Literature of the Holocaust
maintained by Al Filreis
"PROTEST OF YOUTH" - [The White Rose]
by ANTON GILL[from: Gill, Anton. AN HONOURABLE DEFEAT. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1994. pp. 183-195]
Today, the main square outside the University of Munich is called Geschwister-Scholl-Platz. The name commemorates a small group of students who, operating independently, managed to create one of the few single protests of great significance outside the main body of the Resistance, in the town which had, throughout the mid-thirties, advertised itself on tourist brochures as 'The Birthplace of the Party'.
Hans and Sophie Scholl were the second and fourth of the five children of Robert Scholl, the liberal and independent mayor of the little town of Forchtenberg on the River Kocher to the east of Heilbronn. He was a big, warm-hearted man, rarely without a cigar smoking away below his luxuriant mustache. Hans and Sophie were born in 1918 and 1921, and in those days Forchtenberg's only contact with the outside world was a yellow post-coach that connected it with the nearest railway station. The children loved it, but Robert had ambitions for his town. He managed to get the railway extended to Forchtenberg, and had a community sports center and a warehouse built. These improvements were not without their critics: Robert was far too progressive for some, and in 1930 he was voted out of office. The family moved first to Ludwigsburg and then to Ulm, where they settled. Robert, who had a tendency to live beyond his means, rented a large apartment for his family on the Cathedral Square. He set himself up as a business and tax consultant.
The five children, Inge, Hans, Elisabeth, Sophie and Werner, were free to enjoy, as compensation for the loss of the countryside, the large palace park nearby. Hans, according to his brother-in-law, was more like his father--impulsive, generous and extrovert. Sophie, no less strong a personality, had her mother's quiet sensitivity. What she shared with Hans was an absolute sense of human rights, something which all the children had inherited from their father, who exerted a strong but benign influence on them. Sophie also developed a mystical feeling for nature. She loved dancing. She was a good pianist and she could have become a professional artist - her drawings for Peter Pan, for example, glow with life; but when she went to university in Munich she opted to read the unusual combination of biology and philosophy.
The happy family life did not end with Hitler's seizure of power. The arrival of National Socialism was the first impact of politics on the children's thought. Hans was fifteen, Sophie, twelve.
Inge Aicher-Scholl was sixteen. She remembers that on 30 January I933 the radio and the newspapers were full of the news, 'Now everything will be better in Germany. Hitler is at the tiller."We heard a great deal spoken about the Fatherland, of comradeship, the union of the Germanic people and love of the homeland. It impressed us, and we listened eagerly when such things were talked about on the streets or in school--for indeed we loved our homeland... And everywhere we heard that Hitler wanted to help the homeland back to greatness, happiness and security. He would see to it that everyone had a job to go to and enough to eat. He wouldn't rest until every single German enjoyed independence, freedom and happiness...The children were keen to join the Hitler Youth, and their parents, though they had given them a liberal upbringing, did not forbid it. But never for an instant had Robert been fooled by Hitler, and he said to them, 'Have you considered how he's going to manage it? He's expanding the armaments industry, and building barracks. Do you know where that's all going to end?' The children argued that Hitler had solved the problem of unemployment, and pointed to the new motorways being built throughout the land. Robert wondered aloud if material security would ever make happy a people which had been robbed of its right to free speech.
At first his arguments fell on deaf ears. His children were enthusiastic members of the Hitler Youth and its female branch, the League of German Girls. They became group leaders. Only Sophie was a little less enthusiastic than the others. She was already worried by the fact that her Jewish schoolfriends could not join. She listened more attentively to her father's arguments. He and Hans, on the other hand, were barely on speaking terms some of the time.
But then Hans attended the 1935 Party Rally at Nuremberg. He had been selected to carry the flag of Ulm--Standort at the Rally--a great honour. But he came back a changed man. He did not say much at first, but gradually new ideas emerged. The endless, senseless drilling, the hate-filled aggressive speeches, the stupid conversation, the vulgar jokes--a concentration of all this at Nuremberg had finally focused his mind on what Nazism really meant.
