Wittenstein: History Place essay
George J. Wittenstein. In Philip Gavin (ed.). “Memories of the White Rose.” The History Place: Points of View, 1997. Retrieved 02/29/2000 from http://www.historyplace.com /pointsofview/white-rose1.htm.
To begin with, I notified Philip Gavin about the unreliability of Wittenstein's testimony well over ten years ago. I offered to give him a copy of Evolution of Memory, which traces the ever-evolving nature of Wittenstein's "testimony" about White Rose resistance. Not only did Gavin choose to leave the series on his Web site, he also did not take me up on the offer to check out Wittenstein's story for himself. That Wittenstein's false testimony is still being used by teenagers interested in White Rose is as much Gavin's fault as it is Wittenstein's.
Unlike previous reviews, where I dealt with only the top twenty or so issues, here I detailed all forty-two. Discrepancies are handled in even greater detail in Evolution.
- Wittenstein spent over half of Part 1 lecturing about denunciations during the Third Reich. He talked about the function of a Blockwart and how that person wielded control over his neighborhood through surveillance. If Wittenstein had truly known the White Rose friends, he would have known that Traute Lafrenz's father was a Blockwart, and yet she chose to actively resist. Which blows his thesis that no one did out of fear of the Blockwart.
- I have yet to see any speech, essay, correspondence (and I have dozens upon dozens of letters from him), interviews, or other where he identified any of the people where he claimed to know of a denunciation. His cousin, someone in a theater... When I talked to White Rose people, they invariably would give at least first names or talk about the theater. Wittenstein's "testimony" continued to be vague and abstract.
- In his three-part answer to the question, "[H]ow was it possible that a group of university students defied this powerful regime - and, against all odds, called for open resistance?", Wittenstein first stated that it was because they were idealistic students. That may have been true of some of them, but Eugen Grimminger, Kurt Huber, Wilhelm Geyer, Manfred Eickemeyer, Josef Söhngen, Harald Dohrn, Josef and Erika Rieck - these were NOT idealistic university students. Did Wittenstein not know them?
- Part two of his answer to the "why" question, he stated, "These students came from bourgeois families. Their families were opposed to Hitler, which must have influenced them to a large degree." Flat out no. I am hard pressed to think of a single person in the White Rose circle who actually DID come from a family that opposed Hitler. The Scholls certainly did not, as Robert Scholl catered to the top Nazis in Ulm for his accounting business and was a member of the NSDAP's association for tax attorneys. Graf, Schmorell, Lafrenz, all firmly in the Nazi camp. Probst, maybe. Ramdohr, the Ramdohr side of the family, but not the maternal side. Wittenstein's own family was clearly pro-Nazi, since his mother established a subsidiary of her knitting firm in Berlin in 1934 and obtained a contract to make uniforms for the German Wehrmacht. Wittenstein himself was a member of the NSDAP from June 1940 on.
- His third point is simply counterfactual fiction, his attempt to paint himself with a philo-Semitic brush. His closest friends were all fervent antisemitic Nazis. Covered extensively in Evolution.
- If Wittenstein wished to invoke Kristallnacht, he should have talked about it when interviewed. Carol Stulberg of the Shoah Foundation gave him plenty of opportunity to discuss the events of November 9, 1938. He chose to change the subject. I call foul when he said here, "Most of us had Jewish friends or classmates, who were evicted or deported or who had suffered in the 'Crystal Night' pogrom." No doubt Wittenstein had classmates who were evicted or deported from Salem. Knowing them and standing up for them are two different things.
- The fiction regarding "This is where the revolution began," a conversation he alleged to have had with Alexander Schmorell, is absurd. Check out the review of his 1947 essay to understand why this fiction would be humorous, had not so many "scholars" chosen to include it in their work. It was in the first five or six drafts of my work.
- His narrative about "them" in Munich beginning in 1939 is simply wrong. Alex was in Hamburg, not Munich. And it is highly unlikely that Wittenstein made the introduction between Alex and Hans Scholl later, because Hans had grown tired of associating with Wittenstein and Hellmut Hartert.
- In Part 2, Wittenstein began by talking about Hans Scholl's evolution, yet only said that Hans' older sister (Inge) was a leader in Hitler Youth. Wittenstein wrote nothing about the fact that Hans Scholl was as well. Wittenstein skipped from 1933 to 1940/41 when writing about Hans, although he supposedly would hang out with Hans as of 1939. It's this absolute lack of personal narrative that renders so much of Wittenstein's story unbelievable. Ask me about Gwen, Kathy, Gordon, Charles, John in high school, and I could talk all day. Wittenstein talked instead in generalities, usually bringing the story line back to himself, instead of his supposed "friends."
