Our two primary research trips – February through May, 1995; and April through May, 2002 – underpin a substantial part of our work. The written word is critical (as you will see in the Methodology section), but incomplete.
Before the first trip, I had finished writing what I deemed to be the first and final draft of my White Rose book, which at the time contained 1933 – 1943 in a single volume. The trip was undertaken merely to wrap up loose ends, meet whomever we could (with Inge Scholl and Franz Josef Müller at the top of the list), go to the Gedächtnisrede in Munich on February 22, 1995, take photographs and make videos of places, and ask a few questions.
I honestly did not think there were many gaps to worry about. I had read Inge Scholl’s White Rose (Students Against Tyranny) book, as well as the ones by Harald Steffahn, Richard Hanser, and Dumbach/Newborn. I had entered the information from those four books, along with the letters and diaries edited by Inge Jens, into an informal database of sorts (a handwritten notebook with everything in chronological order). I had mapped out major events and created a timeline – based on those books. Everything seemed clear enough.
As we packed, I would jot down notes. Find out if Fritz Hartnagel is still alive, and ask how he met Sophie. Ask Inge who Hans Scholl’s girlfriend really was. Ask Elisabeth Hartnagel nee Scholl if she could remember anything else from the time she was in Munich (February 1943). Find out more about Carl Muth.
It should be clear that that first draft was at least mentally subtitled, “The Hans and Sophie Scholl Story.” Which was normal at the time, considering the books I had read.
My friend Hans Forster had gone to a major bookstore in Munich – ironically, Hugendubel’s – and asked them for a printout of all their White Rose texts. I marked off the ones I had found at Rice University and at Houston Public Library, and noted the ones I needed to find in Germany.
While our trip was well-prepared (at least in light of what I knew then), I believed that the bulk of our work would consist of photography, to document place. I already knew Munich, Augsburg, Bad Tölz, and most of Stuttgart better than I knew my hometown of Houston, so it would not be a problem finding locations there. The people in Freiburg and Bad Dürrheim had kindly sent me free copies of maps. My to-buy list primarily included maps of Ulm, Krauchenwies, Saarbrücken, and Blumberg.
When Inge Scholl refused to grant an interview, and when Franz Josef Müller deferred to her request and denied access to materials at the Weiße-Rose-Stiftung, I believed that seven months of work had been for nothing. We could still get the pictures we wanted, but not additional information.
Müller did give me the addresses of Erich Schmorell and the Hartnagels. And you know from the July 13, 2002 introduction to White Rose History, Volume I that both did agree to see us.
At that point our “preparation” changed course. We had to throw out the questions we intended to ask, as they had become meaningless. Instead, we concentrated on ways around the blocked door. My mom was in charge of videography; she had a sixth sense about when her camera was making someone uncomfortable. Most of the time, she did not bother filming the first hour or two of a conversation. They were trying to decide whether they could trust us.
Erich Schmorell in particular said that cameras and tape recorders made him uncomfortable. He was fresh off an unpleasant experience with Dumbach and Newborn. He said they had thrust their tape recorders under his nose and asked him to talk. He’s a fairly reserved person, and that bothered him. He was even more upset when their book used what he said out of context, despite the video recordings.
So we would just talk a while, basic chit-chat about “stuff” – very often the fact that Inge Scholl refused to see me generated a good sixty minutes of enthusiastic conversation, almost without exception – before moving on to questions. I kept paper handy, jotting down notes, and recording important utterances word for word. That seemed to work best with practically everyone. It’s old-style journalism.
When my mom was certain that they would not object (and she asked every time), she would record as many hours of conversation as seemed appropriate. If the person or family could speak English well (e.g. Inge Jens, Anneliese Knoop-Graf), she occasionally asked her own questions. Amazingly, the informal conversations often led to the most astonishing revelations, when they would simply reminisce without regard to White Rose history.
That’s how we learned the famously funny stories of Alex Schmorell’s bicycle trip, Sophie and Elisabeth’s unchaperoned overnighter on the mountain with Fritz, and “the boys” smoking pipes without tobacco. The Schmorells, Hartnagels, and Lilo Ramdohr were not thinking in terms of Globally Important White Rose Historical Significance. They were recalling family members and friends they loved, deeply loved.
