Monday, March 21, 2016

Apple #730: White Rose Resistance

You may have seen the news recently that the hacker group calling itself Anonymous said they were going to hack Donald Trump. They released some basic personal information -- his cell phone number, Social Security number, and some other easy-to-find stuff -- and invited anyone who wanted to take a crack at hacking him or his businesses to do so.

In one part of their message, they said, "Many of you have said to yourself that if you were alive in Nazi Germany, then you would have done something, you would have resisted, like the White Rose Society resisted. Now is the time to prove that. The White Rose Society has risen again in the United States."

I never heard of the White Rose Society, so I was curious to know what it was.  I Googled it and, wow, quite the story.

The original White Rose group did not have a logo or an insignia; they were not that sophisticated. They called themselves "White Rose" for reasons that remain obscure.
(Photo from HD Wallpapers Fit)

  • It's been referred to as the White Rose Society, or the White Rose Resistance, or more accurately, simply as "White Rose." It was a small group of German medical students in their early 20s who got together in 1942 and 1943 and printed 6 pamphlets speaking against Hitler and Nazism and urging others to resist what had become a totalitarian regime.
  • This might not sound like such a big deal, but it was. Let me break down the details.
Hans Scholl (left) was 24, his sister Sophie was 21, and Christoph Probst, a mutual friend of both, was 22. Photo was taken in 1942 when the White Rose began.
(photo from the US Holocaust Museum Archives, sourced from the Jewish Virtual Library)
  • First, this happened in 1942. By this time, the Nazi regime was operating at full strength within Germany, as was the Gestapo (secret police).  They had clamped down on any kind of speech that was against the government in any way, shutting down newspapers, and rounding up and killing or sending off to concentration camps anyone who spoke out against the government.
  • People couldn't speak freely among friends or neighbors because if you spoke against the government in any way, the person you thought was your neighbor and trustworthy would rat you out to the Gestapo, and there you were getting beaten or jailed or sent away, etc.
  • Telephone calls could be listened in on at any time, mail could be opened and inspected, and your person could be searched at any time for any reason.
  • The Gestapo was keeping track of even the sale of stamps.  If anyone bought a whole bunch of stamps, that person got investigated by the Gestapo and depending on what they learned about how the stamps were used, that person got beat up or thrown in jail or sent off to a concentration camp or killed.  The same was true about purchases of a lot of paper.  And Envelopes. And printing presses, of course.
  • It was in the midst of this thoroughly repressive situation that this group of students started meeting and talking together.  There were only about 4 or 5 of them, all medical students at the University of Munich, and at first they talked about music, or literature, and philosophy -- especially philosophy.  Soon they ventured into discussing politics with each other, which would have been a rare treat to be able to do such a thing and feel safe.
  • In the early years of the war, the students were like many of their fellow Germans, supportive of their government, willing to participate and do what they could for the cause of their country. Some of these young medical students had even been members the Hitler Youth. The leaders of this small group were:
    • Hans Scholl, 24
    • Alex Schmorell, 25
    • Jürgen Wittenstein, 23
    • Sophie Scholl - Hans' sister, 21

Alex Schmorell, one of the leaders and founding members of the White Rose, was 25.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

Jürgen Wittenstein had been about to leave Germany in 1939 but instead drove two stranded Jewish teenagers to Berlin in the hope that, from there, they could leave the country safely.
(Photo from Spartacus Educational)

  • After having lived through four years of the government's increasingly repressive and brutal tactics, these medical students were justifiably disturbed. Schmorell and Wittenstein attended the very popular lectures of their university's philosophy teacher, Kurt Huber, and they took his teachings very much to heart.  So they decided to do something to resist.
  • In June of 1942, Hans and Alex wrote a leaflet, which they planned to be the first of many, and which they called "Leaflet [or leaves] of the White Rose."  
  • They went to their philosophy teacher, Kurt Huber, for advice in writing the pamphlet. At first he thought it would do no good except to risk their necks, but in the end he decided to help.  He advised them on the wording of the leaflets and talked with them at length about what they wanted to accomplish, challenging them and making sure they were aware of the risks they were taking.

Kurt Huber had had diphtheria when he was young and emergency surgery had cut his throat and left him with difficulty in speaking, a limp, and a tremor in his hands that only subsided when he played the piano. His students said they did not notice his impairments at all when he lectured, his speeches were so learned and absorbing.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

Another photo of Huber, this from 1941.  He was 48 when this photo was taken.
(Photo from Spartacus Educational)
  • Some websites suggest Huber was consulted very early on in the group's formation, while others say he did not get involved until later. Either way, it seems clear that though he was involved, the group was not his idea but that of his students'.
  • The first leaflet was a few paragraphs long, invoking the ideas of philosophers such as Goethe and Schiller and Aristotle, and encouraging readers of the pamphlet to resist.
  • Excerpts from this first pamphlet will give a sense of the atmosphere of the time:
If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, . . . if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass - then, yes, they deserve their downfall.

