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September 16, 2009
Roses at Noon
The newsletter of the
Center for White Rose Studies

September 16, 2009 - Volume 8, Issue 3

Humor in the White Rose
    If you have read even a little of our work, you know - perhaps all too well! - that we stress telling the whole story, with the widest possible circle of students and mentors, warts and all. Often that has been misinterpreted as a misplaced interest in the warts - Hans Scholl's drug addiction and sexual issues, Sophie's suicidal tendencies, Christl's depression, Willi's reticence, Kurt Huber's pro-Nazi attitudes, and the like.
    Lost in translation: The funny, silly side of their lives. The laughter, the hilarity, the practical jokes and crazy banter. Honestly, the "funny, silly side of their lives" sometimes makes our work worthwhile. I don't do "dark side" well at all. Especially not long term.
    Our histories have included these stories. But we would like to remind you of them too. Perhaps you need the sunshine that comes from flawed heroes who do good, and enjoy life too.
    Dr. Erich Schmorell loved to tell a story about Alex (or Schurik), one that could always make their father laugh. Alex and friends had bicycled over to the Danube, where they then "borrowed" (ahem) a flat-bottom boat so they could float all the way to Austria. Alex had brought along Limburger cheese, to the dismay of his fellow travelers. But it was all the food they had.
    As they stowed their gear, bicycles and Limburger cheese included, they weren't paying much attention to river traffic. Their little barge hit a bridge and splintered into a million pieces. Soaking wet and bicycles at the bottom of the river, they limped to the nearest farmhouse. (Alex told his friends that farmers were good people who would always help a person out in a bind - a philosophy of life he never abandoned.) The farmers gave them shelter and a hot meal, and clean clothes until their own could dry.
    Erich Schmorell remembered that his father badly wanted to be stern with Alex when he appeared at their front door a few days later. "He fully intended to lecture Alex on his misdeeds. But when he saw his penitent son standing on the threshold clutching Limburger cheese, his sternness vanished into hearty laughter."
    Hans Scholl was well-known for risk-taking, even as a Fähnleinführer with Hitler Youth (Jungvolk). His boys were the envy of other troops, as they vaulted over eight-foot high, spiked fences. In full gear. But their most daring feat: A required "test of courage" that Hans taught his boys.
    They would climb to the top of a spruce tree. Facing the tree trunk, they had to allow themselves to free fall. As they fell, they could slow their descent only by grabbing onto tree branches. But the ultimate part of this "test of courage"? They had to reverse direction and land on all fours.
    Anneliese Knoop-Graf tells a funny tale about her brother Willi when he was a child. He could eat cherries all day. By far his favorite fruit. One day he sat in a cherry tree, contentedly munching on all the cherries he could eat. At one point he sighed, and said it would be nice if he were a cow. Then he would have two stomachs, and could eat twice as many cherries.
    She also recalled that Willi liked to pilfer wine from his father's wine cellar. But he would always get her to 'assist' him. "Perhaps because he wanted an accomplice," she said, "but also because he liked to have someone around who could share his good mood, with whom he could laugh and talk."
    Most of the "funny" Christoph Probst stories (though not all) come from his childhood, before his father's suicide and the headmaster's expectation that he remain "normal" after that death, "strong as Krupp steel."
    Angelika Probst remembers the time he squatted before a pumpkin he had planted, remaining in that uncomfortable position for almost an hour. When he arose, he solemnly told his mother, "Mutti, now I know what a pumpkin is."
    He fancied himself a near-Superman. One day in Munich, he told his father he believed he'd like to take home one of the iron lions that guarded the Feldherrnhalle. And the Christmas tree he most preferred? The ninety-foot fir tree, of course. Appropriately enough, his nicknames were Christopher Columbus and Christopher Beulenschädel [Dented Head].
    Big sister told of a particularly harrowing day when Christl firmly established his reputation as a daredevil. Someone dared Christl to walk across the top of the stone bridge across the Ache River near their boarding school. Her description of the bridge: "The bridge’s hand rails swing out over the road in a semi-circular arch [about 18 inches wide] that is as high as a house. And on the outside of the rails, there’s an even greater drop-off to the water."
    Christl naturally took the dare. Barefooted, he walked across the top of bridge, light as a feather, arms outstretched. His classmates were speechless. Angelika said that women who were passing by screamed in terror. (That had to have delighted Christl even more!)
    One of the best Sophie Scholl stories came from a scandalous outing she and Lisa Remppis took in February 1938 to visit Fritz Hartnagel while he was stationed in Augsburg. They showed up at Fritz's barracks completely unannounced. While Fritz normally was a conscientious soldier who dutifully obeyed rules and regulations, on this occasion he broke protocol completely by allowing the two girls to sleep in barracks with him. He smuggled them out the next morning.
    Later he told Sophie that his "boy" (aide) had found Lisa's hair barrette. "Hopefully he found it in your bed," Sophie wrote him in reply.
    She reminded him of her favorite part of that spur-of-the-moment trip. She and Lisa made a call to Fritz from an outdoor pay phone, freezing to death (Augsburg in February!). Sophie wrote, "Lisa asked to talk to Lieutenant Ha-Ha-Ha. Please excuse me, [said Lisa], I have to laugh."
    But these friends we know as the White Rose were always at their finest when they were together. The best, and best-documented, example of the hilarity that could ensue: The "farewell party" at Manfred Eickemeyer's studio the night before the soldier-students left for the Russian front.
    Yes, they talked about passive (and active) resistance. Yes, they briefly mentioned the leaflets, to gauge general reaction to their initial campaign. Yes, Manfred Eickemeyer told them about the atrocities the Germans were committing in Poland, against Jews and Poles alike. Yes, Alex Schmorell advocated peace at any price, an end to the violence and bloodshed.
    But these friends cracked one another up with political jokes and innuendo too. Hans Hirzel mistakenly labeled their humor "inconsequential things" when describing the conversations of the evening. Their humor was anything but inconsequential. It provided the glue that held them together.
    Hans Scholl told of a house that had been destroyed during an air raid. The empty lot now held a placard, put there by a nameless person, with the Nazi slogan, Führer, we thank you. Someone else told of a house with graffiti that read, Sieg (Victory). An anonymous wiseacre had come along and painted a question mark after the word.
    And then there was the gag making the rounds in Munich about a ditty that had been inscribed on one of the city's many military monuments. The poem asked the noble warrior to descend from his steed because "your corporal doesn't know what to do any more." The poet thought that Hitler should "ride out" the bad times.
    When the Gestapo would later admonish Traute Lafrenz about such seditious humor, she remarked that the champagne was flowing freely (thanks to Eickemeyer). "I don't believe that anyone present paid much attention to the things Hans Scholl said, because everyone was pretty much in a party mood and a little drunk."
    Or as Hans Hirzel noted about the champagne, "I remember very well that there were far fewer glasses than there were people."
    A healthy sense of humor is one of the grandest things about our humanity. When we build pedestals and crown our heroes with haloes, we strip them of the laughter and joy that makes them real. And personal.
    As the Swabian proverb says, Wohl dem der's Beste nicht verlor, im Kampf des Lebens den Humor. Blessed is he who in the battle of life does not lose his sense of humor.
    - Ruth Hanna Sachs

