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Thursday, June 25, 2009

History: January through December 2005

November 7, 2005
One of my "guilty pleasures" is the Thursday night show on CBS, Without a Trace. It's got some of the best writing on TV. If they would just make Sam Spade less of a doormat, it could start winning Emmys.

But I had forgotten how gripping I found last season's cliffhanger until the new season got underway in September. In case you missed it: A young woman ~ very, very reminiscent of Sophie Scholl ~ shot and killed a known genocidal general outside his consulate. She had always been a "good girl," good grades, good reputation, good works.

Yet after she found out about the millions this man had slaughtered, and after she realized that the American government would do nothing to stop him ~ he was an ally, after all ~ she took matters into her own hands and shot him.

In May as in September, the script made me wonder what the difference was between that young woman, who was arrested for obviously breaking the law, and Sophie, Traute, Kaethe, and the other young women of the White Rose. Sophie famously told Susanne Hirzel that if she had a gun and saw Hitler walking down the street, she would not hesitate to kill him.

We deem Sophie a heroine. If you believe the hype surrounding the new Sophie Scholl mythos in Germany, German parents want their daughters to grow up to be Sophie.

But do we really? Do we really want our daughters to take on tyrants with a pistol, to sacrifice their lives for a just cause? Or is it merely hype? Hype that makes us feel better about "those" days without doing a damn thing about our days?

What IS the "ethics of resistance," the ethics of treason? When is it right to break the law in the name of rightness and justice, and when is it not? Who gets to decide? Is history the final arbiter? Or can we know right here, right now that our actions ~ our illegal actions ~ answer to a higher law?

These musings only intensified upon the death of Rosa Parks, another "Sophie" ~ and interestingly, about Sophie's age in real time ~ who risked death by sitting in a bus. Before she acted, others who had acted had been murdered by policemen for doing the exact same thing. Ethics of treason, ethics of "criminal" acts to right wrongs...

I don't have the answer to my own questions. But if we are to "get" the White Rose story and understand Sophie's resistance, Willi's backbone, Traute's defiance, Schurik's passion, Kaethe's small courage, then we need to think about why we deem them heroes. Whom do we wish today's youth to emulate, and why?

On a different note: Thanks to Armin Ziegler, I have a copy of the new book of letters written by and between Sophie Scholl and Fritz Hartnagel. Look for
my review of the book on our White Rose Web site.

It's a vast improvement over prior Scholl-centric documents, but there are still a few disappointing gaps that remain unaddressed. However, if it's a turning point in the Scholl/Hartnagel relationship to White Rose research, I greet it (and them) with open arms.

September 12, 2005
Making some progress, slow and steady, on Volume III of the White Rose History. However, that research has opened a completely unexpected line of work.

Part of Volume III includes tracing what happened to surviving White Rose members or their families after the war. I may not be a Scholl fan, but the Oct. 1943-May 1945 timeline does include Elisabeth, Fritz, Werner, yes, and even Inge. The appendix to Volume III is a "Hall of Fame and Shame," what became of each person.

While chasing rabbits regarding Scholls, I fell into a Wonderland hole that will either generate a Volume IV, or a completely separate work altogether. For once you start looking at anything in Germany postwar, you have to deal with Americans and Brits who shaped and molded contemporary German society.

Suddenly, Inge's ability to create a White Rose legend that enjoyed widespread official support ~ not merely from German authority figures, but also legitimized by the occupying Powers That Be ~ began to make sense. The Allies seemed to have been less interested in genuine de-Nazification, and more intent on re-education. It was more important to have good stories told by compliant story-tellers than it was to underwrite scholarship and reward those who had actually resisted Hitler.

Compliance, not conviction, was the postwar watchword.

It's been more than a bit disillusioning. I guess any time we delve past the carefully constructed facade and examine "politics" for its true goals and aims, we are bound and determined to become a little cynical. Volume IV (with a working title of "American News and World Report") is no exception.

Oh well. Sometimes we have to be sure we really want to ask our questions. Because we may not particularly care for the answers when they come.

July 28, 2005
It is with genuine sadness that I must report the death of Dr. Erich Schmorell. Received an email from the Russian "Schmorell biographer," Dr. Igor Chramow. He said that our friend ~ whose memory is truly for a blessing ~ died on July 15.

For many years, Dr. Schmorell and the Probst family were the only ones with backbone enough to stand up to Inge Scholl. They paid dearly for their courage, being shunned by official White Rose people, all but ignored by German scholarship. They resigned from the White Rose Foundation (Weisse-Rose-Stiftung) in protest, and no one paid them any heed.

But like their more famous relatives Alex Schmorell and Christoph Probst, they did what was right, regardless of consequences. For that, I honor them, and on this day especially a man and his wife whom we cherished deeply. I can never eat asparagus without thinking of their tremendous hospitality and openness.

July 13, 2005
Has it really been almost three months since I added to this journal? So much for resolutions...

When I wrote on April 27, I had just returned from speaking out at Sonoma State University, a very pleasant experience indeed. Their students were attentive and asked excellent questions. I knew they'd actually listened when one young woman raised her hand and wondered aloud how they had kept track of all the money that Eugen Grimminger raised on their behalf. Hmm, a business/history major, perhaps?

Especially gratifying when Dr. Goodman's call for Darfur Relief after the lecture was met with significant positive response from those same students. That is the effect that the telling of the White Rose story should have.

A month later, I got to speak at the annual dinner of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Fulbright Association. I feel "connected" to this group, having Fulbrighted in 1977. Great fun to meet a recent graduate who was heading out on her Fulbright experience to Venezuela in a couple of months, along with a young German student about to return home.