[. . . ] every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism. Offer passive resistance - resistance - wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late. . . .

Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure. [. . . ]

Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.
This is what the leaflet looked like, page 1 of 2. Just a piece of paper with a bunch of words typed on it. Nothing fancy. But those words are highly charged and dangerous. Across the top it reads, "Leaflet of the White Rose I."
(Photo sourced from Flashbak)

  • Hans and Alex made only about 100 copies of the leaflet, typing each one on a typewriter. They left them in telephone boxes, mailed them to students and professors across Germany, and carried them by train to other towns in the country and left them there.
  • I'm not sure who said this, but it was apparently one of the members of the White Rose:
"Some of us traveled in civilian clothing, hoping for the best, some with forged travel orders, I myself used false identification papers (my cousin's with whom I shared a certain resemblance). We left the briefcases which contained the leaflets in a different compartment, for luggage was routinely searched. Mostly, however, leaflets were taken by female students who were not subject to such scrutiny."

  • 35 of the first set of pamphlets wound up in the hands of the Gestapo.  But the rest reached their intended recipients, some as far away as Austria.  And though the Gestapo knew about the leaflets, they could not figure out who was producing them.
  • Hans' sister Sophie enrolled in the University of Munich, also as a medical student, shortly after the first pamphlet was distributed.  She found out about the White Rose group and wanted to join.  At first her brother wouldn't allow her to because of the danger, but she persisted. Another friend of theirs, Christoph Probst, also joined at this time.
  • They wrote and distributed three more leaflets.  Sophie and other young women helped distribute them, since the Gestapo tended not to search women as often as they did men.
  • Here are more excerpts. 
  • Leaflet Two: 

By this time the group had got hold of a duplicating machine -- this one, to be exact.  It had to be cranked by hand, which they did at night when people were sleeping.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

If at the start, this cancerous growth in the nation was not particularly noticeable, it was only because there were still enough forces at work that operated for the good, so that it was kept under control. As it grew larger, however, and finally in an ultimate spurt of growth attained ruling power, the tumor broke open, as it were, and infected the whole body.

[. . . ] Now the end is at hand. Now it is our task to find one another again, to spread information from person to person, to keep a steady purpose, and to allow ourselves no rest until the last man in persuaded of the urgent need of his struggle against this system.

[. . . ] only by way of example do we want to cite the fact that since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history. For Jews, too, are human beings.

  • Leaflet Three:

The top of it says it's a Leaflet of the White Rose, III, followed by "Salus publica suprema lex" -- the public good is the supreme law.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

our present "state" is the dictatorship of evil. "Oh, we've known that for a long time," I hear you object, "and it isn't necessary to bring that to our attention again." But, I ask you, if you know that, why do you not bestir yourselves, why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another?
[. . . ] And now every convinced opponent of National Socialism must ask himself how he can fight against the present "state" in the most effective way:

Sabotage in armament plants and war industries, sabotage at all gatherings, rallies, public ceremonies, and organizations of the National Socialist Party. Sabotage in all the areas of science and scholarship which further the continuation of the war - whether in universities, technical schools, laboratories, research institutions, or technical bureaus. Sabotage in all publications, all newspapers, that are in the pay of the "government" and that defend its ideology and aid in disseminating the brown lie.

  •  Leaflet Four:
Every word that comes from Hitler's mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war, and when he blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed.
[. . . ] We wish expressly to point out that the White Rose is not in the pay of any foreign power. Though we know that National Socialist power must be broken by military means, we are trying to achieve a renewal from within of the severely wounded German spirit.
[. . . ] To set you at rest, we add that the addresses of the readers of the White Rose are not recorded in writing. They were picked at random from directories.
We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!

  • After they wrote and distributed these 4 pamphlets, the students reached the end of the school term. The university decided to send its medical/military students to the Russian front to give them experience with treating patients in field hospitals.
  • While at the Russian front, the medical students witnessed the fighting conditions, saw the Warsaw Ghetto, saw a group of naked Jews being shot in an open pit, saw Ukrainian soldiers being "hired" to shoot whoever was pointed at for the price of a pack of cigarettes, and you know, just the basic horror show that is war, and this war in particular.
  •  Also, another medical student, Willi Graf, met the Scholls and became their friend and, once back at school, joined the White Rose.

