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Monday, May 3, 2010

"I am the son of Christoph Probst..."

The Legacy of the White Rose

     In 1976 when my Aunt Angelika died, I read my father’s letters for the first time. They had been in the estate of his sister. My father’s letters to my mother had burned in Lermoos, and the letters with political content had been destroyed out of fear of imprisonment under kinship laws in 1943.
     For the first time, my father became close to me. I appreciated him in his being, saw him live his short life. And now I recognized how many portrayals of the White Rose did him an injustice, yes, how
superficially he was treated.
     My mother had indeed constantly told me about my father and their life together. But: Ultimately, hadn’t it been only a few weeks, yes, a few weekends, that my parents had been able to spend together? My mother had not known that her husband had decided to offer opposition to the Nazi regime that appeared so inhuman to him.
     After the war, his sister Angelika Probst had begun to publicize and dignify the life and death of her brother in lectures and essays. But more and more frequently, the story of the White Rose appeared in various publications as the story of the Scholl siblings. In contrast, my father appeared as someone who was not even involved, as the person who was kept out of all operations, who warned them about what they were doing, who was fearful. The spiritual and intellectual role of Christoph Probst and that of his friend and former classmate Alexander Schmorell in this manner was relegated to the background. In so doing, that intellectual equality that had characterized the circle of students known as the White Rose, an equality that existed despite differentiation of personality, was blurred.
     To this day I do not know why my Aunt Angelika suddenly one day discontinued her publicist activities. But I suspect that she was no longer able to bear up under the emotional strain that arose from the particular manner in which the story of the White Rose was adopted by the general public. She had suffered so inexpressibly from the death of her brother, to whom she was so close – closer than she ever was to any other person in her life. It likely seemed impossible to her to continue with this commemoration in a sort of public competition. From that time forward, she largely kept her memories to herself and lost all hope because of the impact of the developments to which the legacy of the White Rose had fallen victim – and in which relatively little room remained for remembering those others who likewise had been sentenced to death.
     I believe that the entire history of the White Rose still is to be written. Now that the archives in the East have been opened, many opinions will be able to be formed more precisely, and much of the inequality will be corrected.
     In addition, politically the White Rose circle has been given many faces in accordance with postwar developments in the two German states. The German Democratic Republic tried to partake of this “anti-Fascist” inheritance. In the Federal Republic of Germany around 1968, the view was widely held that the members of the White Rose had been completely idealistic and politically naïve. For this reason, they were doomed to fail.
     I participated in the public discussion for the first time in 1983. The White Rose movie [Verhoeven] that had just been filmed ended with the image of a falling guillotine blade. Subsequently, emotionally charged viewers saw the following words in large letters: “. . . In the opinion of the Federal courts of justice, the verdicts rendered by the People’s Court are just. They are in force to this day.”
     This identification of the highest courts in the Federal Republic of Germany with the murderous justice of the Third Reich appalled me even more when the film was shown in what was then the East Bloc – in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and in East Germany. It therefore left the impression that the Federal Republic of Germany kept to the track of the Nazi dictatorship. I called this statement made by the film’s authors “disinformation of disinformers.”

