Newsletter: August 8, 2013

We Solved All the World's Problems. Or, Short Report Regarding 2013 White Rose Conference.

    For almost two beautiful weeks, it seemed that peace must have come to the world. At least in our corner of it, Russian, German, and various American-accented voices debated, discussed, and wondered about matters of history, politics, philosophy, and (when we were most brave) religion. And we did so without a world war breaking out.
     But then of course, we were seeking common ground. All of these "strange" people assembled at California State University-Channel Islands (CSUCI) from July 7 to 17, 2013, coming early and staying late for the 7/11-7/14 conference. Each person brought insatiable curiosity combined with openness and willingness to learn. The first night, our discussion was supposed to end around 9:30, but we kept going till almost midnight. It was that kind of week.
     Of course we didn't solve all the world's problems. But we did tackle some of the thornier issues that plague Holocaust research, and most specifically projects that involve German resistance. From application of the historical process to oral history, to the reasons that legend can usurp historical fact, we wrestled with entrenched notions and floated solutions.
     On our "Shoah Foundation" day, we learned from Karen Jungblut, Dan Leshem, and Crispin Brooks that a few of the topics we care about have technical obstacles. For example, Harold Marcuse suggested a Wiki type version of the oral histories in the Shoah Foundation's video archives. Dan pointed out that with over 50,000 videos, manual transcription would require more man-hours than are available. Harold asked about voice recognition software - but Dan and Crispin noted that most testimonies have been given by people who have strong European accents when speaking English, so voice recognition software wouldn't even hit its usual 80% accuracy mark.
     For anyone who is interested in the issues we considered throughout the conference, I've uploaded our conference diary. The diary summarizes our discussions and our occasional conclusions, although we left knowing how much more work is needed before we have the answers we want. If you would like to know more about any specific topic, please post your questions there or on our comments page, and someone will be sure to respond.
     But the snapshot that matters most here is this: The same conversations that brought us together and made us close could have transpired completely differently. Without exception, we came to the table with differing viewpoints, backgrounds, and goals. We could have turned every debate into a shouting match.
     It is to the credit of the individuals who came to this year's conference that each person consciously chose to seek common ground. We want our respective projects to succeed. Somehow, we lucked into a group of people who want those projects to succeed, but not to the detriment of someone else's project. Somehow, we lucked into a group of people who understand that often success is commingled, mine with yours, yours with mine. And we had fun in the process.
     Now if only our microcosm could go macro.     
     - Denise Heap

     To find out what happened at the conference, and to talk about it and ask questions, read the conference diary. To see photographs (thanks to Igor and Oleg!), click here

2013 Awards
     Center for White Rose Studies presented four remarkable individuals with prizes recognizing their accomplishments.
     2013 Volunteer of the Year: REV. DAVID GREEN of Oakland, California. David is translating Henriette Davidis's 1879 cookbook, one of the CWRS portals that introduces people to our work through the back door. He enthusiastically talks about our work on his Facebook page.
     2013 NextGen Award: DOMENIC SALLER of Munich, Germany. If every child and grandchild of those who had been in the resistance took the same care to document their family's legacy, our world would be a better place.
     2013 Johann Forster Award: DR. IGOR KHRAMOV of Orenburg, Russia and MICHAEL KAUFMANN of Munich, Germany. Igor's work building bridges for peace, and Michael's efforts to protect and assist White Rose families, while ensuring their memories are accurately preserved, are exemplary. We cherish our partnership with both of these men and their organizations.

     To read the press release about these awards with additional information about the work these people do, and to congratulate the winners, click here.