Willi Graf, another member of the White Rose, was 25.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

  • When they got back to school in Munich in the fall, they distributed more pamphlets, now with the goal to find more students at more universities to join their cause. Graf was particularly involved in trying to recruit more members from beyond Munich.
  • In addition to writing and distributing more leaflets, Hans, Alex, and Will also painted graffiti on buildings throughout Munich, which shouted things like 
    • Freedom! 
    • Down with Hitler!
    • Hitler is a Mass Murderer!
    • and they painted Swastikas with great big cross-outs
  • Again, these things might seem tame to us now, but again, it was extremely dangerous.  To paint these things on the walls, one had to do this in public, with the possibility that anyone looking could see and report the matter. The buildings they chose were along a very busy street in the middle of Munich, where the graffiti would be sure to be seen -- and where they might very easily have been seen putting it there.  

The Sixth Leaflet. The title is translated, "A German leaflet." It was much fancier, and they had managed to make somewhere between 1500 and 1800 copies of it.
(Sourced from Canadians in Afghanistan)

  • The sixth leaflet was the last one written. Hans and Sophie took copies of it to the university in a big suitcase, and they left stacks of them in the hallways for students to find when they came out of class. They still had some left, so Sophie went up to the top floor and, looking down the stairwell atrium, flung them into the air.
  • The custodian, Jakob Schmid, saw this and called the police. Hans and Sophie were arrested by the Gestapo, and so were the other members of the group.
  • The members of the White Rose were tried -- if you can call it a trial.  A special court, of the kind called "the People's Court" -- I am not kidding -- was convened to hear this case.  It was run by Berlin judge Roland Freiser, who was not so much a judge as a screaming prosecutor.

"Judge" Roland Freiser, center, at the People's Court in Germany
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

  • Freiser shouted abuse at the accused, and said he was baffled how young people from such good families could turn out so bad, how could their minds have gotten so warped, etc.  Their defense attorney was useless, saying only "Let justice be done."
  • Sophie stood up and said, "Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare to express themselves as we did."

The Gestapo's photos of Sophie Scholl, taken February 18, 1943, upon her arrest.
(Photo sourced from Flashbak)

  • After 4 hours, the leaders of the group were convicted and sentenced to death.  Sophie was led to the guillotine first.  (Ladies first? WTH?)
  • "A witness described Sophie as unflinching as she walked to her death. The executioner also remarked that he had never seen someone meet the end of life as courageously as she did."
  • Christoph Probst, closest friend of Hans and Sophie, with a wife and three children, and who had helped edit and distribute the leaflets, was next.  He shouted, "We will see each other in a few minutes!" before he was executed.
  • Hans' last words before he was executed were "Long live freedom!"
  • Later trials ended with more convictions and executions.  Alex Schmorell was turned in by an ex-girlfriend, convicted, and executed.  Willi Graf and the Kurt Huber philosophy teacher were also convicted and executed.  
  • One student who had tried to collect money to support Huber's widow was also arrested and convicted. 
  • Of the primary members of the White Rose, only one survived: Jürgen Wittenstein.

Jürgen (George) Wittenstein in 1943, taken when he expected to be arrested and executed.
(Photo by Wittenstein, sourced from the Santa Barbara Independent)

  • Wittenstein was arrested and questioned by the Gestapo. The only reason they let him go was because his army commander who knew him from his compulsory military service intervened on his behalf.
  • Wittenstein had been the one to alert Hans and Sophie's parents to their arrest, and managed to get them into the prison so they could see their children one last time.  Had it not been for Wittenstein, Hans and Sophie's parents would have learned of their children's deaths only after the fact.
  • Wittenstein later emigrated to the United States, where he attended Harvard and became a practicing and research surgeon, performing complex heart operations, and helping to establish new cardiac facilities at other hospitals.

Jürgen Wittenstein, in 2010 at age 91, at a reunion held with the two teenagers he helped in 1939. They had left Germany and settled in New York.
(Photo from the Santa Barbara Independent)

US News & World Report, Anonymous Launches Offensive Against Trump, March 17, 2016
Time Magazine, Secret Service Investigating Claims That Anonymous Hacked Donald Trump, March 18, 2016
Global Nonviolent Action Database, White Rose Resistance to Hitler's Regime, 1942-1943
Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team, The White Rose
Jewish Virtual Library, Holocaust Resistance: The White Rose - A Lesson in Dissent
Spartacus Educational, Jürgen Wittenstein and Kurt Huber
The United States Holocaust Museum, Holocaust Encyclopedia, White Rose
History Is a Weapon, The Six Pamphlets of the White Rose Society
Flashbak, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Rebellion, February 22, 2016, Feb 18, This Day in History: Nazis arrest White Rose resistance leaders
The History Learning Site, The White Rose Movement
Santa Barbara Independent, George (Jürgen) Wittenstein: 1919-2015: A Member of WWII’s White Rose, July 9, 2015

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you're a spammer, there's no point posting a comment. It will automatically get filtered out or deleted. Comments from real people, however, are always very welcome!