Wittenstein: The White Rose, Siena College, June 1993

George J. ("Jürgen") Wittenstein. “The White Rose.” World War II Conference, Siena College. June 1993.

This speech marked a pivot in Wittenstein's White Rose "memories," as he transitioned from relatively modest self-serving assertions in 1947/48 and 1964, to inserting himself directly into the story of his supposed "friends'" resistance work. From this point on, his "memory" improved. He placed himself in starring roles in their work, based solely on actions he suddenly knew about based on books by Harald Steffahn, Hermann Vinke, and Inge Scholl.

Since their scholarship was faulty, his memories were as well. This speech at Siena College is placed in its full context in our 2011 publication, Evolution of Memory: Volume One. Historical Revisionism As Seen in the Words of George J. ("Jürgen") Wittenstein. In Evolution, you can clearly see the pivot.

Short list of noteworthy Wittenstein-isms in the Siena speech:

  • "Exactly fifty years ago, three German students were arrested. A few days later they were hauled before the Volksgerichtshof ('People‘s Court‘)." The speech was held in June 1993. Not to be pedantic, but the word "exactly" is not correct. Also, if he is talking about 1943 in general, there were far more than three students arrested.
  • Wittenstein claimed that most of the White Rose friends had "Jewish friends or classmates" who were evicted or deported. Simply not true. And we cannot evaluate his claim about the effects of Kristallnacht on the friends, because Susanne Hirzel is the only one who spoke about that terrible pogrom. Radio silence from everyone else, even from Wittenstein.
  • Wittenstein debuted his The revolution began here quote, replacing his previous From here, the movement continued!
  • He claimed that by the spring of 1939, almost all White Rose friends were in Munich. Again, wrong. Hans Scholl was there, and Christoph Probst (who did not yet know Hans Scholl). The rest would trickle in, until they were all in one place by May 1, 1942. Our White Rose History, Volume I is subtitled Coming Together. 1/1/1933-4/30/1942 for that very reason.
  • The Rintelen protest march reappeared in this June 1993 speech. This was not the first time Wittenstein publicly floated this legend, but he expanded on his previous tellings (the story would continue to grow through the years). Yes, Fritz-Joachim von Rintelen had been terminated from the university in Munich in 1941. But not because he was a big-time anti-Nazi. In fact, Rintelen was a member of the NSDAP. A little more on Rintelen after the bullet points.
  • Since the Rintelen legend as related by Wittenstein was still in its infancy, Wittenstein kept the numbers modest. He says he led a group of around 50 in a protest march on behalf of the professor. Watch this number grow!
  • In this telling, Willi Graf did not know any of the White Rose friends until they arrived on the Russian front. Wittenstein included himself in the group serving on the Russian front. This is incorrect, as he did not serve with them. His summer was spent at a field hospital far from the action. Willi Graf met the friends in June 1942, almost six weeks before they left for the Russian front. That Wittenstein did not know that, says a great deal about Wittenstein's lack of participation.
  • Wittenstein said that Hans Scholl was arrested for bündische activities. Well, no.
  • In this speech, we have Wittenstein claiming to have brought the friends together. He said he introduced Hans Scholl to Alexander Schmorell. Well, no.
  • Wittenstein also told the students at Siena - a Franciscan college - that Hans Scholl considered converting to Catholicism. Well, no.
  • In this speech, Wittenstein continued an error begun in 1947/48 and 1964. He called the first four documents the Blätter or leaves of the White Rose, instead of Flugblätter or leaflets. Sounds pedantic, but if he had been involved with the leaflet operation, you'd think he would know what they were called. He would eventually correct himself a few years later after his memory "improved."
  • Wittenstein spoke himself into the intensified White Rose work in November 1942. Biggest problem with his assertion (in addition to the fact that not one person mentioned him taking part, not even his "best friend" Christoph Probst, who was there)? Wittenstein did not return to Munich with the others. Since he was at a field hospital, he was on a different train home, one that went directly to the military installation in Ulm. Although Alexander Schmorell spent part of November 1942 with Hans Scholl in Ulm, they did not meet up with Wittenstein.
  • In the Siena speech, Wittenstein had not yet inserted himself into the graffiti campaign. Here he still talked about the graffiti that "they" (not "we") painted.
  • He claimed no one knew what Hans and Sophie Scholl had planned for February 18, 1943, and that Alexander Schmorell had found out about their arrests while on the streetcar on the way to the university. Incorrect.
  • Wittenstein did get one fact correct that most people missed, so this memory probably was one he knew from personal experience. He stated that over eighty people were arrested following the February 18, 1943 arrests, because of their association with White Rose friends. I am curious how he knew this, because he never spoke about all 80. [The actual number, per the Gestapo, was over 150, perhaps 180.]
  • At Siena College, Wittenstein spoke about his "membership" in the Freiheitsaktion Bayern [Operation Freedom Bavaria], or FAB. He placed himself as an active member of this group of translators led by Rupert Gerngroβ. 
    • For starters, Wittenstein was in Italy, not Munich, when FAB carried out its activities.
    • Wittenstein's claim that the people of the FAB were virtually all anti-Nazi is simply wrong. Harald Dohrn, Christoph Probst's father-in-law who was killed three days before the end of the war for participating in FAB "resistance," was an anti-Nazi. But most of the translators were good German soldiers and officers.
    • FAB did not overthrow the NSDAP. They did arrest the Gauleiter (surprisingly gutsy, even for the last week of the war), but their primary, if not sole, objective was to protect the infrastructure of Munich and its environs. They asked the public to fly white flags from windows as the Americans approached, so their homes would not be shot up or burned. The FAB also removed known land mines from bridges to prevent their destruction.

