Newsletter: October/November 2012

The dichotomy of dissent
     Dr. Armin Mruck
 of Towson University recently observed that the stories of those who resisted Hitler during the Shoah remind us of the importance of being idealistic. "I don't think there's too many idealistic people in our environment. And it wasn't just these students [White Rose], there were other resistance groups as well who thought it was worthwhile to put your life on the line. That's not very popular these days."
     Mruck's statement generated a fascinating and ongoing debate: What is the proper balance between idealism and realism when one is trying to right a wrong?
     This is hardly a new debate. In the 1960s as global student protests raged against the war in Vietnam, Vincent Probst (son of Christoph Probst) and Christian Petry penned a fervent appeal to their generation not to make the same mistakes the White Rose had made, that is, not to be so steeped in idealism that they could not effect real change. That call to action earned them Inge Scholl's vitriol. Instead of comprehending their message, she perceived it as a slam against the White Rose (defined at the time as her siblings).
     But Probst and Petry were right. Change in the 1960s did not come about because people wrote leaflets. Change came about because hundreds of thousands of students and "grown-ups" were willing to march on Washington, because legislators passed laws ending legal racial discrimination, because brave men and women like Abraham Joshua Heschel walked side by side with those whom our society marginalized. Change also came about (and this is harder to wrap one's head around) because of non-violent - and violent - protest.
     In no way does this short essay mean to legitimize violent protest. Rationally, we must adhere to the notion that an eye for an eye makes both of us blind, that burning buildings and bombing army recruiting offices is both illegal and morally wrong. What do we gain from the murder of an innocent, simply to make a political statement?
     Although our rational mind tells us this (and it is right), historically we must analyze the great shifts in world history and acknowledge that for better or worse, violent protest often plays a significant role in bringing about lasting change. From the American and French Revolutions, to the military force required to end Hitler's regime, to the violence that has accompanied the Arab Spring: We cannot escape the role of violence in informed dissent and civil disobedience.
     Yet we also see that violence for the sake of violence cannot change things for the better. The riots that followed in the wake of the acquittals in the Rodney King case (April 1992) represented legitimate protest of an injustice. But those riots were only a gut-wrenching expression of anger, with no focus, no visible intent to change something. Nothing changed for the better. If anything, the lives of the very community that felt it had suffered injustice was harmed by the destruction of property.
     Back to the original question: What is the proper balance between idealism and realism when one is trying to right a wrong?
     In a perfect world, I believe that change could and should come when thinkers and dreamers (idealists) see an injustice and join with doers (realists) to 'right the ship' through legal channels: Passing and enforcing laws that protect everyone in their society, overturning laws that marginalize citizens, opening doors to opportunity for all. But we live in an imperfect world, when too often power rests in the hands of those who use power to protect self-interest, not to work on behalf of the good of the whole.
     The only thing that seems clear to me: Real change cannot happen until idealists and dreamers join hands with realists and pragmatists. We need Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. We need Gandhi's non-violent protests and Indian politicians negotiating with the British. We need Abraham Lincoln's clear-eyed eloquence defining the ideals of a united America and Abraham Lincoln's focused determination to make it happen. We need FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" and FDR's decisive action to prevent disaster. We need the beauty of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" and the messiness of LBJ's political maneuvering.
     We need the idealism of compassion and we need concrete action.
     - Denise Heap

Talk about this here on our Wordpress blog, or on this Web site's comments page. What do you think? Do you know of local examples where idealism and realism have joined hands to change your community? Do you have other insights on this topic?