- There is zero evidence that either Hans or Sophie Scholl ever considered converting to Catholicism. Yes, Hans greatly admired Carl Muth and Theodor Haecker. But at the Leseabende, Hans argued Lutheran theology, not Catholic. And Otl Aicher remarked that when he and Sophie discussed Augustine or Catholicism, Sophie took the Lutheran side in their arguments, and she usually won. Wilhelm Geyer also clearly stated that neither Hans nor Sophie ever considered converting to Catholicism. Now, Inge Scholl converted when she married Otl, and she became an even more ardent apologist for the Pope than her husband. Wittenstein's statement almost assuredly came from Inge after the war, not from personal friendship with Hans and Sophie Scholl.
- Wittenstein greatly overstated the importance of the Leseabende he coordinated among his circle of friends. Perhaps this section of Part 2 is the most accurate statement he ever made about himself in relationship to White Rose friends: Their circle did not include him. (Traute: "He wore his Party pin, so we did not trust him.")
- No. No!, to Wittenstein's assertion that the White Rose friends (and he) withdrew into their own private sphere called innere Emigration, or inner emigration. No, just no. Wittenstein sought to camouflage himself behind a convenient postwar excuse that does not hold water. This is not simply my opinion. More knowledgeable scholars than I have shot down the innere Emigration concept.
- Wittenstein edited none of the leaflets and was not involved in any way, shape, or form. Period.
- Wittenstein got the dates wrong regarding appearance of White Rose leaflets. The first ones were postmarked June 18, 1942, which would have meant the writing, production, and mailing of the first leaflet took place much earlier. They were still mailing the fourth leaflet on July 21, 1942, the night before the going away party.
- Not only were dates wrong, Wittenstein conflated the first four leaflets with the last two. They did not travel anywhere to mail the first four. And the scattering operation took place in January 1943, not the summer of 1942.
- I have no clue where the story about his traveling and leaving the briefcases in separate compartments came from. Usually Wittenstein borrowed from someone else's narrative to create his own. This one is original, and false. (I have to wonder if another resistance group did this.)
- As has been clear once Fritz and Elisabeth Hartnagel corrected Inge Scholl's version of events, Sophie Scholl was involved from the beginning, at least as of May 2, 1942. Which Wittenstein would have known, had he actually been in the room. See "Prepping for Russia" to understand actual events.
- I have yet to find a single source that refers to the leaflets (Flugblätter) as "leaves" or Blätter. Other than Wittenstein. He made this mistake all the way back in 1947 and only started stating "leaflets" (instead of leaves) around 2000.
- Wittenstein stated, "Soon, Christoph Probst was included in this circle of friends [producing the White Rose leaflets, still talking about the summer of 1942], although he did not participate directly in the writing of the leaflets, having been transferred to the University of Innsbruck." Agreed that Christoph Probst did not write any part of leafets 1-4, but his participation is clear in the addresses they used (Zell and Ruhpolding were his home turf) and in the quotes from Eastern mysticism in the leaflets. Note especially: Christoph Probst was not transferred to Innsbruck until November 1942. He was still in Munich when the first four leaflets were produced and mailed.
- The Rintelen story works my last nerve. If something like this had happened, we would know about it from people other than Wittenstein. Like perhaps Rintelen? Even worse: Wikipedia entry as of 7/20/2023 states that Hans and Sophie Scholl were involved with the Rintelen protest. No. Just no.
- Part 3 begins with Wittenstein's fiction about the reason they were sent to the Russian front. German universities had switched to trimesters in the spring semester of 1939! Not sure where Wittenstein had been for three years, but Part 3 starts with an easily disprovable inaccuracy.
- Frontbewährung. Simply no. See the discussion here about the difference between a Feldfamulatur or clinical rotation (which was the purpose for the soldier students being sent to the Russian front in July 1942) and Frontbewährung. I remain puzzled by Wittenstein's repeated insistence that this was Frontbewährung.
- Willi Graf had been a friend of Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst, and Hubert Furtwängler since the first week of June 1942. In other words, he did not meet them for the first time in Russia. We know he fenced with Christl, talked with Hans, and participated in multiple Leseabende. That Wittenstein did not know him in June 1942? Says plenty about Wittenstein's reliability. - Willi had known Hubert since they served together in the Black Forest.
Warsaw was not an open city.
- Wittenstein's stories about the Warsaw Ghetto apparently came from the Lanz documentary about the Shoah, because there was an 11.5' wall around the Ghetto when they were there in July 1942. If Wittenstein was even there with the White Rose friends, that is. See information about the very short White Rose layover in Warsaw here.
- Regarding the return to Munich: See the post about the problem of Wittenstein. He did not return to Munich, but rather to Ulm, so no, he was not part of their planning.
- Prof. Huber had been shown a copy of the leaflets in the summer of 1942, not for the first time in November 1942, as Wittenstein asserted. Huber was present when the friends debated whether leaflets were the right way to go, during the farewell party on July 22, 1942. - Huber had also discussed the White Rose leaflets with his close friend and founder of Hitler's antisemitic library, Karl Alexander von Müller, also in the summer of 1942.
