Wittenstein: Die Muenchener Studentenbewegung
George J. ("Jürgen") Wittenstein. "Die Muenchener Studentenbewegung." In Blick in die Welt. Hamburg: 1947. Also in Die Lupe, with minor edits. Bern: 1948.
Out of the gate, Wittenstein wishes his readers or listeners to infer that he and his fellow revolutionaries had never joined the NSDAP student organization. He and they "wished to protect their independence." He wrote about a two-day training course (Schulungskurs) held at a camp (Lager) that everyone was required to attend, something no one else mentions. Not Susanne Hirzel. Not Inge Jens. Not Anneliese Knoop-Graf. Only Wittenstein.
In his "reconstructed diary" - supposedly from 1945 and prior, but in actuality written on his IBM Selectric typewriter much later - he even stated that he had NOT joined, but instead had found a loophole and had joined the International Student Union instead. "I joined it immediately out of opposition."
And yet we know he was a member of the National Socialist Deutsche Studentenschaft.
Perhaps the most aggravating part of Wittenstein's 1947/1948 essay-speech is the enduring legend about his friendship with Alexander Schmorell and their supposed conversation that began in the barracks. From this essay:
"All the same, even then there were already small groups of reasonable people [Einsichtiger] who precisely recognized the danger of intellectual tyranny and tried to make a stand against it. During the last six months of military service, I met a student – Alexander Schmorell – to whom I was connected not only by personal-friendly dealings, but also by the same political attitudes. From this, an association of young students arose in that barracks [Kaserne] who had vowed [gelobt] to work against the false doctrine [Irrlehre] of National Socialism through personal resolve [Aufklärung]. At that time, the impact of one-on-one [work] appeared to us to be the best and safest way. – The expression that once jokingly circulated in this circle sounds odd [seltsam] today: ‘In ten years perhaps a sign will hang on the door of this room, From here, the movement continued! [Von hier aus nahm die Bewgung ihren Fortgang!]." -- The italicized German original is included because Wittenstein frequently claimed that negative things written about him were misquotes, either "reader error" as with Harald Steffahn, or inability to read German.
This simple story grew and changed through the years. When asked in 2003 about the association of young students, he replied there had only been two or three, and he did not know who they were. But at Boston College in 2004, he stated there had been about 19 in the association. While the "reconstructed diary" states there were seven. At Oregon State University in 2009, there had been twelve.
From 1947-1991, the sign read, "From here, the movement continued." With special note that die Bewegung or the movement was direct reference to National Socialism, which called itself die Bewegung. From 1992-2003, including in correspondence with me, it became "The revolution began here."
In fact, in 1992/93, Wittenstein got into a written shouting match with Harald Steffahn and his publisher Uwe Naumann regarding this quote. Steffahn had used the "movement" version in his book. Wittenstein accused him of falsification of history. Wittenstein said that Steffahn had used the Hanser book as a source instead of asking him (Wittenstein) directly. Hanser had used the "movement" version.
Suddenly in 2004 at Boston College, Wittenstein reverted to the "movement" version, after twelve years of castigating and correcting anyone - including me - who used it. Even funnier (except it's not), in 2009 at Oregon State, Wittenstein used the "movement" version, adding Steffahn's explanation regarding his reasoning almost verbatim. Not citing Steffahn, of course. It had become Wittenstein's explanation.
Additionally: In 1947 Wittenstein wrote that this alleged sign had been hung on the door of his room. In the 1948 version of the same essay, it was slightly edited to remove the "movement" quotation, and he talked about the Kaserne or barracks. In both his 1993 speech at Siena College, and well as in his 1997 History Place essay, he used the English word barracks, usually translated Kaserne.
In 1992, Steffahn wrote that the alleged sign had been hung over the Kasernentor, or barracks' gate. Wittenstein wanted that changed to "the door of the room where we slept." When Steffahn and Naumann refused to make Wittenstein's change, Wittenstein replied that he had never mentioned a Kaserne, only a Baracke. In his correspondence with me, he insisted it had been at the Lazarett (military hospital) where they were training as medics (1947 essay states during last six months of military service). He also launched into a detailed explanation about the difference between a Kaserne and a Baracke. He told me that he had always said Baracke, which he said means only the living quarters of soliders in a Kaserne. Which is really beside the point, since in 1947/48, he himself wrote Kaserne.
