Sachs: White Rose Histories, Volumes I and II

Ruth Hanna Sachs. White Rose History, Volume I. Coming Together. January 31, 1933 - April 30, 1942. The Unfinished Story. Phoenixville, PA: Exclamation! Publishers, 2002. Updates 2003, 2007.

Ruth Hanna Sachs. White Rose History, Volume II. Journey to Freedom. May 1, 1942 - October 12, 1943. The Unfinished Story. Phoenixville, PA: Exclamation! Publishers, 2002, 2005. Updates 2007.

Note: Exclamation! Publishers is now located in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Instead of reviewing our own work, we will post reviews from other people here. In strictly alphabetical order.

Dr. Petra S. Fiero, Western Washington University. Many an American German teacher, whether at the high school or college level, has used as a teaching tool Michael Verhoeven's film Die Weiβe Rose and Inge Scholl's book on her siblings Hans and Sophie, members of the Munich resistance group against Hitler. Ruth Sachs's goal is to debunk the myths and legends that film and book have propagated. Only 10% of the Scholl Archives are open to the public because Inge Aicher-Scholl remained the strict guardian of Hans's and Sophie's diaries and letters until her death in 1998. Manuel Aicher then sold the archives to the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich, with the restriction that he determine what was to be made public and who would be allowed to use the materials. Inge Scholl refused to grant Sachs an interview in 1995, and had Franz Josef Müller, the director of Munich's White Rose Foundation, deny her access to its library and archives.

Sachs's research however did not come to a halt, since she used Gestapo files and other primary source materials from the Bundesarchiv in Berlin. In addition to consulting an impressive number of scholarly works listed in the annotated bibliography, she interviewed many eyewitnesses to complete the heavily footnoted academic version of the story.

Among them were Traute Lafrenz, Susanne Hirzel (a close friend of Sophie's), Kurt Huber's son Wolfgang, and Erich and Herta (sic) Schmorell. Her efforts are contained in a three-ring binder consisting of 30 chapters, each about 10 pages long. The chapters are divided chronologically in approximately three-month periods, which chronicle the activities of the characters, what their beliefs were at any given time and, most importantly, what happened historically during the period from 1933 to 1942.

All chapters begin with a page 1, because the reader is supposed to add the pages provided in a yearly update at the appropriate place, as more and more primary source material becomes available. This system has the drawback of making it difficult to compile an index that this reviewer would have found helpful. Five appendices are included as well, among them a reprint of TIME magazine's amazingly prescient cover story of HItler being named "Man of the Year 1938."

Sachs's declared goal for her book, which can also be purchased in a less-heavily-footnoted version for the classroom, is to tell the White Rose story "in historical context, comprehensively, for American youth." Whereas Inge Scholl created the image of the resistance circle centering on the noble warriors Hans and Sophie fighting for a just cause, Sachs confronts us with all the people who impacted the White Rose, numbering around thirty, in all their complexities.

She is a gifted narrator who makes history come alive for students and teachers alike; against an impersonal account, Sachs brings herself into the story with comments, assessments, and some conjectures necessitated by the blocked materials. But she backs up all claims with research and does not shy away from asking hard questions. Sachs noted for example the deafening silence in diaries and letters about the pogrom night in 1938, even though the Scholls lived in a house filled with German Jews. In the spring of 1939 they even moved to an apartment formally (sic) owned by a Jewish family that had had to emigrate. While puzzled by this lack of reaction to such a horrendous event, for her this underscores the hard fact that most Germans moved on with their lives acting as if nothing had happened.

Ruth Sachs's findings are truly groundbreaking, filling in some of the pieces in the previously incomplete puzzle. In the interrogation files for Bündische Trials from 1937-38 it comes out that while in a leadership position in the Hitler Youth, Hans Scholl repeatedly sexually molested a boy under his tutelage. For the history teacher this information is valuable for examining how the Nazis dealt with homosexuality and the bündische youth groups. We also learn that later on Hans - as were many in those times - was likely addicted to a drug known today as crystal speed, which would account for some of the reckless behavior this charismatic, but deeply troubled young man displayed around 1941. We follow Sophie's development from an enthusiastic Jungmädel leader to a critical observer of the political climate, and catch a glimpse into the psyche of of very bright, but emotionally disturbed person, who after reading Augustine's Confessions, even contemplated suicide.

In her attempt to add the "missing voices" to the chorus, Ruth Sachs gives vivid accounts of Willi Graf's alienation that he must have felt among his indoctrinated fellow-soldiers at the Eastern front, Otl Aicher's developing conscience, and the willingness to act of the brothers Falk and Arvid Harnack, as well as their influence on Lilo Ramdohr. This volume ends in April 1942, before any of these young people have written and distributed the fliers for which they were to become so famous.

Volume Two, scheduled to come out in February 2005 followed by White Rose History: The Ultimate CD-ROM (1933-1945), will complete the story. The "Center for White Rose Studies" also provides a newsletter with updates and information on Ruth Sachs's availability as a speaker for schools, universities, churches, synagogues or civic centers.

Summing up, it can be safely asserted that the many disconcerting revelations with which the reader of this volume is confronted are well balanced by the realization that authentic, even shocking human frailties could and did co-exist with the genuine heroism of which those dire times were so sorely in need!

Published in Die Unterrichtspraxis: Teaching German. A Journal of the American Association of Teachers of German. Volume 37, number 2. © 2004.

Ashley Horner, Phoenixville, PA. I enjoyed reading the book, but the whole thing is very disturbing to me. It makes me aware of my responsbilility. 

