Newsletter: September 10, 2013
At the first annual White Rose Conference in July 2013, we asked the attendees what had drawn them to research German resistance in general, and White Rose in particular. Kim Kartinen's answer particularly moved us. We asked her to share it with you, our readers.- Denise Heap
I have always wondered why I, the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants and child of a farmworker, am so fascinated by resistance to the Nazis during the Third Reich. I am neither German nor Jewish. I am not a member of any targeted groups, and none of my ancestors even had any interaction with Nazi Germany. Yet, I am intrigued. I find myself drawn not only to familiarizing myself (and hopefully, others) with the multitude of examples of opposition, but also trying to understand the motivation of those who were willing to risk everything and make a stand for social justice.
My attendance at the first annual conference of the Center for White Rose Studies provided me with valuable information about resistance, for which I am very grateful. But perhaps one of the most priceless benefits I received was an insight into my motivation for needing to know about the courageous people who refused to participate in Nazi atrocities - a motivation that seems to have been instilled in me during childhood.
In 1971, my father Robert Borjon (pictured) was completing his thesis for his Bachelor's degree. His work focused on the United Farm Workers. He had hours of tapes from his interviews with UFW members and leaders, and it was my duty as his oldest child to transcribe these recordings - at the ripe old age of 11! Every day after school, I would grab a snack, a legal pad, and a pen on the way to the desk in my room. Once there, I would sit for hours listening and writing.
Although I cannot recall exactly what was recorded on those tapes, I know I was imbued with an awareness of great injustices inflicted upon farmworkers. This was personal: My father had been one of those farmworkers in his youth and several members of my family still were. I was aware of the great courage and determination the leaders of the UFW exhibited by taking a stand against a powerful majority.
My parents further demonstrated their support of the UFW cause by not purchasing grapes and explaining the reasons for their actions to all four of their elementary-school-aged children. As a result, none of us purchased or ate grapes for a couple of decades, even after the battle had been won.
I did not see the connection between my upbringing and my interest in Nazi opposition until my experience at the conference. While other children had been happily munching on grapes and enjoying typical childhood activities of the 1970s, my siblings and I were graced with the awareness of social injustices and a sense of empowerment due to our observations of the actions of a few brave people who took on the farming industry.
Thus, my interest in German resistance makes sense: I am attracted to and inspired by the behavior of individuals who have the fortitude to hold on to their convictions when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. German resistance to the Nazis consisted of such persons, and for that, they will always have my utmost respect and admiration.
To discuss Kim's essay or to ask questions of her, comment on our blog post. And Kim? If you could find those typed notes..
The Human Face of War
Also in July... One day Dr. Igor Khramov approached us with a brilliant idea: Why don't we work together - next year's conference, plus before and after? We're still ironing out the details, and as soon as we know exactly what's when, and where, we'll announce it here.
His suggested topic has stuck: The Human Face of War (and Resistance). We're not interested in official posturing, what government leaders say or have said. Rather, we wish to explore the very human-ness of those who fought, and most especially of those who resisted.
We've got a rudimentary blog set up in advance of the events (still lots to do before it's final). One aspect of it may interest you already. We are inviting YOUR input for our Call for Papers, the topics that will be discussed and studied at the 2014 conference.
The eight choices - with an option for you to submit your own ideas - are:
1) The artist (musician, actor, sculptor, poet, painter) and war.
2) The juxtaposition of the "home front" and war.
3) Soldiers who witnessed war firsthand, and returned home to protest the same war.
4) Collections of letters and diaries from war-time pen-pals, especially comparisons of correspondence on both sides of a particular war.
5) The effect of war on the family unit.
6) Women on the battlefield.
7) The private musings of diplomats who worked to prevent war, and the (human) basis for their considerations.
8) The impact that informed dissent and civil disobedience had on the outcome of a war or on a government's course of action (positive and negative).
All of the above suggestions may be applicable to the Holocaust OR to contemporary war, but not to war in general. We are not asking for metaphysical, theological, or philosophical treatises, but rather contemplation of actual events and their outcomes, how people - individuals and communities - were and are affected.
To vote: Go to the Suggestions post on the new blog and choose!
Social Relevance of German Resistance and the Shoah
Our newsletters usually focus on the need for accuracy and open discourse in the creation of historical narrative. We emphasize reliance on primary source documents. We seek to expose historical revisionism in 'memoirs' written by some who claim to have been part of resistance. We deconstruct secondary sources about White Rose and German resistance, detailing the good, the bad, and the ugly among those who claim to have researched these movements.
But our mission statement says: The Center for White Rose Studies is dedicated to preserving the memories of those who courageously opposed the crimes of National Socialism, using their lives and work as a springboard to address the issues of informed dissent in a civilized society.
