Geyer (Clara): Wilhelm Geyer

Clara Geyer. "Wie Wilhelm Geyer die Folgen der Studentenrevolte der Geschwister Scholl auf wunderbare Weise überstanden hat." In Rottenburger Jahrbuch für Kirchengeschichte, Band 7. Rottenburg: Geschichtsverein der Diözese Rottenburg-Stuttgart, 1988.

When Clara Geyer sent me a copy of this article, I was skeptical.

First, the Yearbook is an annual publication of the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart. The Catholic Church has a poor track record when it comes to publications about the White Rose, as most official Catholic authors try to force all White Rose activity into the mold of Catholic theology. And frankly, that does not work. [I stress official, because there are plenty of good, honest Catholic historians.]

Second, the usage of “miraculous” in her title. Again, in keeping with Inge Scholl’s postwar conversion to a strict form of Catholicism, the Scholl mythology attributes too much plain old human courage to “miracles” and not enough to backbone.

Third, when I read the article and it made me cry, I just knew it had to be fake.

Then we met the Geyer family, including Clara Geyer. Despite having already met Erich and Hertha Schmorell (who had in turn recommended we talk to the Geyers), we were unprepared for the anger and hurt left over from Inge’s exclusion of Wilhelm Geyer from the White Rose story. Geyer called Inge and Otl Aicher out on financial irregularities related to their Hochschule. That was all it took for him to be excised, despite his critical, vital role for the White Rose students in Munich.

Where the Schmorells invited us to share white asparagus and wine, the Geyers included us in their family tradition that dates back to 1940. Every Thursday at 2 pm, the entire family (or all who can) assembles for coffee, cake, and conversation. Since 1940.

Over four weeks of coffee and cake in 1995, the Geyers threw open their private archives. Every word in Clara Geyer’s biography of Wilhelm has basis in fact. Every letter is real. Every memory documented.

This very, very short article is based on Wilhelm Geyer's diary entries and correspondence. A great many of the letters originated from the 100 days he spent in Gestapo jail pending the trial on July 13, 1943. Those letters in particular display the genuine, honest humanity that is missing from so much White Rose work.

In those letters from prison, Geyer addressed each of his six children by name, commenting on the letters they had written him (which did not survive), highlighting something extra special about each child. If they sent him a drawing, he made sure to praise a serious aspect of their work. Each letter ended with heartrending words for his wife, with additional commentary for his mother.

The letters make it clear why Sophie Scholl considered Wilhelm Geyer her mentor (and why his exclusion is criminal). We understand too why Traute Lafrenz and Katharina Schüddekopf would go to the studio to talk with Geyer those last six weeks before the arrests. It's clear why Gerhard Feuerle was drawn to this man, this artist whose work he emulated, this person whose character Gerhard longed to imitate.

Geyer was a giant of a man, funny, brilliant, one of the most courageous among all who gathered in Manfred Eickemeyer's studio that fateful 1943. Only Geyer could playfully call his friend Harald Dohrn "more papal than the Pope himself."

Those letters from prison also detailed his observations from his cell. Too many additional legends sprang up postwar from fringe White Rose individuals who invented stories or exaggerated facts associated with their imprisonment. Susanne Hirzel, Eugen Grimminger, and Wilhelm Geyer alone provided an unvarnished glimpse into life inside prison walls.

In Clara Geyer's words, we see the full-blown personality of this husband, father, soldier, artist, friend, mentor.

If you take the time to read this essay, you will never again be satisfied with the Scholl-centric telling of White Rose resistance.

My profoundest thanks to Clara Geyer, Elisabeth Geyer, Hermann Geyer (who at nine had had an awful crush on Sophie Scholl), Martin Geyer. You will always be family. You will never be forgotten.

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