The synagogue in Ulm
     This week, we received a happy email from Don Dembling. He reports that the opening of the "new" synagogue in Ulm was a great success. Although he couldn't personally attend the ceremony, it's an event he's been anxiously anticipating.
     The newspapers in Ulm dedicated an entire online section to nothing but the shul and community reaction to the festivities [Update 2021: Section has been removed, but the City of Ulm has added the historical and modern synagogue to its Web site here]. If you follow their coverage, you can better comprehend what this means, not only to the city of Ulm, but to Germany as a whole.
     Significant about this grand opening: It returns Ulm's synagogue close to the exact spot it occupied prior to Kristallnacht 1938. Photo is of old synagogue. It almost reclaims its
location on the Weinhof, near the historically-significant Schwörhaus. Even German cities like Munich that have seen synagogue complexes rebuilt generally have not enjoyed this attention to detail. As far as I know, the site of Munich's old Reform synagogue is still a parking garage. [Note to Google Maps: Please update your aerial view of the Weinhof. Construction has ended!] [Update 2021: Yes! It's done.]
     German President Joachim Gauck cut the ceremonial ribbon, Rabbi Schneur Trebnik nailed the mezuzah to the door, and Israeli musician Ishay Lapidot led everyone gathered in a rousing rendition of Shalom Aleichem. Speakers spoke of the synagogue as a "sign for the future," but mostly attendees were happy that Ulm's growing Jewish community had a place where rituals and traditions can be celebrated, where life can now go on as normal. As normal! That alone is reason to sing.
     Equally impressive: The dedication ceremony included not only Rabbi Trebnik and President Gauck (with other German politicians in attendance). But those clapping to Shalom Aleichem, savoring the happiness of the day? Catholic Bishop Gebhard Fürst, Lutheran prelate Gabriele Wulz, Turkman Kazim (religious attaché of the Turkish consulate in Stuttgart, and Muslim), and IRGW (liberal Jewish) representative and executive spokesman Barbara Traub. In a country and world where religion too often divides, in Ulm on December 2, 2012 faith unified.
     December 2, 2012 was a day to look to the future. For a moment, Jewish and Muslim, Catholic and Lutheran, secular and devout could put aside frustrations of the day and imagine a world living in harmony. They could see that future before their very eyes. It was real. They could touch it.
     But looking to the future does not absolve anyone from remembering the past. Kristallnacht happened. This dedication ceremony was made necessary because on the night of November 9 and the early morning hours of November 10, 1938, otherwise rational human beings gave in to their basest instincts. Zeugnisse zur Geschichte der Juden in Ulm contains eyewitness accounts of the brutal beatings of Jewish-German citizens, of those who were imprisoned at Dachau immediately following the events of Kristallnacht, of the general approval of Ulm's populace as Jewish "friends and neighbors" suffered irreversible harm.
     Even many of those who would eventually go on to resist the Nazis remained silent after the war about their activities during and opinions of the crimes committed against Ulm's Jewish citizens on that night and others. Among the many young people who finally found the courage of their convictions and said a very loud and distinct NO, only Susanne Hirzel has publicly spoken about her actions and attitudes that awful November 1938. The rest (or their surviving family members) have systematically quashed inquiries and research into their deeds and words that month.
     Before the insanity that ensued after Hitler's rise to power in January 1933, Ulm had been a good place to live if you were "different" - that is, if you did not practice either the Catholic or the Lutheran faith. Ulm had been home to Huguenots, and Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witness, Apostolic, and yes, Jewish congregations for hundreds of years. Even when it was still a Catholic city, the design of the Münster confirmed Ulm's desire to bestow equality and equal rights upon its (male) citizens: The Münster is a "hall" church, where the priest is not elevated above the people, except when delivering his sermon. Otherwise, he occupies the same unhallowed ground as his parishioners.
     To fully return to normalcy, Ulm should demand Sunshine Laws for archives of material from 1933 - 1945. The future envisioned on December 2, 2012 cannot be built on a shaky foundation, where prominent citizens can hide behind false testimony and thereby sanitize their past. The city needs clarity, not bleach, to sustain the progress that is clearly evident in the events of December 2.
     May the vision declared that day, in that place, among that people, find realization and fulfillment.

