Center for
              White Rose

April 19, 1943

 Following are the events of April 19, 1943 on the basis of Ruth Sachs' research as of December 31, 2004.
  • 5 am, guard wakens prisoners. Falk Harnack shaves before being taken to holding cell (no breakfast), along with Willi Graf and Helmut Bauer. Susanne Hirzel receives a small breakfast (end pieces of a Wurst) and is taken to pickup point at Stadelheim Prison, along with Gisela Schertling and Käthe Schüddekopf (mistakenly identified as Traute Lafrenz).
  • Prisoners are transported from Cornelius Street, Neudeck, and Stadelheim Prisons to the Justizpalast (Palace of Justice).
  • Gestapo agent Eduard Geith handles last minute paperwork approving Dr. Roman Simon as attorney for Heinrich Bollinger. Freisler ignores the recommendation.
  • 8:15 am, Assistant Chief Prosecutor Bischoff arrives in Munich (from Berlin).
  • Around 8:30 am, the fourteen prisoners disembark from the Green Minna at the courthouse. They are met by a "reception" of fourteen police officers, one assigned to each prisoner. All fourteen prisoners are handcuffed and taken to cramped holding cells.
  • Käthe Schüddekopf, Gisela Schertling, and Traute Lafrenz remain convinced that they are on hand merely as material witnesses for the prosecution. They still have not been indicted.
  • Guards read names of prisoners aloud. A nameless person advises Käthe, Gisela, and Traute that they are co-defendants.
  • The long march from the holding cells to Courtroom Number 216 on the third floor begins. Men are handcuffed, women led by the shoulder. Susanne remarks to her guard, "like a bridal march."
  • Trial gets underway, although some of the players are still absent. The bailiff (Kosemund) arrives late. Weyersberg (Chief Prosecutor) is a no-show.
  • Judge Freisler's entrance into the courtroom provides a red-robed, high-energy spectacle that none of the defendants would ever forget.
  • Court clerk introduces defense counsel: Deisinger for Bollinger and Schmorell; Deppisch for Bauer; Diepold for Graf and Guter; Eble for the Hirzel siblings and Eugen Grimminger; Klein for Müller and Harnack; and Justizrat Roder for Huber. Someone points out that the three women have no defense counsel. Judges assign Diepold to Schertling, Deppisch to Schüddekopf, and Klein to Lafrenz.
  • Someone then notes that Käthe, Traute, and Gisela have not yet been indicted. Freisler orders an oral indictment to be delivered. When Bischoff finishes, Freisler warns the three women that their sentence (!) can be amended to add collusion with the enemy.
  • Freisler dominates the first hour or so of the proceedings, with a National Socialist rant straight out of Hitler Youth manuals. He also reads excerpts of the third, fifth, and sixth leaflets into the official record. The courtroom gallery erupts into protest as he reads. Defendants fear they will be lynched on the spot.
  • When Freisler reads the sixth leaflet - the one penned by Professor Kurt Huber - Justizrat Roder resigns his duties as Huber's defense counsel. Deppisch assumes the responsibility. [Unbeknownst to everyone at the trial but Huber, Deppisch had done all the legwork on Huber's case in the prior six weeks, even submitting comprehensive motions on Huber's behalf. Ironically, it worked in Huber's favor that Roder resigned. Roder had never visited Huber in prison or spoken with his client since his arrest, despite being a "good friend" of Professor Huber.]
  • Alexander Schmorell is called to the bench to "defend" himself. Schurik's friends are shocked by the vitriol unleashed against Alex.
  • Professor Huber is up next. Before Huber can speak, Freisler reminds the spectators that Huber had been stripped of his professorship and PhD, "because he was a seducer of German youth." Huber reckons with his death and responds to Freisler's taunts courageously. This upsets Freisler so greatly that when someone hands him a law book, he throws it over the bench onto the floor. "We don't need law books. In this courtroom, the National Socialist heart is presiding!"
  • Following Huber, Willi Graf stands before Judge Freisler. Willi refuses to defend himself and bears the tirade composed and serenely. Käthe's emotions get the best of her, as it suddenly hits her that these are her friends who are being accused of treason.
  • Hans Hirzel follows Willi Graf to the bench. While Susanne is proud that her little brother does not collapse under the weight of Freisler's words, Falk Harnack notes that he falls into every trap the judge sets for him. His youth and inexperience render him helpless.
  • Susanne Hirzel receives better treatment from Freisler. He "falls for" her blond hair, blue eyes, and Aryan appearance. Freisler says that Susanne is "the original image of a Germanic girl."