There had been signs of Hans's disaffection before this. He was annoyed when he was told that the Hitler Youth was not interested in his collection of international folksongs--foreign, especially Russian, songs were strictly forbidden. And the special flag of his group was forbidden too--all groups were expected to carry a swastika banner. When finally his twelve-year-old standard bearer was threatened by a senior Hitler Youth official for refusing to give up the group flag, Hans hit the official. That was the end of the Hitler Youth for him. Soon afterwards he heard that a young schoolteacher had been picked up by a gang of SA and spat upon to order; the schoolteacher's crime was failure to join the Party. Gradually, news of the concentration camps seeped through.
Sophie was quick to pick up his mood. The first cracks had appeared in the cement which bound their allegiance to Hitler. Hans began to show more of an interest in another kind of youth group--the dj.1.11,, so-called because it had been founded as Deutsche Jugend on 1 November I 929. The dj.1.11 was now illegal--all youth groups and organisations had been banned under the Nazis or amalgamated with the Hitler Youth--but it still existed underground. Its spirit was the open-minded, liberal, easy-going one of the Weimar Republic at its best. Its members would organise hitch-hiking expeditions as far as Finland and Sweden, or travel south to Calabria and Sicily. It represented cosmopolitanism, not nationalism. Its members did not wear uniforms or salute each other. They read 'illegal' books--works by George Bernard Shaw (who the Nazis thought was a Jew on account of his red hair), Stefan Zweig and Paul Claudel. It was for culture and against militarism, for the individual and not the mob. Sophie might have joined it too, but for the fact that it was open only to boys from age of twelve upwards. Nevertheless, she and her oldest sister Inge caught its mood.
One day in late November 1937 there was a ring at the door of the Scholls' apartment and two men from the Gestapo stood there. The secret police had had the dj.1.11 group under observation for some time and now they were ready to pounce. The men said they were there to search the flat and arrest the children. With great presence of mind, Frau Scholl told them that they could do so by all means, but that, if the gentlemen would excuse her, she had to go to the baker's. The policemen didn't object--women in the Third Reich were consigned to three areas of life: church, kitchen and children. Even female Nazi leaders were never given much status or publicity by the regime.
Frau Scholl left the flat and went up to the attic floor where Hans's and Werner's--the younger brother was also a determined anti-Nazi--bedrooms were to be found. Quickly she packed any potentially incriminating literature into a basket and took it round the corner to trusted friends. The Gestapo search turned nothing up, and the officials took Inge, Sophie and Werner--the three children who were at home at the time--away with them. Sophie was released almost immediately, but Inge and Werner were taken to Stutttgart and detained for a week, interrogated about what they might know of Ernst Niekisch and his Widerstand (Resistance) magazine, and about dj.1.11. They managed to play dumb, and were finally released. Hans, who had been arrested subsequently, was held for five weeks. Luckily for him he had been conscripted by then, and sympathetic commanding officer had him released, telling the Gestapo that as Hans was a soldier, he was in the Army's jurisdiction, not theirs.
The Scholls--who were a well-known family in the smallish of Ulm--failed to stay out of trouble. Werner had taken an early decision to leave the Hitler Youth. It was a gesture of solidarity towards his friend Oti Aicher (who later married Inge Scholl), who had refused to join it and as a result was not allowed to take his final school examinations, thus cutting off any hope of university. Aicher later remembered how Werner had tied a swastika scarf round the eyes of the bust of Justice in front of the Ulm Law Courts.
Werner was a keen photographer, and most of the surviving pictures of Sophie were taken by him. He died on the Russian Front, aged twenty-one. At a meeting of the League of German Girls to discuss suitable material for home reading, Sophie suggested Heinrich Heine, the brilliant nineteenth-century revolutionary German poet who was also a Jew. Replying to appalled objections at her suggestion, she said, 'The person who doesn't know Heine, doesn't know German literature.' Robert Scholl himself was later arrested and imprisoned briefly for anti-Nazi activities.
