As noted in the July 13, 2002 introduction to White Rose History Volume I, a critical factor in the “why” of this book is traced back to a simple answer: It is a beautiful story that needs to be told. Clearly. The more I learned about Hans and Sophie Scholl, Alexander Schmorell and Lilo Ramdohr, Christoph Probst and Willi Graf, and all the rest, the more I loved their lives and deeds. I believed that above all, American youth – not just German majors – needed to hear what they did.
My first reaction involved writing a creative nonfiction novel (also called literary nonfiction). And indeed, the first three drafts of this book were in that genre.
I repeatedly ran into the same obstacle when I talked about that book. The story was so different from standard White Rose legend. No one would believe that what I wrote was true.
Without giving up on that project – it is on the back burner, but not forgotten – I changed direction. It now became critical to nail down what did happen. To establish beyond all doubt what transpired in the group we know as the White Rose resistance movement.
The new “straight nonfiction” book deviated from the “novel” version in genre only, not in motivation. Now as before, we want to tell the White Rose story in historical context, comprehensively, for contemporary American youth.
In historical context, because these students and their mentors did not live in a vacuum. Most were born in the years immediately following World War I. They grew up hearing grown-ups curse the Versailles Treaty. Several of them would have experienced firsthand the catastrophe of hyperinflation. All would have been in the equivalent of elementary or middle school when the depression of 1929 hit Germany. They well knew the turbulence of pre-Hitler politics; their parents would have expressed strong sentiments around the dinner table every time a new election was called.
The changes brought on by the Nazi regime affected their daily lives. Without exception. Where they lived, the schools they attended, activities of Hitler Youth organizations, what religion they adhered to (and whether they considered themselves religious), what the local newspapers wrote, their Reich Labor Service duty (and for the young men, military service), the books they read and songs they sang: None of this context can be excised from the story if there is to be any hope of understanding what they did in 1942-43.
And not merely in the sense of where they performed Reich Labor Service, or what school they attended, or when they went to church. What did it look like, smell like, feel like, sound like, taste like? We may not be able to replicate the five senses exactly. But we can try. If we do not, we miss a crucial element of their lives.
Comprehensive, because for over sixty years the story has largely been told with blinders attached. The White Rose was not the Scholl organization. Breaking down that barrier is the most difficult.
But it is not the Hans-Sophie-Christl-Alex-Willi-Kurt Huber organization either. If you take the time to add up all the people mentioned by Inge Jens (and subsequently, those mentioned in the Gestapo archives) who attended the various “readings” in the studio, you find there were sometimes thirty students and older mentors gathered at one time in that room. Do you hear thirty voices when you read standard White Rose texts? Where are the “missing” voices? Finding them has been a large part of our mission.
And yet – it is not even a Munich organization. By January 1943, groups were organizing in Ulm and Stuttgart, Freiburg and Saarbrücken. Attempts had been made in Bonn. Even if you limit “White Rose trials” to the three most well-known – February 22, April 19, and July 13, 1943 – you find that there were fourteen from the Munich base, two from Stuttgart, two from Freiburg, and three from Ulm.
Where are Gerhard Feuerle, Wolf Jaeger, Günther Schmich, Lilo Ramdohr, Otmar Hammerstein, Raimund Samüller, Willi Bollinger, the Mauer brothers? And about 25-30 others who directly impacted the White Rose work in one way or another?
It’s like a person videotaping a family reunion who focuses on cute young cousin Heather, and forgets to keep panning to Aunt Gertrud. Or (for those of you who, like me, think musically), it’s like a choir that has microphones in front of the director’s six favorite singers, to the detriment of the choral performance.
This does not even begin to address the post-White Rose group around Hans Leipelt in Munich, many of whom suffered much worse fates than our young heroes. Or the White Rose predecessors in Hamburg, who gave us Traute Lafrenz. Would it surprise you to know that after she was released from her mild sentence connected with the group in Munich, she was re-denounced and rearrested? And that she barely escaped death the second time around, being saved solely by the end of the war? Inge Scholl knew that from the late 1940s and suppressed the information. You will have to read Volumes II and III of this history for the beautiful (though chilling) details. That by way of one small example of things that have been cropped out of the larger picture.
Part of the comprehensive nature of this work includes writing about these people in all their humanness. To understand the full impact of their noble deed – and truly, it was that and more – it is critical to comprehend that they were no different from you or me:
Hans Scholl’s drug addiction and battles with sexual orientation (to admit he was gay would have meant transfer to a KZ-Lager), Sophie Scholl’s suicidal thoughts, Otl Aicher’s refusal to accept authority, Christoph Probst’s battles with depression, Alex Schmorell’s affair with a married woman and never-ending search for identity, Lilo Ramdohr’s fear, Werner Scholl’s brash bravery, Willi Graf’s overwhelming sense of aloneness if not abandonment, Hans Hirzel’s unreliability and mental illness, Hein Jacobs’ cowardice, Gerhard Feuerle’s insecurities – these weaknesses were part of their makeup, part of who they were. We cannot divorce their personalities from their actions and expect to grasp the magnitude of what they did.
