Note regarding comments

I love comments. I enjoy debate. I welcome both praise and thoughtful criticism. However, I've had to change comments-permissions to require self-identification. No more anonymous messages, please!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

White Rose Holy Wars

     Come November, the faithful gather in Provo or Salt Lake City. They have studiously prepared for this moment. Much learning and nightly vigils undergird the assembly. This battle consumes the waking (and often dream-filled) nights of many passionate Latter-Day Saints.
     I am, of course, speaking about the annual BYU-Utes football game, a holy war to end all holy wars.
     Despite its comical nickname, religion hardly plays a role in the festivities. Rather, students paint themselves red or blue, and wrap one another's campuses in graffiti'd taunts. Sure, there's plenty of teasing about who is more Mormon than the other. The coaches and players milk the holy-rolling imagery for all it's worth. And usually the game lives up to its hype, with last-minute finishes and gloating good enough to last a year. A good time is had by all.
     Less funny, with no hint of a good time, are the holy wars that have afflicted White Rose "scholarship" in recent years. What used to be simple and annoying misuse of their story has turned into full-fledged abuse. Previously, we dealt with laymen who distorted the heroism of students and

Monday, December 21, 2009

No Peace on Earth, Much Less Goodwill...

     Coming out of the post office today, I got cut off by a Metro bus. No good reason for his lack of courtesy. Traffic wasn't especially heavy. There was no way he could beat the light one block up the street. Plain, simple rudeness, nothing fancy or especially malicious about it.
     I'm reminded that all too often at this time of year, the qualities we all say we strive for are pushed to the curb. No matter whether we live in Texas or New York, Left Coast or New England, Munich or Tel Aviv, the jolly holiday spirit gets crushed in the rush to have the best tree and most expensive presents, the most extravagant Chanukah. Even Kwanzaa has joined the great tradition of commercialization over meaning.
     And instead of spending time contemplating our common interest in light, our common pursuit of peace, we wind up with the common heartache of heartburn, of distress under stress, of trying to live up to impossible expectations. Often imposed on us by ourselves.
     If you know our family at all, you are aware that Janet committed suicide in mid-December over

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A thankful day

     I've posted my "official" Thanksgiving essay (Festival of Plenty) along with companion commentary (Changing, and not so changing, times) on my "other" blog. Please take a moment to read those two, and join me in a happy dance celebrating bubblegum and vanilla ice cream. Among other things!
     I want to add to that a thank you to readers and friends of our work who have given me (and the rest of our family) the energy to keep going. Whether it's Chris Hewitt coming back from a trip to Munich, excited about the places he visited... Or Dr. Armin Mruck, who has long found value in what we do, and often lets us know... Or dear MK, Mr. Munich, who shares all of the passion and some of our pain... Or a new friend, James Richards, who fell into the story and wants to know more... Or Prof. Hammer, who inspires his students at TAMU, who in turn inspire us...
     And so, so many more of you. If I kept going, I would surely miss one or two names, so it's best to stop when I'm missing hundreds. Thank you. Without you, what we do would be meaningless, a worthless void, a clanging cymbal. With you, we're a philharmonic.

Counterfactual history

     For the second time, I'm quoting Jon Meacham here. Funny in some ways, because often my world view diverges comfortably from his. Yet I find his editorials thought-provoking.
     His November 16 column - entitled Rethinking the Lessons of Vietnam - addresses the tendency of historians and journalists alike to repackage history into a form and format that best suits their conclusions.
     In other words, instead of digging for truth, a truth that is objective and as close to stark reality as possible, we who write tend to narrate the historical record subjectively, as seen through our own particular lenses. I know that I do so, although I try to clearly label opinions as such, and subjective discourse similarly as separate from cold, hard facts.
     Meacham's opening quote, attributed to Napoleon, asks, "What is history but a fable agreed-upon?"

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Major

     Yesterday's news about the tragic, horrific shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas must send the same shudders through America's (and the world's) moderate Islamic community ... the same way that Herschel Grynszpan's November 7, 1938 assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath must have sent shudders through the German-Jewish community.
     Far-right-wing, radical groups here in the USA are reacting in much the same way the National Socialist government did seventy-one years ago. Instead of seeing the murders as the work of a isolated gunman, they are now transferring Nidal Malik Hasan's guilt onto an entire religion and ethnic group. Just as Nazis turned the act of a 17-year-old into a crime attributable to a global Jewish conspiracy, so now bloggers see terrorists in every Middle-Eastern face. If that face happens to wear Islamic garb...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Truth Will Tell

     Anyone who has followed our work for more than half a second knows that a major obstacle to truthful telling of White Rose history is, has been, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be Inge Aicher-Scholl and her heirs. In addition to Inge's still-mindboggling refusal to grant me an interview, the overwhelming majority (about 90%) of Scholl Archives are off limits for the next 20 - 25 years.
     Inge and her heirs have controlled the White Rose story almost mercilessly for the past sixty-four years. They've browbeaten anyone who's deviated from her carefully crafted half-truths, including (but not limited to) Christian Petry, Vincent Probst and the Probst family, and even Fritz Hartnagel, Inge's own brother-in-law and Sophie Scholl's sometimes-boyfriend.
     She controlled photographs, Borg*-ing copyrights from dozens of White Rose friends and associates with her "Copyright Geschwister Scholl Archiv" stamp - even when they had not granted her copyright permission. She refused her own family members (specifically, the Hartnagels)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Susanne Zeller-Hirzel, the enigma

     If you've read my White Rose histories, you know how much I enjoyed and appreciated Susanne Hirzel's memoir, Vom Ja Zum Nein [From Yes to No]. She's honest and up front about so many things. Her words ring true, because she only wrote about what she knew. She never insinuated herself into White Rose activities that were beyond the scope of her limited engagement.
     And if you've read the updates to the academic version of those same histories, you know how problematic things became once her brother Hans Hirzel joined the Republikaner party, a far-right-wing, extremist political party in Germany. He eventually un-joined and returned to the CDU, a normal conservative affiliation.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Postcards from the past

     For one of those small tastes of yesterday that reminds us all just how much was lost from 1933 to 1945, check out the line of 'new year's' post cards on's site. From the Neustadt synagogue (1925) to the Jewish cemetery in Sarajevo (1920s), from Rabbi David Mannheimer's Shabbat service with Russian POWs in 1915/16 to Ephraim Moses Lilien's Dedication (Widmung) in 1900 when he was in Berlin...
     These little memorials to better days remind us to treasure the here and now, to savor our own Goldene Medina while we can.
     Shana Tova!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New White Rose "pop quiz"

     I just spent a most enjoyable afternoon putting together a new "pop quiz" about the White Rose. There are no trick questions.
     Give it a shot, and then let me know what you think! Click here to take the quiz.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The "Love-Hate" part of our work

     Today I stumbled across a Web site with attached forum that initially made me angry. I know the person behind it. Met her at the Orenburg conference in September 2007.
     She's insecure, the kind of insecure that feels the need to elbow her way into the middle of every picture. The kind of insecure that babbles incessantly, so that people tend to run the other direction when they see her coming. The kind of insecure that isn't above rearranging the name tags on the tables so she can sit on the dais.
     We were stuck on a train with her for twenty-two hours. Oy. No fun. All of the above, plus she wouldn't stop trying to prove her superiority. Finally had to ignore her, which was hard. She was in our "reserved" compartment, after all. Have I already said "Oy"?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Returning to our roots

     In July 1994 when I first learned of the White Rose, my only interest at the time was to write a creative nonfiction novel targeting high school and college students. And after that, to move on to another interesting topic. I was actually more interested in writing creative nonfiction (also known as literary nonfiction) novels than in German resistance during the Shoah.
     And indeed, the first several drafts of my work - all the way through 1997 - were creative nonfiction novels.
     It was only when publishers kept telling me 1) that White Rose had been sufficiently covered by Richard Hanser; and 2) that my story was too different and therefore too unbelievable - only after hearing these two things over and over did I decide to nail down the White Rose story once and for all. With cold, hard facts.

Chapter One: Roses at Noon (the creative nonfiction novel about the White Rose)

May 1, 1942
     It is so cold today. Cold and snowing. I wonder if I am making the biggest mistake of my life. Yesterday I footed numbers in Daddy’s office, checked his arithmetic to keep his clients happy. He had the heat turned up. Even Inge laughed now and then.
     But today, today. The signs flashed by, Mering, Nannhofen. I told myself over and over, Sophie, you have waited two years to be in Munich with Hans. With Hans!     I will admit it out loud. It was great fun seeing him waving to me from the platform. His arm around Traute, that casual romance that gives him the very breath he breathes. She looked the picture of elegance, every hair in place, her shoes matching the skirt she wore. I really should not like her, you know. But there is something so un-Nazi about her, we are at once kindred spirits.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"A Lion, but No Lionization"

Fifteen years ago this week, I started the White Rose journey. The way I first read (and told) their story, it was all about Hans and Sophie Scholl. Others played very minor, very supporting roles.

And their haloes remained intact.

Over time, I learned that Hans and Sophie were not the White Rose. They were not even its leaders - neither morally nor psychologically. And the haloes of all those involved were at best tarnished. More practically seen, those haloes were nonexistent.

In 2002 I coined a phrase to express the reality of the White Rose: Sie waren keine halb-Goetter, they were no demigods. It's a phrase that has been lifted (without attribution, oh sigh) by a handful of writers who share this perspective. But more often than not, it's a phrase that has been totally ignored, if not outright rejected by those who must have haloes on their heroes.

The July 27 issue of Newsweek reminded me all over again why the whole story is important, and not the legend that malnourishes so many college sophomores.

Jon Meacham mused on the legacy of Ted Kennedy, noting that his forty-year struggle for affordable health care may finally come to fruition, even as Kennedy himself is dying. Meacham writes that Kennedy's fight for this noble cause should be told in context, that the whole man should be seen. The man whose conscience was pricked by families who could not afford the chemotherapy his young son benefited from in 1973, and the man who had no conscience when it came to Mary Jo Kopechne.

Meacham's closing paragraph is worth quoting in its entirety, as it applies to the White Rose, to Valkyrie, to the Red Orchestra, and others who resisted Hitler and the Nazis over sixty years ago. As well as to those who are not demigods who continue the good fight against injustice and intolerance well into the 21st century.

