Dumbach-Newborn: Shattering the German Night

Annette Dumbach and Jud Newborn. Shattering the German Night: The Story of the White Rose. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1986.

Shattering the German Night: The Story of the White Rose should not have been as bad as it is. Unlike previous (and subsequent) historians, Dumbach and Newborn extensively interviewed non-Scholl family and friends. They traveled throughout Germany with tape recorder, talking to the Probsts, the Schmorells, and others.

I’m not sure what happened on their way to the typewriter. I read this book even before I started my database. I didn’t yet have the millions and millions of words that needed organizing. At the time I read Shattering, I was working off memory and my grad school version of 3x5 notecards.

And this book drove me nuts. Dumbach-Newborn used real quotes, but attributed them to wrong time, wrong place. I didn’t understand this almost thirty years ago, and I still do not understand it. 

They squandered truly excellent information. I could not use anything in this book when writing our histories, because their credibility was shot. On the bright side, although I resented them for the automatic distrust I had to fight when I asked for interviews from the same people a few years later, all it took to gain trust with Erich and Hertha Schmorell, Herta and Micha Probst, Anneliese Knoop-Graf, and others, was to point out the discrepancies in Shattering.

Below are a few of the more egregious errors, all easy to spot. I will stop about thirty examples in, to keep this from going on forever. Note that I am not even mentioning the times Dumbach-Newborn perpetuated Scholl-Wittenstein mythology. For example, Inge's imagining Sophie Scholl in the train headed to Munich, Sophie's presence in Munich on her birthday in 1942 (she was not), or that Fritz Hartnagel was Sophie's unofficial fiance (sigh), or the portrait of the Scholl parents as "a harmonious and loving couple" (so very much no). I'm detailing the things they should have gotten right from their interviews and non-Scholl sources.
  1. Lilo Ramdohr. Not a sculptress (p. 7). Dancer and painter.
  2. Sophie Scholl was not present during the discussions with Harnack and Huber the week of February 11, 1943. She was in Ulm. Gisela Schertling was in the room. (p. 11)
  3. February 1943, Huber did not believe that Nazis were "a domestic version of Bolshevism." Rather, Huber argued in favor of National Socialism, that Germany should return to its foundation in the original NSDAP platform. He had no issue with the antisemitic parts. (p. 12)
  4. Falk Harnack was not the only one left alive by the end of the year. This misstatement comes from the misidentification of Gisela Schertling as Sophie Scholl. (p. 12)
  5. Sophie Scholl functioned as kindergarten teacher in Blumberg, which was home not to a munitions factory, but to an iron ore mine where forced laborers were made to work in the Doggererz mine under awful conditions. (pp. 16, 20)
  6. While talking about Sophie's time in Blumberg (9/41-4/42), D-N cite Sophie's apocalyptic diary entry from August 9, 1942. Yes, they say "later," but the clear implication is that she talked about the end days during her time in Blumberg. (pp. 20-21)
  7. Similarly, while writing about Sophie's 'relationship' with Fritz Hartnagel, and in the middle of the Blumberg section, D-N quoted from a May 16, 1940 letter from Sophie to Fritz. By the time Sophie was in Blumberg, she and Fritz Hartnagel had at best a strained friendship. (p. 21)
  8. General note here: A major weakness of the Dumbach-Newborn book - no footnotes or endnotes. This permitted them to use quotes out of context, without being held accountable by their readers for so doing. The excerpts of letters from Sophie to Fritz continue this shameless date-hopscotch.
  9. Not only did D-N repeat the Scholl legend about Sophie's 1942 birthday, they put Willi Graf in the room as well. Willi would not meet anyone from the White Rose circle until June 1942. (pp. 27-28)
  10. In early May 1942, the friends had not yet started writing and mailing leaflets. They also did not store the duplicating machine near Hans' room. (pp. 28-29)