  • Franz Josef Müller and Heinrich Guter are next. Their reprimands are so minor that no one records what Freisler said. However, everyone later remembered what follows. "Something is not right at this Gymnasium in Ulm," Freisler remarks. "Someone should look into it. However, that is not a matter for this court to pursue."
  • Eugen Grimminger then faces Freisler, who addresses Grimminger much the same as he had addressed Alex and Professor Huber. Their encounter resembles a jousting match, with Freisler insistent on maintaining control of the situation.
  • Heinrich Bollinger and Helmut Bauer are up next. Again, a slow-down in tone, almost as if Freisler uses the opportunity to catch his breath.
  • Nearing the end, Falk Harnack approaches the bench as if he were giving a theatrical performance. When he wishes to ensure that the gallery can hear him, he booms his responses. When Freisler asks a touchy question, Falk uses a stage whisper to respond. He uses his understanding of National Socialist propaganda to turn Freisler's words back on him, and to present himself (Falk) as a super-patriot. The defense attorneys later remarked that they were impressed by the performance.
  • Käthe, Traute, and Gisela are last to be called to the bench. Käthe and Traute had behaved heroically during their interrogations, managing to protect friends and use the Nazi vision of women as brainless to their advantage. Suddenly, both find themselves ill-prepared and "strangely shy" (according to Traute).
  • Defense counsel is permitted to summon witnesses on their clients' behalf. Eble asks that Rev. Ernst Hirzel testify on behalf of his children, that Albert Grimminger testify on behalf of his uncle, and Tilly Hahn for her boss (Eugen Grimminger). Deppisch announces that Karl Alexander von Müller regretfully would not be able to testify on behalf of Huber, but that the Gestapo agent Eduard Geith would testify that Huber had always told the truth. Klein asks for permission to submit expert opinion on Falk's mental health, and that Franz Josef Müller's father be allowed to testify on his son's behalf. The prosecutor (not defense counsel!) asks that Gestapo agent Zacher be allowed to testify on behalf of Heinrich Guter. Deisinger makes no requests on behalf of Alex Schmorell or Heinrich Bollinger. Deppisch makes no requests on behalf of Helmut Bauer or Käthe Schüddekopf. Diepold makes no requests on behalf of Willi Graf, Heinrich Guter, or Gisela Schertling. And Klein makes no requests on behalf of Traute Lafrenz.
  • Freisler rules regarding witnesses. Only Tilly Hahn may testify on behalf of Eugen Grimminger. Agent Zacher could testify on behalf of Heinrich Guter. All remaining petitions are denied.
  • Agent Schmauss would testify against Eugen Grimminger. All three witnesses testified as ordered, briefly and to the point.
  • Lunch for Freisler and his "presiding council" is called. Prisoners must remain seated in the courtroom. One policeman brings them a quart of water and a tin tray of carrots to be shared among all fourteen defendants.
  • Half an hour later, proceedings resume. Freisler reads a police report into the record that benefits Gisela Schertling, then declares presentation of evidence closed.
  • Court clerk re-reads the indictments. Bischoff then requests death sentence for Alexander Schmorell, Kurt Huber, Willi Graf, and Eugen Grimminger; twelve years penitentiary for Hans Hirzel; ten years penitentiary for Franz Josef Müller; eight years penitentiary for Helmut Bauer and Heinrich Bollinger; six years penitentiary for Gisela Schertling; three years penitentiary for Katharina Schüddekopf; five years in prison for Heinrich Guter and Falk Harnack; and, three years in prison for Susanne Hirzel and Traute Lafrenz.
  • Even as Freisler deliberates, Bureau Number One of Munich's "Special Court" is setting up a separate trial solely for Traute Lafrenz, whom Gestapo agent Geith assumes to be one of the most dangerous among the group. The paperwork is on its way to Berlin as the trial in Munich progresses.
  • Defense counsel is given opportunity for rebuttal. Responses are minimal, primarily requesting somewhat milder sentences. Only Eble - counsel for the Hirzels and Grimminger - uses the chance to defend his clients. He amps up Nazi rhetoric to play on Freisler's obvious sympathies for Susanne Hirzel's Aryan features. And he asks that Tilly Hahn be allowed to testify on behalf of Eugen Grimminger a second time.
  • Tilly Hahn then matches Susanne Hirzel's "German woman" routine and Falk Harnack's theatrics. She portrays her boss as someone who is too gullible, who believes everyone who says they are needy, and who regularly helps soldiers - and Alex and Hans were soldiers. This is one of the few lighthearted moments in the trial, as Freisler responds to Tilly's not-very-transparent attempts at "flirting" with the judge.
