Wittenstein: Kurt Huber, 1993

Wittenstein, George J. “Kurt Huber: Erinnerungen eines Doktoranden.” Vortrag anlässlich der Feier zum 50. Jahrestag der Hinrichtung von Professor Kurt Huber. Munich: University of Munich, July 13, 1993.

Instead of dissecting this speech, allow me the liberty of simply posting my comments from Evolution of Memory: Volume One. Historical Revisionism As Seen in the Words of George J. (“Jürgen”) Wittenstein (2011).

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Wittenstein talked more about Huber than about any other person, White Rose or not. Yet he provided no personal glimpse at all into Huber‘s work or personality. There are no anecdotes that suggest Wittenstein ever talked to Huber about anything other than coursework.

Even when writing or speaking about Huber‘s academic career, Wittenstein‘s words give us no more information about Kurt Huber than we could find on Wikipedia. In Wittenstein‘s world, Huber is not a flesh-and-blood human being. He is a concept.

The details about his physical handicap are the sort of things one would be able to observe from a distance, not anything that sitting with four or five other people in a small classroom should have allowed Wittenstein to witness.

In contrast, hear Eduard H‘s conversation with Huber. Eduard told Huber about German war crimes in the Crimea, things he had personally seen.

When he heard this, he shouted so loudly (and it was 3 a.m. in the morning) that his wife came out of their bedroom and—alarmed—asked him to be quiet because of the neighbors.

I had wanted to leave at midnight. But he made me stay till 3:45 a.m., the latest I could possibly leave [and still catch my train].

'I envy you, that you are going to the front. At least there you can place yourself in the line of fire and die.'

'But isn't that suicide?,‘ I asked.

'No, when the strain [Spannungen] is unbearable, that is the only way. Because that death makes sense.'

To which I said, 'I don't know. Suicide is never good.'

And he: 'There are situations in which that is legal—including that which is morally legal—is transcended.'

And those were the last words I ever heard him say.

Or Katharina Schüddekopf‘s casual-because-familiar comment about Huber inviting her to the soiree at Dr. Mertens‘ home in June 1942. She was also able to describe Huber‘s position on passive versus active resistance, and on the German dichotomy between North and South, Prussian and Bavarian.

Despite Wittenstein‘s comment about being the "only" White Rose student who took PhD classes with Huber, that honor went to Schüddekopf, not Wittenstein. Apparently she had begun her doctorate with him in Berlin and had followed him to Munich to complete it.

After Huber implicated her, Traute Lafrenz told the Gestapo about her conversation with Huber and Hans Scholl in the streetcar on the way to the Schmorells‘ villa, also in June 1942. And although she had only just met Huber, Lafrenz also could describe Huber‘s political statements made that night. (She perceived him as playing devil‘s advocate, no matter who said what.)

Even Hans Hirzel, who met Huber exactly once (on the occasion of the farewell party on July 23, 1942) gives us a more personal view of Huber than anything Wittenstein has written or said. We see Huber alternately uncomfortable at the seditious talk, and energized by it. When he asked Hirzel a specific question, Hirzel remembered not only the question, but what he replied.

Despite Wittenstein‘s claims of exclusivity, Wolf Jaeger also took one of those small, private classes (a Seminar). After the war, Jaeger described his interaction with Huber, and in so doing gave us a priceless gift — insight into the mind of this enigmatic professor:

The second situation that I would like to describe and one in which I experienced Kurt Huber [myself] was his lecture in the following Winter Semester of 1942/43. He lectured in one of the smaller classrooms in the third floor of the university. I attended [that class] because I had met him on that first evening and had learned to admire him.

For a medical student, the topic was abstruse. It dealt with the aesthetics of music. But the form of the spiritual-intellectual saturation of this difficult material fascinated us students. Only a college teacher with such broad knowledge and such diverse interests could even begin to process this material. He played the numerous musical examples himself on the piano, by memory. He had earned his doctorate summa cum laude in music history and musicology when he was only 24 years old. Three years later, he earned [another] doctorate with a music-psychology dissertation in psychology and philosophy.

In addition, he had the gift of presenting very complicated relationships in a simple manner, occasionally even in the form of poetry he had written himself. In general, he had the gift of expressing himself in poetry on the most diverse opportunities.

For example, he cloaked Leibniz‘s complicated monadology in child‘s verse, in a form that anyone could understand: [quoted the poem, and talked about Huber‘s work on Leibniz and aesthetics]

So little of his work was published, work that he presented in his lectures on all these interesting topics. However, that was not solely attributable to his early death. He did not consider the things he lectured on to be finished and concluded. He had only ridicule and no understanding for his colleagues who gladly allowed themselves to be mirrored in their published works – as he said, [they] "published everything they thought or were capable of thinking only as far as they would be allowed to publish."

But this modesty was one of the appealing things about his lectures. That is how it came about that Hans Scholl‘s friends met [in Huber‘s lectures], even though the topics he lectured on were as far removed from politics as possible.

These glorious details are missing from Wittenstein‘s narrative.

I could not find any source that referenced "four freedoms" as delineated by Wittenstein in his 1993 speech in Munich. Franklin Roosevelt‘s famous 1941 speech in which he spoke of the four freedoms (freedom of speech and expression; freedom of worship; freedom from want; and freedom from fear) was the only specific reference to four freedoms, even in German.

Note too that it was the fifth leaflet written by Hans Scholl that called for freedom of religion and freedom of speech, not Huber‘s leaflet. Facts matter, especially at a 50th anniversary memorial service.

© 2011, 2023 Denise Heap. Please contact Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.