The children read a great deal: Socrates, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Pascal; Maritain and Bernanos. The influence of these thinkers went deep, strengthening their resolve against the regime. The question was what to do, and how to do it? Meanwhile, for Sophie, school continued. She met Fritz Hartnagel, a career soldier four years her senior, and they went for tours in the country occasionally in his father's car, together with her older sister Elisabeth. For the innocent Sophie friendship with Hartnagel began to tum into something more. But it never quite became love. After the war Hartnagel married Elisabeth. They still live in Stuttgart, where before his retirement he was a judge.
If she was moving away from Nazism through the late thirties, Sophie Scholl turned actively against it as a result of two experiences: Kiistallnacht, which she lived through in Ulm, and the outbreak of war on 1 September I939--She extracted a promise from each of her male friends that they would never fire their guns, but she was well aware of how unrealistic such a promise was. She wrote to Hartnagel with uncharacteristic bitterness:You'll have your hands full from now on. I just can't accept that now people will be in peril of their lives because of other people. I can't accept it and I find it horrifying. Never tell me that it's for the sake of the Fatherland.Her subsequent letters express increasing disgust and anger at the war. 'I think I know you and that you're not much in favour of this war,' she wrote to him later. 'So how can you spend your time training people for it?' And in September I940 she wrote a letter of which Beck and Oster would have approved:For me the relationship between a soldier and his people is roughly like that of a son who swears to stand by his father and his family through thick and thin. If it turns out that the father harms another family and then gets hurt as a consequence, must the son still stick by him? I can't accept it. justice is more important than sentimental loyalty.Hartnagel himself remembers:It was striking to see with what incisiveness and logic Sophie saw how things would develop, for she was warm-hearted and full of feeling, not cold and calculating. Here is an example: in winter 1941-42 there was a big propaganda campaign in Germany to get the people to give sweaters and other warm woolen clothing to the Army. German soldiers were at the gates of Leningrad and Moscow in the middle of a winter war for which they weren't prepared ... Sophie said, 'We're not giving anything.' I had just got back from the Russian Front ... I tried to describe to her how conditions were for the men, with no gloves, pullovers or warm socks. She stuck to her viewpoint relentlessly and justified it by saying, 'It doesn't matter if it's German soldiers who are freezing to death or Russians, the case is equally terrible. But we must lose the war. If we contribute warm clothes, we'll be extending it.'After matriculation from school in 1940 she took a one-year course in kindergarten supervision, in the hope of avoiding State Work Duty - a kind of civil national service which all would-be students had to fulfill. But not only did the authorities refuse to accept the kindergarten training as a replacement for the State Duty, but with the acceleration of the war in 1941 they added to it State War Work. For another year, therefore, Sophie endured barrack life and manual labour before she could finally start her course at Munich University. She travelled there from Ulm early in May 1942. It was just before her twenty-first birthday--her last.
Hans was at the station to meet her. He was reading medicine at the university - the semesters alternating with service at the Front. Through him she quickly gained an entree to university life. Among the first people she met was Professor Carl Muth, whose library Hans had been cataloguing. Muth was a pillar of the literary Resistance. His Roman Catholic magazine High Land had been banned finally in June 1941, having managed for eight years never once to mention Hitler's name. By now Hans had read the sermons of Bishop Galen. He had not given up his own ideas of making some kind of stand against the regime, and had become markedly politicised. From his writing it is clear that had he lived he would have chosen politics, not medicine, as his career.
He was already at the centre of a group of young medical students--Willi Graf, Christoph Probst and Alexander Schmorell--who had decided to launch a leaflet campaign against the war, encouraging passive Resistance to the regime. They were joined by the popular philosophy lecturer Kurt Huber, who had already attracted the suspicion of the Nazis. He was considerably older than the others, but had no wish to lead the group. He guided his younger comrades' thoughts, and edited the last two of the six leaflets they produced. His lectures were always packed, because he managed to introduce veiled criticism of the regime into them.
