Siefken: Die Weiβe Rose: Student Resistance to National Socialism 1942/43

Hinrich Siefken (Ed.). Die Weiβe Rose: Student Resistance to National Socialism 1942/43, Forschungsergebnisse und Erfahrungsberichte. Nottingham: The University of Nottingham, 1991.

As far as I know, Siefken was the first in academic circles to recognize the value of White Rose resistance as pedagogical tool. This book brought together an assortment of writers – some survivors and family members of those friends, others historians who addressed specific, and generally limited, topics related to the friends’ resistance.

My review of Siefken's book covers each essay independently. While not all essays are worth citing by contemporary historians, the book in general is. Siefken’s notion that we can and should learn from White Rose, that this is a good topic for college undergraduates, is one worth celebrating. We are richer for his having taught and worked during our lifetime.

Hinrich Siefken. “Die Weiβe Rose Comes to Nottingham,” pp. 1-10. Merely an introductory essay. Nothing new revealed here. More of a "welcome" article for those participating.

J.P. Stern. “The White Rose,” pp. 11-36. I do not know what possessed a historian of Siefken's stature to include this essay in his anthology, much less to make it the lead-off article. It is a pretty bad rehash of the Scholl legend - which Siefken appeared to be avoiding. Additionally, Stern confused facts, such as having Professor Huber interrupting Judge Freisler during the February 22, 1943 trial.

I understand why Siefken would want Joseph Peter Maria Stern to write for his inaugural collection related to White Rose resistance. Stern was not only born into a Jewish family in Prague before the war (1920), he had earned the distinction of FBA or Fellowship of the British Academy by the time he wrote this article. And Stern died the same year Siefken's book was published.

Yet Stern was clearly out of his depth when dealing with White Rose resistance. He was known for his works on 19th and 20th century German literature - Nietzsche, Mann, Rilke, Kafka - as well as research and books about Leibniz. 

Stern's thoughts on German modernism would have been an excellent topic for Siefken's collection. The literature the White Rose students read has long been on our Call for Papers listing, as we understand far too little about what motivated their thinking.

Missed opportunities. As it is, avoid Stern's essay at all costs.

Bernhard Hanssler. “Katholische Jugendarbeit während des Dritten Reiches in Ulm,” pp. 37-50. This essay came highly recommended to us by the Geyer family, who maintained a good relationship with Hanssler. It's no surprise. Like Geyer, Hanssler followed a similar path during the Third Reich.

He earned both right and authority to write about Catholic youth groups during the Third Reich. After all, Hanssler first earned a Redeverbot [speaking ban] from the NSDAP while serving as youth pastor in Tübingen, and a Schreibverbot [publication ban] in 1942. That did not prevent him from doing either.

Interestingly, Hanssler's first post was in Ulm, at St. Michael zu den Wengen Church, where he served as vicar from 1932-1934 (Geyers were already in Ulm - unknown which Catholic church they attended at that time). I only wish I had met him during our research trips. Hanssler died in 2005.

Ian Kershaw. “Resistance Without the People: Bavarian Attitudes to the Nazi Regime at the Time of the White Rose,” pp. 51-65. Sir Ian Kershaw had already established a name for himself, writing about Bavarian attitudes towards National Socialism, by the time he wrote this essay for Siefken's anthology. A long-time professor at the University of Sheffield, Kershaw's body of work has made a significant contribution to our understanding of how Hitler happened.

Kershaw never spared his fellow Brits (nor Americans, for that matter). In a book on the subject, Kershaw famously stated, "I should like to think that had I been around at the time I would have been a convinced anti-Nazi engaged in the underground resistance fight. However, I know really that I would have been as confused and felt as helpless as most of the people I am writing about."

If you're like me and don't have a couple of years to read everything Kershaw wrote on the subject, this essay makes a good starting point. After contemplating his hypothesis, we can better understand how the January 13, 1943 student protest built up from 'an undercurrent of resistance,' as well as the rip tides swirling around the White Rose friends as they wrote and distributed their leaflets.

I am grateful to Siefken for including Kershaw's essay in this book.

