In England, Adam von Trott has always been the best-known of the plotters against Hitler who were shot or hanged after the abortive coup of 20 July 1944 - better even than Claus von Stauffenberg who carried the bomb in his briefcase to the Führer's headquarters in East Prussia and detonated it. This is because from 1931 to 1933 Trott was a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College and made a tremendous impression on his contemporaries and seniors at Oxford. He made friends with men and women who were to become, or beginning to be, what the Germans call prominente. Among them were Richard Crossman, A.L. Rowse, Maurice Bowra, Isaiah Berlin, David Astor and the journalist Shiela Grant Duff, who, in 1982, published a book about their relationship, and followed it up with a volume of their correspondence. At opposite ends of the political spectrum he impressed Lord Lothian and won the affection of Sir Stafford Cripps. Trott was intelligent, aristocratic, idealistic, thoughtful, funny, beautiful, and devastatingly charming: a male Zuleika Dobson. Undergraduates and dons of both sexes were bewitched by him and never shook off the spell. No one who had ever known him at all could escape haunting by his heroic and gruesome death. The familiar photograph of him listening to the judge pronouncing the death sentence has become a tragic icon. It can be seen again in MacDonogh's book, and on this page.
LRB 22 February 1990 | PDF Download