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February 20, 2006
Roses at Noon
The newsletter of the
Center for White Rose Studies

February 20, 2006 - Volume 5, Issue 1

Truthiness and the Sophie Scholl Movie

    The comedian Stephen Colbert coined the tongue-in-cheek term of "truthiness" - word of the year in 2005 - to mean information he wishes were true, even if it's not. "I'm not a fan of facts," he says on his show, as quoted by Newsweek. "You see, facts can change, but my opinion will never change, no matter what the facts are."
    New York Times columnist Frank Rich noted that Colbert's comedic invention has serious implications in our media age. "What matters most now is whether a story can be sold as truth, preferably on television. We live in the age of truthiness."
    The word may not have been crafted when Inge Scholl first drafted the White Rose legend that featured her siblings to the detriment of the true heroes of the story. But the hot Breinersdorfer-Rothemund film, favored to win this year's Oscar in the foreign film category, embodies six decades of the fairy tale.
    Only this time, the creators claim historical accuracy to an extent that even Inge Scholl did not dare attach to her half-truths. They have traveled the globe telling people that their movie is based on the Gestapo interrogation transcripts and rigorous research. They have been applauded by the international "academic" community for truthfulness in story-telling.
    When all they have done is continue the truthiness of a legend that needs to be put to rest, a legend that marginalizes the very individuals who were the moral mainstays of the White Rose.
    It was Alexander Schmorell, not Hans Scholl, who wrote the powerful words that set these students apart, words that told of the horrors of genocide, that spoke of what Germans were doing to Europe's Jewish population. It was Traute Lafrenz who was resisting as early as 1937 when Hans and Sophie were comfortable in their Hitler Youth skins, Traute who changed the blah-blah of anti-Hitler talk into a get-off-your-butts attitude when she hit Munich. It was Christoph Probst who was known as principled backbone of the group, described by many as the person who made everybody sit up straight when he entered the room. (Which makes the Breinersdorfer-Rothemund scene with Christoph "weak" all the more appalling.)
    When you look at German resistance honestly, you will see that dissidents generally fall into three categories. There were those like Alex, Christoph, Traute, Willi Graf, Wilhelm Geyer, Eugen Grimminger, Tilly Hahn, and Manfred Eickemeyer who were sickened by the crimes against humanity, by the genocide, by the war crimes, by immorality dressed up in political correctness. Their grief was transformed into anger that would not let them keep silent.
    Hans and Sophie Scholl are not part of the other extreme, which included many in the July 20, 1944 (Valkyrie) resistance, and Kurt Huber of the White Rose. Those of the other extreme had no qualms about Nazi policies, only with Hitler's interpretation of the NSDAP platform. And more importantly, with how his disastrous military decisions were affecting Germany.
    No, the Scholl siblings were somewhere in the middle. They fought injustice, but were not moved to do so until their personal liberties were abridged. They cared less about what was going on in the extermination camps and more about what they themselves could not do.
    Does that mean they should not be honored for their sacrifice? Of course not. Regardless of their motivation, Hans and Sophie Scholl did in fact take a stand for their convictions, even though doing so cost them their lives.
    But they should not be honored at the expense of their more-noble friends.
    And Breinersdorfer and Rothemund should not be given a free pass for their exploitation of Sophie Scholl as political Barbie doll. She's a hot, marketable commodity in Germany these days. Brigitte Magazine named her Woman of the Twentieth Century. Her bust was installed in Walhalla (over the protests of her sister, Elisabeth Hartnagel nee Scholl, who firmly believes the importance of her siblings has been exaggerated and has stated that opinion on multiple occasions in the German press). Any truthiness-book about Sophie becomes an immediate bestseller.
    If we really want to teach our children, teach our high school and college students, about the value of informed dissent, we would avoid the fairy tale and focus on reality. In the case of the White Rose, that reality is far more instructive, far more challenging, far more beautiful than the legend.
    These students and the adults who learned from them were not demigods. They were fractured, flawed human beings who doubted their work, doubted themselves, doubted God. Their despair overwhelmed them, their anguish over injustice sent them into a downward spiral that drove them to undertake splendidly foolhardy actions.
    Where that story is told, we ourselves are moved to act.
    Read more about this topic: For a full review of the Breinersdorfer-Rothemund film, including an essay about their censorship of the Gestapo interrogation transcripts and a scene-by-scene deconstruction of the movie.

