Wittenstein: Letter to Auerbach (IfZ)

Wittenstein, George J. ( “Jürgen”). Letter to Dr. Auerbach, Institut für Zeitgeschichte, September 7, 1964.

This approx.-1800-word letter (in German) dated September 7, 1964 was in response to a letter from Dr. Auerbach dated August 6, 1964 (no copy of initial letter at hand). Wittenstein introduces himself as "one of the two only survivors of the inner circle of the Munich student resistance movement." Presumably, he counted Hellmut Hartert as the other. In truth, neither participated in White Rose resistance at all. They are non-entities in diary entries, correspondence, and the like. Auerbach was right to be skeptical.

Wittenstein continued, "It's not in my nature to write about myself, even less so to be conspicuous at the expense of my friends who were executed." The remaining 1720 words are all about himself.

First matter of business: Providing Auerbach and the IfZ a copy of his 1947 speech - Wittenstein calls it a speech, not an essay. It is from this 1964 letter that we know this "speech" was sponsored by the US government and that he was the "first German from the American zone who was fetched [geholt] to England because of my participation in the student movement."

Wittenstein then told Auerbach that often he had referred to "we" in that 1947 speech, when really it was "I" - that is, him personally. Indeed, he marked up the copy of the speech sent to Auerbach with "I" in the margin, placing himself in scenarios where he was not present.

He persisted in labeling Willi Graf as fringe, as a person who had been "drawn into the abyss [Abgrund] more or less by personal fate." In other words, negligible, unimportant, not a contributor. In contrast to himself, Wittenstein.

It's from this letter that we gain the mythology of Wittenstein as liaison to a fictitious White Rose branch in Berlin, complete with cloak-and-dagger intrigue. He also inserts himself directly into the leaflets, claiming he edited them at the request of Hans Scholl.

Wittenstein also insisted in this letter that his family Schloss was the agreed-upon escape. He bemoans the fact that Alexander Schmorell did not head there. Traute Lafrenz Page unequivocally contradicted this assertion. She said, yes, he did tell some of them they could escape to his family's Schloss (Hohenbeilstein), but first, none of them would have done so, since he wore his Party pin, and they did not trust him. Second, because they did not believe his family actually had a Schloss. She was later surprised to learn he had told the truth on that one point.

In this letter, Wittenstein also asserts:

  • He was the "unknown student" who met Robert and Magdalena Scholl at the train station;
  • From 02/1943-1944, he frequently visited the Scholl family in Ulm;
  • He was responsible for the funds collected for the Huber family;
  • He was the person who saved Maria-Luise Jahn's life;
  • He had gone to the office of Dr. Schmorell's medical practice to advise him of Alex's arrest, and had left with a bandage on his leg.

All of these assertions are at best half-truths. Wittenstein was good at that, but he usually tripped himself up by not remembering his stories from one year to the next. A relatively minor example: Here he says Dr. Schmorell bandaged his leg. Other times it's his right arm. No, his left arm. For a person who arrogantly prided himself on total recall, to the point of arguing minutiae with historians decades later (usually wrongly), whether it's a leg or arm isn't unimportant.

In keeping with his narcisstic narrative in this letter, Wittenstein lashed out at Hans Leipelt. The Leipelt paragraph began, "Unfortunately the 'Leipelt matter' receives too little attention; it is ignored next to the Scholl group." That sentence was followed by Wittenstein's designation of Leipelt as a "psychopathic personality."

This pseudo-psychatric "diagnosis" likely stemmed from Wittenstein's self-image as an eminent psycho-psychiatric medical doctor. He frequently mentioned his multiple degrees in psychology-psychiatry-medicine in essays and speeches through the decades. (Yet when asked about a psychology-psychiatry degree during the Third Reich, he refused to provide details, except to say once that he was interested in sexual orientation.) (And believe me, he was not pro-LGBTQ+, quite the contrary.)

But his unnecessarily harsh assessment of Hans Leipelt also raises as yet unanswered questions. I personally am most curious why Wittenstein was in Donauwörth on military assignment at the time of Leipelt's trial in that city. I don't have an answer, but I am looking into it. 

Because despite his claims in this letter to have saved Maria-Luise Jahn's life, in his correspondence with me, Wittenstein was only derogatory about Mrs. Schultze-Jahn, calling her (among other things) a worm.

This 1964 letter from Wittenstein to Auerbach had as its goal his ensconcement in the pantheon of White Rose heroes. He got his wish. Wittenstein is hailed as hero, same as Christoph Probst, Willi Graf, Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl, Traute Lafrenz, and more. German government even gave him a Bundesverdienstkreuz for his efforts (he was proud of that).

And yet - to honor Wittenstein is to dishonor those who truly worked, who resisted, who thought about the meaning of informed dissent, who stood before Freisler or Schwingenschlögl, who were executed or imprisoned, disowned, humiliated, mocked, scorned. While Wittenstein was promoted to NS-Führungsoffizier. Unscathed.

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