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Otl Aicher. Innenseiten des Kriegs. Frankfurt: S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, 1985.
    Be prepared to hate this important little book. Aicher's unrelenting use of bauhaus, with its artificial affectation of lower case, is enough to drive a sane scholar crazy. You rely on those capital letters to differentiate between nouns and verbs in German. With Aicher, that crutch is gone.
    And he goes on and on - and on! - about the philosophical and theological implications of every tiny event. He seems incapable of stating that The Sky Is Blue. That four-word declaration could require four chapters in Aicher's world.
    But be prepared to laugh and cry and suck in your breath if you can wade past the external annoyances. Aicher tells some of the best tales about the White Rose that have ever been recorded. His memories fill in the crucial gaps regarding who took which side in the debates the friends often engaged in.
    Best of all, Aicher does not sanitize the story for sensitive readers. What was ugly then stays ugly now. He refuses to whitewash gaping character flaws, even if found in people he held dear. For that alone, this book is worth a serious read.

Detlef Bald. Die Weisse Rose: Von der Front in den Widerstand. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 2003.
    Detlef Bald has two things to say in this modest book. First, that the assignment on the Russian Front from July to October 1942 was the deciding factor in the decision to resist. And second, that he's the only person who's ever made this momentous assertion.
    Not only is his premise wrong - nearly every person who has ever written about the White Rose has talked about what a crucial time the Russian Front was for White Rose development - but his scholarship is faulty.
    A shame actually, because he could have made a tremendous contribution to White Rose scholarship. His background is in military history. He knows how to trace troop movements, what strategies were being employed. Best of all, he is completely at home in military archives. Simply put, he knew what to ask when tracking the arduous journey from Munich to the Russian Front and back again.
    But instead of concentrating on his strength, he aims for celebrity. He seems to have reached his conclusion (that what Hans Scholl, Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf and Hubert Furtwaengler saw on the Russian Front created their informed dissent) before doing the research. And tried to force the facts to match that conclusion.
    For example, page after page he talks about the brutality of e.g. an Einsatzgruppe, only to say, "Well, they never saw this happen, but if they had..." He cites atrocities committed by the 252nd battalion as if they bore witness to that particular act of bestiality. When you check out the endnotes, you find that oops! That particular event happened in 1941, a full year before they were in Russia.
    This criticism in no way diminishes the egregious nature of much of the brutality that did in fact take place. But the things that he cites as motivation for Scholl, Graf, Schmorell, and Furtwaengler resistance apply in actual fact solely to Willi Graf, who did indeed endure the agony of seeing the 252nd - men he knew as comrades - do things in 1941 that left him beyond despair and determined to do something once he was furloughed to Munich.
    Bald's book is also weakened by an excessive reliance on Juergen Wittenstein's so-called diary entries and letters to his mother. Bald has trumpeted his use of Wittenstein's "memories" as a Wow!-moment. When in fact, no scholar worth her salt would rely on those documents. They are not only uncorroborated, but they are reconstructed. (Yes, I have a copy.) Wittenstein's actual diary and letters were destroyed in a fire in 1942. These "reconstructions" were put together presumably recently, as the first time he ever talked about them was around 2000.
    Post-war reconstructions are always iffy at best (especially when reconstructed by someone who was a member of the NSDAP). However, it's almost laughable to use his "memoirs" in a White Rose work, since he doesn't mention those supposed friends or their work. Not even in the reconstruction.
    Bald takes Wittenstein's diary entries from the days in Russia and applies them to the experience of the entire group. Never mind that he knows, and he admits that he knows, that Wittenstein was not part of the group after the first three days on the train to Warsaw. Scholl, Graf, Schmorell, and Furtwaengler stayed together for the duration, btu Wittenstein was split off (he was never part of their tight-knit circle of friends, neither in Munich nor in Russia).
    I would attribute Bald's errors in this regard to naive enthusiasm since Wittenstein spins a great story. Except.
    When it serves his purpose, Bald quotes Willi Graf's diaries and letters. He used Graf's description of their walk through Vyaz'ma shortly after arriving on the Russian Front. Willi said, The day goes quickly. In the afternoon, Vyaz'ma. A lousy march further to the meeting place at the front, first deployment, accommodation in quarters. The five of us strolled around the city. Filth, poverty, German marching music. On the hill, mid houses and rubble, the church.
    Inge Jens and Anneliese Knoop-Graf researched the five of us, since there were several candidates for the fifth position: Wittenstein, Hans Goltermann, and Raimund Samueller. They found that Samueller had kept a diary (he had also been in the same train compartment with Furtwaengler and Graf on the way to the Russian Front) and that he was the fifth. And they noted this, along with additional supporting documentation, including the fact that Wittenstein had been split off from the group by then.
    So: Bald quotes Willi Graf's diary entry, rendered above, and then says, "Furtwaengler, Graf, Schmorell, Scholl, and Wittenstein gained a first impression of everyday war when they took a walk through the city marred by destruction."
    Finally, to make his point he jumps all over the chronological timeline. Bald writes about the conditions imposed on the Russian Front at a specific date, and then "proves" his statement with supporting documentation from a completely different time.
    I learned a great deal about the face of the war on the Russian Front. Detlef Bald's knowledge and experience as a military historian makes sense of bunkers and the unwinnable strategy of Hitler's war.
    If he had stuck with interpreting the cryptic entries in Willi Graf's diary or expanded on the militaristic aspects of the things that bothered Hans Scholl's utopian visions, his book could have been a valuable addition to White Rose literature.
    Instead, the good on his pages gets lost in the braggadocio.

