Wittenstein: The White Rose. Questions and Reflections.

George J. Wittenstein. “The White Rose: Questions and Reflections.” In Donald E. Fitch (Ed.). Soundings: Collections of the University Library, Volume XXV, Whole No. 31. Santa Barbara, CA: University of California Library at Santa Barbara, California, 1994.

This essay followed Wittenstein's discussion of the Verhoeven movie about the White Rose. I doubt that in 2023, there is a single scholar who would argue that Verhoeven's Scholl-centric film represented anything close to the reality of White Rose resistance. However, in 1994, Verhoeven's movie still fairly represented Wittenstein's "memories" of resistance activities by those friends, so his discussion of the movie would not have been critical.

The essay he contributed to UCSB's Soundings reflected his continued lack of knowledge.

Wittenstein billed this essay as his willingness to answer previously unanswered questions regarding White Rose. He began with its name. Keep your eye on this bouncing ball. As scholarship improved and his "memory" therefore improved, his answer to "why did they choose the White Rose name" evolved. In 1994 at UCSB, he said, "No one really knows its origin. It was selected by Hans Scholl, and is most likely based on a mistaken reference to a novel by Clemens von Brentano, a German novelist of the nineteenth century, the period of romanticism." Nope. Hey, at least in 1994, he finally called them Flugblätter instead of merely Blätter. Progress!

Next Wittenstein stated that "a question frequently asked is, why leaflets" instead of active resistance. First, in all his speeches and interviews - and I have transcribed everything I could find - no one asked him that question. Especially not before 1994. So he asked a question that had not been asked, so he could give the answer he wanted to give.

Except that he did not give an answer to that question. He beat around the bush for 1/3 of his essay, talking about denunciations, how hard resistance was, stories he had told before that had nothing to do with the question at hand. 

Additionally, he mentioned no conversations that 'five of his close friends' would have had, that he should have been privy to had he been part of their circle. As with other Wittenstein stories, there's nothing that sounds remotely personal, no "when Hans Scholl said that, I thought..." He simply made up word salad and avoided the question that he himself posed.

Next, he presented a question that many people have indeed wrestled with: Why did Hans and Sophie Scholl throw the leaflets over the balcony on February 18, 1943? Since Wittenstein clearly was not involved in their work, he did not have an answer to this question either.

Instead, it served as a vehicle for him to once again insert himself into their story. Since he could not answer that question - although others could and did - he asked a corollary that put himself back on stage: Why didn't they bicycle to his family's estate?

"Nevertheless he [Hans] and Sophie would have stood an excellent change to hide until nightfall and then, under cover of darkness, make their way by bicycle to our farm (sic) where we had the facility to hide them until the end of the war, or even smuggle them into Switzerland later. (They were well aware of that possibility because we had discussed it in the group whenever we spoke of the risks and our options to save ourselves.)"

No question as to why they did not go to his family's "farm" (Schloss Hohenbeilstein). Traute Lafrenz was clear as to their reasons. Since Wittenstein wore his Party pin in public, they did not trust him. They did not include him in their intrigue. They did not even believe his family owned a Schloss. Traute Lafrenz stated that she was surprised to learn after the war that the Schloss was real.

The last half of Wittenstein's essay - assume it was a speech - dealt with the questions: What did White Rose accomplish and what is its relevance today? Here he parroted things other have said through the years, as well as shining the spotlight on himself, mentioning his speech at the memorial service for Prof. Dr. Kurt Huber in Munich in 1993. There is nothing that would grab students by the collar and wake them up. Nothing to make the White Rose friends truly relevant. [Interestingly, in this speech-essay, Wittenstein referred to Prof. Dr. Kurt Huber as his (Wittenstein's) "tutor in philosophy," instead of Doktorvater.]

And when Wittenstein said that we should neither deny nor distort history, but rather learn from it, I wondered at his lack of self-awareness. Did he really think his distortions and untruths would go unnoticed long-term?

As was the case with everything Wittenstein said, spoke, or wrote, his "memories" are devoid of reality. This essay could have been copied from Wikipedia. It is nothing like the words I heard when I talked to Herta and Micha Probst, Anneliese Knoop-Graf, Erich and Hertha Schmorell, Inge Jens.

It's not even the passion of Gustel Saur, whose brothers were arrested because of Hans Scholl. When Gustel talked about her brother's arrests in the middle of a school day, and their embarrassment, and the result of that arrest on their friendship with Scholls, and and and, she would alternate between soft tears, laughter, anger, as she summoned her memories.

Wittenstein seemed to be incapable of tears (except when play-acting), of laughter, of anger. This essay is one more example of his evolution of memory. Stick with me. You will see how his memories change with time.

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