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Exclamation! Publishers
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November 1, 2007

Roses at Noon
The newsletter of the
Center for White Rose Studies


November 1, 2007 - Volume 6, Issue 1

White Rose Dichotomy

    September 12, we arrived in Moscow, the first stop on the way to the 'celebration' of Alexander Schmorell's 90th birthday in Orenburg.
    We expected hectic. New friends in Utah had warned us of Moscow's birthday party the week before. Hotel prices remained sky-high, and the city teemed with Manhattan-style crowds.
    But we did not expect such a strong police presence. Police on horseback, police at every intersection, police blocking the entrance to Red Square (the Kremlin was off limits). Disconcerting, to say the least. Adding to the confusion: Common courtesies could not be found. Asking for directions felt like a declaration of war. We wondered what was happening, why things "felt" hostile.
    But the Domodedovo Airport Hotel did not have basic Internet access - neither free nor to be purchased - and TV news was available only in Russian language.
    Two days later, sitting at an elaborate dinner in Orenburg, we found we had once again been on the ground at a somewhat momentous point in history. On September 12, President Vladimir Putin dissolved Russian parliament. And on September 11, there had been a suicide bomber in Moscow, an event reported neither on Russian nor U.S. news. We learned of it firsthand from a Siberian woman whose daughter called her in a panic, knowing she was in Moscow, in transit to Orenburg, on that day.
    Despite the unpromising beginning, "Orenburg" proved to be more than we could have hoped for.
    By the end of the first day, we had witnessed White Rose dichotomy up close. Those who identify with White Rose scholarship generally can be classified into one of two opposing camps: The ones who put their weight behind the legend that Inge Scholl and her minions invented for self-serving purposes; and the ones who work quietly, underfunded and overwhelmed, to document the real story, real history, real people.
    This dichotomy extends to the support for each cause.
    The legend-keepers have lots of money (most of it from the German government and institutions like Goethe Institute), get plenty of press (they seem to instinctively know where the television cameras are located), and more recognition than should be allowed by law. This group has more Bundesverdienstkeuze - the highest civilian honor bestowed by the German government - to its credit than just about any you could find. It does not seem to matter that most of these White-Rose-related Bundesverdienstkreuze have been handed out to people who were known to be Nazis or Nazi collaborators during the war, and not so-called freedom fighters.
    On the opposite side of the fence, the Others. The Others have little funding, none of it from the government. They work with minimal resources. These Others tend to be relegated to the back row, if they are on the dais at all. Rarely are they asked to speak out loud. Their support? The White Rose families, the ones whose husbands, fathers, brothers, sisters, and sweethearts were executed by the Nazis. The ones who know the real story, the real history; they are the "real people" of the White Rose.
    The greater the gulf between the two, the closer the bond among the Others becomes. I saw this especially during our few days in Munich before heading to Russia. The families we visited speak fondly of these Others, almost as if they were family too.
    I do not wish to paint the legend-keepers as bad people. For the most part, they are nice, fun to be around. An excursion to the Ural River, crossing over into Kazakhstan, brought out the best in everyone. For a few precious moments when White Rose was not the topic of conversation, everyone let down their collective guard and simply played. It made me wonder at the time how individuals who could be so pleasant personally, could tolerate authentication of a story (and by extension its original story-tellers) that was designed to do nothing more than whitewash swastikas worn and enthusiastic Heil Hitlers uttered over sixty years ago by those same story-tellers. Cognitive dissonance?
    Once safely home, it hit me: The White Rose dichotomy can be traced to a simple fork in the road. The legend-keepers are basically businessmen. They see charitable foundations as a job, a well-paying, high-profile job. Their interests are not centered on truth or justice or even preservation of actual historical fact. They are fundraisers, politicos, schmoozers. They are doing what they know best. Tomorrow they could easily move on to another cause, another nonprofit.
    The Others, in contrast, have a passion for getting it right the first time, for listening to the families who loved these students who died for truth and justice, for asking questions, for documenting it all for generations to come. When money runs out, they may momentarily question their sanity, but they somehow recall why they are doing this. And get their second wind.
    For us - for me specifically - meeting these Others made the entire trip worthwhile. We talked for hours, one on one or in small groups.
    While it's not appropriate here to define who is who, I would like to especially encourage and recognize Dr. Igor Khramov (alt. Chramov) in his vital work there in Orenburg. If anyone is "underfunded and overwhelmed" - that would be Igor. But he does not complain. He softly forges alliances that keep him afloat. We hope that our work can soon include material support for him, Rustam Galimov, and the others of the "Eurasia" foundation. They do a lot with a little.
    We left Orenburg with a renewed commitment to our work. So if you sense an extra spring in our step, a knowing gleam in our eyes, you are not imagining things. "Orenburg" marks a turning point for us. We hope you enjoy the renaissance.
    - Ruth Hanna Sachs

Note: An expanded trip report - including photos - is available only to paid subscribers of our newsletter.

Historical Considerations
    A topic privately discussed in Orenburg: How to balance the need for historical accuracy with families' desire for privacy?
    History should be dealt with objectively. It's a matter of unearthing facts, facts that can appear unconnected or unrelated, and compiling them into a meaningful format. (That "definition" oversimplifies the historical process a great deal...) Objective historical research leaves little room for emotion or personal feelings.
    Yet this particular area of research involves real-life people who deeply love the persons being studied. "History" is dreadfully intimate to them. Many of these family members lost everything - and sometimes everyone - during a particularly dark and violent stretch of that otherwise-objective history. No matter how much we want it to be, history cannot always remain completely detached and remote, because feelings matter.
    We know what we believe on this topic (namely that balance is the key). If you would like to share your opinions or add to this discussion, please contact us. We may add your comments to this Web site, or request an expanded version for publication.
    Professors and teachers: You may wish to consider making this matter a short-essay requirement for your students. Suggested themes...

