Bald: Von der Front in den Widerstand

Detlef Bald. Die Weisse Rose: Von der Front in den Widerstand. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 2003.

Detlef Bald has two things to say in this modest book. First, that the assignment on the Russian Front from July to October 1942 was the deciding factor in the decision to resist. And second, that he's the only person who's ever made this momentous assertion.

Not only is his premise wrong - nearly every person who has ever written about the White Rose has talked about what a crucial time the Russian Front was for White Rose development - but his scholarship is faulty.

A shame actually, because he could have made a tremendous contribution to White Rose scholarship. His background is in military history. He knows how to trace troop movements, what strategies were being employed. Best of all, he is completely at home in military archives. Simply put, he knew what to ask when tracking the arduous journey from Munich to the Russian Front and back again.

But instead of concentrating on his strength, he aims for celebrity. He seems to have reached his conclusion (that what Hans Scholl, Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf and Hubert Furtwängler saw on the Russian Front created their informed dissent) before doing the research. And tried to force the facts to match that conclusion.

For example, page after page he talks about the brutality of e.g. an Einsatzgruppe, only to say, 'Well, they never saw this happen, but if they had...' He cites atrocities committed by the 252nd battalion as if they bore witness to that particular act of bestiality. When you check out the endnotes, you find that oops! That particular event happened in 1941, a full year before they were in Russia.

This criticism in no way diminishes the egregious nature of much of the brutality that did in fact take place. But the things that he cites as motivation for Scholl, Graf, Schmorell, and Furtwängler resistance apply in actual fact solely to Willi Graf, who did indeed endure the agony of seeing the 252nd - men he knew as comrades - do things in 1941 that left him beyond despair and determined to do something once he was furloughed to Munich.

Bald's book is also weakened by an excessive reliance on Jürgen Wittenstein's so-called diary entries and letters to his mother. Bald has trumpeted his use of Wittenstein's "memories" as a Wow!-moment. When in fact, no scholar worth her salt would rely on those documents. They are not only uncorroborated, but they are reconstructed. (Yes, I have a copy.) Wittenstein's actual diary and letters were destroyed in a fire in 1942. These "reconstructions" were put together presumably recently, as the first time he ever talked about them was around 2000.

Post-war reconstructions are always iffy at best (especially when reconstructed by someone who was an active member of the NSDAP). However, it's almost laughable to use his "memoirs" in a White Rose work, since he doesn't mention those supposed friends or their work. Not even in the reconstruction.

Bald takes Wittenstein's diary entries from the days in Russia and applies them to the experience of the entire group. Never mind that he knows, and he admits that he knows, that Wittenstein was not part of the group after the first three days on the train to Warsaw. Scholl, Graf, Schmorell, and Furtwängler stayed together for the duration, but Wittenstein was split off (he was never part of their tight-knit circle of friends, neither in Munich nor in Russia).

I would attribute Bald's errors in this regard to naïve enthusiasm since Wittenstein spins a great story. Except.

When it serves his purpose, Bald quotes Willi Graf's diaries and letters. He used Graf's description of their walk through Vyaz'ma shortly after arriving on the Russian Front. Willi said, The day goes quickly. In the afternoon, Vyaz'ma. A lousy march further to the meeting place at the front, first deployment, accommodation in quarters. The five of us strolled around the city. Filth, poverty, German marching music. On the hill, mid houses and rubble, the church.

Inge Jens and Anneliese Knoop-Graf researched the five of us, since there were several candidates for the fifth position: Wittenstein, Hans Goltermann, and Raimund Samüller. They found that Samüller had kept a diary (he had also been in the same train compartment with Furtwängler and Graf on the way to the Russian Front), and that he was the fifth. And they noted this, along with additional supporting documentation, including the fact that Wittenstein had been split off from the group by then.

So: Bald quotes Willi Graf's diary entry, rendered above, and then says, "Furtwängler, Graf, Schmorell, Scholl, and Wittenstein gained a first impression of everyday war when they took a walk through the city marred by destruction."

Finally, to make his point he jumps all over the chronological timeline. Bald writes about the conditions imposed on the Russian Front at a specific date, and then "proves" his statement with supporting documentation from a completely different time.

I learned a great deal about the face of the war on the Russian Front. Detlef Bald's knowledge and experience as a military historian makes sense of bunkers and the unwinnable strategy of Hitler's war.

If he had stuck with interpreting the cryptic entries in Willi Graf's diary or expanded on the militaristic aspects of the things that bothered Hans Scholl's utopian visions, his book could have been a valuable addition to White Rose literature.

Instead, the good on his pages gets lost in the braggadocio.

(c) 2003 by Ruth Hanna Sachs. Please contact Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.