It is fair, then, to note that when Kennedy calls health-care reform "the cause of my life," he is talking about a life that is hardly a model of sobriety and statesmanship. The important thing, though, is that it is a life that has included the sober and the statesmanlike. The complexity of Kennedy's legacy—the good and the bad, the political achievements and the personal disasters—makes him an accessible, human figure, and a strangely inspirational one. For if Ted Kennedy can successfully battle demons and drink, conquering selfishness just enough to work through the decades for causes other than the satisfaction of his own appetites, then the rest of us can, too. One can be a lion without being overly lionized. Whatever happens to health care in 2009, an appreciation that frail and fallen men can do good things will be among the legacies that Ted Kennedy will leave us—and that his successors in the Senate should bear in mind, whichever desk they are assigned.

Perhaps one day, the White Rose story will receive the same treatment. From more than just a handful of us.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Remembering on July 13

We recognize that February 18 and February 22 will likely always be the dates associated with White Rose resistance. We've tried to emphasize other significant events and realign the stars, as it were. But it's a quixotic endeavor.

Therefore, although we have partially given up and yielded to the desire to celebrate the end of the White Rose (which is essentially what happens with the February dates), we won't stop reminding our readers why the other dates are central to the notions of informed dissent and civil disobedience, as seen in the example of the White Rose.

For narrative to that end, see the post directly below this one. It is lifted directly from Chapter 63 of Volume II of my White Rose histories.

As wonderful and heartrending as this part of the story is, there's nothing like hearing Clara Geyer narrate it live and in person. Or reading her husband's accounts of that day. Or holding a copy of the letter Dr. Deisinger wrote the Schmorell family immediately after the war, and sensing the greatness of Alex Schmorell's heart.

So, here's to you, Alex and Professor Huber, whose lives were cut short this day in 1943, but whose Life could not be extinguished. And here's to you, Manfred and Harald and Josef and Wilhelm, who survived to bear witness to the actions of your younger friends. And here's to you, Clara, Josef, Erika and Karl, who stood by your friends when they needed you most.

And here's to you, dear Gisela, who on this day discovered your backbone and found redemption.

Your memories are for a blessing. To all of us.

Excerpt from White Rose History Vol. 2, July 13, 1943... The Trial. The Executions.

On July 13, 1943, Clara Geyer had taken the earliest train out of Ulm – together with both Josef and Erika Rieck, of course. By 9 am, they were sitting in the courtroom. This was the first time she had heard that Judge Freisler was not involved, that the trial would take place in a Special Court with Judge Schwingenschlögl presiding. Someone whispered that this judge was “human.” She could only hope.

Whoever passed along that “secret” was badly mistaken. In December 1941, a Polish youth named Boleslaw Buczkowski had been arrested for defending himself when attacked by the farmer he worked for. The farmer had accused the youth of stealing an apple and had hit him. Buczkowski retaliated and gave the farmer a cut over his eye. The Polish youth – who had just turned seventeen – fled into the forest and foolishly admitted to someone that he wished he could set the man’s farm on fire.

Four months later, a judge sentenced Buczkowski to eighteen months in prison. During sentencing, the judge justified the stiff judgment by stating, “With the Poles, only a harsher sentence seemed to achieve the usual goals of punishment meted out.”

The District Attorney’s office in Munich was horribly upset by what they perceived to be too mild a sentence. They appealed to Judge Schwingenschlögl, who re-opened the case in August 1942. In the new trial, the youth was given a death sentence. Schwingenschlögl de­creed that the Pole’s execution be announced throughout the greater Munich area by means of 410 placards. His family was prohibited from claiming his remains, and his farewell letters were destroyed.

If Clara Geyer had known that about Judge Schwingenschlögl, she would not have been as happy that Judge Freisler was not sitting on the bench. As it was, she believed they had been “very fortunate indeed.” And – she noticed that she and Erika were the only women in the courtroom.

Judge Schwingenschlögl was assisted by District Court Counsel Boller and Dr. Eder. Dr. Hohmann acted as prosecutor, and there was no court clerk. Dr. Reisert, a good friend of the Geyer family, had gained permission to represent all four defendants. The judge read the indictment into the court record. The defendants were accused of credible knowledge of a treasonous activity and failure to report same. The prosecutor did not try to make a case for aiding and abetting etc.

The judge questioned each defendant individually. First Söhngen, then Eickemeyer, followed by Geyer, with Dohrn last. Clara stated that her husband “gave the best answers out of all of the defendants.”

Schwingenschlögl grilled Geyer about his religious beliefs. Why are you a fanatical Catholic, he wanted to know. Geyer responded that he was not a fanatical Catholic. “A fanati­cal Catholic is never a good Catholic.” – “Why then do you go to church every Sunday?” said the judge. – “Because I must set a good example for my children,” replied Geyer.

The prosecution then called in Gisela Schertling, specifically to testify against Wilhelm Geyer and Josef Söhngen. “We all held our breath,” said Clara, “because everything hung on her statement.”

To their shock and voiceless ecstasy, Gisela recanted everything she had said in her Gestapo interrogations. She spoke in favor of Wilhelm Geyer and bore witness on his behalf.

The prosecutor was caught completely off guard by this development. He tried to undo the harm her testimony was wreaking on his case by introducing facts not in evidence. The judge would have none of it. If it was not already in the files, Schwingenschlögl told Dr. Hoh­mann, he could not mention it now.

Addressing Gisela directly, the judge inquired, “Do you have anything to say regarding the Gestapo reports?” When Gisela said she did not, the judge started to dismiss her. “Then I have no further questions for you.”

Söhngen saw his opportunity and took it. He jumped up and said, “But I have some questions.” He would never forget the expression on Gisela’s face when she turned to look at him. “It was immediately clear that I had won,” he said.

The judge permitted the defendant Söhngen to cross-examine Gisela Schertling. She recanted every last bit of her statements made in Gestapo custody. Without hard copy of those transcripts, Dr. Hohmann was hard pressed to prove that she had said what Agent Beer claimed she had said. The February 16 meeting between Hans Scholl and Josef Söhngen? It never happened.

It is easy to see why Clara Geyer thought they had gotten a good judge. Söhngen remembered that while he was questioning Gisela, Schwingenschlögl would occasionally interrupt. “I think you mean to ask if…,” he would say, presenting Söhngen’s query in an even more favorable light.

When Söhngen finished with Gisela, Dr. Hohmann called in Karl Rieber to testify against Geyer. He had been present for Theodor Haecker’s reading, they reminded him. He should tell the judge about that treasonous lecture.

Clara Geyer laughed every time she thought about the sight of Karl Rieber in that Nazi courtroom. It was a beautiful, sunshiny day, yet he stood in court holding an umbrella under his arm. He could barely hear a single question the prosecutor posed. “How do you stand with regards to the Party?” Hohmann would ask. Party, party? And Rieber would cup his hands to his ears, straining to make out the words. “How do you stand with regards to the Party?” Hohmann would repeat. Finally Rieber grasped the question. “Loyal,” he said, following a tense pause.

Clara dug her fingernails into Josef Rieck’s arm to keep from laughing out loud in relief. She could not help but notice that even the judge fought back his own guffaws. “The pleased looks were contagious, starting behind the bench.”

Judge Schwingenschlögl read Clara Geyer’s letters to her husband into the court record. Her words sounded strange out there in public, unusually calm and trusting. This was not at all what she had expected. Things were going too smoothly. Well, hopefully not too smoothly.

Emboldened by the turn of events, Dr. Reisert petitioned the court for acquittal for all four men. They had surely done nothing to merit punishment. Their deeds were a far cry from anything deserving of the death penalty.

Around 4:30 pm – seven-and-one-half hours after the proceedings had gotten underway – Judge Schwingenschlögl called for a recess. Clara’s optimism and that of the four defendants rapidly dissipated with the words, “The verdict was to be handed down from Berlin by tele­phone.” So much for a human judge and hopes for a mild verdict.

However, the judge decreed that the prisoners were to be allowed to eat the food their families had provided, and indicated that they were to be taken to an adjoining room. “They were starving,” Clara recalled. Naturally, she had brought plenty to go around.

While they anxiously waited, hoping for an acquittal but ready for anything, the executions of Alexander Schmorell and Kurt Huber were just beginning. Alex went first. But not before spending a few moments with Dr. Deisinger, the attorney who was awed by the young man whose life he had been unable to spare.

“You may be surprised to find me so at peace at this hour,” Alex told Deisinger. “But I can tell you that even were they to tell me that another – say this prison guard here who has been assigned to guard me – if even he were to say that he would die in my stead, I would nev­er­the­less choose to die. I don’t know what else there could be for me to do on this earth were I to be released at this moment.”

Alex made Deisinger promise that when the war ended, if the Allies tried to prosecute Marie Luise for denouncing him, Deisinger must take her case. No harm should come to her. His attorney should make that clear to everyone.

Deisinger joined the others who had gathered to “witness” Alex’s execution on behalf of the State. Even the executioner was surprised when three SS officers appeared around 4:45 pm, bearing special permission to watch the prisoner die.

“I will never forget the conversation among these SS Officers and the magistrates,” said Deisinger. “They discussed when death occurred at a beheading and whether it were possible to make it happen slower or faster if they so desired. It was also noteworthy that the execution was delayed for a while because the three SS Officers and the executioner thought it necessary to discuss the age, set-up, and methodology of the guillotine.”

“These were terrible minutes for me,” he continued, “as well as for those sitting on death row. On the one hand, the idealism and moral greatness of a young person who was ready to die for that idealism in just a few minutes; and on the other hand, the ribald lust of subhumanity hungry for a glimpse of the death of a defenseless sacrifice.”

But the execution took place despite these morbid contemplations. Forty-six seconds after Alex left his cell, eight seconds from the time he was handed over to the executioner named Reichhart. “There are no incidents or other events of any significance to report,” Mr. Tiefenbacher would report to Berlin two days later.

Alex’s clear and loud “Yes” – when asked if he were the prisoner Alexander Schmorell – remained inside Dr. Deisinger’s head for a very long while. That room was so oppressive. His young client, so terribly free. “I left that room shaken to the very core of my being,” said Dr. Deisinger.

“When I entered the prison hallway, I passed Professor Huber’s cell. He was the next sacrifice who was to be presented to that Moloch Hitler. And he was also being led from his cell, as he called out a final farewell to the prison chaplain, an ‘I’ll see you in a better world.’"

