It is one thing to have a great deal of information. It is quite another to be able to process it.
In 1994 I had compiled a written ‘database’ of sorts to organize events. Even with such sparse references available, it comprised 750-800 handwritten, double-sided pages. I knew I could not continue with that compilation method.
But first, to backtrack. Even in my naïve, innocent days of White Rose research, I understood that to “see” this story, I could not merely look at the (then-Scholl) letters in order and layer on the commentary. One of Sophie’s letters could cover two or three weeks of activity. To write about their lives in a halfway chronological fashion required deconstructing the correspondence and diaries – preserving the integrity of when a letter was dated, but breaking down what they said they had done to the proper timeframe, as well as keeping an eye open for what they said they were going to do the next day.
Maintaining this chronology was hard but viable if I limited myself to the Hanser, Steffahn, et al references.
When I added in Willi Graf, and the Geyers, and Schurik, and Lilo’s memoirs, and then Susanne Hirzel’s? Unwieldy does not even begin to describe it.
At first, I tried creating a document ‘database’. That is, I set up one document as April 1942, one as May 1942, and so on. I typed in the text, putting it in proper sequence as I went.
That worked fine, as long as I was inputting sequential data, e.g. diaries or letters, that did not skip around a lot.
The minute I addressed the memoirs, miscellaneous letters, and other documents, and more general materials, the document database likewise became unwieldy. In addition, document files were unstable as they grew larger – something that was truer with DOS- and Windows 95 based word processors than with subsequent software.
I attempted to finesse the issue by using Microsoft Outlook, which had the distinct advantage of allowing me to cut and paste from Word documents. But I could not manipulate data output, and it was a pain to use.
So I spent some time researching available databases on the Internet. The ones I had known best from accounting days – especially Paradox – were too expensive. Others like the old Lotus Symphony were too geared to financial information. I played around with Microsoft Access and could not see how to customize it sufficiently.
Just as I was about to give up, I ran across Active Diary, which appeared to be precisely what I needed. When I downloaded it, I realized it could not import Word documents. And it had the nasty habit of cutting off longer entries. The entries showed up onscreen, but when printed, stopped at about half a page. The software designer kept promising to fix that bug, but he never did. I began to feel like this project would die for lack of adequate resources.
I mentioned my quandary to a friend named Finley Shapiro, who unbeknownst to me designed massive Microsoft Access databases for the manipulation of engineering data. In fifteen minutes, he whipped out a form and tables design that became the basis for everything I’ve done since. Over the next two or three weeks, he assisted me as I worked to set up drop-down lists (you have to write names and places the same way every time to have a hope of success – computers are picky), added new fields, and created reports.
For the next several years, data entry was breakfast, lunch, and supper. Ali Hossein Zadeh Sarraf figured out a way to get old documents off a PC that did not have a 3-1/4” floppy drive. Anything already done could be added to the Access database.
To make certain that it is clear: If I enter a letter dated October 10, 1942 into the database where the person writing the letter says “On Monday, we did X and Y,” I do two things. I enter in the database that that person wrote a letter to whomever on October 10, 1942; and I enter the action on the Monday’s date. Since I keep Microsoft Outlook running in the background, I can quickly know that the previous Monday was October 5, 1942. For the October 5 entry, I note in a primary footnote that the information came from a letter dated October 10.
If there is another undated reference to that same event (e.g., “Do you remember when we said goodbye at the train station?”), I enter it on the date I am certain that event happened. Once an event has been credibly dated, it anchors all subsequent references to that event, or to anything that is dated by that event (e.g., “the day after we said goodbye at the train station”). Dates that I can fix with a high degree of certainty are my favorites!
When an entry states – as many do – “at the first of September 1939” or “in the summer of 1934”, I assign an arbitrary date. First of a September is always assigned September 1. Mid-September is always assigned September 15. End of September is always assigned September 30, and the same for all months. In the body of the entry, I write: “[Date is estimate. First of September.]” For the even less specific “summer of 1934,” I assign an arbitrary date of July 15, with a similar note in the body of the entry.
Occasionally these vague dates have a way of sorting themselves out. What may read as “the first of September” in one account may be called “the first Sunday in September” in another. Non-dates like “first Sunday in September” are just as good – and in fact, sometimes more accurate – than writing “September 3, 1939”. More accurate, because these very human people sometimes wrote dates inaccurately, mixing up their days (e.g. “Monday, October 6, 1942”).
In addition to date, author, and footnote, I have fields for source information, and a secondary footnote area that is largely superfluous – a “just in case” field that does not print. I have recently added a new field called “Update 2003” that I will use to indicate materials entered into the database since July 13, 2002. Finally, Access automatically generates a record field.
As an aside: I can search the entire database for a name, or place, or other reference. Access has a small bug that confuses it occasionally with multi-word searches (“Carl Muth” sometimes sends it spinning). But generally, this is one of its most valuable tools. I can also sort by date, by name, by reference, and now by update level; and I can filter by those same criteria. Want to know what Otl Aicher had to say? Hit the funnel on an Otl record.
These features provide the critical ability to narrow heretofore-impossible dates down to a few highly probable scenarios. In this volume, it enabled us to reasonably identify the date of the weekend that Otl Aicher spent with Sophie Scholl in Freiburg. Once we excluded dates that were out of the question, there were only a few “possible” dates left, which in turn were whittled down to two choices.
As important as the “dating” mechanism proved to be for Volume I of this history, it is even more vital in Volume II.