At the same time that we strive for accuracy and open discourse, we also look for relevance. And the last few weeks, we have seen that multiplied a thousand times over. Beginning with Kim's experience with her father's association with United Farm Workers, examples of modern-day informed dissent and civil disobedience, of standing up for what's right, of plain old-fashioned backbone - these have been front and center.
The first example almost seems maudlin, except for its reach to a very large audience. Big Brother XV has sported one of the most blatantly racist, homophobic, misogynist casts in the history of reality TV. It's been overt and in-your-face. Out of a cast of sixteen, only one individual (Elissa Reilly Slater) risked her "game" to call out others on their bigotry.
We posted our essay on this topic on a TV blog dedicated to popular culture, with interesting results. About 1/3 of the people commenting agreed with the notion that the silence of the majority enabled the worst bigots to continue bullying. About 1/3 stated that in the game, as in real life, it makes more sense to keep one's head down to make a living. And about 1/3 had no opinion either way.
To read the essay and comment, click here.
We were reminded by an email received last week of the expanded scope of the work done by the Shoah Foundation in the USA and Aegis Trust in the UK. Both organizations document Rwandan (and other) genocide. The Shoah Foundation's newest project involves videotaping testimonies from that horrific, world-changing event. Aegis and its partners create documentaries on the topic.
Aegis's David Brown completed his second London-to-Paris ride, cycling to raise awareness of what has happened, and continues to occur, on the African continent. To learn more about Aegis, visit their Web site. And here is info about the Shoah Foundation's Rwanda project. Note that since 2013, the information about the London-to-Paris bike ride is no longer accessible on the Web.
If you know of additional ways that German resistance applies to contemporary events, please contact us! We would like to include your story as well.
In Memoriam: Irmtraud Feigs
For me personally (Denise Heap), it was a great thrill when the third of my three most influential high school teachers finally joined Facebook. Harriet Grooters Dishman inspired many of us in her German classes at Spring Branch High School to continue learning that most-difficult language; it is a tribute to her that almost everyone in Harriet's German club remains close, forty years later. She combined strict grammatical discipline with a love of literature, politics, and life.
Her presence reminded me of two TCU professors who imparted that same "love of literature, politics, and life" to the undergraduate classes they led. And it was with sadness that I learned one of them died three years ago.
Therefore, an In Memoriam for Irmtraud Feigs.
Irmtraud Feigs was born just as World War II came to its inevitable and bloody end. Her father was a Lutheran minister. As we talked about Brecht (her specialty), she would add her own stories about growing up in postwar Germany. History books can give us a sense of the harsh conditions after the war - the bitterly cold winters, food shortages, rubble everywhere.
But Irmtraud painted a human face. A Lutheran minister father who had been raised by Hitler Youth and maintained its "hard as Krupp steel" mindset. He would beat her senseless if she did not iron the altar cloth exactly perfect. She talked about strained relationships, the lack of trust even among young people born at or after war's end. And she remembered how dearly she loved it when American soldiers doled out Hershey candy bars.
She was an unusual woman who did not come through her childhood unscathed. But Irmtraud Feigs never pretended to be unscathed. She allowed herself to be vulnerable.
From September 1975 to May 1976, she survived an academic year that no one should have to live through. Her husband left her for a grad student. Her own dog nearly killed her as she tried to protect it while it was being attacked by a Weimaraner (she spent weeks in the hospital). And TCU temporarily discontinued the German major, discharging her.
But I learned that after she left Fort Worth, she settled in Austin and taught "humanities" to prisoners. And she volunteered for Meals on Wheels. That's in character with the professor I knew. She may not have come through a postwar childhood unscathed, but she did not allow it to get her down. Her memory will always be "for a blessing"!
The Best New Year Greeting Ever
Perhaps the new Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave the world the best Rosh Ha-Shanah gift this year. His Tweets recanting Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial would have been unimaginable only the day before.
It all started rather simply. He merely Tweeted Happy Rosh Hashanah, nothing more. Christine Pelosi Tweeted back a challenge for him to end Iran's Holocaust denial. Zarif responded: @sfpelosi Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.
This exchange - documented and fact-checked by Robert Mackey of the New York Times - reminds us of two things:
First, just as we think nothing will ever change, it does. On November 8, 1989, no one could have conceived that the Berlin wall would come down and Germany's reunification would take place. On September 4, 2013, no one could have foreseen that a change in power in Iran could have generated any conciliatory remarks towards Israel or the Jewish community. We should keep our dreams large.
Second, the exchange would have ended with Happy Rosh Hashanah had not Christine Pelosi taken it a step further. She went to the heart of the matter.
Just because we're outnumbered? Doesn't mean we should be silent. In fact, those may be the times that we should SPEAK UP and make our voices heard. Especially then.
(c) 2013 Exclamation! Publishers and Center for White Rose Studies. All rights reserved. Please contact Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.
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