(c) 2003 by Ruth Hanna Sachs. Please contact Ruth for permission to quote

Shareen Blair Brysac. Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
    If Shareen Blair Brysac had tackled the topic of the White Rose in 2000, we would not have had to write our White Rose histories. Her account of Mildred Fish Harnack’s involvement in the so-called Red Orchestra resistance is detailed, leaving few stones unturned.
    She paints a portrait of Mildred as she was, the person behind the philosophy. In stark contrast to most White Rose “scholarship”, we see Mildred’s foibles, her feet of clay. And not surprisingly, we’re still drawn to the individual who gave her life fighting the Nazis, despite of – because of! – her humanness.
    Of special significance, Blair Brysac does not seek to minimize the role of Mildred’s affinity for the ‘virtues of Communism’ and her enthusiasm for all things Russian. She doesn’t leave it at that. We also learn who the Harnacks’ American contacts were and the attempts they made to pass along crucial, confidential information to pre-CIA sources.
    But it’s that unflinching willingness to depict Mildred’s complex political beliefs that sets Blair Brysac’s work apart from so much “resistance” narrative that seeks to satisfy a specific political agenda instead of simply telling it like it is. I dare say we’re all full of contradictions, if only we’d admit it. Sad that most official biographies tend to overlook the paradoxes and inconsistencies that befuddle the human race.
    Although the White Rose rates only a footnote in Blair Brysac’s book, she covers topics that increase our understanding of who these students in Munich were, and with whom they were associated.

  • Falk Harnack’s correspondence with his young nephew Wolfgang Havemann turns out not to have been as superficial as originally suspected.
  • Blair Brysac confirmed what our research had already yielded, namely that the Bonhoeffer and Harnack families had intermarried for generations. As we reported in White Rose History Volume II, Falk’s invitation to the White Rose friends to meet his cousin Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Berlin was legitimate and demonstrated the potential for effective resistance.
  • Only when we grasp the horror of the December 1942 and February 16, 1943 executions of “Red Orchestra conspirators” can we get a feel for what drove Falk Harnack and the White Rose friends to seek out one another’s company. Lilo Fürst-Ramdohr gave us a glimpse into the workings of this tenuous cooperative effort. Blair Brysac merely provides a different vantage point for the same experience.

    If Blair Brysac’s book has a weakness, it is solely that she did not interview Lilo Fürst-Ramdohr or use her memoirs as a resource. Lilo did not know Mildred and Arvid primarily as freedom fighters, although she was aware of their work. To her, they were Falk’s beloved brother and sister-in-law, a couple engaged in a noble fight.
    But in skipping Lilo’s account, Blair Brysac missed out on what I think is one of the sweetest Mildred anecdotes around.
    December 31, 1941: [Mildred] cautiously turned the conversation to Arvid. “You know, Lilo, a person must truly love the Harnacks if he is to understand them. Sometimes Arvid can be hard and injurious to me. But I have a good weapon for that. I put flowers on the night stand like nothing has happened. Then everything is all right again. Arvid is completely penitent and full of twice as much love towards me.”
    That small misstep can be forgiven, however. That’s why you need our White Rose histories!
    Disclaimer: In 2001, at one of the lowest points in our White Rose work, I maintained a brief but intense correspondence with Shareen Blair Brysac. I told her about our struggles to get people to listen, how everyone seemed content with Inge Scholl’s “legend”-ary fiction. She encouraged me to keep going, saying that when she researched her book, she began to suspect that what she knew of the White Rose was not the truth, that their story needed the same scrutiny she had given Mildred Harnack’s life. That gave me the lift I needed. – RHS. 