If the interview were going well, my mom (video camera in hand) would ask, “Would you mind if I looked around your house [meaning living room and study only – never private areas!]?” Again, when not being asked to talk in terms of GIWRHS, they told us things we never expected to learn.
Erich Schmorell: “And that’s the samovar that belonged to Alex, you know the one they talk about using when they came back from Russia in 1942. And that’s the bust that he sculpted that Lilo mentioned in her book. And that’s his piano from my parents’ house.”
Lilo Ramdohr: “See that broom closet? The same one that I kept in the basement where Schurik would store leaflets. And here, these are some of the sketches we did of Pinzinger.”
Hermann Geyer: “Those are some of my dad’s designs of the stained glass windows he worked on, and here are mine. You know when you go into the Münster, you can see his post-war work [and he told us where].”
Elisabeth Hartnagel: “These photos over here, these are unpublished pictures of Sophie. And this is the book she was illustrating with Hans Peter Nägele.”
Elisabeth Geyer: “This the bust of my dad that someone did after the war. And Carl Muth? Wait a minute, I will find you a print of the portrait my dad painted of him.”
We were often overwhelmed and moved by how open some of these people were.
If they offered us documents of any sort, we gladly accepted. Copies of letters, out-of-print books, unpublished lectures they had given, extra copies of then-new books (and in the case of Dr. Wolfgang Huber, copies of two very old books his father had written), newspaper articles, copies of poems they loved then and now, it did not matter. We took it all, and read it later – often the same night. Sometimes I would have more questions days after the interview, after reading the things they had given me.
And always, but always, our interviews ended with, “Whom do you know who would talk to us?”
Schmorells recommended Probsts and Ramdohr. Lechner recommended Geyers. Geyers recommended Daub and Saur, along with a couple of people who refused interviews. Jens talked to Hartnagel on our behalf. And so the network expanded.
The “interviews” did not stop there. I guess we pestered more people in Germany those months than most people pester in a lifetime. We talked to people in archives, in hotels, over dinner. If they were open to questions, we asked. Some people did not even wait for us to ask. Frau Braun in the Stadtarchiv Ulm overheard our queries at the main desk, and volunteered to talk to us. The staff of the Martin-Luther-Kirche in Ulm was so eager to set the record straight on the ‘involvement’ of that structure in White Rose activities that they anticipated inquiries by saying, “You may have heard X, well, that’s simply not true.”
Even our purely-photography sessions evolved into exciting Q&A. While snapping pictures of the Scholl’s house on Kerner Str. (now a modest governmental structure), the office manager came out to see what we were doing. When we explained, she went back inside, reemerging with the blueprints of the 1934 remodeling. We talked to groundskeepers, building supers, maintenance personnel, secretaries, librarians, whomever would spare us a minute. If possible, we found old-timers who could explain neighborhoods, structures, re-routed streets, and more.
In December 1998, I had to go to Munich on non-White-Rose business. That trip too was used for the underpinnings of our work. Dr. Hermann Krings had written me in 1995 after we returned the first time, giving us the exact address of Willi Graf’s “refuge with friends” called the Siegfriedstraße in White Rose literature. I found it, taking pictures of that house and its neighborhood. I also took a printout of the routes they followed during the graffiti operation, and tracked one of the paths on a nearly moonless, brutally cold night – at midnight, alone – duplicating as nearly as possible what it felt like to do something that recklessly courageous.
The next night, I visited Hans Forster – a Münchner – with my 1937 map in hand. He retrieved his modern map, and we worked through all three routes through the eyes of a student at the University of Munich, as Hans Forster had been.
Our much shorter 2002 trip truly was a matter of wrapping up as many loose ends as possible. We took a list of places we had missed photographing or videotaping before, and arranged in advance to talk with Lilo Ramdohr, the Probsts, Susanne Hirzel, and Dr. Huber, all of whom had either been ill, unknown to us, or going through a rough spot in 1995. We re-visited some whom we had met in 1995. And we met Dr. Armin Ziegler and his wife Brigitte face to face for the first time, a serendipitous occasion.
We followed the same procedures as in 1995, only videotaping once we were certain it was all right. In all, we have about twenty-two hours of video, plus approximately one thousand photographs.
By the time we were ready to start putting all this information into our new database, we had more information than we'd ever anticipated.
(c) 2003 Ruth Hanna Sachs. Please contact Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.