Reflection

     So now I continue to face the same problem, namely how the memory of my father can be protected from political and personal control, but simultaneously from corruption and deformation. In so doing, I absolutely do not misunderstand the meaning and relevance of the historical argument, when it is capably and responsibly utilized. But I emphatically oppose misuse of historical personages for documentation and assertion of personal-political agendas and beliefs.
     That is why I consider it improper to use White Rose resistance to achieve current political goals. Family members and survivors of the White Rose should responsibly articulate their own political viewpoints, but they should not claim the moral authority of resistance in the era of National Socialism. The height of historical demagoguery was reached when a book compared Hans and Sophie Scholl to RAF terrorists. The same applies when a group of young people calls themselves the White Rose and – using this symbol – believes they have the right to cut down high voltage towers. The concept of “resistance” to totalitarianism can only be defined in the context of a dictatorial, unconstitutional government. That kind of resistance is carried out at the peril of one’s own life or the basis for one’s existence. That kind of resistance cannot and may not be compared with “resistance” in a democratic country in which there is no risk of losing one’s life. The latter has been called “the resistance of small change” (Arthur Kaufmann).
     It shall not come to pass that resistance during the Third Reich falls victim to historical forgetfulness. As “processed memory” (Peter Steinbach), it is rather much more a message for the future from a dark time. It served and continues to serve the foundation of a democratic, constitutional state in Germany, above all political parties and party lines. This places opportunities at our disposal for confronting misuse of power while it is still in the bud.
     In consideration of all the distortions and degenerations that have befallen “resistance” and its conception after World War II, it is particularly dear to my heart to call attention to the spiritual and intellectual dimensions of the White Rose in general, and that of my father in particular. Therefore I have decided to compile and publish my father’s remaining letters, along with the beautiful photographs he took as well as the ones that include him. My father shall finally emerge from among the forgotten ones and speak for himself.
     He was a person full of love, intellectual clarity, and great culture, a person who devoted himself to all living things. He could spend hours on end observing nature.
     Although (as previously mentioned) his political letters no longer exist, one can sense his political creed from that which remains, that which was meant to be personal.
     The decision to publish my father’s letters after more than fifty years primarily was based on two reasons: I would like to hand down his message of love to posterity. But I would also like to strip him of a certain hero worship that has become customary in our country from time to time. Human behavior, as he carried it out, has no need of hero worship. Rather, human behavior makes pensive persons more thoughtful and can circumvent new “unculture” – such as always seems to crop up. Therefore my father’s words will conclude this very personal paper. They are found in the leaflet he drafted, the leaflet for whose message he died:
     All Germans shall be sacrificed to the emissaries of hate and extermination. Sacrificed to him who tormented the Jews, eradicated half of the Poles, and who wishes to destroy Russia. Sacrificed to him who took from you freedom, peace, domestic happiness, hope, and gaiety, and gave you inflationary money. That shall not, that may not come to pass! Hitler and his regime must fall so that Germany may live.

(The above is a very brief excerpt from a speech made by Michael Probst in 1983 on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the White Rose executions. Translation copyrighted by Ruth Hanna Sachs.)

5 comments:

  1. "Consider it the greatest of crimes to prefer survival to honour and, out of love of physical life, to lose the very reason for living" (Satirae, VIII, 83-84, quoted in Veritatis Splendor, n 94)

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  2. I've not ever read that the Scholls were more important than any of the others.... That these young people cared AT ALL, and did something about it, IS INCREDIBLE....!! What a tragic loss for the world... I'm sorry to read about the catty remarks by Cristophs' son. What can be the point....??

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  3. Rocky, Micha Probst was not being catty. He spoke about the reality of White Rose research at the time.

    It was not until around 2003 when Elisabeth Hartnagel nee Scholl started publicly fighting the White Rose image that her sister Inge had created, that things finally started to change. Despite Elisabeth's efforts, too many people still tell the story of the White Rose as if it were the "Scholl" story, with everyone else in their orbit.

    We should instead heed the words of Elisabeth Hartnagel, who stated that Hans and Sophie were merely friends among equals. Then we understand their group dynamics.

    Probst was *brave* to make this statement when he did.

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  4. Any argument about rank of importance serves to completely miss the point....and one of Sophie's final comments addressed the unimportance of her own death when stood up against the equally young soldiers dying....any celebrity-making that has put the Scholls at the forefront of the operation belies the spirit of the work and Probst's son takes it further off course

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    Replies
    1. Kevin, I respectfully request that you re-read Micha Probst's comments. He specifically stated:

      "The decision to publish my father’s letters after more than fifty years primarily was based on two reasons: I would like to hand down his message of love to posterity. But I would also like to strip him of a certain hero worship that has become customary in our country from time to time. Human behavior, as he carried it out, has no need of hero worship. Rather, human behavior makes pensive persons more thoughtful and can circumvent new 'unculture' – such as always seems to crop up. Therefore my father’s words will conclude this very personal paper. They are found in the leaflet he drafted, the leaflet for whose message he died..."

      At the time, the Scholl faction was trying to have Christoph Probst excluded from White Rose memory, claiming he had never been part of the group (!). That ridiculous assertion has finally been abandoned, but as Micha delivered this memorial speech on the occasion of the dedication of a school named for his father, that was the atmosphere in official White Rose circles.

      He was not trying to say his father was more important than Hans or Sophie Scholl. He was simply trying to ensure that his father's legacy was preserved. For what it's worth, after this speech Micha Probst and his brother Vincent (whom Inge Scholl had personally attacked in 1968 for claiming White Rose resistance had been idealistic) completely dropped out of White Rose work. Micha never again spoke publicly on the topic.

      This is not a debate over rank of importance, except to state that they were all equals, no one "outranked" anyone else. As noted above, that observation was made by Elisabeth Hartnagel nee Scholl, who (unlike Inge Scholl) actually observed the group in action (February 1943).

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