How they overcame these very limitations to take a stand and speak words of justice – that is the part of the story that can still make me teary-eyed.
Finally, we have written this story for contemporary American youth. Not merely believing that it is dangerous to think “It” cannot happen here, though that is certainly a factor. But because these German students we call the White Rose – and their mentors – are heroes worth talking about.
American youth is growing up in a dysfunctional society, without community. We adults have brought them into a world where they cannot so much as help a strange man find a lost dog. We feed them a diet of celebrity and wonder why they are shallow. Our pundits and politicians talk of family values, then divorce their spouses to marry younger women and richer men. Or admit to gambling addictions while writing about virtue. And then we wonder why young people are apathetic and apolitical.
I am convinced that the story of the White Rose will help these dear, beautiful, gifted young people know that they are not alone. It is far more than a tale of resisting Hitler during the Third Reich. The students of the White Rose teach us how to stand up for what is right, even if it is a losing battle. Their memory tells us that it is a good thing to fight injustice, though that may appear quixotic.
And most of all, we see that one does not have to be good to do good. Often the “being” part comes after we listen to our conscience and act.
And maybe, just maybe, we adults can also learn – learn to be the mentors that Wilhelm Geyer, Josef Söhngen, Carl Muth, Eugen Grimminger, “Pater Eisele”, Theodor Haecker, Kurt Huber, and others were. Maybe, just maybe, we can figure out how to inspire teenagers and young adults to do something magnificent, by challenging them to move beyond themselves, to think, to do.
Which segues nicely into a brief explanation of the format of the “regular edition” of this book.
When I was a very young undergraduate, I was not interested in studying history. High school history teachers had been pretty… awful. One hated her job, another saw teaching as a bridge to marriage, another emphasized memorizing facts.
But TCU’s core curriculum in the 1970s – largely the love-child of Betsy Colquitt, a true Renaissance learner – “made” us take large doses of history and political science, even if we were Math and German majors.
The textbooks used in those American History 101/102 and German History 201/202 courses were written for us non-majors. No footnotes, no technical terminology, no abstract Buckley-esque verbiage. I found myself reading the books from cover to cover the same week I bought them. When other texts were re-sold to the Campus Bookstore or boxed up and placed in the garage, three of those books stayed in my active library.
I must have read Marshall Dill’s Germany four or five times over the last thirty years. Something about the immediacy of his words, the realization that he had lived some of the scenes he described in the sections on World War II, grabbed me and held my attention.
Did our history professors let us slide by with merely accepting what we read on unfootnoted pages? No way! One in particular – Frank Reuters – would hold our feet to the fire. He demanded that we look for sources that either contradicted what was written or that at least presented a different viewpoint. Verify, verify, verify! Without footnotes, we had to do the legwork to test the text. And that in pre-Google days. We learned from him to value primary source materials, to treasure them like gold. His classes were hard work. And like Prof. Kurt Huber’s, always the first to fill up.
We wanted this book to be the same way (and would that I were a Marshall Dill). One that non-majors would actually read, yet that could serve as a basis for much deeper discussions in a teacher-led class. I don’t consider it a textbook. I see it as a nonfiction book that can be used to teach. How well it is taught depends primarily on the person teaching.
We initially conceived of this section of “purpose” in somewhat broader terms, as we envisioned our book being translated into German so German youth could enjoy it the same way.
However, the White Rose establishment has a firm grip on the legend, with most of the media in its pocket. You will read few unfavorable reviews of works that regurgitate legend.
Yet those who try to paint a more honest portrait (e.g. Petry, Moll) often find their lives nearly ruined. For example, the Scholls undertook a virulent campaign against Christian Petry and one member of the Probst family when they questioned accepted legend about White Rose motivations. Challenge Inge Scholl, and it could be an academic death sentence in Germany.
Since 1995, I have repeatedly heard from people I interviewed in Germany that I have a distinct advantage in telling the “true story” of the White Rose resistance movement, because I am an American. What I at first perceived to be a decided handicap has proven to be beneficial. I do not have to worry about being black-balled from a professorship just because I crossed Scholls. Since it is not a professional or personal goal to receive the Bundesverdienstkreuz or the Geschwister-Scholl-Preis from the Weiße-Rose-Stiftung, I can work in peace.
Do I want this book to be published in Germany? Perhaps. Would it be a positive influence on German youth? I think so, hope so. Is it worth the grief? Not alone, not without proper moral and financial support. Even the White Rose students required as much.
But publishing this work in Germany will require a German publisher who has the guts and "intestinal fortitude" to stand up to White Rose establishment. A publisher who will say Enough!, and have none of self-serving censorship. I have searched for such a publisher, without success. Maybe one day a house with a good foundation will find me.
Until that happens, this series remains the capital of American youth and their mentors.
© 2003 Ruth Hanna Sachs. Published by Exclamation! Publishers. Please contact Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.