By 2004 at Boston College, it had become a "dormitory room." And in 2009 at Oregon State, the "door of the room in which the twelve of us slept."
The quote itself went from being a saying that was jokingly circulated, not attributed to any single person, to something that Alexander Schmorell had said directly to him, and only to him. When Hanser and Steffahn noted that Schmorell said this to Hans Scholl, Wittenstein grew very angry. He also was angry at Hanser for having written that it had been said in jest. His anger makes no sense in light of this 1947/48 essay.
Perhaps the most problematic lie in Wittenstein's 1947 essay? This quote. "Here I should note that one characteristic of the situation in Germany, showing that spying on others was already progressed to such a degree, was that when the movement began, it appeared advisable to its individual members to join the [NSDAP] party or one of its organizations as applicants [Anwärter]. The overwhelming majority [überwiegende Mehrzahl] implemented this collective decision, which greatly enabled the longstanding existence of the movement. When the catastrophe befell [us], the primary suspects naturally had to admit [versagen] this, and for that reason not a few lives were saved."
Wittenstein repeated this lie in many of his essays and speeches. In his "reconstructed diary," he stated that he had registered as a Parteianwärter, "which did not place a person under any obligation, but on the other hand protected a person from the consequences and onus of actually becoming a member of the party." He repeated this in a letter from 2003. "I was never a member of the party. I only applied for membership. The German civilian court determined that I was only an applicant and could prove that this 'should be viewed solely as camouflage of anti-Nazi activities and does not substantiate follower [Mitläufer] status'."
This is problematic for Wittenstein. In 2003, Johannes Tuchel of the Gedenkstätte deutscher Widerstand in Berlin blew Wittenstein's claims out of the water. He found cold, hard proof that Wittenstein applied for membership in the NSDAP in December 1939 (as did Hellmut Hartert), and that he was accepted in June 1940 as Party member #7667868. Following publication of Tuchel's essay, Wittenstein claimed he was not even in Germany in June 1940, so that if his application was approved, he would not have known so.
Problem with that: In our January 2001 interview with him, he stated he had been in Munich in June 1940, teaching sailing at the Royal Bavarian Yacht Club, because it "was depleted of men due to war, so they hired me to teach junior members how to sail. Which had the wonderful advantage of sailing, taking them out..." I sent Wittenstein a Protokol (written record) of the interview, and he made pages worth of "corrections" - especially dates and names. But he made no change to his statements regarding his whereabouts in 1940. You can read this interview for yourself. -- Note that Hartert's application was approved the same month.
Fast forward to 1945/1946 and denazification. Those denazification records acknowledged Wittenstein's status as party member, not as Anwärter or applicant. But Klara Huber, Rupprecht Gerngross, Robert Scholl, Hellmut Hartert, and Maria-Luise Jahn all provided Wittenstein with Persilscheine, stating that - hold on to your seats - he had established a resistance movement, namely the White Rose, which (according to Wittenstein and his witnesses, including Clara Huber) Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell had joined later! And yet only Hartert corroborated evidence of that "resistance movement." And of course, Wittenstein granted Hartert a mutual Persilschein.
Wittenstein was primarily rescued, however, before his denazification case was officially resolved, in that the denazification process issued a blanket amnesty for anyone born after January 1, 1919. Had it not been for that amnesty, granted in August 1946, a more in-depth investigation into his claims and into his military record would have been carried out. He would have had a difficult time explaining away his military rank of NS-Führungsoffizier.
It is also interesting to note that Wittenstein kept those "witnesses" in his back pocket over the following decades. In his 1964 letter to Dr. Auerbach and the IfZ, Wittenstein advised Auerbach to contact... Hellmut Hartert, Paul Buhl, Klara Huber, Inge Aicher-Scholl, Fritz Kartini, and Rupprecht Gerngross to verify his (Wittenstein's) statements about having been part of White Rose resistance.
Wittenstein's 1947 statement that people in the resistance applied for NSDAP membership as camouflage is blatantly false. As Tuchel first pointed out, among the White Rose circle only Hartert and Huber were party members. No one else. And both of them agreed with the NSDAP platform!