 Breinersdorfer, Fred, Ed. Sophie Scholl ~ Die letzten Tage (Das Buch zum Film). Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 2005.
    One positive thing can be said for this book: Fred Breinersdorfer had the courage to publish his uncensored screenplay. And his historical consultant Ulrich Chaussy did a great job of researching "place" for the movie.
    But the kudos essentially stop there.
    Fred Breinersdorfer obviously wanted to make a movie that was unlike the pabulum filmed by Michael Verhoeven in the 1980s. He had the perfect opportunity to get it right. And yet he could not resist the temptation to fall back on legend when he needed a sentimental moment or two in his movie.
    He also did not permit the characters to be who they truly were. That utter nobility in the courtroom, Sophie’s uncommon courage? All true. But that courage was merely one part of a whole. By limiting the viewers’ knowledge of what really transpired during the interrogations, Breinersdorfer may have solidified the notion of Sophie Scholl as martyr, but he did nothing to help us comprehend what made a young woman sacrifice her life for idealistic notions of liberty and justice. If the White Rose story is to make any sense, if it is to remain relevant well into the 21st century, we must paint integral portraits of these students and their mentors, “warts and all.” There are no warts in Breinersdorfer’s sentimental screenplay.
    Breinersdorfer also did a great injustice to the White Rose “group” as a whole. He rewrote Christl as a simpering, uncertain boy whose first and only thought was his children, a heroic coward who constantly looked to Hans Scholl for affirmation. Yes, Christl loved his wife and children with every fiber of his being. But as his wife said after the war, there were two Christls: One who loved his children, and one who loved his country so much he could not keep silent. That second Christl never surfaces in Breinersdorfer’s world.
    Indeed, the concept of this movie is flawed from the get-go. There are more than enough Scholl-centric tellings of the White Rose legend. We badly need a balanced version, and this isn’t it. Breinersdorfer surely would defend himself by stating that the White Rose was not the focus of this movie, that Sophie Scholl was.
    The larger ~ unanswered ~ question remains: Why should that be the case? Sophie Scholl was not the White Rose. For that matter, Hans and Sophie Scholl were not the White Rose, except in Inge Scholl’s postwar attempts to eradicate her own Nazi past and reap Marshall Fund rewards on the basis of her siblings’ heroism.
    That sounds cynical, but it is true. Nowhere in all the Scholl literature does Inge Scholl face up to the anti-Semitism and Nazi racial ideology she taught in her role as Ringführerin (responsible for education) in Ulm. She pretended it never happened, and hid behind the skirts of her noble brother and sister. In so doing, she created a White Rose mythology that in no way reflects reality.
    It’s nonsensical for a screenwriter of Fred Breinersdorfer’s stature to buy into Scholl legend. He squandered a perfectly good opportunity to right historical wrongs, to expand the focus of the camera away from Hans and Sophie Scholl. Instead of widening the lens, he narrowed it down to Sophie Scholl ~ at the expense of everyone else.
    If her story were more compelling than the others contained in the Bundesarchiv, I could perhaps be supportive of his decision to tell Sophie’s story. But her life was hardly the most compelling in the group. As much as I “like” Sophie (and she assuredly had more moral backbone and passion than her brother), I would rather see Alex’s story, or Willi’s, or even the very private Christoph Probst’s life portrayed on the silver screen. Or Traute’s!
    Sadly, we’re still waiting for a good White Rose movie. Verhoeven invented scenes out of whole cloth, and now Breinersdorfer comes along and repeats some of those inventions as if they were true.
    What makes this a “sad” occasion? For one all-too-brief moment in a scene that is cut and pasted into the wrong time and place, we see that Breinersdorfer has the ability to capture the voices of these students (and possibly their mentors, if he exerted himself). He “got” their friendship, the easygoing nature of the camaraderie they enjoyed and how that affected their resistance.
    If only he had told that story…

    Now that you've read this review, if you'd like to read more in-depth critique of the movie, click here.

(c) 2005 Ruth Hanna Sachs. All rights reserved. Please 
contact Ruth for permission to quote. 


Brenner, Heinz A. Dagegen. Leutkirch, Germany: Rud. Roth & Cie. KG, 1992.
    This is a very small book, only 116 pages long. But what pages!
    Brenner was classmate and friend to Hans Hirzel and Franz Josef Mueller. Had he not been on active duty in 1942-43, he would have participated in the resistance in Ulm. Because Heinz Brenner is the usually-unnamed hero behind the "secret mail" that so intrigued Hans Scholl. Brenner concocted the scheme to distribute the sermons of Bishop Galen on the subject of euthanasia.
    This little book traces the origins of his scandalous ideas to their implementation. (Contrary to usual White Rose legend, neither Hans Scholl nor Franz Josef Mueller was involved in the Galen sermon caper.) What sets it apart from the usual White Rose blather? Brenner provides copies of the actual handwritten notes and scrapbook items that were exchanged between him and his friends. I found myself repeatedly amazed at the audacity these teenagers exhibited.
    This would make an excellent discussion book for high school students and undergraduates. (German only.)







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