The group had no wish to throw bombs, or to cause any injury to human life. They wanted to influence people's minds against Nazism and militarism. Already a sympathetic architect had lent them his studio in a rear courtyard for their clandestine activities, and the relatively well-off Sclhmorell had been able to buy a typewriter and a duplicating machine. They called their group the 'White Rose'. Sophie was not brought into it initially, but she had a shrewd idea of what her brother was up to from early on. She would find books in his rooms--which smelt of jasmine and cigarettes--with significant passages marked.
The choice of the name 'White Rose' is not easily explained. The rose as a symbol of secrecy might have occurred to them, and 'white' might have reflected the fact that their leaflets were not inspired by any colour of political thought, but by broad humanism. It's also possible that the name was taken from B. Traven's eponymous novel, in which a Mexican farmer fights a tyrannical oil company. Whatever the reason the symbol is still a powerful one in Germany.
The first four leaflets of the White Rose appeared in quick succession in June and July 1942. They were written jointly by Hans Scholl with Alexander Schmorell and Christoph Probst, who was the only married member of the group apart from Huber and who was already, at twenty-three, the father of two children (a third, whom he would never see, was born after his arrest).
The first leaflet begins uncompromisingly: 'Nothing is less worthy of a cultivated people: than to allow itself to be governed by a clique of irresponsible bandits of dark ambition, without"Resistance.' The four issues, each covering two sides of the paper, draw on Goethe, Schiller and Aristotle, among others, to make their point, which is contained effectively in the sentence quoted. They refer to the murder of Jews in Poland, encourage the idea of sabotage in the armaments industry, and criticise the anti-Christian and anti-social nature of the war. 'We are all guilty. We will not be silenced. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!'
Sophie soon joined. Fear for the safety of her family was overridden by her desire to do something to fight Hitler. It was hard for them all: hard to swim against the current, and harder still to wish defeat upon their own country. Worst of all was the isolation in which they worked.
Tirelessly the group distributed the leaflets by the suitcaseload throughout towns in southern Germany, either travelling with them (a very dangerous undertaking) and delivering them by hand at night, or using the mail. They were so successful that the movement spread, notably to Hamburg, where a branch of the White Rose was set up which survived its originator.
The White Rose went into temporary abeyance during the summer of I942 as Hans, Willi and Alexander were ordered to the Russian Front, but they returned to Munich in October. The period had been of special significance to Schmorell. His mother, whom he had lost in infancy, was Russian. Meanwhile Sophie had spent the vacation working in an arms factory, and Robert Scholl had been in a Gestapo prison.
Hans had seen the maltreatment of Jews and Russian prisoners at first hand. One day he gave his tobacco to an old man, and his iron rations to a girl. The girl had thrown the rations back at him, but he had picked them up, plucked a daisy, placed it on the pile of rations, and laid them at her feet. After a moment's hesitation, she had accepted them, and put the flower in her hair.
The group returned from the Front more determined than ever to carry on the work of Resistance, and to make the White Rose into a permanent Resistance cell. Hans and Alexander even managed to arrange a meeting with Falk Harnack, the younger brother of Arvid Harnack of the Red Orchestra, with the intention of making contact with the main Resistance in Berlin, though death was to prevent this ever happening. In the meantime, postage and paper cost money. Fritz Hartnagel gave Sophie 1000 Reichsmark, for what she told him was 'a good purpose'. A generous source of support was the Stuttgart tax consultant Eugen Grimminger, who was married to a Jewess and had looked after Robert Scholl's business while he was in prison. A schoolfriend of Sophie remembers a meeting in Stuttgart in December 1942, when she told her, 'If I had a pistol and I were to meet Hitler here in the street, I'd shoot him down. If men can't manage it, then a woman should.' She replied, 'But then he'd be replaced by Himmler, and after Himmler, another.' Sophie retorted: 'One's got to do something to get rid of the guilt.'