  • Can history be objectively written as long as "eyewitnesses" are still alive?
  • How can one differentiate between eyewitnesses who have a real story to tell and those (like the story-tellers mentioned above) who abuse 'autobiographical recollections' for their own benefit?
  • What criteria should apply when deciding to include negative material in a history? White Rose example - Hans Scholl's drug use. Is it always fair game, or should it sometimes be excluded?

Book Review
Peter Schubert, Robert Volkmann, Gernot Eschrich, ed. "...damit Deutschland weiterlebt!": Christoph Probst (1919-1943). Gilching, Germany: Christoph-Probst-Gymnasium Gilching, 2000.
    A collection of essays and photographs about Christoph Probst, this brilliantly executed volume provides keen insights into the group of friends we call the White Rose. Yes, it focuses almost solely on "Christl", but the memories are recited by people who were actually there, who actually knew the major players, who actually laughed with and cried over and fought with and fought for the better-known friends.
    Because of this, the intimacy and immediacy of their words grabs you by the throat and will not let go.
    As in Lilo Fuerst-Ramdohr's Freundschaften in der Weissen Rose, the Probst book presents the students and their mentors as human beings first and foremost. By the time you turn the last page, you "get it": These were not politician-wannabes; not one of them had a well-crafted political or military solution to the Holocaust. The friends of the White Rose were just that: Friends. They knew their country was in trouble. They knew that Germans were murdering Jews and Poles and Roma and Sinti. They knew they were being asked to support policies that were flat-out wrong. And they couldn't keep silent. "So Germany may survive!"
    The anthology contains three essays that are must-reads. The first, a 1946 document penned by Christl's sister Angelika. The beloved brother shines through in every word. We also learn how it felt when the Probst family heard of Christl's unexpected beheading. This is a highly personal article, made more poignant by the 1946 date of its writing.
    The second is the transcription of a 1983 speech delivered by Bernhard Knoop, Angelika's ex-husband, Anneliese Graf's (now deceased) spouse, and former teacher and confidant of Christoph Probst. He initiates us into Christl's way of thinking, into the intellectual bases for what would become informed dissent. Interestingly, he began the closing segment of his discourse with the warning that Christl's virtues should not be overemphasized, lest his memory become frozen in time like a statue, giving off as it were a blinding glare that obscures the truth.
    He was a genuine, endearing, and lovable person, and that also means that he more or less had his small and great weaknesses, imperfections, shortcomings, and inadequacies, as we all do to one extent or another. The ancient Greeks aptly noted ... that we mere mortals stand in stark contrast to the gods.
    In the eyes of Bernhard Knoop, that is a good thing indeed.
    Third, Michael Probst's 1993 essay should be read aloud in every history, German, political science, and Holocaust seminar on the planet. As with his aunt Angelika's treatise, Michael Probst bares his soul in speaking of a father he never knew (he was three years old when Christl was executed). The emotional side of (family) history is inescapable. Inconceivable consequences for his mother and siblings, unbearable heartache for years, tears shed and withheld, it's all there in his writing.
    For us as scholars and historians, Michael Probst goes one step further. He addresses the problematic historiography of the White Rose, how and when the Scholl-centric legend began alienating every family but the Scholls. He minces no words in describing how the Probst family and others were systematically excluded from official commemorations, how everyone but Hans and Sophie Scholl was marginalized. And why.
    Anyone who reads Michael Probst's paper remains without excuse if they continue to support the legend to the detriment of truth.
    Finally, Peter Schubert's collection of reminisces sparkles with the joy of the White Rose friendships, and with the sweet laughter that remembering Christl brought his friends. Tidbits from Dieter Sasse, his half-brother, from his classmaters and teachers, and of course from his darling wife Herta... The only complaint? Too short!
    Although you know his tragic end, reading their 'love notes' has the same effect as turning the pages of a favorite childhood photo album. Christl emerges as a silly, serious, happy, depressed, thoughtful, distressed loving father and playground pal. Their memories remind us that the best (and the worst) of human history has been shaped by mere mortals. Mortals who have infinite capacity to love. Even when that love means saying No! to injustice so loudly that the laughter is extinguished, except in memory.
    What a legacy Christoph Probst left his family! And us...


    When searching for this book online, we found it is not generally available at amazon.de. It can be purchased, however, from Literaturhandlung Muenchen + Berlin. This is a German-Jewish online bookstore. Cost is 15.20 Euros plus shipping and handling. They do ship to the USA.
    They also sell the book at the Juedisches Museum (Jewish Museum) location in Munich.

An expanded review of this book is available to paid subscribers of our newsletter.

In Closing
    The part of our trip that preceded Russia meant a lot to all of us. We visited old friends in Germany - the kind of friends who remind you what life and love are all about, friends who stick with you through the inevitable slumps and yet who cheer you on when you're winning the race.
    We also had the opportunity to sit down with Herta Probst and Lilo Fuerst-Ramdohr (and their previous families) one more time. [Ruth: I was ill the day we wanted to visit Hertha Schmorell, so that visit was postponed.]
    These warm conversations reminded us why we do this. It's not always easy staying focused, when the distractions and disappointments loom so large.
    But it is worth it all. We're lucky to have known, and to know, these White Rose families. We don't take a moment they've given us for granted.

All the best,

Ruth Hanna Sachs

(c) 2007 Exclamation! Publishers and Center for White Rose Studies. All rights reserved. Please contact us for permission to quote.

 

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