Mr. Tiefenbacher may have reported that nothing of significance happened, but the Catholic prison chaplain told a different story. When the executioner’s assistant asked Huber if he were the prisoner Kurt Huber, he said yes, and “Shame on you!” Deisinger recalled what happened next.

The chaplain stood at a window in the hallway from which you could see over to the exe­cution room. Shortly thereafter, a hollow thud. We knew that Professor Huber had also sacrificed his life for freedom. The chaplain made the sign of the cross in the direction of that room of death. We silently shook hands and I left that terrible house of horror, left to tell the parents of Alexander Schmorell about the death of their son.

The news caught Hugo Schmorell and his wife completely off guard. No one had told them – or Klara Huber – about the July 13 date. In fact, Klara still waited for a response to her request for a visitor’s pass, received in Berlin only three days earlier.

At 5:20 pm, the Executive District Attorney sent a telegram to Berlin. “With regard to 6I (sic) 24/43G, matter taken care of today without incident.”

About thirty minutes later, close to 6 pm, “Eickemeyer et al” were re-called to the court­room. Clara said that Eickemeyer was still chewing his food. The judge did not make them wait long. Manfred Eickemeyer, Wilhelm Geyer, and Harald Dohrn were acquitted. There sim­ply was no credible evidence to show that they knew anything about Hans Scholl’s activities.

Josef Söhngen received six months in prison for failure to report the leaflets he had received – a crime that had even gotten the “girls” a full year in prison, and seven years in the peniten­tiary for Helmut Bauer and Heinrich Bollinger. Judge Schwingenschlögl ruled that Söhngen’s guilt could be mitigated because his failure to report had been due to negligence, not a conscious decision to hide evidence from the authorities.

Schwingenschlögl found it completely believable that “even Wilhelm Geyer” had not been initiated into Hans Scholl’s intrigues. The judge had developed a curious thesis, allegedly based on Gisela Schertling’s testimony that day in court.

All of the accused have been brought to trial because of their relationship to the traitor Scholl. According to their descriptions, Scholl was a person of above-average abilities, who was interested in all realms of intellectual life. Though he was only twenty-four years old, he was easily able to strike up an acquaintance with all kinds of people. He had a large circle of friends, which included older people as well. Scholl, however, appears to have been more reserved when it came to his treasonous activities. The circle of participants and confidants who have been arrested is relatively small.

The witness Schertling – though she was his lover – was not initiated into his treasonous activity at all. She stumbled onto it shortly before his arrest when she came across a large inventory of leaflets while visiting him in his room.

Except for Professor Huber, to whom Scholl was close, Scholl and Schmorell recruited and initiated only young people. This is possibly because they had hopes of greater activity from young people, or because they were afraid that older people would wrestle leadership away from them. It therefore cannot be assumed that Scholl initiated every acquaintance into his activities.

When court was adjourned, the party began in earnest. Fortunately, Wilhelm Geyer had warned his wife that they would have to spend one more night in prison. She therefore was not worried when they led him and his three friends away. Clara Geyer did not think it was possible to be this happy.

Nor were Clara and the Riecks the only ones celebrating that night. “Fellow prisoners romped,” her husband said later. It was unbelievable, simply unbelievable. Four men on death row, and three had been acquitted! (Dr. Reisert, who one year later was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the July 20, 1944 assassination attempt, told Wilhelm Geyer after the war, “You all obviously had a better attorney than I did.”)

Their outrageously high spirits were dampened, however, when someone said: Did you hear? Professor Huber and another fellow were executed today. While you were in court.

Wilhelm Geyer harbored no illusions about the outcome of the day’s trial. If he had not gotten the key and cigarette ration coupons back… If Gisela Schertling had not recanted her testimony… If the files had not gotten so screwed up… If Freisler had presided… All these “If’s,” and things could have ended differently for him as well.

For now, he could not figure out why things had gone so agreeably. He could not lose sleep over the reasons fate had dealt him one hand and Professor Huber another.

The only thing he knew, the only thing that mattered? Tomorrow he would hold his babies for the first time in one-hundred-and-one days.

(c) Ruth Hanna Sachs.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Logical Disconnects

Several years ago, a fellow who follows our work emailed me a link to a most bizarre Web site. There's a group of far, far right-wing extremists who decorate people who murder abortion doctors with a White Rose, in honor of Hans and Sophie Scholl. That's what their Web site proclaims, as unbelievable as it sounds.

I've often wondered if those ... people understand what White Rose stood for nearly seventy years ago. They haven't got a clue.

That makes about as much sense as the anti-Semitic Web site (which has since come down) that quoted Mordechai Anielewicz as a good thing. Somewhere, there's a logical disconnect.

In these days of Obama, when the KKK and John Birch Society are seeing their ranks swell with racists who are becoming ever more vocal with their hate speech, it's interesting to see what my daily Google alert for White Rose resistance brings me. Because a growing number of these haters bedeck themselves with the mantle and mantras of the White Rose. It would be funny were it not so sad.

Although the friends we call the White Rose were hardly of one mind in their politics and religious beliefs, and although a few - most notably Professor Kurt Huber - struggled with anti-Semitism till the very end, in general the students and adults we know as the White Rose advocated liberty and justice for all. They abhorred the murders of human beings for whatever reason. They promoted ideals that we associate with tolerance, compassion, and hearts that broke at the crimes their country perpetrated.

The far, far right wing wannabe politicos that wrap themselves in the words of the White Rose take those very words out of context. Instead of working for tikkun olam - repairing the world - they try to marginalize the Other. The very thing the White Rose worked to undo.

Alex Schmorell especially felt like an Other, neither Russian nor German. As did Christoph Probst, whose stepmother had been relegated to a no-class citizen, much as the KKK/JBS does to the Other in our country.

It is a terrible thing when we must rescue the good story of civil disobedience and informed dissent from the hands of those whose lives and words most imitate the oppressors during the dark days we call the Holocaust or Shoah. But rescue it we must.

Freedom and honor. Those concepts were abused for twelve horrible years seventy years ago. We must not allow them to be abused again.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy birthday, Aunt Lelia!

July 1, 1905, my favorite great-aunt was born. Aunt Lelia never married, so she adopted her great-nieces and -nephews.

Through her, we learned that women not only could do anything, but that we should set our sights far higher than we could dream. A financial whizkid, she earned fairly big bucks, especially considering that her salary was less than 50% of what a man in her position would have taken home.

Ethics, now that got her going. Her boss regularly dipped into the company till, and dear Aunt Lelia regularly made him put it back. Anheuser Busch thanked her for her ethical accounting practices and the way she kept her boss honest by refusing to give her the pension she deserved when she retired.

She would have loved Title IX and women's sports. One of the earliest members of Houston's YWCA, she could do anything she set her mind to. What would she have done had she had access to athletic competitions post-Title IX!

Her generosity knew no bounds. She frequently "loaned" money to nieces, nephews, and us, her adopted grandchildren, each time telling us to keep it under our hats, that she did not want repayment. But not to let anyone else know, because she was doing it just for us. Imagine how surprised we all were to learn after her death that practically everyone in the family had benefited from her secret not-a-loans!

Many times while working on White Rose materials, I find myself wondering what she would have thought about it. She died before we started on this research, so none of us ever had the opportunity to bend her ear, to get her opinion, to see her eyes light up at stories of people who died in the battle for liberty and justice.

Yet I know exactly how she would have responded. She'd have gotten a tear in her eye, one she would not have tried to hide. Followed by a loving pat on the knee. "That's good, honey," she would have said. "Let me know what else you find out."

And a couple of days later, she would have called to chat, having thought about the last conversation, with incisive questions to make me dig some more.

In this sometimes overwhelmingly difficult work, I believe sometimes I most wish for an Aunt Lelia to accompany us on the journey.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Celebrating Cultures

Reminded today that we ~ where "we" means every last one of us ~ have lost something precious because of the Shoah, something it will be difficult to recover. And that is, the language to speak out loud of culture.

In Germany, the loss is palpable. Old rhetoric about the Leitkultur has rendered conversation all but meaningless. In these United States, we too fear misspeaking, not merely out of PC angst, but because the term often denigrated people of color, dismissed anything not White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant as inferior.
We may not have had our Theresienstadt, much less Dachau or Auschwitz, but we Americans have done our fair share of relegating 'lesser' cultures to the fringes of society where "their" material poverty does not infringe on "our" way of life. And that has remained true even as non-WASP cultures moved into the mainstream.
Today reminded me that it does not have to be that way. That here and there, people break down walls. And where walls come tumbling, we can once again admire the beauty of other cultures without passing judgment.
It was "Native American Day" at Stough Nature Center in Burbank. Tongvan Nation Dancers cheered us with simple, spiritual moves and prayers and songs and music.
As Grand Finale, the chief asked the audience to join them in a dance meant to celebrate their culture, but which he understood as a means for every individual to celebrate and preserve his or her unique heritage. Small blond girl speaking French (or was it Norwegian) joined African-American joined pink-haired Californian joined Michael-Jackson-wannabe joined Tongvan joined Jewish joined Heinz-57-mixed-up-American.
Laughter rocked the hillsides as the "Hummingbirds" taught simple, intricate moves, weaving in and out of the circle, grasping hands, releasing, clapping, shouting, singing.
The moment bespoke recovery from the Shoah loss, whispered that we should not give up hope. One day, perhaps even soon, we shall continue to remember, but with rifts repaired.
V'imru Amein.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Just the Facts, Ma'am

I'm one of the lucky few who has been taught by excellent teachers from the very beginning. No other component of education ranks as high as the women and men who, underpaid and undersupplied, stand in front of classrooms day after day. Somehow, each year I managed to be assigned to yet another person who would have been honored as Teacher of the Year, were life completely fair.

Except for my third grade teacher. Poor thing, she had to take over our class barely six weeks into the new school year, assuming the wooden desk of one of those venerated educators. And she was no Mrs. T. She did not understand how to challenge us, motivate us to think out loud, like Mrs. T did. She mistook mischief for badness, sass for impudence.

The new person did not take us outside to explore wildflowers, or sit us down in small groups to work on assignments. Instead, she hung bad handwriting samples on the bulletin board to encourage classmates to mock poor cursive. And my Ps and Qs always, but always, took front and center of her disdain.

