Berlin — Count Claus von Stauffenberg ranks as one of Germany's few war heroes, celebrated for his narrowly foiled attempt to blow up Hitler in July 1944.
Now the Hollywood star Tom Cruise, an active member of the Church of Scientology, is about to play the doomed, dashing colonel in a film to be shot in Berlin next month — and the Germans are furious.
The fear is that Cruise will use the film, which he is co-producing, to turn the von Stauffenberg story into a propaganda vehicle for Scientology.
In Germany, where many politicians see Scientology as akin to Nazism, the authorities have been fighting hard against the sect for a decade. It is even under observation by the Federal Agency for the Protection of the Constitution, a body that usually hunts spies, terrorists and neo-Nazis.
Franz-Josef Jung, the German Defence Minister, has now ruled that Cruise should not be allowed to film in the inner courtyard of his ministry, where von Stauffenberg was shot by the Nazis.
Von Stauffenberg placed a bomb in a briefcase close to Hitler during a military briefing. It exploded, but Hitler survived with mild injuries. About 200 conspirators were rounded up and killed.
Jung made his decision to lock out Cruise after being buttonholed by Antje Blumenthal, who is the Christian Democratic Party's expert on Scientology.
"If we had let Cruise in to film, it would have been a public relations coup for the organization, especially as the actor uses every chance to promote Scientology," she said.
Ursula Caberta, director of a Hamburg-based task force that has been investigating the sect for more than a decade, said: "If you analyze L. Ron Hubbard and his writings, you will see that he is advancing the idea of a totalitarian state and of the Ubermensch (the "superman"). Because of our history we have to be much more careful about this kind of thing spreading."
The von Stauffenberg family is far from happy about Cruise's film. Count Berthold von Stauffenberg, the son of the executed officer, said bluntly: "He should keep his fingers off my father."
When the authorities set plain-clothes police on the trail of the Scientologists 10 years ago, Hollywood responded with a broadside against the German government.
Actors, including Dustin Hoffman and Goldie Hawn, the producers Aaron Spelling and Cherry Lansing and others signed an open letter — published as newspaper ads — comparing German treatment of Scientologists to Hitler's discrimination against the Jews. Helmut Kohl, the former chancellor, said that the stars had "no idea about Germany and do not want to learn about the country, otherwise they would not have dreamt this up."
The tension between the sect and the German government has grown over the years. Civil servants in Bavaria are vetted to see if they are Scientologists. Recently, police announced that Scientologists were organizing low-cost after-school tuition for schoolchildren and steps were taken to stop it.
This year the Scientologists opened a steel-and-glass HQ in the centre of Berlin as a base from which to lobby the government, a venue that Cruise and his retinue recently went to on a midnight visit.
However, film critics point out that there is no evidence that Cruise uses his film roles to enhance the reputation of Scientology. When Cruise's production team proposed suspending him by a wire from the glass dome of the Reichstag for Mission: Impossible III, there was a debate in parliament but no one suggested that it was a plot by Scientologists. In the end permission was refused.
Filming for the movie Valkyrie (the codename for the July plot) will begin on July 19, the day before its 63rd anniversary. It will be directed by Bryan Singer, whose credits include Superman Returns.