, who set up the idea of the Black Orchestra and tried to stop Hitler. 

A fascinating book with a nice way of telling the story that keeps everything moving even as it moves around in time when needed. Dunkel tells a story of brave men doing brave things, but really fills his cast out with little things that make the author feel that they know this men. Describing Bonhoeffer's time in New York going to African American churches, and getting an appreciation for jazz and gospel music. Little things make the character interesting and sets him apart from the Nazis not only morally, but in the fact the Nazis hated jazz music. The sourcing is very good and I really enjoy how the story was presented and told. I was familiar with the ideas of German resistance and about Bonhoeffer but I learned and cared far more than I thought I would about this people and the risks they undertook. Dunkel has a real skill explaining events, interlinking them with other actions in a way that never gets lost, long or uninteresting.

A very good book about a dark time in history, something that very few people know about, or sadly might not care to find out about. This is the first work by Tom Dunkel I have read and enjoyed it quite a bit and even more learned a lot. Recommended for readers of World War II, people who enjoy stories about inspirational people fighting great odds, and for politicians who refuse to say anything or even worse do anything.
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White Knights in the Black Orchestra is a book that is perfect for fans of WW2 buffs but may not be for everyone. 

Tom Dunkel writes a fantastic study of the people who were fighting the Nazis from either inside Germany or from within the group. Dunkel elaborates on the lives of these people and the impact that they had on the anti-Nazi push across Europe. 

Overall I enjoyed Dunkel’s book but say it is probably more for history buffs and those researching the Nazis.
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There were good Germans in World War II! This book proves it!

White Knights in the Black Orchestra (one of the best titles I've seen lately) by Tom Dunkel is an amazing book. It tells the story numerous members of an anti-Nazi group in Germany from the rise of the Third Reich to the end of World War II. As you may expect, there is a lot of sad outcomes, but I will avoid spoiler territory even if this all happened decades ago.

Dunkel's style is one of the most important aspects of the book. He deftly handles dozens of characters without leaving your head spinning. He cuts up chapters to keep everything in perspective and the focus on specific people without expanding the scope too much. Most importantly, he has an eye for the details which leaves a reader wanting more and desperately hoping the conspirators make it out alive. Even someone who doesn't normally read history will love this book.

(This book was provided as an advance copy from Netgalley and Hachette Books. The full review will be posted to on 10/11/2022.)
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4.5 stars

For readers familiar with the history of German resistance, this book will be merely revisiting known territory, but for other readers, especially those with just basic knowledge of the Black Orchestra anti-Hitler circle, Tom Dunkel's book is the best and the one I'd recommend as an introductory book on this event and its protagonists. Let me tell you why.

But first, what was the Black Orchestra? Like good music-loving Germans, the Gestapo had this little idea of their own to name a couple of resistance cells as "orchestras" due to their style of operation, with a "conductor" or ringleader, and "musician" members doing different things with distinct levels of involvement, which they'd give labels such as "pianist," and etc. One was the <i>Rote Kapelle</i> (Red Orchestra), who were the Schulze-Boysen/Harnack circle so called because they were mostly left-leaning and passed on information to the Soviets; and the other was the <i>Schwarze Kapelle</i> (Black Orchestra), the subject of this book. They were a cabal of Wehrmacht and Abwehr officers with the occasional civilian member, whom you might remember from your history lessons as the folks behind the famous bombing of Hitler's bunker by Count von Stauffenberg that almost did the Führer in. 

That was the brainchild of the cabal led by Admiral Canaris and Hans Oster, with plenty of recognisable names amongst the conspirators. But it's not the topmost ringleaders, not the uniformed conspirators, who are the main focus in this book but the non-uniformed ones. Men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hans von Dohnányi, and Carl Goerdeler; the civilians, the "white knights" of the title, men of upstanding if sometimes uncomprimisingly rigid, moral standards, that joined the circle of military conspirators intent on stopping Hitler.

It's this angle showing the whole of the activities of the Black Orchestra through these men of rectitude what makes Dunkel's book my favourite to recommend as an intro book over others about the same topic, of which there's a few. It's told like a novel, showing things from one of the men's standpoint, with dialogue, and conversationally narrated, including anecdotes and even funny little peccadilloes like how Bonhoeffer's friend got him to approve his driver's licence test. But that colloquiality hasn't sacrificed accuracy, because the book is faithful to the facts and doesn't omit some of the less polished aspects of the "white knights," who may have been morally upstanding men but were no saints, as should be because this is no hagiography. There's admiration and acknowledgement of their courage and principled resistance, but no whitewashing. 

I liked Dunkel's style very much, because he could get me interested even though I know the story of the Black Orchestra very well and know there was information missing. This lack isn't diminishing, though, because for a newcomer reader it won't be indispensable. The author never assumes the reader already knows this or that, so he provides the context needed but not too much that it reads like a History PhD candidate's final paper. This dry academicism is usually a killjoy for history-loving readers, hence why Dunkel's easy and amenable style with dialogue and all will be welcome. There's a worthy bibliography at the end if you were to feel like reading more ponderous tomes, too.
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