Bita Sheibani Reports: Michael Kaufmann, the White Rose, and Munich: Still Trying to Piece Together Germany’s Nazi Past

     I discovered the White Rose by accident a few years ago when I came across the movie Sophie Scholl: The Final Days in the now defunct Blockbuster. Ever since then, I was obsessed with understanding what happened to the White Rose students, who they were, and what it was like to live in Munich during the dark days of the early 1940s.
     When I arrived in Munich on July 22, 2013, I thought I could find guided information that would point out the sites of the Nazi monuments and the specific classrooms in the University of Munich where Professor Kurt Huber taught, the areas where the Scholls, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, and Alexander Schmorell would have walked to get to their classes, and the area where Sophie Scholl dropped her leaflets. I was surprised to find that there were no signs or brochures that clearly explained where they were, and where the Nazi monuments were in the city, and what happened, and why people did what they did.
     Thanks to an introduction by Denise Heap of the Center for White Rose Studies in Southern California, I was able to contact and meet with Michael Kaufmann, director of the Weisse-Rose-Institut in Munich. Unfortunately, I had only a few hours to spare and not a couple of days as he had suggested, since as he said there was a lot to see.
     Michael has been active with the Institut for at least a decade. His passion for and dedication to the White Rose, and commitment to enlighten people about their cause was evident from the beginning as soon as I met him; he braved the 92° F heat to meet with me, leaving behind his busy schedule, parked wherever, including in non-parking zones, spent not just two hours as he had promised, but 3½ hours to explain what had happened on that fateful day on February 18, 1943. He drove me to many of the places where the Nazi’s had exerted their influence.
     It felt not so much like a tour, but a journey where we (Michael, a German political scientist and historian and developer of social services programs in Munich, and myself, a college educated Iranian-American from Los Angeles) were both trying to understand what happened during 1942-1945, the darkest days of the Third Reich. We both pondered about questions that did not have clear answers, such as “why didn’t Sophie Scholl run soon after custodian Jakob Schmid called her out,” and, “where was the location where Sophie dropped the leaflets,” and, “why weren’t there more German resistance groups,” and, “why do some people still doubt the heroic actions of the White Rose?”
     Michael was puzzled, “She (Sophie) could have run out of the building (University of Munich), but she didn’t.” No one really knows whether any of the White Rose members were tortured and how those who were imprisoned for longer, lived out their days. The DenkStätte Weiße Rose in the room below the Lichthof (inner courtyard) of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität of Munich contains great documentation and photographs of White Rose resistance, but the questions still remain unanswered.
     I was surprised to find that people’s reactions were mixed about the White Rose. According to Michael, some people still think that many of the White Rose members were drug addicts and that therefore they were not to be taken seriously. However, given all the students daunting schedules, it was not unusual for many to occasionally take pills to help them stay awake. My very well-educated and well-connected German friend also dismissed the White Rose as insignificant players in the German resistance movement because they were only students. At the same time, there are others like myself who think that because they were students and had no political and economic backing, their actions were as heroic, if not more, than those who did.
     When Michael took me to the original location of the Wittelsbacher Palais (completely destroyed in 1944 and now a Bayr. Landesbank), I had a hard time imagining what the area looked like, what the Palais looked like and where the driving entrance was. I would never have guessed that it was once the Gestapo Headquarters where the White Rose students were interrogated. Except for a plaque on the side of the building, which was not obvious to me, the only other indicator that the Palais even existed was a small model inside the corner entrance of the bank. I would not have known that had Michael not pointed it out.
     The Jewish synagogue on St. Jakobs-Platz was built seven years ago to replace the old one, "Ohel Jakob," which was destroyed on Kristallnacht in 1938.  An intricate steel and glass cube set on a solid stone base, it is a stark contrast to the beautiful old classical building that existed before its destruction. Curiously, it was not built in its original site as it could have been for economic reasons. Michael was perplexed, “It’s a shame! It should have been built in its original location.”
     Another important building, Munich’s Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism (the former site of the Nazi party headquarters) is being built close to the Königsplatz square where the Nazi’s burned outlawed books in 1933. It will be completed by Spring 2014. Berlin, Cologne and Nuremberg have had similar documentation centers for years, but Munich has lagged behind.  “Finally, it is being built,” exclaimed Michael. It is a sign that Munich is taking further steps to help Germans and the rest of the world understand better a part of its history as the one-time Capital of the Nazi Movement.
     Yet, the journey is far from over. The more I spoke to Michael, the more it became apparent that there is still no major consensus among Germans regarding what was right and wrong, who was guilty and who was innocent, and who was a hero and who was a coward during the Nazi era.
     As Michael concluded, so much more research has yet to be done to unearth and reveal both the many different aspects of Munich’s Nazi past, and those of the White Rose. There are no tours that focus on these aspects. The city’s leaders are still pondering which and whose stories to tell.  “We need to learn about everything that really happened,” said Michael. “It’s our great chance to stop tyranny from happening again.”
     - Bita Sheibani.