In other words, the students at Siena College heard a false narrative, one created to reinvent the speaker.

Re Prof. Dr. Fritz-Joachim von Rintelen. As noted, Rintelen was a member of the NSDAP. He had hailed the advent of the NSDAP, because he saw it as welcome destruction of the Weimar Republic. Rintelen was not a fan of democracy. Benevolent dictators, authoritarianism, fine by him. (Postwar, he developed a completely different ideology based on freedom.)

Above all, Rintelen was an ardent nationalist. He had fought in World War I, and like many of his fellow citizens, was aggrieved by the Treaty of Versailles and the national humiliation. Rintelen was born in 1898, so would have been about 20 when the war ended.

But Rintelen was also deeply religious, a devout Catholic. He and his Catholic colleagues in the phlosophy department managed to run afoul of strict NSDAP teaching standards. Having served in World War I, Rintelen was not as enthusiastic about the new wars Hitler had embroiled Germany in. University professors were supposed to toe the party line completely, especially when it came to the war effort.

Despite his impeccable NSDAP credentials, the Gauleiter of Munich decided to terminate the teaching chair that Rintelen occupied, effectively terminating his employment. Rintelen was popular, however, so the university did not fire him outright. Merely gave him a long sabbatical, during which time he continued to write.

Rintelen is one of those Germans who demonstrate the complexity of life during the Third Reich. One could be an ardent Nazi, a true believer. And yet one small transgression could put one across a table from a Gestapo agent. That did not mean that they were part of the resistance. But neither were they content to stay in the shadows. Rintelen likely could have avoided disgrace had he simply added a couple of nice things about war at the beginning of his lectures.

It's funny. Wittenstein claimed to have been close to Rintelen, spending time at his home, cooking together, blah blah blah. Yet Wittenstein seemed unaware that after the war, Rintelen and Hermann Krings apparently worked together; one of Krings' philosophical publications on freedom discussed Rintelen. Krings was Willi Graf's close friend from Gray Order days, the same friend who provided the room on Siegfriedstrasse that was safe haven for serious Catholic students in 1942-1943.

If you want to know more about Rintelen, avoid Wikipedia. [Note to self, note to readers: Center for White Rose Studies needs a student intern to manage social, including very bad Wikipedia posts!] Among other things, the Wikipedia article notes that "the Scholl siblings" organized the protest against Rintelen's firing. First, we do not even know that there was an organized protest. Second, only Hans Scholl was in Munich in 1941, and none of his published letters mentioned Rintelen.

My brief summary of Rintelen's life, work, and attitudes comes from Christian Tilitzki's massive work, Die deutsche Universitätsphilosophie in der Weimarer Republik und im Dritten Reich. Two Volumes. Berlin: Akademie Verlag GmbH, 2002. It is a masterpiece of research. Respekt!

Should you have corrections, updates, suggestions for the section of this review about Rintelen, please contact me.

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