At this stage of data entry, I do not deconstruct the letter, diary, interview, or memoir into hours and minutes. If Willi Graf writes that he did this, that, and the other on a specific date, that all goes into the same entry without a time notation.
As of November 30, 2003, the Microsoft Access database contains only primary source materials, plus Inge Jens’ excellent footnotes to both the Scholl and Graf letters and diaries. Please note that I did include the historical comments that Susanne Hirzel made in her memoirs as part of the “primary source” materials entered into the database. She did not personally witness every historical incident recorded in her book, but it was a part of her world that she felt was important enough to include.
When it was time to write the book, the Access database in essence became my 3” x 5” note cards.
I had already decided that I wanted to cover about three months in each chapter. January 31, 1933 through April 30, 1942 encompasses 9-1/2 years. Thirty chapters at three months apiece seemed to be a reasonable approach. I knew I would not stick to that division religiously, as history does not break down into nice, neat semesters or quarterly statements. But it was my goal.
Additionally, the April 30, 1942 cutoff was not a capricious date. From May 1, 1942 on, everyone who composed the core of the group of friends in Munich was in Munich. They did not all know each other yet. Only a few had talked openly – openly meaning “to each other”, not “in public” – about resistance. But they had gathered in a place and at a time where they could find mutual sustenance as their “No” resonated ever louder.
Volume I therefore tells the story of how they got to the place where they would risk their lives for justice and freedom. What happened in their childhood, school days, Labor Service experiences that made them decide to rebel.
To write it, I printed out six months at a time from the Access database. The “dump” shows the date, who said what, and any footnotes (such as “from letter dated October 10 to Fritz Hartnagel”). Access perfunctorily prioritizes the dump alphabetically within dates, an attribute I actually like. You may notice a sense of rhythm in the way the narrative alternates between individual. That is a carry-over from the Access dump, which I frankly enjoyed reading.
I printed out six months, instead of three, so I could ensure that I told the story in context. Having the ability to look back and ahead enabled me to keep one eye on where the story had been, one on where it was headed, and a critical eye on where it was at present.
At this point, I examined the printout to see where dates are still open. If something was clarified by that review, I edited the date in the database, if necessary adding how that date was determined. If a single day was cluttered by too many entries, I split up the entry, adding hour and minute to the date. This procedure did not affect Volume I as much as it affected Volume II, where several people describe the same event, and we know more about their activities from the Gestapo transcripts. (I can promise you now that no matter your White Rose knowledge level now, you will still be astonished when you read about events on February 18, 1943.)
Four history texts stayed close at hand during the writing: Marshall Dill’s Germany, Philip Gavin’s History Place, Frank Smitha’s long, informative chapter on European history of the 1930s, and the Reichstag’s bluntly honest Questions on German History. Additionally, Google ran in the background as I typed. If I found a name, place reference, or event, which was not explained in a White Rose text or one of those references, I Google’d it.
Sometimes I even Google’d an item where an explanation existed, if I was not satisfied with the explanation. Example would be Susanne Hirzel’s holding up Rev. Grüber as an example of a Lutheran pastor who helped German Jews. When I Google’d him, I found the Web site of the organization in Berlin that he founded – and learned that her account did not say that he rescued only German Jews who had converted to the Lutheran religion.
When Dr. Wittenstein told me that his friend’s father had worked at the mental hospital in Zwiefalten, but that he was just a pencil-pusher and "not really" responsible, I Google’d "+Zwiefalten +Metzger" and found partial transcripts of his post-war interrogation by the French military in which he admitted to having been fully responsible.
If Dill or the others referred to a document, I Google’d to see if that document were available online. I did not doubt Dill’s assessment of the Treaty of Versailles or Chamberlain’s speech to the House of Commons. But if at all possible, I wanted to read it myself. Thanks to Yale University’s Avalon Project, and others like it, I could do precisely that.
Because the Internet is not a static community, I printed out the online documents referred to in this book. That binder is in my “active library” alongside other reference materials.
The written layers of this, the seventh draft, were (in order of importance): Primary source materials about the White Rose from Access database; secondary sources about the White Rose (rarely used); the four historical references named above; and finally, Web sites where information could be verified for accuracy.
As I finished chunks of the book, I emailed them to Dr. Armin Ziegler. He apologized once for being such a “pingelig” (picky) fact-checker. I responded that that was exactly why I was pleased he had agreed to the task. While he concentrated on keeping my work honest, our correspondence frequently would drift off to discussing “tangential” issues – what had happened in Crailsheim over Kristallnacht, our similar-yet-different views on Sophie Scholl’s relationship with Otl Aicher, what the world would have been like had there never been a Hitler.
Those emailed conversations made me comprehend the potential of this book. If discussions like ours can spring up in small groups wherever our work is read, I will feel like we have achieved something monumental.
Once I was convinced that the details were nailed down and shoelaces tied, the manuscript went to Joyce Light for copy-editing. Almost immediately, work began on the 2003 update.
Update since 2003: We have begun uploading the Access database to the Internet, so our readers can hold our feet to the fire. Check it out! WhiteRoseHistory.com.
© 2003 Ruth Hanna Sachs. Please email Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.
Please note that while we do not expect writers to use this precise methodology, we do expect rigorous scholarship.
Therefore, if you intend to submit a manuscript to Exclamation! Publishers for possible publication, please be prepared to back up your work with a description of the methodology you used to ensure that facts are facts.
As always, contact us - Center for White Rose Studies or Exclamation! Publishers - if you have any questions or suggestions. Thanks!