Whether naturally lazy or just ill-equipped, this woman could not teach. Yet I took two things away from her class that I do indeed remember to this day. First, she demonstrated the power of reading aloud. When she ran out of things to say, she would pick up a book, say Charlotte's Web, perch on a stool, and read to us for the rest of the day. I still enjoy hearing words spoken, words crafted to sit on a white page, but spoken instead. It's magic, that rhythm. No mistake that mysticism often invokes chants uttered, not sung.

And her second gift to me? Something she never intended as such. When she got angry, she would mete out fact-writing as punishment. The greater the offense, the more facts you had to write down. It didn't matter what, as long that Big Chief tablet contained nice neat lists. Of facts.

She didn't realize that whenever I pulled an encyclopedia off the shelf, or went down the hall to the library, I was in heaven. There is so much to know. And the more you learn, the more you know, the bigger you realize this old world is. That hunger is hardly satisfied by feeding on the fruit of knowledge. You go from writing "Texas is the very best state in the United States" (an acceptable third grade fact in Houston), to comprehending how it gained independence, to its flora and fauna, to the surrounding states, to Valley Forge. And before you know it, you wind up studying overseas, still fascinated by the people and cultures and trees and all that make this planet ours.

And before you know it, you wind up searching for the truth about a group of college kids who were beheaded for daring to speak the truth about Hitler.

The usual dust cover summary of the White Rose will tell you that they were a group of friends at the University of Munich, who committed to resist Hitler and began to do so by writing leaflets calling for the overthrow of the regime. That on February 18, 1943, two of them (Hans and Sophie Scholl) threw leaflets over the balcony of the main university building that housed the lecture halls and classrooms for philosophy and the humanities. That the janitor saw them and had them arrested. That they, along with Christoph Probst, were tried and beheaded on February 22, 1943. That fourteen others were tried on April 19, and four more on July 13. In all, six were murdered, and eleven served prison sentences.

The dust jacket version of their story leads the casual reader to believe that these wonderful young students were near saints. One extant edition of letters highlights innocent love affairs, sexless liaisons without even a breath of a kiss. They are ascribed purity of heart, purity of mind, and above all, purity of soul. Their all too real spiritual struggles jump off the page and dominate the telling.

But this pretty terrible third grade teacher inadvertently taught me to chase rabbits. You never know. You can end up in Wonderland with Alice, at tea with Bugs, or pursuing the science of burrowing animals. Chasing rabbits will at least get you off dead center.

I learned for starters that the literature about them is all wrong. Yes, there are bits and pieces of it that ring true, but not nearly enough. These wonderful young students were that same mix of good and bad that you and I are. When they fell in love, it was with hormones raging, riddled with angst and guilt and desire. Pure passion.

They fought our battles too. Christoph's demon was his clinical depression, knowing that his father had died of the same disease, by his own hand. He found solace in a solid woman, whom he finally married after the birth of their second child. His family hobnobbed with the premiere banned artists. Emil Nolde painted a portrait of Christoph and his sister.

Willi Graf decided very young to distance himself from Hitler's hordes. He marked through names of friends who joined Hitler Youth, leaving his address book a stark reminder of how few were courageous. When Willi was 15, he and 11 friends marched alone in a throng of several hundred thousand Hitler Youth boys, their lack of proper attire and proper flag a thumb in the eye of the city fathers. Assigned to a medical unit on the Russian front, he witnessed unbelievable bestiality by his "comrades". His nightmares ended only with his execution.

These kids coped with drug addiction, sexual addiction, and stupid jealousies. They wrote love letters, sketched scenes from their hometowns, and went skiing over New Year's. Sophie loved the Variety Club, Hubert started a string quartet, Alex sculpted a bust of Beethoven. Several excelled at fencing, one was allegedly a petty thief, a couple played piano, and they all devoured every banned book they could find.

They had their mentors too. Carl Muth, friend of Hans Jonas, instructed them how to find answers to theological questions on their own. Wilhelm Geyer (whom Julius Streicher named the most dangerous artist in Germany) taught Sophie how to paint and Alex how to make stencils. Eugen Grimminger funded their efforts with roughly the equivalent of $50,000 in real money. And a regular army guy, Commander Buehl, managed to outwit the Gestapo and protected several who were in his Student Company.

Some had Jewish family members. Christoph's beloved stepmother Lisl was Jewish, as was Eugen Grimminger's wife Jenny. Most had neighbors they had seen destroyed, financially or physically. They differed from their classmates by perceiving the Nazi noose as an outrage that needed righting, as illegal acts against human beings. And the ones who saw Warsaw? Well, no words can describe the fury that possessed them from that day on.

They didn't come close to overthrowing Hitler. They painted anti-Nazi slogans up and down the main streets of Munich, "seventy times," the Gestapo screamed. Though the tar-based paint kept their graffiti visible long after their deaths, no one rushed out to topple the regime just because they proclaimed that Hitler was a mass murderer. And while a few were sorry that such a pretty young girl had to die, most people expressed the sentiments that someone overheard in class, words that only deepened his anguished sorrow. "They should have strung 'em up in front of the university," two students opined.

So why tell their story, when all they did was for nothing? Why do I fight this battle to get the real story out there, when people seem happier with the feel-good version?

The answer is the same to both questions. They did not die for nothing. Sophie's boyfriend back-tracked on his original plans to raise chickens. Instead, he became one of Germany's most respected, ethical judges. Often Fritz Hartnagel represented the sole voice of justice in a court where too many Nazis were not disbarred. He is gravely ill, and I offer a prayer, a mi sh'berach for his health.

Traute Lafrenz came to the States and has worked hard to make our world safer, healthier, more compassionate. Anneliese Graf took to heart her brother's admonition to keep the torch lit. She has worked tirelessly in the field of education.

These people have in turn inspired others. And all of us recognize our limits, our shortcomings, our very humanness. There is something at once bracing and comforting in knowing that no matter how often we fail, we are capable of such great good.

Even you. Even me.

(c) 2001 Ruth Sachs. All rights reserved.

The Cornucopia of Life

When considering the consequences of informed dissent and civil disobedience, we tend to focus on the negatives. The beheadings. The imprisonments. The public ridicule. The loss of "friends", the betrayal of family. The condemnation by a society unworthy of true patriotism and unfettered integrity.

And indeed, the sacrifice is great.

But it is only half the story, only one side of the coin.

When a person takes a difficult stand for what is right, for what is noble, he may lose friends, she may forfeit status in her community, he may feel isolated, she may wonder if it wouldn't have been easier to go along. Some who are driven by ethics and honesty may even lose their lives, money, and assets.

And in the losing, gain immeasurable wealth and distinction that more than makes up for the inconsequential injury.

Of course, it all comes down to the definition of wealth and distinction used in the evaluation of our lives. If status, power, and our stock portfolio circumscribe our existence, then perhaps concepts like informed dissent and civil disobedience are outside our vocabulary.

If we think of wealth and distinction in terms of holding on to what is really real, then it's worth whatever sacrifice is necessary to discover "what is really real." Friends lost due to a principled stand? Make it easier to see who is still beside you. A blow to the bank account? Rids the bookshelf of silly knick-knacks and cleans cobwebs off essentials. Corner office forfeited to the person willing to cut corners and operate in shades of gray? Clears the air and delineates the company you keep.

This is not to say that we should go in search of controversy, that we should become contrarians in some quixotic nightmare of us against the world. Only that when honor demands we take a stand, we look at both sides of the coin and know that what we gain by having a backbone far outstrips the losses we anticipate.

"My" White Rose kids knew this principle, and knew it well. Some gave up positions of authority within Hitler Youth, others were disowned by family. For some, it was an academic death sentence, others paid the literal price and died. Alone. Some willingly declined promotions (and more money) within Hitler's army, others sought out banned writers and artists for inspiration. In their aloneness.

But without exception, all of them knew laughter and satisfaction they could not have found elsewhere. The songs they sang rang sweeter, the book-club debates roused weary souls, the buzz from whispered conversations over ersatz coffee in public places exceeded anything produced by caffeine alone.

I doubt that any of them would have changed places with the best-connected Nazi on campus.
They had all they ever dreamed of, and more.

That is something for us ~ for me! ~ to remember when facing life's daily injustices, when my backbone is feeling tired.

When I feel alone.

Times like that, I must focus on my cornucopia of daily blessings.
On the abundance of laughter, of sweetly ringing songs and rousing literary debate.
On the fragrant buzz of whispered conversation with those I hold close to my heart.

On the cornucopia of life itself.

Why my White Rose research began ~ July 1994

In July 1994, I was working away at my translation business when I stopped to really look at the week's photography of the German American Chamber of Commerce calendar. The photograph of Munich caught my eye first. That's the way the city looks when Foehn blows in, that southern, Italian wind that clears out cobwebs and lets you see the Alps from the city. A picture this clear can probably be taken only once every ten years.

But then, who were these people in the old snapshot? I had never heard of them before. "Must be Communists," I thought. Then the air conditioning went out, and a horrid landlord would not fix it for nearly a week. He drove me straight into the arms of the Houston Public Library.

I cried when I read those first few books by Hanser and Dumbach/Newborn. Spent a lot of time reading extant literature (all secondary sources), moved beyond words by a story of genuine martyrdom and sacrifice. I wrote the first draft of my nonfiction novel and decided I simply had to go to Germany to tie up the loose ends.

Sold my translation company in January 1995, and convinced my mom to travel with me as videographer, then headed out, thinking I would only need the three months we had scheduled to wrap it all up and get this thing out the door to a publisher. The Forsters had agreed to let us have their Ferienwohnung near Bad Toelz for the Munich portion of our stay, and they provided far more than that. They showed up with warm winter clothes, including wool coats, and maps.

Early March 1995, after attending the annual memorial service at the University of Munich on February 22, I received a letter from Inge Aicher-Scholl that I thought had surely ended my White Rose research. Her letter was essentially a Schreibverbot, in which she stated that she had written the only book that ever needed to be written about the White Rose, and that she was henceforth forbidding her publisher (S. Fischer Verlag), her agent, and her son (who had taken over the Scholl Archives) from speaking to me. I still do not know what I ever did to deserve such a letter before she had ever exchanged a single word with me. I had only written her, asking for an interview, and she had granted dozens of interviews before.