During the Q&A, I talked about the topics the students and the adults who learned from them debated and discussed. The "White Rose" was not homogeneous, neither religiously nor politically. Their debates were fiery, impassioned. As most good debates are. But with tremendous respect for the 'opponent.'

Among the topics I described was one that truly consumed the students in Munich, namely the separation of church and state. In general, they believed that Germany needed separation of church and state, that lack of same was part of the reason Hitler had come to power and stayed in power, once there. What "separation of church and state" looked like was a different matter.

Initially, the subject matter stirred up a very interesting conversation among the Fulbrighters assembled. Which was not surprising, considering the presence of a German Fulbrighter and several who ~ like me ~ had studied in Germany. We know how Germany continues to struggle with this question, how it remains divisive among the populace who chafe under church tax, and clerics who like guaranteed state funding (instead of depending on voluntary individual contributions) and the power that comes with it.

[I did not mention this at the dinner, but in the late 1970s, one of my good friends in Augsburg along with eleven of his fellow students were kicked out of the University of Augsburg's school of theology for questioning ~ not opposing, merely questioning ~ the validity of church tax, infant baptism, and celibacy of the priesthood. They pointed out that not one of those three "doctrines" was part of Catholic theology for the first 300 years of the existence of the Catholic church. No matter. The Bishop of Augsburg unceremoniously kicked them out of the school of theology anyway.]

The wonderful spirited discussion was completely and totally ruined by a Viennese woman who had lived in Vienna during WW2. That is, under the Nazis. She claimed ~ in the whiny voice that characterizes so many people like her ~ that there indeed had been separation of church and state during the Third Reich, because the entire Roman Catholic Church had courageously stood against the Nazis.

After recovering from the shock of hearing what is essentially Holocaust denial of a different sort ~ not denying that the Shoah happened, but rewriting its history nonetheless ~ I told her that I must respectfully disagree with her, because history itself did not support her claim. She would not stop. She kept interrupting people who had additional questions or comments. Not once or twice, but three or four times. Always that whiny voice, always saying that the entire Catholic church had resisted Hitler.

At one point, I commented that indeed, there had been courageous priests and clerics, both Catholic and Lutheran, who had resisted Hitler, and that they had paid dearly. But that they were the exception and not the norm. She would not stop, so finally I said, "Bitte schweigen Sie!" (please be quiet) in the most authoritative German I could muster. She stopped, finally, but the damage had been done.

Her type of whiny outburst seems to occur wherever people gather to consider the horrors of the Holocaust. Elderly Germans show up at synagogues and Jewish organizations, disrupting the Q&A of Holocaust lecture series every single time with a "weeeee didn't knoooow" or something similar. Like this woman ~ whose outburst was more ridiculous because she is a Fulbrighter, for crying out loud, a supposedly educated woman ~ they generally add a "you were not there and I was so I know and you don't" when the speaker was born after 1945. As if that entitles them to rewrite history.

I frankly don't know how to handle this sort of verbal revisionism. I'm trying to learn how to deal with it, because its very frequency of occurrence demands that I do. Anyone reading this who has suggestions, post a comment here, please!

Sadly, people like this Viennese Fulbrighter often obscure the real progress that is being made ~ slowly, but it's there ~ in public German discourse about the Shoah. Most of the real work is being done by the younger generation, by young adults not unlike the White Rose students. They are not afraid to open locked trunks in attics or dust off documents buried in closed archives. They shame their forebears, a shame that is healthy and will in the end be Germany's redemption.

That experience prompted me to write a short essay entitled Papal Fallibility, included in this blog as a separate entry. Comments are welcome. Death threats? Not so much.

April 27, 2005
It feels good to come up for air now that Volume II of my White Rose History is shipping. Knew that "the" database had lots of information in it, but never dreamed just how much until I started writing.

Fact-checking was a bear this time around. Volume II is even more controversial than Volume I (and you thought that stirred up a hornet's nest ~ ha!, it's child's play compared to Volume II!). But controversial in a good way.

Because these students and the adults who learned from them really shine. Yes, they do dumb things. They wouldn't be human if they didn't. And yes, they make some hurtful mistakes that cost many others their freedom, such as Hans Scholl's inclusion of Gisela Schertling in group activities despite knowing her Nazi attitudes, and her subsequent betrayal of nearly everyone.

And I had to write about the rift after February 9. That's easier to put in a timeline than it was to narrate in this book, especially since the consequences of that rift were much greater than I had understood before. It was such a painful parting of the ways. And it leaves us with the question of how we do and should react when a "movement" we align ourselves with takes on a direction we don't like. How they handled it (badly) opens the door for discussion about what we should do in the same case. Not quite sure there are easy answers for this question.

I'm sure there will be a number of people who really, really won't like this book, because there are no sacred cows, no taboos. If we are to honor these people, we must honor them as they were, not as we wish them to be. Sometimes it's hard to let go of the halo and pedestal ~ harder for us than for the people perched atop that pedestal, wearing that halo, you know?

We continue to call for an end to German censorship, for an end to closed archives and blocked (and missing) transcripts. Our ongoing work in that area moves at a snail's pace. Watch this Web site ~ along with the Center for White Rose Studies site ~ for more information about that.

Please keep talking to us, especially as you read the histories. What moves you? Did anything in their lives speak directly to you? It's a powerful story when the legend is removed. We want to hear how it affected you.

Back to work. Miles to go before I sleep!

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