  11. D-N clearly got most of their information about Hitler Youth in Ulm from Inge Scholl, because it is mostly wrong. Inge was the first Scholl to join, not Hans, although he and Sophie quickly followed their eldest sister's example. Jews were not excluded from Hitler Youth membership in 1933; Susanne Hirzel describes one of her brother's Jewish friends who remained a member until late 1934 or early 1935. Robert Scholl did not oppose his children's joining Hitler Youth (per Elisabeth Hartnagel Scholl). Inge Scholl never became a Volksfeind. Werner Scholl had joined a bündische organization, and only briefly joined Hitler Youth. But he renounced his membership a couple of years later. (pp. 31-33)
  12. Page 38 - Dumbach-Newborn repeat Inge Scholl's false claims that the Scholls were philo-Semitic and did not agree with NSDAP antisemitism. This is one of the worst lies Inge Scholl told. For them of all people to regurgitate it...
  13. All of Chapter 3 should be disregarded. It contains nothing but Scholl legend, buttressed by color commentary from historical references.
  14. Chapter 4, regarding Sophie Scholl's development, is equally devoid of any merit whatever.
  15. Hans Scholl adopted d.j.1.11. (bündische) traditions not in 1937, and not as a secret act of defiance. Rather, Hans Scholl adopted the Kothe and other bündische traditions in the summer of 1933! And not as opposition to Hitler Youth. His Jungvolk squad conflated the trappings of Hitler Youth and d.j.1.11. with the consent and blessing of their platoon leader, Max von Neubeck. (p. 54)
  16. In 1937, Otl Aicher was not a friend of the Scholl family, merely of Werner Scholl. Otl was one of the boys that Hans and-or his Hitler Youth troop would regularly beat up. It took a while for Otl to trust Hans Scholl. Certainly he did not trust either Hans or Inge Scholl in 1937. (p. 55)
  17. Windlicht [Storm Lantern] did not originate in 1937, and it most certainly was never a secret protest newsletter. It was Otl Aicher's idea, the summer of 1941. Windlicht enjoyed a circulation of fewer than ten friends and never addressed controversial subjects. Instead, it focused on literature, religion (especially Otl's articles and the ones Hans plagiarized from Carl Muth), and philosophy. It most assuredly was not the result of a clandestine reading circle. Note that these sorts of newsletters were encouraged by National Socialists. (pp. 56-57)
  18. Kristallnacht - It is surprising to me that D-N skip from Hans Scholl's 1937 arrest directly to the beginning of World War II in September 1939. They did not write about his trial in 1938, nor about the family's May 1938 move into the great apartment on Münsterplatz where a Jewish family had lived prior to Kristallnacht. Nor did they question the Scholls' silence regarding Kristallnacht while living as the only "Aryans" in that apartment on Adolf-Hitler-Ring. This information would have been available to them from Ulm's Stadtarchiv. (p. 58)
  19. Dumbach-Newborn were too quick to accept Inge Scholl's story about Ms. Kretschmer. Yes, she was one of Sophie Scholl's favorite teachers. But Sophie Scholl was also aware that Ms. Kretschmer's brother was the famous psychiatrist Ernst Kretschmer, whose work on the correlation between body shape and mental stability had been adopted by the Nazis. While Kretschmer abandoned that work during the war, he openly supported the work of the SS, signed the academics' oath of loyalty to Hitler, and helped the NSDAP experiment with shock therapy for returning soldiers, a practice most nations reject. Dumbach-Newborn ignored the connection. It is doubtful that Ms. Kretschmer was anti-Nazi. D-N provided no supporting footnote for their assertion. (p. 61)
  20. I am puzzled at the Dumbach-Newborn silence regarding Bad Dürrheim (Summer 1940). This Praktikum came after Ms. Kretschmer and before Krauchenwies (April 1941), and is covered extensively in Sophie Scholl's letters. Why did they omit such a crucial part in Sophie's life? (pp. 60-61)
  21. Sophie's Reich Labor Service was not in a castle in Krauchenwies, but rather in a manor house. The German word Schloss can be translated either castle or manor house, but RLS was at the manor house. The castle is in nearby Sigmaringen (three castles built over centuries by the Swabian branch of the Hohenzollern family, above Hechingen). If both Dumbach and Newborn did not bill themselves as "modern German history" specialists, this mistranslation would not be as bad. Krauchenwies was on the map in 1986. (pp. 61-62)