Being the honest, direct person that I am, I notified each subsequent person of Inge's letter. Instead of doors slamming in my face, they miraculously opened. People talked who had been silent before, and people who had talked said things they had suppressed for many years.

For it turns out that the White Rose story has been controlled by Inge for half a century. At the expense of the truth, and the friendships that made their resistance possible.

The truth is sometimes uglier than the legend that has grown up around the resistance movement. Haloes came crashing to the ground, as weaknesses were exposed and the thirty or so among these friends were shown to be regular people like the rest of us. The generic term of "Christian humanists" that this calendar chose is woefully inaccurate. Some were devout Christians, pained by the way their churches had deserted them. Others were not Christian at all, following anthroposophism or secular humanism as their guiding principles. Some became more religious, others less, as 1933 faded into 1943.

Some, specifically Hans Scholl, demonstrated gross negligence and irresponsibility in their behavior, causing more harm to be inflicted on the friends than was necessary. And others, like Susanne Hirzel, overcame fear of being caught, doing some small thing or another that contributed to the whole.

The true story, the whole story, still makes me cry. But it also makes me angry, makes me laugh, makes me question, makes me want to sing and rage at the same time. If my readers do the same in at least half the measure as I, then I will have succeeded.

Excerpt from ROSES AT NOON, nonfiction novel about the White Rose (by Ruth Hanna Sachs)

May 1, 1942
It is so cold today. Cold and snowing. I wonder if I am making the biggest mistake of my life. Yesterday I footed numbers in Daddy’s office, checked his arithmetic to keep his clients happy. He had the heat turned up. Even Inge laughed now and then.

But today, today. The signs flashed by, Mering, Nannhofen. I told myself over and over, Sophie, you have waited two years to be in Munich with Hans. With Hans!

I will admit it out loud. It was great fun seeing him waving to me from the platform. His arm around Traute, that casual romance that gives him the very breath he breathes. She looked the picture of elegance, every hair in place, her shoes matching the skirt she wore. I really should not like her, you know. But there is something so un-Nazi about her, we are at once kindred spirits.

We rode the streetcar out to Dr. Muth’s. If Hans had not told me volumes about this Catholic scholar before, if I had not met him myself a few months ago, I would have packed my bags and headed home. Home to Ulm, where that heated office burns me with its boring nothingness, and we all agree on politics. But in the time it took Dr. Muth to put on tea, I did not know myself.

Hans had warned me about the professor’s penchant for penetrating masks. I thought I wore mine well. You know what I mean. That Sophie mask that tells the world I am in control, that I know what I want, when and where. But with a few words, Dr. Muth rips it off, ruthlessly, like you rip a bandage off a child.

We were talking about this and that. Knowing that Dr. Muth concurs with our conclusions about, about Hitler, I courageously talked about our need to do something. You know I have felt this way a long time now. We jabber and prattle about how awful that man is. Daddy even got arrested for calling him the divine scourge on Germany.

But none of us does anything about it. We talk, and the more the cheap wine flows, the grander our schemes. So I casually mentioned that opinion, feeling a little bolstered by Hans’ presence. And Dr. Muth fixed those blue eyes, blue eyes of lightning, not of sky, directly on me. ‘And, Fräulein Scholl, what basis do you find in the Bible for what you propose?’

Traute rescued me by steering the discussion to the magazine Dr. Muth publishes, or used to publish till the Nazis shut him down. But I know he has not forgotten the question. I will have to find an answer for him.

Hans, my dear dense brother, soon caught on to Traute’s defense. ‘Sophie, let’s celebrate your birthday at my place tonight. Should we invite all our friends, or would that be too much for you?’

And with that deft maneuver, we were out his garden gate, back on the street.

Funny, but I had nearly forgotten the cake Mama had baked, and the bottle of wine Daddy had donated. I would have preferred waiting till tomorrow, when Fritz is here. But I could not spend one more minute in that house, with that question hanging over me.

I persuaded Hans to keep the party small. He knows these people, and I feel like I should too, the way he talks about them when he comes home. But all at once, I stood overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed by the swastikas on every house. Munich… The very best of our country has been violated, raped by men in brown. Venetian beauty defiled by shrines to criminals. The artists I cherish, the Noldes and Geyers who paint with color so vibrant, they make the world sing, they are burned and banned. In their place, hideous murals sully grand edifices.

Hans and Traute have learned to cope with the devastation. When we passed Hitler’s House of Modern Art, Hans whispered in my ear, ‘Soph, you like the wienie palace?’ I had heard that joke before, but seeing it firsthand, I erupted into giggles. First time I felt good all day. This Parthenon with columns that, yes!, were a tribute to proud Bavarian sausages. At best.

They left me alone in his room for an hour or two. The Blue Horses that survived Hans’ own arrest a few years ago comforted me strangely. I resisted the urge to hang the picture straighter. I must have slept, lulled to sleep by the aroma of a lone jasmine in an airless room. For it was nearly dark when Hans and Traute returned, bearing food.

‘We invited Christl and Alex,’ Hans said, waiting for my reaction. I could not think of two people I wanted to meet more.

Alexander Schmorell arrived first, doffing his beret and kissing my hand. Before the second sentence, I found myself calling him Schurik like everyone else, blessing him with the Russian name that connected him to his homeland. And separated him from the insanity of our Volk.

And I don’t have to tell you that for half a second, I could not even remember Fritz’s name. Schurik embodied everything I have wanted Fritz to be. He made me laugh, he made me forget that I was being demure, he made me feel like a lady, every bit as pulled-together as Traute.

When Christl showed up, the other three reacted with an emotion I have never experienced. This tall, lanky farm boy folded himself into the room. It was like their backbone had straightened or their vision re-focused. Christoph Probst, this Christl, brought pictures of his babies, news of his wife, that village decency that knows little of goose-stepping or Sieg Heils.

He also got us going on a game he had conjured up on the way to the party. We tried to stump each other on famous literary quotes. Sounds boring, I know, yet it was anything but. Of course, someone had to quote Novalis, and I think Hans was the culprit. He likes Novalis’ view of going to the edge of the pit before finding the way home. And we debated Goethe, a trivial debate to be sure, but not completely without merit. Can someone who never lived a single day of misery really write? I say no. Goethe lovers find themselves forced to defend the indefensible.

I enjoyed being among friends who read banned literature. There are not many places in Germany these days where one would dare quote from Heine or Stefan George or Spinoza. But in this room, not to quote our greatest poets and thinkers was unthinkable. Traute assured me she would introduce me to the booksellers who stocked these good books.

And I cannot tell you what it did for me to see Hans among these people. You know how he has those mood swings that make him impossible to love. I can never forget how badly he treated Lisa Remppis, my best friend. She tolerated his ups and downs far longer than any woman should, and he still trifled with her feelings for him. I think he only wanted her when she finally had enough. Some stupid nonsense about writing her name out in bread crumbs when he was in jail for, well for.... But by then, she had called it quits.

I don’t have to tell you about Rose Nägele. One of the dearest women our family has known, hard worker too, bright girl. Did Hans’ sexual addiction start with Rose, or was that the first we knew of it? I wish I knew. But he never should have hurt her like he did.

He seems to have learned from those failed courtships. He and Traute cuddled off and on, teased each other like friends do, yet it is clear that he loves her deeply. Things are different with him and Traute. Maybe he has finally found someone who loves him with all those faults he usually hides so well. She knows every wart and kisses them into diamonds.

In the middle of our lighthearted fun and scholarly debates, Hans dropped a bombshell on us. He dramatically pulled a piece of paper from his hip pocket and began to read. Words about a madman who spreads lies till they become truth. Not till they are believed as truth, like we define Goebbels’ pathetic and provocative propaganda. But until they become truth. The more he read, the more you could see the sheer terror on our faces. Terror at the reality of the world portrayed in that poem.

He sat down, quite satisfied with himself. And none of us knew who wrote the text. I thought he had. My brother is articulate and passionate about his writing, and words like that flow from his pen with no effort at all.

But Gottfried Keller had written it, well over a hundred years ago. Schurik immediately devised a plan for forcing every German to read it. ‘We will rent planes and drop millions of these from the skies on every city in Germany.’

And though they joked with him about the extravagance of his idea, threatening to put it all to his rich father’s account, no one contradicted him. I found that extraordinary, but said nothing.

Someone (and it was not Hans) remembered that we were here to celebrate my birthday. A little early, to be sure, but the cake would not keep another eight days.

And dear Schurik, he who has stolen my heart, suggested we head down to the river. We dug through the mounds of junk in Hans’ desk drawers till we found twine ‘to cool the wine the Russian way,’ Schurik said with a mysterious smile. And Traute managed to find five things that held liquid—I dare not call them cups or glasses—and four forks and a spoon for the cake. I think part of the strength of their relationship is that she does not try to organize Hans’ life.

We had the city almost entirely to ourselves. Our Luftwaffe has been so merciless in its bombings of the English that we fear the day retaliation begins. It has not started yet, but everyone lives behind walls of black curtains. The air raid shelters are often better stocked than our own kitchens.

Hans’ apartment in the Mandl Strasse lies next to Munich’s English Gardens. We walked that street, and I fingered the cold cement wall that divides Schwabing from the Gardens. Schwabing, heart of the university district, home to artists and actors alike, draws its life from the Gardens. In this patch of earth, German efficiency is buried among dense shrubs and wonderful forests. I understand why Hans’ letters home spoke most often about his time in these Gardens, walking in the rain, breathing the last remnant of pure air in a place so brownly defiled.

A great harvest moon hung over the river. Christl wished out loud that his family friend, Emil Nolde, could see this yellow orb and paint it. I tried not to express my astonishment that Christl actually knew someone whose work I studied and imitated. I must have been bad at disguising my surprise, because Schurik mentioned that Nolde had painted a portrait of Christl and his sister Angelika. No wonder Hans spent as little time as possible in Ulm. These people fed his soul.

Oh, and the twine! Schurik tied it around the bottle and dragged it in the icy river. The feel of doing something distinctly Russian must have ignited the passions he cannot hide for long. Because we sang his songs of the Volga, melodies swaying in moonlit birch trees and steppes that never end, tunes no Bach-fed brain could ever sing. We sang his songs that speak of death, and hardship, and the pain of living, all tinged with silver and gold and horizons sparkling with dew. All in the darkest, richest, minor keys on earth, a darkness and a richness banned from Aryan ears as too Jewish.