Marie Louise (sic) Schultze-Jahn. “Hans Leipelt – ein Kapitel Münchner Hochschule im Nationalsozialismus,” pp. 67-76. If you are interested in the group of chemistry students around Hans Leipelt, those so-called "half-Jewish" students who copied and distributed the White Rose leaflets after the executions in 1943, Schultze-Jahn's essay is a nice starter article. If you're a grad student researching Leipelt and Schultze-Jahn for a thesis or dissertation, be sure to focus more on primary sources, using historical process to weight her words here.

Hildegard Vieregg. “Die Weiβe Rose und die Rebellion der Jugend gegen das NS-Regime – der studentische Widerstand als Fanal," pp. 77-115. Dr. Hildegard Vieregg is by far one of my favorite White Rose historians. She has focused much of her career on Willi Graf's life and legacy, having worked closely with Anneliese Knoop-Graf and Jos Schätzler as editor of Willi Graf's earlier letters. 

It seems that everything she touches turns to gold. In the 1960s, she earned her degree from the university in Munich in pedagogy, philosophy, psychology, and social sciences. She would return in the 1990s to receive doctorates in museology [the science of museums] and museum policy. I wish our Center for White Rose Studies could lure her out of retirement!

This long-ish article should be read by any newbies first diving into White Rose research. Vieregg placed White Rose resistance into the context of the many youth groups involved in covert - and usually unsuccessful - revolutionary activities during the Third Reich.

And I infer from her article that she has at least a little bit of backbone. In this essay, Vieregg renewed the debate about idealism that earned Petry and Probst the wrath of Inge Aicher-Scholl.

When I read Siefken's anthology in 1995, Vieregg's essay was among the high points.

Hinrich Siefken. “Die Weiβe Rose und Theodor Haecker: Widerstand im Glauben,” pp. 117-146. Siefken expanded here on his Haecker theme. If you are completely unfamiliar with Professor Siefken's work on the subject, you will find this essay interesting. If you have read his longer publications focusing on Theodor Haecker, this essay will be boring to you. 

Still, it is worthwhile understanding what Siefken deemed the high points of Haecker's writings, especially if you're teaching an undergraduate class. Note that in this essay, Siefken focused more closely on Haecker's association with White Rose friends.

Hans Hirzel. “Das groβe Miβverständnis. Warum die Mehrzahl der Deutschen sich Hitler unterordnete,” pp. 147-182. Typical for anything by Hans Hirzel, this 36-page essay could have been ten pages long, and more people would have read it, which would have been a good thing. Because Hirzel's words on this topic - Why the Majority of Germans Subjugated Themselves to Hitler - needs to be discussed more, and discussed more openly.

If you can work your way through the entire essay, your White Rose research will be the better for it.

This would also be Hans Hirzel's penultimate publication before declaring his candidacy for the presidency of Germany on a neo-Nazi ticket. Treasure his sanity in this essay.

Kurt Sontheimer. “Der studentische Widerstand gegen den Nationalsozialismus,” pp. 183-194. It's understandable why Professor Siefken would want a historian and journalist of Sontheimer's stature to write an essay for his anthology. A Fulbright scholar at the University of Kansas in the early years of that program, Sontheimer had worked his way up the ladder in academia, eventually landing at the Geschwister-Scholl-Institut at the University of Munich. When he died in June 2005, The Guardian posted an obituary.

According to that obituary, Sontheimer had retired to Murnau - coincidentally Christoph Probst's hometown, although the paper did not mention whether that factored into his decision - and had declared he had also retired from writing.

I wish he had made that statement before submitting this essay for Siefken's book. It's fascinating, and because it's Sontheimer, it is well-written. But he mixed up easy facts, such as identifying Fritz Leist as a friend of Christoph Probst instead of Willi Graf. The University of Nottingham fact-checkers should have caught that, along with other small but not-neglible mistakes.

Frankly, while Siefken's anthology was inspiration for our own Leaflets of Our Resistance, I worry about missing easy mistakes when fact-checking. For accounting and fact-checking, a little paranoia is a good thing. Nottingham's fact-checkers could have used a little more. This essay would have been all the better.

© 2023 Denise Heap. Please contact Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.