Year XXVIII, 1986, Number 2-3, Page 135

 

 

“THE WHITE ROSE” FORTY YEARS ON
 
 
There are at least three good reasons why younger generations should read Die weisse Rose, the book by Inge Scholl,[1] the sister of Hans and Sophie, two of the leaders of the group by the same name who fought the Nazi regime in German universities with both moral and political opposition between Spring 1942 and February 1943. Theirs was the most generous, noble and glorious action in the whole of the German Resistance: “a slender ray of light in the darkest hour”, as Theodor Heuss put it.
The first reason why the book should be read is that a huge blackout, called for by the Allies themselves, has tended to efface the history of Nazi Germany, and even more so the history of the German Resistance. It is our duty to rediscover that terrifying past and its noblest moments.
The second reason is that “the White Rose”, too, demonstrated the europeanist and federalist origins of the Resistance, though these origins, particularly in other European countries, came to be forgotten with the restoration of national states after the fall of Nazism.
The third reason is the shining example of heroism and absolute dedication to an ideal that these young students were able to transmit through their action. After more than 40 years, this same spirit and this moral tension is something that young militants fighting for European unity should take to heart.
Who were those young students at the University of Munich? Nearly all of them came from the Jungenschaft, which were Catholic-inspired youth associations. When little more than adolescents, they decided that it was no good giving in to barbaric Nazi activities which were advancing all the time and stunning the German people with their propaganda. They believed it was necessary to resist and not to abandon democratic culture’s principles of liberty, tolerance and solidarity. Nobody better than Inge can tell us who Hans, Sophie and their friends were: “…They went for week-end trips and, even in the bitterest cold, they used to live in huts and camps like those that the Lapps build… One of them used to read aloud, when they sat round the fire. On other occasions, they sang all together accompanied by the guitar, banjo and balalajka. They collected songs from all the peoples and wrote words and music for their solemn songs or cheerful ditties. They painted and took photos, wrote and composed poetry. They wrote their marvellous diaries and their inimitable reviews. In winter, they used to camp in the remotest Alpine meadows and went skiing in the most difficult places. They loved fencing early in the morning. They used to take books with them which were so important for them and which opened up new horizons on the world… They were serious and taciturn and had a peculiar form of humour. They loved playing jokes, and were thoroughly sceptical and sarcastic. They were able to run madly through the woods and used to dive into frozen rivers in the early hours of the morning. They were capable of lying on the ground watching game or the flight of birds and sat, holding their breath, at concerts to disclose music. They tiptoed round museums and knew the Duomo backwards down to its most hidden art treasures. In particular, they loved Franz Marc’s blue horses and van Gogh’s blazing fields of corn and suns and Gauguin’s exotic world”.[2]
Not dissimilar from the Scholls were the other members of the group whom they met at the beginning of 1942 at the University of Munich: Alex Schmorell, elegant, imaginative, brilliant; Christl Probst, a keen observer of nature; Willi Graf, taciturn and introverted, who when he was only 15 wrote in his diary: “Come what may, we stick by our ideas”.
Their was a “natural” group, with individual paths which were practically identical. They all studied medicine, deliberately, to escape the regime’s ideological control. If they had been able to choose freely they would have studied philosophy. They had, in fact, read widely: first, the great spirits of German culture, Goethe, Schiller, Holderlin, Keller; then, the ancient philosophers, Socrates, Plato and the early Christian philosophers; and finally Saint Augustine and Pascal and such modern writers as Rilke, Nietzsche, Stefan George, Theodor Haecker… Moreover, both Hans and Willi had already been in prison for several weeks during the wave of arrests following the 1938 ban on catholic organizations. They were goaded on by idea of having to do something, something that would reawaken the people from the torpor and abjection that had struck them. A courageous stand by the Bishop of Munster against the horrors of war and the regime’s persecution helped them to take the decision to act.
At the end of June 1942, leaflets were distributed clandestinely in the University of Munich and all other cities in Southern Germany, causing a great stir among the students. In the space of a few weeks four leaflets were produced. In the first the German people’s passiveness was described (“a tragic people, comparable with Jews and Greeks”). Germans were urged to oppose the regime and “resist passively” without waiting for somebody to give the go-ahead. A call for moral and individual revolt was, in other words, being made. The second leaflet asserts the sense of guilt that weighs on those who witness the persecution of the Jews without doing anything about it (“a sense of complicity… if we tolerate this government which has stained itself with such atrocious sins… we are guilty ourselves… we cannot absolve ourselves because everybody is guilty, guilty, guilty!”). A wave of rebellion is called for throughout the country, whatever the price to pay may be, because “such a terrible end will always be better than terror without end”. Political thinking begins to emerge in the third leaflet more clearly, side by side with the moral aspect of revolt which had prevailed until then. There was now a complete break with loyalty to the state and hopes are expressed that it would be defeated militarily (we need to remember that even those who opposed Nazism in Germany did not go so far as to call for the defeat of their country): “the main concern of every German should not be victory over Bolshevism, but the defeat of National Socialism. This must absolutely be the first thing”. Hence the suggested “sabotage in war factories…, in the information sector, in culture, scientific research…”. The idea of Europe, seen as the result of Christianity and its pacifying action, emerges in the fourth leaflet: “…only religion can reawaken Europe… if the idea of a supranational state (ein Staat der Staaten), a political doctrine, should flash before our eyes, should hierarchy be the basis of a union of states (Staatenvereins)?” [3]
At the end of July, Hans Scholl, Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf left for the Russian front, enrolled in the health service. Before their departure they decided that, on their return, “the action of ‘the White Rose’ would have been fully unleashed; the audacious beginnings would be transformed into hard and carefully meditated resistance… the circle of conspirators would be enlarged”.[4] Kurt Huber was present at the meeting. He was a professor in Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Munich and much admired by students who thronged to his lessons. We may presume that it was Prof. Huber who led the group politically towards openly federalist positions. The records of the court proceedings show that Huber pronounced “speeches on Federalism… as a need for Germany, instead of teaching National Socialism”.[5] Inge School recalls that Huber said that it was important to “profit from the marvellous moment of freedom to construct a new and more human world together with other European peoples”.[6]
In November 1942, the group’s leaders came back from the front, determined to turn words into action. Contacts were made with other opponents, including the group of conspirators who unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Hitler on July 20th, 1944, while the first acts of sabotage took place in the barracks.
Early in January 1943 the group published a document which was probably drawn up by Prof. Huber,[7] entitled Leaflets of the Resistance Movement (with the subtitle “Appeal to all Germans!”), almost implying that “the White Rose” wanted to turn itself (or was turning itself) into a real Resistance movement. The document was distributed on a massive scale: Munich, Frankfurt a.M., Stuttgart, Preiburg, Mannheim, Saarbrucken, Vienna, Saltzburg, Linz, Karlsruhe, etc.
This document was the most important one. It briefly summarized the themes of previous leaflets (the war has now been lost, the objective is the defeat of Nazism, we need to revolt before it is too late) and, in particular, European and federalist themes appeared for the first time: “The imperialist idea of power must be made harmless for ever… all centralizing power of the type that the Prussian state has attempted to exercise in Germany and Europe must be suffocated the moment it surfaces…”
The identification of the nation-state as the source of state centralisation, national ideology, militarism and imperialism is clear enough. Equally clear is the alternative: “Future Germany can only be federalist. Only a healthy federalist system can breathe new life into a weakened Europe. Workers must be freed by means of a reasonable socialism from the state of complete slavery to which they have been reduced. The fallacious image of autarkic economy must disappear from Europe. All peoples and all individuals have a right to the world’s goods”.[8]
It would be interesting from a historical point of view to learn how the idea of a future federal system for Europe matured at that time in the heart of Germany. Was it the solitary idea of the Kantian-inspired Prof. Huber or an extension of the thinking and debate that was going on at that time in other European countries? Whatever the case may be, this theoretical novelty in the German Resistance did not have any time to develop, because on February 18th both Hans and Sophie (and, subsequently, all the others) were arrested precisely while they were handing out the last leaflet in the University corridors, which was directed precisely to those students, who a few days before had protested heavily in the streets of Munich, fighting Gestapo agents. They were tried and six of them were condemned to death. Three were beheaded immediately: Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christl Probst. Their execution was announced in Munich by great posters. Then it was the turn of Prof. Huber and Alex Schmorell. The last member of the group Willi Graf was killed on October 12th after many months of interrogation and solitary confinement.
As Altiero Spinelli said, “the heroic but short adventure of ‘the White Rose’ is the finest and purest chapter in the German Resistance. Here, there are no calculations about past and future political parties, no wise reflections on what is possible, probable or improbable. There are no paralyzing hesitations vis-à-vis the myth of the fatherland at war which must not be attacked from within. Here, there is only straightforward moral courage where the right path once identified is followed resolutely until the very end”.[9] Forty years on, the battle for the European federation does not imply the defeat of monstrous experiences like Nazi Fascism, but “simply” of the shell that fosters such experiences: the absolute sovereignty of the nation-state. The spirit, the moral and political vigour of the young people of “the White Rose” are still an example and a guiding light for the pursuance of the political struggle which we share in common with the members of “the White Rose”.
 