The final, but most telling, problem with Wittenstein's 1947 narrative, one that I cannot get past: His words about his "friends" and their resistance activities are devoid of anything personal. The few almost-personal comments assuredly came from Inge Scholl. He even got important facts wrong, facts he would have known had these people been as important to him as he claimed. And as scholarship improved, so did Wittenstein's memory. He rarely if ever mentioned this 1947/48 essay once his "memory" improved.
In 1947/48, Wittenstein knew only biographical data about Willi Graf, things he would have gleaned from those Gestapo interrogation transcripts in Starnberg, since Inge Scholl also did not know Willi Graf. Birth date. Catholic. Quickborn (did not know Gray Order). Quiet. Medical student. Same student company. He said Willi Graf did not share the artistic bent of the rest of them, which calls into question how well Wittenstein knew Hubert Furtwängler, since Willi Graf sang in the Bach Chorale along with Hubert. And went to concerts with everyone. And talked about musical theory and history and Bartok.
By 1993, Wittenstein started talking about Willi Graf in Russia, which he did not "know" in 1947/48. When I point-blank asked him about Willi Graf in 2001, Wittenstein only stated, "Willi Graf was the most solid person in the White Rose." Nothing else. No pictures, no "I remember when he..."
By 2004 after Wittenstein had read our White Rose Histories, he suddenly knew a lot more about WIlli Graf, including what he had seen while serving in Russia. Students at Boston College and Oregon State got the benefit of our research, which Wittenstein claimed as his memories. But even then, Wittenstein did not "remember" how much Willi Graf loved to play skat (which he would have known had he actually been around Willi in Russia), that Willi Graf danced with Russians, that he was an avid skier. That he regularly fenced at Master Knapen's (odd, Wittenstein claims to have fenced there, and never met Willi Graf). That he had considered changing majors to philology and ditching medicine, which directly contradicts Wittenstein's statements 1947-2009 that Willi Graf was only interested in medicine, and nothing else.
Wittenstein also claimed that Christoph Probst was his best friend in the White Rose circle, second-best friend overall. Yet when the friends wrote of specific visits to Christoph's country home, Wittenstein was not there.
In this 1947/48 essay, Wittenstein stated that Christoph Probst's third child had been born a few days before his execution. In 1997, during his Shoah Foundation interview, Wittenstein said that Christoph had two children at the time of his execution, with the third one due soon. However, his 1997 History Place essay simply states that Christoph Probst had three children, a remark he would continue making until 2004, when he went back to "his wife had just given birth to their third child and was seriously ill." But in 2009 at Oregon State, he said, "The most tragic thing is Christoph Probst, who was of all the people in the White Rose my closest friend. He was the only one who was married. He had two children. The third one was born while he was in prison."
Katharina (Katja) Probst had been born on January 21, 1943. On January 31, 1943, Christoph traveled to Munich and met with Hans, Sophie, and Elisabeth Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, and Willi Graf. He told them about Katja's birth, and on that occasion also handed a leaflet draft to Hans Scholl. Slept on the floor in the Scholls' rooms. And did not meet with Wittenstein.
In fact, in the 891 pages of Christane Moll's edition of the letters of Alexander Schmorell and Christoph Probst, there is not one single mention of Wittenstein, except in Moll's footnotes (the weakest part of her book). Neither Alex nor Christl ever mentioned him. Not once.
I have my very-private theories about Wittenstein's role "in the White Rose" and regarding the photos he took. But this book review is not about theories, rather fact.
Update on June 5, 2023: Corrected title to reflect what was on Wittenstein's manuscript - DIE MUENCHENER STUDENTENBEWEGUNG. Appears to have been typed on an American typewriter without umlauts. Umlauts were added once published in Blick in die Welt (1947) and in Die Lupe (1948).
If you want a more expansive breakdown of the evolution of Wittenstein's memories from 1947-2009, please check out Evolution of Memory: Volume I. Historical Revisionism As Seen in the Words of George J. ("Jürgen") Wittenstein. Published in 2011.
© 2023 Denise Heap. Please contact Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.