     Bita is a Disney alumna who worked as graphic designer and promotions expert for Walt Disney Imagineering and ABC Television. She currently works as a freelance graphic designer and includes Integrated Marketing Communications among her services. She also had the supporting role of Leila in The Stoning of Soraya M. Photo courtesy of Paul Gregory.
     Denise's note: If you are planning to take your own White Rose tour, please check out our joint project with Exclamation! Publishers, entitled Take Me Along Guide: White Rose Edition. There is also a customizable edition that combines the Guide with your planned itinerary.

In closing
     There is no better way to end this post-conference newsletter than with our sincerest thanks for all the assistance, encouragement, and plain old help that we received.

  • Clare Colquitt, Michael Kaufmann, Gwen Miertschin, Ernst Martin Jr., Brenda Rich, Bill Widmer, Tom Speelhoffer, Ashley Horner, Lester and Cheri Neal - for being a sounding board on more than one occasion, and for keeping me honest.
  • Lisa Racine and her wonderful staff of Summer Conference students who made it happen, and who moved beds, and picked up trash, and made beautiful white rose arrangements for the banquet. We heart you guys.
  • Bruce Somers, Christian Dorris, and Carrie Kuhlman of Strategic Information Resources who healed a sick computer just in time for printing programs.
  • Harold Marcuse, who gave Igor, Dilya, Oleg, and Domenic an unforgettable day in Santa Barbara, and who added his Prius to the carpool, and convinced Oleg to drive!, and whose wit and wisdom brightened many a conversation.
  • Karen Jungblut, Dan Leshem, and Crispin Brooks, Shoah Foundation, who opened their doors wide, shared a meal, and taught us much.
  • Terese Winson in Camarillo, who found us insurance at half the price we were expecting, then turned around and made a donation!
  • Daniel B. Markind and Lauren Schwimmer, Weir & Partners - nuff said.
  • Mark Pierce, Mike de Martino, Tracy Lehr, and John Parker, for filming the Thursday and Saturday events, and who then joined in the conversation. You're part of the future. (And thank you too to John Fraser who put it all in motion.)
  • Tim Pompey, whose article about the conference captured the essence and passion of our work (not just Center for White Rose Studies, but all of us).
  • Wendy Leung, Ventura County Star, who ensured that we got advance publicity. Thank you.
  • Gina and Steve Jaeger - for continuing the conversation begun with Sherry. Anticipating a unique and long-lasting partnership with Girl Scouts of Central California!
  • Our amazing scholars - Igor Khramov, Dilyara Rakhmatullina, Oleg Vasilyev, Domenic Saller, Kim Kartinen, Tom Speelhoffer, Harold Marcuse, who made the conversations interesting for everybody else.
  • And those who gave real money, the cash that made this possible (in alphabetical order): Clare Colquitt, David Dowdey, Paul and Daphne Laudadio, Ernest and Julia Martin, John and Gwen Miertschin, Armin Mruck, Lester and Cheri Neal, Jo Schmidt, Pete Schwager, and Terese Winson.

© 2013 Exclamation! Publishers and Center for White Rose Studies. All rights reserved. Please contact Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.