We found a level place next to the river, a river that hardly compares to the great rivers of Ulm—the Iller and the Danube. This Isar flows dirty, more a canal than a river. In fact, in places only the canal that parallels the river is navigable. But if you must have a city, you should have a river, and the Isar is better than nothing at all.

The hilarity of Christl’s game segued into muted discussion no less intense than the debates of Hans’ room. I am the only one of the group not studying medicine. Over cake and wine, after the embarrassment of toasts in my honor, we talked about the internships they had recently completed.

Schurik explained for my benefit his distaste for medicine. His father, a well-known physician in Munich, more or less forced him to study. He wants to be a sculptor, but that matches neither his father’s nor the government’s view of what is good for young men to do. The least detestable alternative was to acquiesce to his father’s desire, since that also meant a near-exemption from active duty in Hitler’s army. But after the war, he wanted to pursue the things he cherished: sculpting, painting, and piano. And he wanted to go home to Russia.

Hans lapsed into his melodramatic style of story-telling to describe his work at Schrobenhausen. He had treated frost-bite victims from the winter’s devastation in Russia. He must have forgotten that my Fritz is headed to the Russian front tomorrow, because he described the fingerless hands in gory detail. But he ended with the observation that if he had ever doubted his love of medicine, the internship had restored the passion. For he saw that healing was something God let him do. He could not undo all the evils our country inflicted, but he could heal, one person at a time. And after the war, he could do even more.

Traute nodded vigorously as he spoke. Her permission to study medicine was likely granted due to her father’s rank in the National Socialist Party, since we women are expected to be reproductive units, with minimal education wasted on us. When it was her turn, she whispered that after the war she wanted to be the best doctor in either Munich or Hamburg (her hometown), if you-know-who did not pass laws that kept her from practicing. Without her saying a word, we knew how absurd, yet how necessary, it was for her to whisper those sentiments at midnight, under a harvest moon, in a deserted city.

Even I noticed that Christl was being quiet. I thought perhaps he had fallen asleep, since he does have a newborn at home. But Schurik knew his friend better. ‘Christl, Christl,’ he shook Christl by the knee. ‘What are you thinking? What do you want from life?’

When Christl looked up, the tears were streaming down his cheeks. ‘Listen to us,’ he nearly shouted, caring little whether Nazi mole heard him or not. ‘You all know what Manfred tells us is going on in Poland. They are slaughtering Jews, murdering innocent children. And we sit here and talk of medicine and art. After the war, after the war, we say. Not just you. Me too. I am guilty too.

‘But what am I going to tell my children? That their daddy was too much of a coward to do anything? That their daddy did not love them enough? After the war, after the war. Well, listen to me. After the war, the rest of the nations will have the right to say, You Heines, you Jerries, you damn fools, why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you resist?’

I know I did not breathe for the longest time. The cold night grew colder still. Resist. He had said the word. Resist.

(and this isn't even the good part... there's more!)
(c) Ruth Hanna Sachs

Thursday, June 25, 2009

From the Rabbi's Desk (Rabbi Michael Singer)

“Where there are no worthy persons,strive to be a worthy person.”
Hillel (Pirke Avot 1:6)
Lately I have been struggling with a difficult question: if I was not Jewish and was living in Germany during the time of the Shoah, would I have risked my life by hiding Jews or actively resisting the Nazis?

I consider myself a God fearing, moral and generally good person, so my initial answer is, “yes.“ I believe that this answer may be a security blanket of sorts, which lets me sleep well with myself. And yet, when I am brutally honest, my answer is that, at best, I probably would have remained silent or possibly even gone with the crowd.

What haunts me today is not merely a past hypothetical question but whether I am honestly confronting and responding to the moral challenges of today.

In Pirke Avot, Hillel taught, “Where there are no worthy persons, strive to be a worthy person.” On the surface, his teaching seems like an easy, feel-good, proverb that, in practice, should not be difficult to accomplish. But, look deeper and you will recognize that what Hillel is demanding of us is extremely difficult.

Think about it this way: when there are relatively few personal dangers, prosperous times, you are surrounded by decent people living decent lives, and the values and morals of the society around you do not conflict greatly with your own, it is not hard to be a good person. If however, the world has been turned upside down, everyone around you is following corrupt or evil leaders and societal values and morals are misguided, do you think you could stand against the tide?

The lives of our prophets are wonderful examples of grappling with this question. The general “prophet story” is that the society/people of Israel have abandoned God's Torah and have fallen into the abyss of lawlessness, injustice, and moral depravity. The prophet must stand up against the king, the priests and the general populace and declare that they have strayed and must return to God or face punishment and, ultimately, destruction.

No wonder most prophets didn't want to accept the job for which God had picked them ! They knew what an incredibly difficult and dangerous a job it was. You will notice too, in the TaNaKh, that there were many more false prophets than true prophets.

Hillel's teaching, when applied, demands each of us act like the prophets. It requires that we constantly gauge the values and actions of those around us, or in the larger society, to ascertain whether they are in in concert with what is ethically and morally correct. Further, once we determine that, we must act in a manner that is consonant with our values.

So, what can we rely on to determine what is right? And, is that judgment a completely individual one?

In some ways, the prophets had it easier than we do because God spoke directly to them and pointed out what was right and wrong. We may not have the same type of Divine revelation that the prophets had, but we do have the gift of God's revelation by way of the Torah and the rest of the TaNaKh. Each generation continues the dialogue with God, taking the core values represented in these sacred texts and applying them to the ethical dilemmas and challenges which face them.

It is Torah that can assist each of us in gauging what is required of us and whether we are acting in accordance with God's and the Jewish people's shared values.

Therefore it is incumbent upon each one of us to study Torah (in its broadest sense) and to live it! I believe only then would we be on the way to fulfilling Hillel's directive and Moses's hope that “all of the Lord's people would be prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29). We should always remember that Torah is our moral compass, the prophets our models of action, and God our strength and certainty.

Chag Sameach!

Reprinted by permission of Rabbi Michael Singer, Malverne Jewish Center, Malverne, New York.

Papal Fallibility

On April 19, 2005, I sat at table with professors and friends-of-professors after speaking at the Holocaust Lecture Series sponsored by Sonoma State University. I was still on an adrenaline high. The "lecture" had gone well, the students had asked really intelligent questions, I had gotten to meet Edith Stein's still-Jewish niece. And the people gathered at the Holocaust Lecture Series' Stammtisch at a Chinese restaurant were the best of the best. Conversation was that delicious combo platter of lighthearted and serious.

There was even an African-American woman who had grown up near Houston. Like me, she had left Texas as things became less and less pleasant. We commiserated over the loss of a truly great place to live, a place where integration was voluntary, where we knew and loved politicians like LBJ, Lloyd Bentsen, and Sissy Farenthold. We wondered what had happened, how Texas had become the land of hate crimes, a place where the state GOP declared that the United States was a Christian country, why schools that had been fully and voluntarily integrated in the 1960s were now places where the n-word is liberally used. The only liberal thing left in the state, except maybe Molly Ivins.

"Did you hear about the new pope?" her husband suddenly asked.

I had not, since part of my preparations for a lecture or conference include a pretty firm "no TV" rule the day of. Who? When?

My heart sank when he answered. It's not that I don't think German clerics should be pope. I just don't think this one has any business being involved in setting policy, procedure, doctrine, traditions, practice, or anything else within the Catholic church. Much less being installed as pope.

His whitewash of his days under Hitler not only represent severe distortion of the truth, but in cleaning up his own act, he dishonors the many Germans who did in fact stand up for justice and freedom. His claim that he joined Hitler Youth because he had to? Please.

To be sure, young boys (and girls) were under tremendous pressure to join that organization. And after a while, non-Hitler Youth clubs except for Catholic clubs organized for Bible study and prayer were outlawed. In fact, they were outlawed several times, and enforcement ranged from nonexistent to more severe crackdowns over time.

But here and there, boys and girls ~ mere children ~ did in fact have the backbone and courage of their convictions, and refused to join. Their refusal usually if not always brought them beatings. They were societal outcasts. My very first German teacher told us how she hated her father (who was part of the July 20, 1944 resistance), because he would not let her join BDM, the girls' version of Hitler Youth. As a non-member, she had no friends. Life was very, very hard indeed.

Among the White Rose members and those loosely affiliated with it, there are several brilliant examples of students who did not join Hitler Youth, and who paid dearly. Otl Aicher did not join, and because he was of small stature, he was the repeated target of HY bullies who often left him bloodied. But proud. His friend Lilli Holl did not join BDM at a time when Inge (and Hans and Sophie) Scholl tried to beef up membership through cruel and unusual measures. Lilli was beaten with a whip and attacked by a mob, and she did not join.

Nor did Willi Graf, whose father was a founding member of the NSDAP in the Saarland. Willi crossed out names of friends who did join HY and kept to those who would not back down. Heinrich Guter in Ulm applied for membership in Jungvolk (the younger boys' version of HY), but he was turned down because his attitudes were known to be too anti-Nazi. And Heinrich Guter ~ younger than most of the White Rose students by a good 8 - 10 years ~ was about the same age as this pope.

In reality, this pope was given an opportunity unlike any of his predecessors, bar none. His first (or second, or third) day in office, he could have said, Yes, I was part of the Third Reich, and I chose to be. But I repent of my actions and I solemnly pledge to do everything in my power to bring in unsurpassed openness, to bring about healing and restoration, to ensure that the Holocaust and my Church's role in it never happen again.

But he did not.

It's not too late. He can recant his earlier statements and start afresh. As I understand Catholic theology, papal infallibility applies solely to his rulings regarding church doctrine. He is not a deity, he is not a saint, he is not sinless. So he can indeed recant. If he chooses to.

To be effectual, such a recantation must be followed by an immediate opening of church archives, especially regarding documents pertaining to the Third Reich. It is shameful indeed when a religious organization (or any organization or individual, for that matter) claims innocence or purity in a specific matter, then refuses to grant access to documents that can prove or disprove those statements.

The new pope might want to start by reinstating the German texts of Mit brennender Sorge and the Christmas 1942 German speech ~ oft cited by sycophants of Pope Pius XII in faulty English translation ~ to the Vatican Web site. Both used to be there. Both are now gone. Because the original German made it clear that Pope Pius XII was most concerned with protecting church assets and Jews who had converted to Catholicism. To hell with everything and everyone else.

