Stulberg: Wittenstein's Shoah Foundation testimony

Carol Stulberg. Interview with Dr. George J. Wittenstein and Christel Bejenke. Santa Barbara, California: Shoah Foundation. March 22, 1997.

In 2010/11, I transcribed Wittenstein's four-hour "testimony" for the Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archives. By then, I already knew that most of his so-called testimony was bogus. Until I watched the video - before starting the transcription - I did not know exactly how bad it was.

Since Wittenstein granted this interview in March 1997, many more books have been written about White Rose resistance - including my own. It was this video, in fact, that inspired our Evolution of Memory, a compilation of his speeches, essays, and correspondence from 1947-2009. Evolution tracks his stories across the decades, demonstrating how his memory 'improved' with each new publication on the market.

Parts of Stulberg's Q&A are painful to watch. Anyone who had lived the days he claimed to have lived would have enjoyed the softball questions she asked. Many times, he not only could not answer the harder questions, but the easy ones sent him into a tailspin as well.

One such question centered on how Wittenstein and his mother celebrated holidays in Beilstein. Wittenstein lapsed into a recitation of German holiday traditions, ignoring her simple question regarding his family's celebrations. Stulberg guided the conversation back to that topic. Again, he changed the subject.

Stulberg next asked about youth organizations he had belonged to - another softball question, since he has often claimed to have been a member of a bündische organization. After Wittenstein's oral thesis about bündische Jugend in Germany, Wittenstein said he had belonged to a group called Deutscher Kameradschaftsbund. "[I]t was interesting that all of these were immediately when Hitler came to power dissolved and compulsory, transferred into Hitler Youth. Ours was the last one that Hitler decided to take over and our national leader refused and he instead of turning it over to Hitler Youth he simply dissolved it."

When Stulberg asked when Deutscher Kameradschaftsbund had been dissolved, Wittenstein said 1934.

None of my materials about bündische Jugend contained information about DK, so I wrote to a group that maintains thorough records about bündische organizations prior to 1933, throughout the Third Reich, to current day. They could find no such bündische group. There is one that's close in name, in the Sudetenland, but neither Salem nor Beilstein was located in the Sudetenland where that club existed. That group was disbanded in 1935.

If you ask any German who was young in 1935 or prior to tell you about their experiences in bündische clubs, you know it is hard to get them to stop talking. They can tell you chapter and verse of every stripe or cord they earned, every trip they took, and they will know the names of their friends in the same club. Stulberg gave Wittenstein a chance to tell those stories, and he did not.

She continued with the easy questions - tell me about school. Wittenstein did not seem to understand that people can track timelines, and that his answers were ludicrous. He said that he:

  • Attended Volksschule (elementary school) in Beilstein for four years and described how cruel the atmosphere was.
  • Had tuberculosis, so spent eight winters (four years) in St. Moritz. One would assume that involved schooling.
  • Started at Schule Schloβ Salem in 1930 when he was ten years old.

Those first two memories seem to be mutually exclusive. Further, he went silent about time in St. Moritz, and except for talking briefly about "a lot of physical punishment, some very cruel" at the Volksschule, and that he learned "reading, and writing, and mathematics" while there, he provided no personal information about elementary school. Again, odd.

Wittenstein talked, and talked some more, about Schule Schloβ Salem. When Stulberg asked about his friends at Salem, he named Anselm Heyer first. A little problematic for Wittenstein. Heyer's father was Dr. Gustav Richard Heyer, member of the NSDAP, neurology professor in Munich, prominent Nazi psychotherapist who derided Jewish colleagues even prior to Hitler's ascension to power. A Nazi's Nazi.

But when Stulberg asked what happened once Hitler came to power and Kurt Hahn was fired, Wittenstein rambled on and on about Gordonstoun and how he (Wittenstein) knew Prince Philip from Salem, and about the Atlantic School and William Randolph Hearst's castle (really!) and UNESCO and the International Baccalaureate and the British Coast Guard and World Colleges and ...

Stulberg finally interrupted his meandering avoidance of her question about Salem. She asked, "After Hitler came to power, I'd like to know if you witnessed any antisemitism while you were there [Salem]."

With that, Wittenstein bent over, almost out of view of the camera, and continued talking... about the Atlantic School and Kurt Hahn. Finally after a long pause, he said, "There was no overt antisemitism in the school because first of all, there had been many Jewish students." Followed immediately by this strange statement:

I remember very distinctly that one day one of the teachers who obviously was a Nazi called me for private interview and said, I have to apologize to you. I always thought you were Jewish and I just found out you’re not. (Laughs) Which I thought, is a very odd apology. And that was that.

As we know from Poensgen's good but too-short essay, Salem was antisemitic and Wittenstein's protest to the contrary, it aligned fairly quickly.  Wittenstein claimed that he could not remember at any time a student wearing a Hitler Youth uniform. Again, false. And that there were no changes to the school after Hahn's departure. Again...

Another softball question Wittenstein avoided, that makes one wonder: Stulberg asked if he had graduated from Salem, and when he said yes, asked about the graduation ceremony. Now, Wittenstein had ample opportunity to explain the differences between US and German graduations, historically and now, and to describe his personal experience for her. Instead, Wittenstein made up a story about a supposed graduation ceremony where "the parents came and you got your diploma." Halfway through, he shut down the fiction and talked about Hitler needing cannon fodder.

Stulberg asked about Reich Labor Service. Once again, Wittenstein launched into a lecture about RLS, its purpose, its methodology, instead of talking about his own experiences. He did give Stulberg the name of the place where he served. I looked it up and apparently it was not the usual RLS camp, but rather a special camp for good marksmen, which Wittenstein was.

When Stulberg turned to his mother's attitudes, Wittenstein averted his gaze, looking down, not making eye contact. Then he said his mother was opposed to National Socialism and helped Jewish families escape. (Note: In 1934, his mother opened a business in Berlin that got the contract to make uniforms for Hitler's army. Keep that in mind.)

We do learn from this interview that Wittenstein's doctorate was in psychiatry, not psychology or medicine. Another "keep that in mind" moment.

The last half of the interview is almost completely fiction. Everything from the legend about "the revolution began here" (with Alexander Schmorell), to his philosophy of life, to his association with White Rose friends, to his time on the Russian front - with this interview, Wittenstein set in motion the extended mythology that would get him plenty of attention and fame over the next 20+ years. And he made it all up. Loosely based on facts from the lives of others.

In Evolution, his lies are readily identified, as I trace his words from 1947-2009. When you see his words side by side by side, there's an "aha!" moment.

If I were to dissect his fictions regarding White Rose friendships and White Rose resistance in this "review," it would exceed the scope of its purpose. Let me instead close with this excerpt that focuses on one of the most astonishing moments of the Stulberg interview (although not the most astonishing).

Wittenstein had noted that he had a different "circle of friends" than "Scholl and Schmorell." After changing the video reel, Stulberg asked Wittenstein, "This is tape four with Dr. George Wittenstein. Dr. Wittenstein, you mentioned on the last reel that Scholl and Schmorell had their own circle of friends." -- Wittenstein: "Yes." -- Stulberg: "Who were these friends?"

Wittenstein was stumped. “Well, essentially the members of the White Rose plus some whom I know only peripherally. There was Scholl and Schmorell and um, later Willi Graf and his sister Sophie Scholl [sic], and two Catholic, two Catholic theologians who were quite influential on them, Theodor Haecker and Muth. Uh. (Long pause) And personal friends of them who were not members of any group but personal friends of the individual members.”

And he could not name anyone else.

(c) 2023 Denise Heap. Please contact us for permission to quote.