They bought a new, less noisy, duplicating machine. On trains, they took suitcases full of leaflets. If the police searched the train, they would leave the suitcase on the rack and hide in the lavatory, or spend the journey in another compartment. They became used to living on their nerves, but they never considered that they had a choice. Sophie and Hans took adjoining rooms in Franz-Josef-Strasse #13. In January 1943 a new White Rose leaflet appeared, this time written in a more popular style. Several thousand copies were made. Addresses were painstakingly copied out of telephone directories. The conspirators had to ensure that the Gestapo could not trace the source to Munich. Once again by train journeys, the group had to run the police gauntlet and post their leaflets from neighbouring towns.
On 13 January, to mark the 470th anniversary of the university, the Nazi Gauleiter--District Leader--of the city, Paul Giesler, gave a speech in the course of which he told the female students that it would be better for them to get on with giving the Fuhrer a child than wasting time on books; he even offered to put his henchmen at their service. Several girls immediately left the hall in protest, only to be arrested at the exit. This led to a demonstration, in the course of which the Nazi Student Leader was dragged from the podium, beaten up, and declared a hostage against the release of the girls. The Nazis telephoned the police, who promptly arrived and broke up the meeting. This was the first student demonstration against the Nazis in Munich, and it stimulated the Gestapo to redouble its efforts to find the originators of the White Rose.
Elisabeth Scholl spent a week at the end of January and the beginning of February with her brother and sister in Munich. She found a Russian blouse in a wardrobe and Sophie told her that Alexander liked to put it on when he went to visit the Russian forced-labourers in their barracks. Christoph Probst dropped in on his way between postings during a period of military duty and, though he only stopped for an hour and a half, Elisabeth was struck by the fact that he changed into civilian clothes. On 3 February news of the defeat at Stalingrad (where Fritz Hartnagel was fighting) came through on the radio. One evening soon after, Alexander and Hans said they were going over to the Women's Hospital. Later on Willi Graf arrived and when Elisabeth told him where his friends were, he laughed and said they would hardly go there without him. All that evening Sophie was nervous, and kept talking about the need to write anti-Nazi graffiti on walls. 'You'd need to use something that was hard to get off,' she said, 'like bitumous paint.'
The following morning Hans, Sophie and Elisabeth went to the university to attend a lecture by Huber on Leibniz. On a wall by the entrance the word 'Freedom' had been written in huge letters. 'What bastard did that?' snarled an older student. A large group of people were watching a handful of Russian women Tabourers trying to clean it off. 'They'll have a hard job,' said Sophie. 'That's bitumous paint.' Another friend, Traute Lafrenz, who was one of the leaders of the Hamburg White Rose, and now works as a doctor in Illinois, was in Munich too that day and saw Hans Scholl. 'I remember he was smiling to himself. Some outraged student or other came up to him and said, "Have you seen what's happened?" "No," said Hans. "What?" But his smile broadened. From that moment on I began to be terribly afraid for him.'
The significance of the defeat at Stalingrad, in whatever light Goebbels presented it, could not be concealed from the German people, and the group around Hans Scholl realised that they should follow up with another leaflet immediately. This, the last from the White Rose, was quickly prepared and addressed to their 'Fellow Students'. It was more strongly and directly expressed than any of its predecessors.The day of reckoning is come, the reckoning of German youth with the most appalling tyranny that our people has ever endured. In the name of the entire German people we demand from Adolf Hitler the return of our personal freedom, the most valuable possession of the Germans ...Hans and Sophie decided to distribute it in the university personally.
On Thursday 18 February 1943 the weather was springlike--They hurried to the university at 10 a.m. before the first morning lectures were over, carrying copies of the new leaflet in a small suitcase. They hurried to spread them wherever they could--on windowsills, shelves, the tops of walls--until their supply was almost exhausted.
They had already left the main building when they decided to go back and get rid of the rest. They ran up the main staircase of the university's central hall and emptied the remaining contents of the case from a parapet into the courtyard. They were just in time. Immediately afterwards the doors of the lecture halls opened and students poured out. But the Scholls had been seen. The university's caretaker, Jakob Schmid, charged towards them as they raced back down the staircase, seized them each by the arm and bellowed, 'You're under arrest!'