Sadly, this pope's refusal ~ along with his church's refusal in general ~ to address the church's incestuous relationship with Hitler and the NSDAP obfuscates the very real resistance that was carried out by many Catholic (and Lutheran) clerics. The ones like Pater Weiss in Ulm who taught their charges that Nazi hate was wrong? They are the ones who deserve beatification, who should be honored and revered among Catholics worldwide, indeed among all who cherish liberty and justice. Writers like Johannes Maassen who fruitlessly called his church to stop its whoring with the Nazis? His words should be studied in every parochial school and seminary.

But as long as church leaders pretend it didn't happen, pretend everyone did what was right, pretend that the pope then ~ and the pope now ~ had the courage everyone wishes they had had?

As long as that is the case, true heroes continue to go unrecognized, and young Germans, young Americans, young Catholics ~ young Jews ~ go on with nothing solid to hang their hats on. The problem of celebrity is hardly limited to sports. If religious leaders feast on celebrity and not real heroes, their disciples will die of starvation.

It's time that papal scholars faced the hard, cold truth. That is, if their religion is to have any meaning worth living for.

~ Ruth Hanna Sachs

July 28, 2005: Changed the name of this essay from "Papal Sycophancy" to "Papal Fallibility," since that better reflects its intent. I wish to stress, underline, and shout from the rooftops that this essay is not a diatribe against the Catholic church. (I would have reacted exactly the same way had the woman claimed that the Lutheran, Baptist, or Methodist churches had practiced resistance. The Holocaust was enabled by a colossal failure of organized "religion" to act.) It is, however, a call to more openness, more transparency, more honesty.

I would like to challenge the new Pope to be painfully candid about what he did during the Third Reich. Steps in that direction have been made without him, by (for example) the playwrights of Oberammergau who've taken extraordinary measures to rid the 300+ year-old Passion Play of its anti-Semitic overtones.

It's time for the Church to quit pretending that its leaders from 1933-1945 were saints. Honor those men and women of the church who did in fact die for the courage of their convictions.

Beatify them, the Franz Weisses and Johannes Maassens. Teach children about their heroism.
If that were to happen, can you imagine the wave of healing and peace that could sweep across the land?
~ RHS.

History: January through December 2008

May 21, 2008
Getting out our quarterly newsletter is always a bear of a project. The old maxim "Spend money to save time, spend time to save money" definitely applies to our operations at present. What takes half a day for better-funded organizations requires a good week for us, a week that ends with aching hands and backs, and plenty of paper cuts.

Not complaining, not really. It's just that "the newsletter" is so fresh on my mind, since it finally was marked off my to-do list yesterday.

I was surprised at how polarizing this particular issue of our newsletter turned out to be. (
Check it out for yourself.) I did not see anything extraordinary about it, anything that would be deemed too radical. But evidently, the themes of informed dissent and civil disobedience do not sit well in red states.

The thing that really leaves me dumbfounded, however: Schools that are all ga-ga over the White Rose, sponsor White Rose events, name buildings or conferences for the White Rose (or usually only Hans and Sophie Scholl - these schools rarely delve any deeper into the story than that), and in general profess to admire what these students did in 1943. And yet some of these same schools, colleges, universities, shrink back at the notions of civil disobedience and informed dissent!

What can they possibly be thinking? How could the revolution perpetrated by the White Rose, or for that matter, the American Revolution of 1776, be any more just or justifiable than standing up and shouting a very loud NO when our government infringes on the rights of our citizens in 2008? There's such a huge logical disconnect in these schools - and a particular one in Pennsylvania comes to mind immediately - and they themselves are blind to it.

It is important to conscientiously consider what we believe and why, and to make rational, coherent decisions based on those beliefs.

In other words, you can't deify the White Rose on the one hand, and villify Cindy Sheehan on the other. What we believe demands consistency.

May 8, 2008
It snowed here in Utah on May 1. Not a light dusting, but real snow. On May 1! Which reminded me that in Munich, during that fateful year (1942) when White Rose work got underway, it snowed in Munich on May 1.

But . . . it is once and for all spring in Utah! And things look brighter, more hopeful. We live far above the valley floor, so it's taken longer. Down in Salt Lake City, trees have leafed out, the forsythia have nearly lost their yellow glow, and lawns have greened to perfection. While up here on Traverse Mountain, our apple trees at long last hint at green to come, and white blossoms promise to explode in a day or two.

Spring has made us wait for its delights. At times, the waiting seemed interminable, as if winter had become a permanent fixture, and we would never be rid of the cold.

The long days working on the 2007 update, with chill seeping in through storm windows, took a lot out of me. For one thing, except for the "Christl and Alex" part of the update, the subject matter was darker than usual. There's a reason people have blocked archives and censored documents. They've had things to hide, things that directly affect the White Rose story, things that help us understand background and motivation.

With that lethal combination of dark story and dark winter days (in April!), it was harder than most people realize to force myself to keep working on the update. Several times I simply had to walk away for 48 hours, catch my breath, and concentrate on something else. And this was only the update for Volume One! I'm only now beginning to work on the Volume Two update. At least, at least, it's sunny outdoors.

As difficult as that writing exercise was, I feel it makes an unbelievably important contribution to White Rose scholarship. Our new knowledge raises more questions, but those questions are healthy and useful. If nothing else, the update forces us to acknowledge how absolutely central and critical Christoph Probst and Alexander Schmorell were to White Rose resistance.

That will become even clearer in the Volume Two update. I hope with all my heart that people finally start listening to truth, that instead of relegating the most thoughtful and clear-thinking people (like Christl and Alex) to the sidelines, they will begin to assume their rightful place center stage.

These musings have been fermenting since writing the post below (April 10). In the interim, I have met some extraordinary people right here in Utah. German-Jewish Holocaust survivors who managed to escape in 1937 / 1938 with their lives and little else, people who lost parents and other family members who could not emigrate. They have touched me with their warmth and affection, with their willingness to talk about their lives in 1930s Germany, and with their willingness to hear me babble on about the White Rose.

These dear people remind me why we do what we do. Our "histories" strive to put German resistance in the context of that era's current events. What these noble people undertook did not take place in a vacuum. They witnessed the humiliation of Jewish neighbors, they lived next door to Jewish families, they heard the announcement of the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 firsthand. And for some of these students and the adults who learned from them, those events provided the catalyst for their protests.

We've got to see the faces of the greater community ~ not merely the familiar photographs of these White Rose students, but the society they lived in. Those other faces are important too, if we will understand what drove them to sacrifice their lives for freedom and justice.

Back to work! With the music of children playing, riding bicycles, walking home from school in the background. It is SPRING in Utah!

April 10, 2008
(Originally posted on Facebook as note entitled "Beautiful Deceptions")

I am finally closing in on the last of our 2007 White Rose update. It was a project I had looked forward to, because the update would allow our readers to know more about Christoph Probst, one of the noblest of all those associated with White Rose resistance.

Even the parts about the enigmatic Hirzel family were highly anticipated before I began writing. If nothing else, the Hirzels provide an amazing snapshot of a conflicted family, one that had a conscience, one that loved Germany, one that wanted to do something morally just, but in the end, a family that wrongly thought everything should be left up to God. As if God had parted the Red Sea, defeated Haman, and every single other “miracle” without human involvement.

But as I have plowed through the new Scholl material - some of it given to me through a “back door” (materials Inge Scholl had and would not share), some of it included in the fairly recent Thomas Hartnagel book - I have been sickened anew by the “beautiful deceptions” that Inge Scholl and her family have perpetrated on the world. With help from people like Marc Rothemund, Fred Breinersdorfer, Michael Verhoeven, and others like them.

There are three main complaints against the Scholls.

First, it was one of the most self-centered families connected in any way with the White Rose. Especially Hans, Inge, and the father Robert, but even Sophie, seemed to think the world revolved around them, that they deserved only the best and the brightest. In their mind, it was not a matter of “wanting” pretty baubles. They thought they “needed” them. Even as Sophie treated Fritz Hartnagel like dirt, she continued to write him and ask him to buy her wool or candy or coffee. No wonder Inge Scholl had censored these letters. Surprising that the Scholl nephew would publish them.

Second, where the Hirzels were merely wishy-washy, thinking if they prayed hard enough, Hitler would be run out of town, Robert Scholl was comfortable on both sides of the fence. If he was talking to a Communist, he was for a planned economy. If he was around people like Otl Aicher who nursed strong democratic thoughts, he talked freedom and “down with Hitler.” If he was around his Nazi friends, then Sieg Heil, full steam ahead. It is most telling that his closest friend - and this is according to Inge Scholl herself - was Friedrich Mussgay, head of the Stuttgart Gestapo and an original member and leader of the SS-Einsatzgruppen. You can even view Mussgay's “Nazi” business card online. Google is a wonderful tool. (Inge happily did not anticipate it!)

This same attitude is mirrored most strongly in Hans and Inge Scholl. Inge, of course, never renounced the Nazi racial ideology and anti-Semitism she taught as Ringfuehrerin in Ulm. She merely pretended it had never happened. But Hans too seemed comfortable around Nazi friends and his White Rose pals. It makes no sense.

The third and most damning thing, the thing that is making me want to either quit White Rose work completely, or at the very least take a bath in clorox, is the way the Scholls have covered their anti-Semitism to this very day. Thomas Hartnagel published all but 80 of the Sophie/Fritz letters. The gaps in those eighty primarily come from two critical dates:

*Kristallnacht, when the Scholls were the only “Aryans” in a Jewish apartment building previously owned by Jakob Guggenheim. There's a two-month gap in ALL Scholl correspondence from November 9 through the end of December. Only one or two sentences from extant letters appear in footnotes - so we know the letters exist, and we can assume they don't have anything positive to say about Jewish neighbors, else Inge would have been all over them like white on rice.

*Their move from that “Jewish” apartment building to the great apartment on Muensterplatz that had previously been inhabited by a Jewish family, run out of Ulm after Kristallnacht. Again, we know letters exist because of footnotes, but they are not published. Since the Scholls moved from a small apartment to a very, very large one, it is safe to assume that there's a lot about that transaction we are not supposed to know.