- Still in part 3: No, Alex Schmorell did not procure a duplicating machine for the first time for Leaflet 5. They had had a duplicating machine in the summer of 1942. Which Hans sold back to the store where they had purchased it.
- Wittenstein did not write slogans in the restrooms of the university while they painted graffiti. This story grew and grew over time. The Gestapo identified every tiny bit of graffiti, much of which was unrelated to White Rose efforts. That included slogans written with chalk or painted with red enamel. Nowhere did they catalog graffiti written with india ink in restrooms. (White Rose was either green enamel or black tar-based paint, depending on the night in question.)
- It is fascinating to me that Wittenstein said that over 80 people were arrested all over Germany. As detailed as my work has been, I have only been able to identify 85 people connected with White Rose in any way (Gestapo estimated 180 people were part of White Rose resistance, so I still have some work ahead to identify 95 more.) Of the 85 I have identified, only 44 appear in Gestapo interrogation transcripts in any form, and most of those were simply called in for a day of questioning, not arrested. -- Wittenstein's comment further confirms my conviction that he saw actual Gestapo interrogation transcripts in Starnberg in 1947, not the prosecutor's version that is available through the Bundesarchiv.
- He clearly did not know Alexander Schmorell well. Alex was standing watch at the Siegestor. Alex was "read in" to the plans for February 18. As was Lilo. And perhaps even Christl, since Hans had thought about asking him to stand guard.
- To Part 4: Wittenstein did not call the Scholl parents and urge them to come to Munich immediately.
- Not one single person who documented the trial on February 22, 1943 mentioned Wittenstein accompanying the Scholl parents into the courtroom. Interestingly, not even Inge Scholl.
- The bit about Christoph Probst's last words are fiction. The three who were beheaded on February 22, 1943 were kept in their cells until they were led to the executioner. No smoking cigarettes together, no final words for one another. Hans Scholl did shout Es lebe die Freiheit, or "long live freedom," shortly before he was beheaded. The witnesses to the execution made a note of the 'disruption.'
- Wittenstein's story about going to Dr. Hugo Schmorell's office is likely fiction. This story also grew and grew over time.
- Wittenstein had indeed told them they could escape to his family's estate (manor house) in Beilstein, but according to Traute, first they did not believe his family actually had a manor house (she was shocked to learn they did), and second, she said they did not trust him because of his Party pin.
- The abbreviated version about the April 19, 1943 trial is astounding, because he only mentioned the three men who received death sentences. If you want to know why I am surprised by the brevity of his words on this topic, here's the full story.
- Kurt Huber and Alexander Schmorell did not have to wait until July 13, 1944 ("a long time") for their execution. One hundred days. They were told as much in April 1943.
- Wittenstein was not connected with Freiheitsaktion Bayern (FAB) in April 1945. I corresponded directly with the man in charge of that translators' unit in Munich, Ruprecht Gerngross. Harald Dohrn, Christoph Probst's father-in-law, was indeed associated with FAB and was shot in the back by the Gestapo or SS three days before the war ended. But Wittenstein had been promoted to NSFO, or NS-Führungsoffizier, in 1944, a rank that granted him the authority to shoot on sight anyone suspected of treason, no trial required.
- His entire story about escaping by requesting a transfer to the front is pure fiction, since he was in Italy when FAB work began. By the end of the war, Wittenstein was back in Germany.
- Armin Ziegler asked Wittenstein point blank about the Gestapo files he claimed were kept on him. He said that one was related to a Section 175(2) offense (homosexual conduct with a subordinate). He never answered about the second file. But he was not interrogated regarding White Rose, because the NSFO rank required that a person be a "militant (kämpferisch) and fanatical (fanatische) National Socialist." Any hint of treason or sedition would have disqualified him as NSFO.
- If you have dealt with Wittenstein as long as a few of us did, you know that it's his silences that spoke most clearly. The things he left out. The interview questions he avoided. The somersaults when asked a direct question. Keeping that in mind, read his translation of the sixth leaflet penned by Kurt Huber on the History Place site, and then mine. I'll only point out two glaring issues; you can ask yourself about the smaller questions. -- First, he avoided the part about the Führerauslese. An Auslese is a winemaking term used for the best of the best. Führerauslese is most often translated Führer's pick. It referred to Hitler's propensity for choosing fanatical, militant youth to be mentored and grown. Second, from the part of Huber's leaflet where Wittenstein stopped translating and started paraphrasing, "He goes on to say that...," Wittenstein left out big chunks of important text. I have to ask myself why the omitted text got under his skin, to the point that he stopped translating. He was all but finished. Here is link to Leaflet 6.
(c) 2023 Denise Heap. Please contact us with questions or for permission to quote.