Both the young people stayed calm. They remained quiet and dignified as they were taken first to the bursar and then to the rector, SS Oberfuhrer Dr Walter Wrist, lecturer in Aryan language and culture. The doors of the university were sealed and all the students remaining inside had to assemble in the courtyard. Those who had picked up leaflets had to surrender them. The Scholls were taken to Gestapo Headquarters in handcuffs. Secret police went immediately to the rooms at Franz-Josef-Strasse, where they found several hundred new red 8-pfennig stamps. Very soon afterwards, the Gestapo was on the trail of the rest of the group, though the Scholls betrayed no one. Christoph Probst was arrested the following day and the others soon after.
The Scholls had known the risk that they were running. Sophie had even said shortly before: 'So many people have already died for this regime that it's time someone died against it.' There had been plenty of indications that the Gestapo investigation had been getting closer to them every day. They failed to receive a warning at the eleventh hour: the previous day, 17 February, Otl Aicher, who had been wounded on active service, was staying with Carl Muth. He was in Munich with the intention of seeing Hans and Sophie, but before he could make contact he received an urgent coded message from Ulm by telephone, to the effect that Hans should be told personally that the 'book called Totalitanian State and Utopia was out of print'. He had rung Hans and told him that he had important news. They made a date for the following day--18 February--at 11a.m. But when Aicher reached Franz-Josef-Strasse, it was too late. The Gestapo were already there, and he, too, was arrested--luckily to be released soon afterwards.
Hans and Sophie were not tortured, but they were interrogated intensively for four days in Gestapo Headquarters at Wittelsbach Palace in Munich. Otl Aicher and Traute Lafrenz took the bad news to their parents, who tried to see if anything could be done to secure their release. It was in vain. Throughout their ordeal, the brother and sister, who each shared cells with one other political prisoner of their own sex, remained calm and fatalistic. Neither of them was broken by the experience. The trial was set for 22 February. Roland Freisler, Hitler's hanging judge, flew down from Berlin specially to preside. This was an indication of the importance the Nazi leadership considered the White Rose to have. The war was lost; the Allies were already bombing Munich; but protestors still had to be smashed.
The hearing started at 9 a.m. and lasted until 1 p.m. It was a closed trial, and those without passes, including Hans's and Sophie's parents, were not admitted, though Robert was able to force an entrance briefly. The Scholls were tried together with Christoph Probst. None of them flinched under the sarcastic, hectoring onslaught of the judge. The verdict was a foregone conclusion: death by the guillotine. They were taken from the court to Stadelheim Prison immediately after judgement had been passed.
By a miracle the parents had a last opportunity to see their children. They saw Hans first. Robert embraced him saying, 'You will go down in history. There is another justice than this.' Hans asked them to say farewell to his friends, and only when he mentioned one name very special to him did he weep, bowing his head so that no one should see. Sophie, when her turn came, accepted some little cakes that her brother had refused, saying, 'Lovely. I didn't get anything to eat at lunchtime.' She looked wonderful, fresh and full of life. Her mother said, 'I'll never see you come through the door again.' 'Oh mother,' she answered, 'after all, it's only a few years' more life I'll miss.' She was pleased and proud that they had betrayed no one, that they had taken all the responsibility on themselves. Her main concern was that her mother should be able to withstand the deaths of two children at the same time. But, for herself, she was completely composed.
The parents left and returned to Ulm, thinking that something might still be done to help--at least to get the sentence commuted. But in the Nazi State, punishment normally followed sentence with terrifying speed. By 6 p.m. Sophie and Hans were dead.
The following day, Inge Scholl was able to visit the flat in Franz-Josef-Strasse and there she found Sophie's diary, which had been overlooked by the Gestapo. Inge saw it as a gift from heaven. The family, in accordance with Nazi custom, was placed under arrest for being related to the malefactors. Kurt Huber, Willi Graf and Alexander Schmorell, who were arrested later, were sentenced to death on 19 April.
Hans and Sophie were buried in Perlach Cemetery in south Munich on 24 February. In the town, graffiti appeared on walls: 'Their spirit lives.'
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