What makes this feeling of “dirtiness” so hard to bear is that I feel so helpless in getting out the REAL White Rose story. People who toe the Scholl line get all the money from the German government - and believe me, we are not talking pennies from heaven, we are talking millions of dollars. So they are being rewarded for perpetuating a lie, and with all that money they can afford to keep spreading the lie as if it were gospel.

Meanwhile, we struggle along, trying to get people to listen. But no one wants to believe that the sugary-sweet story is anything but the truth.

I do not know what to do.

History: January through December 2007

(Photo is of Lilo Ramdohr and her grandson Domenic... September 2007)

November 13, 2007
Thomas Friedman's October 10 Newsweek column challenged today's college students to break away from their 'Generation Q' - the quiet generation - stereotype and do more to effect change in our society. Many of his points are well-taken, especially comments about some being content to upload their concern, a so-called Facebook activism.

When I read his words about a month ago, I found myself agreeing with him. After all, my generation marched on Washington, joined the Peace Corps (one friend died while serving), and held peaceful and not-so-peaceful demonstrations against the injustices of our day.

Then we grew up, settled down, and lost our idealism and willingness to take risks on behalf of others. It's always harder to fight injustice when we're personally comfortable.

The more I've thought about it, the less I agree with Friedman. What we need is tikkun olam, repairing this old world. Give me slow and steady informed dissent any day, the kind of passion that still goes to football games and school dances, yet is deadly serious about doing whatever can be done to make our society whole. Especially when that passion lasts a lifetime.

I love seeing Naomi Iser and her Brandeis friends publicly declare their fast on behalf of Darfur relief ~ as one of many ways they have embraced that issue. Or Tim Hansen and Amy Samuelsen and their entourage at Brigham Young University agonizing over the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979 and concluding: "We need to help the world."

But informed dissent cannot and should not be limited to the Big Things like genocide ~ although if images of Darfur now and Cambodia then don't elicit righteous indignation, a person is likely emotionally dead. Still, real activism has no heart if we can get upset about events halfway around the world while remaining numb to human rights abuses next door and wounds suffered by our neighbors.

So I am equally happy when I note that Robert Barton (also of BYU) noiselessly gives his time to volunteer, to help out in 'small spaces.' Or when I read that five Baylor University guys took their friend's close call with suicide to heart. And set out to
do something about the epidemic of hopelessness.

This is the true message of the White Rose students and the adults who learned from them. Yes, they attempted grandiose things, noble feats of conscience. But all of that would have meant nothing if Willi Graf had not been willing to give up his seat on the streetcar to Russian women, forced laborers in Munich. If Alex Schmorell and Nikolai Nikolaeff-Hamasaspian had not taken food and clothing to POWs and more of those forced laborers, also in Munich. If Traute Lafrenz had not assisted her Jewish neighbors in Hamburg when the noose tightened.

Caring about the wrongs that are right in front of our face should ~ must ~ accompany activism and even attend acts of civil disobedience.

Informed dissent? Means caring more about integrity and about the powerless more than we care for our own comfort. Because once you start caring, actions follow.

October 25, 2007
It's a good thing I made no promises this time last year. Otherwise, I'd have some major apologizing to do!

To be painfully honest, White Rose work pretty much came to a standstill over the last twelve months. It didn't make sense any longer. I felt like - we all felt like - we were butting our heads up against a brick wall that had been reinforced with commercial-grade steel and topped off with barbed wire. Any time we tried to do anything that put "the truth" of the White Rose story out there, any time we bucked the system or took on the well-funded White Rose establishment in Munich, we ended up suffering the consequences. And made nary a dent in a well-oiled, corrupt machine.

I don't know about you, but I am not a person who relishes pain. Even the emotional kind.

So it was easier to put "White Rose" on hold and concentrate on things that made me and our family happy. We moved to Utah (because the unemployment rate out here is much lower than on the East Coast or in Texas, and it was easier to find a job unrelated to White Rose), stored our archives in the basement in unopened boxes, and did as little as possible.

Luckily, Dr. Igor Chramov in Orenburg, Russia is a persistent fellow. Although we didn't answer his initial 2007 email about the Schmorell conference in September, he followed up. And followed up. For reasons I don't understand to this day, we decided to go to Orenburg after all. It was not necessarily a "rational" decision. The trip was horribly expensive, I was unmotivated by the topic, and by the time the conference rolled around, I was up to my eyeballs in non-White Rose work. It seemed like a terrible choice to have made.

The Orenburg part of the trip was preceded by a week in Germany. We visited old friends in Bad Heilbrunn, people and place that serve as a favorite flannel nightgown or broken-in hiking shoes. For several days, we simply basked in the warmth that comes from that kind of friendship.

Equally important, we visited two of the White Rose women we hold dear. The first visit nearly didn't happen. Herta Probst is not well, and her family tends to protect her from people and things that would drag her down. Especially after the Probst family's awful experience with the recent Sophie Scholl movie - in which Christoph Probst was falsely portrayed as the weakling, when Hans Scholl was the one who almost fainted (and so on and so on) - they can hardly work up the strength to tackle anything related to the White Rose. It doesn't seem to matter how loudly or correctly they attempt to rectify history, to persuade writers to "get it right the first time." There's so much invested in The Official Legend that no one listens to them.

The plan therefore involved a ten-minute "hello" to Herta Probst, followed by dinner with one of her children.

Four hours later, we were still talking, eating cake and drinking coffee, laughing even at the ridiculousness of some of the pompous asses who put on a big White Rose show with no substance behind them.

This conversation began to effect a change inside me, reminding me why our work is important, why it's important not to give up even when the "pompous asses" seem to be winning. I saw anew the faces of the White Rose that make this story so personal, so very valid for the 21st century. When Herta recalled the shenanigans her beloved husband and Schurik had pulled, the silliness that had been heart and soul of a powerful friendship that eventually led both to give up their lives for freedom and justice, I saw and heard "my" BYU team in all their crazy glory, hearts of gold, yearning for a world where injustice is a thing of the past.

The next day, we sat across the table once again from Lilo Ramdohr, this time joined by her precious grandson. A new generation is joining the work of "keeping true memories alive". In Domenic's face, I could see the passion that once had been on Lilo's, when she was a young woman fresh out of college, caught up in an unwanted intrigue for the sake of her friend Schurik, and for the sake of Germany. Lilo's health is failing too - she turned 94 on October 11 - so it is important for Domenic and all the other grandchildren of these White Rose families to become actively involved in righting the record.

Yet as is so often the case, the "good guys" have largely kept silent over the past sixty years. For the most part, they have quietly gone about their lives, never seeking fame or fortune for their virtues, past or present. The 'new generation' is therefore under-informed about their grandparents' heroics. They know only that it's a topic that's hardly ever brought up, although "White Rose" in general often consumes the German media.

It's rarely these "good guys" who hog the media spotlight. I saw with Domenic that our work involves far more than merely recording an accurate history for scholars and young students to read. We can also fill in the gaps for children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who badly need to know just how heroic some of their family was.

[And I have yet to figure out how an entire nation of "scholars" has allowed the fraud to be perpetrated so long, to the point that those who proudly wore the swastika during the Third Reich are allowed to posture and swagger before the cameras, with no one dragging them off the stage in handcuffs for blatant lies. I understand why the liars do it - it must be awful living with the guilty conscience of a Nazi past, even if none of them was a guard at Auschwitz - but I don't understand why tenured professors, government officials, radio and television journalists, and keepers of archives let them get away with it. - Note that I include U.S. "scholars" in this indictment, because way too many American universities regularly invite known Nazis posing as "freedom fighters" to speak on campus - without challenging one word of their speeches. Unforgivable.]

The Russian leg of the trip started off traumatically. We arrived on September 12. Moscow felt like it was under siege, almost a martial law mentality. Police on every street corner, Kremlin off limits, no one "able" to speak either German or English when we asked directions. We came oh-so-close to turning around and heading back to Bad Heilbrunn, where we felt safe. Our airport hotel in Moscow did not even have Internet service, so in the short space of a day, we began to feel cut off from the rest of the world. A scary place to be.

(A couple of days later, we heard that Putin had dissolved his government the day we were "in town". And a new Siberian friend told us that the day before - yes, September 11 - there had been a suicide bomber, evidently near the Kremlin, in Moscow. No wonder the city was on edge!)

After an equally rough start in Orenburg - no Internet service there either, among other things - the change that began with the visit with Herta Probst blossomed into a full-fledged turning point. I cannot go into too many details, as I am still processing some of the conversations and conclusions.

What I can tell you: I saw firsthand the great White Rose dichotomy, up close and personal. At that memorial service on the occasion of what would have been Alexander Schmorell's ninetieth birthday, a decidedly motley crew had gathered.

Some had come because German and Russian television cameras showed up. They made sure they were front and center of photo ops. They tried to grab the best tables whenever we ate together (and we ate together a lot!). They genuflected before the graven image of fifteen minutes of fame. In short, they represent on a small scale the larger circle of would-be scholars who nearly drove me away from this topic that for so long has been my passion.

But there were others there as well, the "others" I felt comfortable with, "others" who gladdened my heart and renewed my hope for Truth. I changed my opinion about a couple of people whose work I had known about without knowing them - positive change. We discussed and debated our differing conclusions. It felt good to be among these "others" who care as much as I do about getting the story right - the first time.

We left Orenburg completely exhausted, but convinced we had to return to White Rose work full-time. Effective today, we are doing just that.

It's funny in some ways. We came to Utah, expecting to put the White Rose behind us. Over the past few years as we have sent out our newsletters, I've always felt like BYU - Brigham Young University - would be the last place that could ever be hospitable to the true White Rose story. LDS theology does not encourage civil disobedience. When I've seen Mormon missionaries in Texas, the East Coast, in Germany, I've always envisioned even Mormon young people as complete conformists who only do as they are told, without thinking, reflexively as it were.

Just as Orenburg renewed my vision for our White Rose efforts and changed my mind about some of the "players", living and working among BYU students has definitely changed my mind about BYU. True, LDS theology does not encourage civil disobedience. But "my" BYU team showed me that they care very much about right and wrong, about social justice, about values that matter. They subscribe to a very strict honor code, yet they are anything but conformists. I'm proud that some of them have become my friends. They have renewed my hope in students who are willing to be themselves, stand up for what is right, and in so doing, change the world.

Who knows? A year that started out one way may prove to end up completely different.

One thing is for certain. I am different.