It disturbs me about myself. How would I have responded to the whole Nazi movement? Would I have been brave enough? Would I have been wise enough?

The book hits me between the eyes. Would I have the courage of my convictions to stand up and say, "It ends here"? When did they realize you have to finally make the decision to do something about it?

When do I realize that I have to take a stand - put in perspective: World War II German people and Hitler? To know your effort is important and essential? How much creeps up on us unaware? Questions your own moral integrity.

I have a strong sense of duty. How much would the Nazi Party have used this to their own end? After reading the book, I am afraid I would not have been one who stood up. (April 2006)

Katelyn M. Quirin, Gettysburg, PA. The most significant work on the White Rose is that of Ruth Sachs; her White Rose History Volume I and II are the largest and most detailed scholarship on the resistance group. First published in 2002, with updates in 2005 and 2007, Sachs' work builds off of the secondary material already discussed, as well as extensive primary research, such as interviews with a great number of remaining family and friends of the resistance group.

Volume I follows the main and outlying members of the White Rose from 1933-1942, before any resistance activity. This detailed information illuminates the personal backgrounds that likely influenced the members' eventual decisions to resist actively. Volume II examines the events between May 1, 1942-October 12, 1943. Using letters, diaries, interviews, the White Rose leaflets, and Gestapo interrogation transcripts, Sachs manages to reconstruct the lives of all who played some role in the active resistance on almost a day-to-day basis.

She succeeds in depicting their mindsets and actions as accurately as possible, whether or not she portrays a member positively. Sachs' focus on depicting the members of the White Rose as realistically as possible causes her work to be highly useful for understanding the resistance group; her approach allows fellow researchers to understand the complexities of each individual and their motives for participating in active resistance.

Sachs' work is only slightly problematic because of the sheer magnitude of it; her extensive detail can be cumbersome, and sometimes feels unnecessary to the study of the White Rose.

The most effective way to examine the motives behind the resistance, therefore, is by illustrating the personal choices for resisting in a concise manner, demonstrating that the six active members who were executed - Hans and Sophie Scholl, Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst, and Kurt Huber - were compelled to act based on their personal ideological oppositions to the actions of the Nazi regime.

(From "Long Live Freedom!": Moral Motives Behind the White Rose Resistance. The Cupola: Scholarship at Gettysburg College, Spring 2014.)

Dr. Erich Schmorell, Pasing, Germany. 2003 is ending and it is about time that we thank you for sending us "White Rose History, Volume 1." Your newsletter of December 18, 2002 jammed us up a bit initially [uns blockiert]. We were not quite sure how your harsh opinions about some people would fit into the W.R. story.

But then we received your book. We were full of admiration for your thorough research. I translated it, dictionary in hand. Since I sometimes had problems with American expressions, I lent it to the Furtwänglers, hoping that since they are half English, they could improve my translation. But the exchange did not help much.

In the end, I just read it myself. I believe you succeed in making it comprehensible to young Americans what was happening back then, what the leaflets of the "White Rose" said at the time, and what they wanted to achieve.

We are especially grateful for sending us the copy of Dr. Deisinger's report about Alexander. We only knew excerpts from [this document]. We did not know that Inge Scholl had had that in her archives for a long time.

We had hoped you would be able to visit us last autumn. In your last letter, you mentioned you may be in our neighborhood. Were you not able to come, or did you not call us? That would have been a pity. [DEH: We did not get to go.]

Please don't be angry about our long silence. This year has been sometimes rather unsettling with regards to relationships within the W.R. There have been problems with F.J. Müller and his wife. A new organization [Weisse-Rose-Institut e.V.] has been established, and old relationships have been severed. That is all very distressing for us. After all, we are old people. Everything that causes trouble and distrust with respect to W.R. hurts us.

For this new year, we wish you everything good, health, luck, and success. If possible, no stress or worries.

Please tell your mother hello and give her our best greetings as well.

Kind regards

Hertha and Erich Schmorell. (December 31, 2003)

Note: Left in the more-personal parts of the letter, because Dr. Schmorell mentioned the split among White Rose families. The issues caused by FJM have damaged, and continue to damage, White Rose research and scholarship. This should be a wake-up call!

Philippe Willocx, Belgium. 1. Positive - I am impressed. By the sheer number of facts that I found in your two books, with so many new to me, by the way in which all those facts are so clearly presented (your chronological method is extremely effective), by your excruciatingly detailed source references. And by the way in which this mountain of facts is transformed in much more - in the real story of real people, acting very courageously and very humanly.

2. Negative - Very little. A few occasions where I find that some non-standard english word distracts attention more than it helps comprehension ('stateside' - with no ocean in between and no United States of Germany on the home front), and a difference of opinion about the way in which Gestapo Protokols must be rendered (more about that in a later mail).

3. Improveable - It would be unfit to begin a full 'nitpicking' list here - the overall first impression is definitely one of positive awe, and therefore extremely briefly rendered hereabove, let's not now spend 10 times more ink on details that could be improved in the next edition.

Just one point for now, on the Rote Kapelle (or rather, on the Arnack (sic) - Schulze-Boysen group), because it happens to be a subject of recent reading memories: They were judged by the Reichkriegsgericht (Military High Court), and not by the Volksgerichtshof (Nazi political court). The prosecutor there was Manfred Roeder, just as inhumane as Freisler, but at least he did not prosecute and preside at the same time. ...

Thanks for the good read, for all the work that went into it, for your kindness to your readers with questions, and see/read you soon. (August 29, 2005).