  • The defendants are allowed a final word, a chance to speak for themselves.
  • Alex confesses that he had carried out the illegal work of which he is accused and had done so believing in a better Germany. No apologies.
  • Willi Graf similarly confesses his guilt, believing in a better Germany. He expresses regret for his actions, but no one in the courtroom believes him.
  • Professor Kurt Huber is permitted to read a twelve-page treatise he had written. To the surprise of all involved in the show, he reads it from start to finish, no interruptions, with almost complete silence in the courtroom. Susanne Hirzel notes that his words are so moving, she half-expects someone to jump up shouting, "Where is justice?"
  • Eugen Grimminger tries to speak in his own defense, but Freisler mocks him. "Grimminger, keep it short. You know you could lose your heeeeeaaaad over this!" So Grimminger keeps it short.
  • Susanne Hirzel asks if she may speak, but not in her own defense - in defense of her brother. Freisler grants her the right to do so, and she rattles off as many "empty, patriotic words" as she can remember.
  • 8 pm, Freisler adjourns the proceedings to deliberate (actually, to eat supper).
  • Guards take the prisoners to a single, large holding cell and give them an "unidentifiable thick porridge" to eat. No one eats.
  • Huber and Harnack, once bitter enemies, spend time together during the recess. They make peace with one another.
  • Official court records show that the proceedings resume at 9:45 pm. This is not the case.
  • Between 10:30 and 11 pm, court is back in session. Freisler stands and pronounces sentence. He does not read the verdict (written verdict comes days later) - he makes it up as he goes along. The verdict is laced with curses and slurs towards the prisoners.
  • Verdict: Death sentences for Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, and Kurt Huber. Ten years penitentiary, Eugen Grimminger. Seven years penitentiary, Helmut Bauer and Heinrich Bollinger. Five years in prison, Hans Hirzel and Franz Josef Müller. Eight months in prison, Heinrich Guter. One year in prison, Käthe, Traute, and Gisela. Six months in prison, Susanne Hirzel. Acquitted, Falk Harnack. "This one acquittal is granted out of thanks for the Führer's birthday."
  • Trial ends with the words, "Next trial tomorrow at 9 am."
  • Prisoners and their individual police escorts march from the courtroom. Käthe notes that the "common" Bavarian policemen congratulate the prisoners on their relatively light verdicts. "One of them hugged me, tears of joy in his eyes."
  • Susanne and Hans Hirzel see their parents as they leave the courtroom. Susanne experiences a moment of Schadenfreude. "I thought it served my father right to have to see by what kind of people we were governed."
  • Wolf Jaeger, good friend to many in the White Rose, waits in the corridor to say good-bye to his friends. He follows them out to the parking lot, watching as they are loaded into the Green Minna. He stands there until they disappear from view.
  • Destination for the night: Stadelheim Prison. The Green Minna stops at Neudeck and Cornelius Street Prisons to the prisoners can retrieve their belongings.
  • At Cornelius Street Prison, Willi, Falk, and Helmut find that the guards had saved a hot supper for them. They eat, though not much, then smoke a cigarette. Guard advises them that smoking is not allowed, to which Willi replies, "That's quite enough." Falk and Willi talk for a few minutes, with Willi asking Falk how much time had transpired between his brother's trial and execution. Falk assures him it would be quick.
  • For the remainder of the ride to Stadelheim Prison, the prisoners are in relatively high spirits. Even Willi, Alex, and Professor Huber try to join in the laughter, albeit not as wholeheartedly.
  • The Green Minna deposits all fourteen prisoners at Stadelheim Prison. The friends say good-bye as best they can. Alex asks Traute to make sure that no one holds Maria Luise's betrayal of him against her after the war. (He never learned that it was two soldiers who had actually denounced him, not Maria Luise.)
  • Grimminger asks Alex why he had divulged so much information. Alex responds, "Grimminger, if only you knew what lay behind me and what they did to me, you would understand." (Which Grimminger understood to mean that Alex - and Alex alone - was physically tortured.
  • Once inside the prison complex, they are separated into three groups: Death sentence, penitentiary, and prison. Falk is assigned to the "death sentence" group.
  • Those sentenced to death - plus Falk - have a long walk to Death Row. One more time, good-byes. They are interrupted with the instructions to strip. Everyone but Falk must sleep naked and chained. In the eyes of the National Socialists, their humiliation is beginning.
Little could they know how profoundly their courage would affect generations to come.

(c) 2004 Ruth Hanna Sachs. All rights reserved. Please contact Ruth for permission to quote.
Website Builder