Book Review
Thomas Hartnagel, ed. Sophie Scholl/Fritz Hartnagel: Damit wir uns nicht verlieren. Briefwechsel 1937-1943. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, 2005.
    I was utterly skeptical when I first heard about this new volume a couple of months ago. After all, the Scholl family has a poor track record when it comes to openness and transparency about the famous Scholl siblings, Hans and Sophie. I therefore picked it up, expecting to find infinite ellipses censoring critical passages. And was pleasantly surprised  by the completeness of the letters contained in this volume.
    Thomas Hartnagel, son of Fritz and Elisabeth (nee Scholl) Hartnagel, does not shrink back from many difficult questions. When Sophie Scholl raves about a specific book, Hartnagel footnotes that it's explicitly anti-Semitic. In her celebrated letter telling Fritz that she's glad the Germans are as "bad" in Holland as they are in Germany, because then the whole world must know, Hartnagel writes, "Sophie Scholl's support for radical proceedings against Jews has a shocking effect. Obviously she wanted the Nazi regime to reveal itself openly as inhuman, clearly and for all to see. Nevertheless, there's a bitter aftertaste here, since in a certain sense the suffering individual is sacrificed to a larger goal."
    Those are not words one expects to read in a book edited by a nephew of Sophie Scholl, much less by a nephew of Inge Scholl who spent her life running from those hard truths.
    Hartnagel does not censor the letters that talk about his father's affair with a Yugoslavian woman in Amsterdam, an affair he entered because Sophie was pushing him away. He does not censor the letters in which Fritz adamantly defends a soldier's way of life, in which Fritz expresses the (nearly) blind patriotism that led Germany into a twelve-year abyss. He does not censor the letters that reveal a Sophie we like a whole lot less, letters that make us understand how very right she was when she later bemoaned her inability to love to be loved. She was in fact an emotional shipwreck, and her nephew does not whitewash the manner in which she hurt those around her.
    For all the good in the book, there are two gaping holes that Thomas Hartnagel does not address, gaping holes that leave the Scholl family under a cloud of suspicion. Despite the seeming openness.
    First, there is not a single letter in the book that mentions Kristallnacht. If you've read my White Rose History, Volume I, you know why this chasm looms so large - because the Scholls were apparently the only non-Jewish family in their apartment building during a terrible night in which so many of their neighbors suffered greatly. There are three "new" letters from November and December 1938, including one dated November 10 (the day after the pogrom). None mentions the Einsteins or the Barths or the Guggenheimers. Why?
    A few months later, another gap. No letters from May or June 1939 refer to the Scholls' move into the great apartment on Muensterplatz, an apartment recently "vacated" (unwillingly) by a Jewish family. In fact, Sophie's letters skip from May 10, 1939 to July 16, 1939, though it's clear from Fritz's letters to her that she did not stop writing him during those two months.
    These holes are likely explained by the eighty-seven letters that were omitted. Thomas Hartnagel admits in his preface that only 313 of approximately 400 letters were included. Unless and until these two major events - along with a third omitted event, the public humiliation of a girl about two blocks away from the Scholls' home in 1940 - are honestly dealt with, we must continue to assume the worst.
    But at least this book seems to mark a turning point - a very welcome turning point - in Scholl scholarship. Thomas Hartnagel has done what no other member of his family has done to date: Portray his "heroic" family members as completely human, prone to debilitating mood swings and hurful acts, while contemplating unbelievable good.
    Thank you, Dr. Armin Ziegler, for making this volume available to us!

In Closing
    Our brick-and mortar facility is still on hold. Twice since the last newsletter, we've thought we were oh-so-close to nailing down a location where you can come and look at all the primary source materials you want, in both the original German, and in English translation. Truly one of our greatest disappointments is the failure of this dream to come to fruition.
    Aufgeschoben ist nicht aufgehoben. There is always another day. I do believe you'll be able to see the fireworks no matter where you are, once we have a more permanent home!
    And if this is a project that captures your fancy, and you wish to work with us to make this long-postponed dream come true, please contact us.

    Along the same lines... Since the beginning, we have wanted to expand our work beyond the White Rose to include all German resistance during the Shoah. It's absurd to state that they were the only Germans willing to die in opposition to a corrupt regime. (This is another example of two extremes, neither of which is healthy. We must reject the notion of "no resistance" as firmly as we refuse the concept of innere Emigration!)
    When I ordered my copy of the Gestapo interrogation transcripts, I asked the director of the Bundesarchiv in Berlin to ensure that I got every scrap of paper in the file, even things not usually included in a 'complete set' of the documents. He honored my request. My copy even included sign-in sheets from the days the archives were in former East Germany. That's how I know that Inge and Robert Scholl saw a great deal of the archives in the early 1960s - which makes her half-truths all the more preposterous.
    That also means that the Bundesarchiv copied front and back of every sheet of paper in the files. In 1944 as shortages took their toll on German society, the Gestapo started recycling paper. Gone were the nice pre-printed intake forms. Agents used the back sides of old correspondence to type (or hand write, as typewriter ribbon became scarce) new memos and letters.
    Thos back sides opened up a whole new world of German resistance for me. Names I'd never heard, never seen in print, people who had been arrested (and executed?) in the early 1930s. There was not enough documentation to follow their cases, just enough to whet my appetite.
    Just so you know... While we are concentrating on the White Rose for now, long-term we hope to obtain all of the Gestapo files for German dissidents and make them available to researchers - in English translation.
    We want to know who was responsible for the "BMW leaflet" in 1943. Who these women were whose names we see - the ones who gave money to Eugen Grimminger for White Rose work and have remained anonymous through the years. We want to know what drove people to the most patriotic act possible, that of saying out loud, What my country is doing is wrong, and I won't stand for it any longer.
    It doesn't matter to us whether they were Communists or democrats, Catholic or Lutheran, so-called "half-Jewish" or full-blooded Aryan, educated or laborers. It's time we stopped focusing solely on the July 20, 1944 people, the White Rose, and a handful of others who have gained prominence.
    We plan to make all their stories available.
    It's a big job, but somebody's gotta do it. Stay tuned!

All the best,

Ruth Hanna Sachs

(c) 2006 Exclamation! Publishers and Center for White Rose Studies. All rights reserved. Please contact us for permission to quote.
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