 Social Media Leadership Award
     November 2012, Center for White Rose Studies received Wharton Business School's inaugural Social Media Leadership Award in the media category! We use social media because it matches our needs (generating conversation with you, our readers and fellow researchers) and budget.
     Though we had used "social media" for a while, we became serious about it when we set up the WRH3 research portal. We'd been looking for a way to upload our Access database, supporting our White Rose research. We intended to find a way to do that, then start the Access databases for our other archive projects. You'd be amazed at how expensive - and unwieldy! - those options were.
     Focus then switched to finding a message board service that would allow us to do the same thing, but with comments. Again, the good message board services were expensive, and the free ones would have frustrated all our worktable participants with limitations on uploads or searchability.
     One of our board members blogs using Wordpress, so we checked it out as a possibility for our research worktables. It met all our criteria: Searchable, sortable, flexible, and free. Best of all, we can post primary documents with their original dates, e.g. 2/18/1943, 1 p.m. This means that anyone working on our projects can read the entries in chronological order, no matter when we input them.
     We thought this was a pretty significant change in the way we study history. It doesn't change the historical process, but it changes the way we work within the historical process. The cooperative dimension with access to researchers of all ages, disciplines, educational backgrounds is exciting enough. But permitting real-time international collaboration? That's a game-changer.
     In September, we submitted our work to the Wharton / Social Strategy1 social media contest. We didn't expect to win. We merely wanted others to be aware of our methodology.
     But not only did we win the media category (congratulations to Girl Scouts of America for their prize as the Grand Champions!), we received validation of our innovation in the historical process from the attendees of this conference. It helped to talk out loud about our goals and aims with people who've been doing this much longer than we've been at it. There's so much to learn, so many new things to think about.
     Our basic goals remain the same. We want everyone who's interested in this crucial topic to have access to primary source documents in English translation. We wish for contributors to have equal voice, to fact-check one another's input, to discuss and debate underlying themes, and to reach consensus. The result should be well-thought-out, balanced histories and biographies of those who resisted the Nazis.
     The last puzzle piece before this can be as meaningful as it ultimately will be: Getting from the "blog" to the professionally-written history or biography as effortlessly as possible. We're working on it, but welcome your ideas!
     There are several blog posts for which we especially invite your comments: You are our community, our official announcement of the prize; Social media and history, notes from the SMLA conference; Making it better, your chance to brainstorm with us for future work; and finally, Curating scholarship, how we as a community can set academic standards that are inclusive and yet ensure the integrity of our research.
     You have always been important to our work. We are a growing community, a community that is curious and courageous and careful. Let's take this to the next level, keep pushing that envelope. None of us can do this alone. None of us knows enough about the Holocaust and "how it happened" to make sense of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the most civilized nation on the face of the earth at that time.
     But maybe, just maybe, if we pool our collective knowledge and insights, we can begin to make inroads. Maybe, just maybe, together we can ensure the Nie wieder, the never again.
     Social media is not for wimps!

 In closing
      Joyce Light was one of the co-founders of the Center for White Rose Studies. The first ten years of our existence, she shouldered most of the financial and administrative duties associated with this work. If you ordered a book, or asked for information, or requested copyright permission, you dealt with Joyce. She served as videographer for our research trips, always behind the camera, never in front of it. But her cheery face behind the camera brought out the best of the people we talked to.
     In addition to the immense personal loss that her illness and imminent death are causing, it's also impacted and impacting our day-to-day operations.
     Therefore please bear with us as we work a bit slower than usual. We don't know whether we have Joyce for two more weeks, two more months, or (unlikely) two more years. We do know that our time with her is limited.
     Our board is trying to fill in some of the gaps, but this is a time of transition for all of us. We've said before, but this is a good time to repeat it: We want Center for White Rose Studies to survive all of us, even our younger board members, Tim, Chris, and Rob. We're looking for solutions.

     Finally, if our work has touched you through this past year, please consider making Center for White Rose Studies part of your year-end  giving.  
     We will appreciate anything you can do to keep us going, to help us meet our goals in the year ahead. [Our donation link has moved - here is Donations Page.

     All the best,
     The Board (and friends) of the Center for White Rose Studies

© 2012 Exclamation! Publishers and Center for White Rose Studies. All rights reserved. Please contact Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.