Antonio Longo


[1] Inge Scholl, Die weisse Rose, Fischer Bucherei KG, Frankfurt a.M. and Hamburg, 1957.
[2] Inge Scholl, op. cit., pp. 23-24. For those young people born and bred in Swabia, the Community (Gemeinschaft) was the basic and natural social structure which was identified with the native land (Heimat): «When we thought of the native land we seemed to smell moss, wet earth and apples» (p. 13).
[3] In the absence of any theoretical knowledge of federalism, the union between peoples in the Continental tradition was seen as a “forced” union, based on the principle of the hegemony of one state over all other states. The authors of the leaflet, with this quotation taken from Novalis, an exponent of German Romanticism, doubt, precisely, that that hierarchy could be the only form of union possible. For the quotations in the leaflets, see ibidem, pp. 103-125.
[4] Ibidem, p. 52.
[5] See: K. Vielhaber, H. Hanisch, A. Knoop-Graf (Hrsg.), Gewalt und Gewissen - Willi Graf und die «Weisse Rose», Herder, Freiburg-BaselWien.
[6] Inge Scholl, op. cit., p. 54.
[7] See: K. Vielhaber, H. Hanisch, A. Knoop-Graf (Hrsg.), Gewalt und Gewissen, op. cit., p. 172.
[8] Inge Scholl, op. cit., p. 129.
[9] Terzo Programma, RAI (Italian Broadcast), fasc. 1, 1962, p. 75.

 

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