  22. The absence of the Kohlermann children's sanitorium in Bad Dürrheim is noticed in D-N's description of the girls at the RLS in Krauchenwies. The bunkmate who snored and never took a bath was from the summer of 1940 at the sanatorium, not RLS. (p. 62)
  23. Sophie Scholl did in fact carve a very public "career" for herself in BDM/Jungmädel, as did her eldest sister Inge. Even after Sophie and Elisabeth were removed as leaders (for replacing a swastika with runic characters, not for "dissidence"), she continued to attend BDM meetings faithfully. Before the runic characters incident, Sophie was a platoon leader, same rank as her brother Hans. (p. 64)
  24. Dumbach-Newborn do not put Hans Scholl's January 5, 1943 letter to Rose Nägele in its proper context. First, why just "January 1943, about five weeks before he was seized by the Gestapo" and not the exact date? Second, the context is that Hans Scholl found himself in Munich alone, having traveled before Sophie. That same day, he had visited Katharina Schüddekopf, who was angry at him for his treatment of Traute and did not talk long. He then tried Gisela Schertling, who apparently turned him down as well. As he was wont to do when bored, he wrote Rose. In that same letter, he told Rose he was abandoning his interest in politics and philosophy to study medicine and medicine alone. Why did D-N edit that out? Seems important to me. Hans Scholl definitely was not putting forward a "daring and comprehensible" image for Rose. (pp. 65-66)
  25. The section about Alexander Schmorell angered Erich Schmorell. D-N plucked the most romantic parts of Alex's Being, and squashed them into a sentimental blur. Alex was far more of a thinker and doer than Hans Scholl. You would not know it from D-N's description of Schurik. Additionally, why did D-N mention that Alex's uncle "had contacts in high places" - without mentioning that the contacts were in fact the uncles themselves, his stepmother's brothers, who were part of Hitler's inner circle? Did D-N not know that, or did they consciously choose to ignore it? Either way, Alex deserved a much better introduction. Finally, they skipped over Alex's semester in Hamburg, when he met Traute Lafrenz. (pp. 66-70)
  26. I don't even know where to begin with the awfulness of the intro to Willi Graf. Ignore pages 71-73. The description of Willi is worthless.
  27. I am stopping here - not even making it to #30 - because my blood pressure is rising. The scholarship from pages 74 on is simply horrible. Alex did not buy a typewriter. He borrowed it from his neighbor. In the summer of 1942, they did not have access to Manfred Eickemeyer's studio, much less to its basement; that would not happen until January 1943. Sophie and Christoph Probst knew about and worked on the first four leaflets; the addresses in Christoph's hometown belie his contribution. Sophie was not the person whose mantra was Be doers of the Word - that was Willi Graf. Who would not meet anyone in the White Rose until the literary soirees and fencing matches of June 1942.

It's truly disappointing, this book. The access these two writers-historians had to the people of the White Rose would be unmatched until our own research trip in early 1995. Why they chose to waste that work to produce yet another sloppy, Scholl-centric volume - it blows my mind, leaves me speechless.

Like Vinke's small book, this is one that no good scholar should ever cite uncritically. When I see it in footnotes, I immediately know that writer was lazy and fell back on disproven, legend-ary secondary material.

Uncovering the problems in this book would not have required access to a formidable database such as mine. Any reasonable fact-checker should have red-lined the manuscript to oblivion. Even before discovery of the Gestapo interrogation transcripts.

The fact-checkers and editors at Little, Brown, & Company bear equal responsibility for the poor quality of this book.

© 2023 Denise Heap. Please contact Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.