    Additional examples of White Rose humor are available to paid subscribers of the expanded version of our newsletter.

New Web Site Features
    We've completely overhauled and upgraded our Web site. We tried to unclutter the design. The new site should load faster, and hopefully is easier to navigate.
    Switching Web hosting companies has also enabled us to add features that were out of our price range before, features we hope you will use and enjoy. Highlights include:
  • Guestbook, so we know you're out there
  • Updated contact page, simplifying the process of getting in touch with us
  • Potpourri section, with tributes to mentors who have contributed greatly to our work
  • Online store, one that accepts credit cards and allows you to see special offers and new publications
  • Publisher's blog to keep you updated regarding new releases and events - to subscribe, you can either "follow" the blog or subscribe to the feed
  • New Ruth Sachs White Rose blog, which takes the place of the old "author's journal" (and again, with the ability to either "follow" the blog, or subscribe to the feed)
  • The Ultimate White Rose Pop Quiz - test your White Rose IQ!
  • And our White Rose survey, to help us re-focus and re-group

    The Web hosting switch also gives us lots more server space, so in the "Our Books" section, you will find excerpts of books, plays, poems... Check out the excerpt from Abandonment.
    Think of something else you'd like to see? Please let us know!

Alternate Opening Chapters
    We've noted before that the White Rose histories as published represent the seventh draft of those books. Ruth's initial version was a creative nonfiction novel that depicted Hans and Sophie Scholl as "the" White Rose. A lot has changed since July 1994...
    The creative nonfiction novel has recently returned to her "front burner" - you can read the first chapter in her blog. It does not look anything like those initial first drafts. Here's a sample from the early days of her work, before the interviews, before the transcripts, before the truth.

    First-first draft, 1995. Working title: Freedom.
    Resistance. An impossible word. Whispers littered the streets with bodies of Germans who had doubted Hitler's greatness.
    Resistance? The thought alone demanded sacrifice.
    Sophie Scholl clutched the down comforter, phrases uttered on the banks of the Isar warming her with cold determination.
    Had it been only last night that she snuggled into a familiar pillow in the great house on Cathedral Square in Ulm? Last night, her mother's voice still sounded over an ironing board. "This child shall come to no harm," her mother had sung.
    But this May 1, 1942 had dawned brown. And Sophie could not go back.

    Second draft, 1997. Less Scholl, but still starry-eyed. Working title is still Freedom.
    Dear Aaron,
    Come see this happy place. Touch the apple blossoms that caress your face with fragrance so sweet, you have your fill of perfumed days. Run barefoot through great meadows, thornless as at creation's dawn, meadows ending at darkened rivers or soaring peak.
    Come sing the song of the titmouse bird. Follow the swallow to her chimney nest, laugh as the stork perches precariously on his smokestack sill. Their melodies remain unchained and free, ancient as day, young as the morning.
    Come walk the hallowed streetss where patriots died for freedom. Stand beneath the balcony where five hundred years of freedom for all, rich and poor, noble and indentured, have been solemnly proclaimed and affirmed. Hear the stirring call, here we cry for freedom. Peace. Justice. Liberty for all. One Volk under God. Peace, again that word that beckons us to sacrifice our very souls for our children and their children to come.
    This is a land where giggly teenage girls smuggle Heine's sensual poetry into bedrooms under fathers' disapproving eyes. This is a land where Mendelssohn's muse comforts weary spirits. This is a land built on the very wizardry of Albert Einstein and bankrolled by Oppenheimer. This is a land where hungry minds feast on Spinoza.
    This land is Germany, and the year is 1933.

The remaining pages of this opening are available to paid subscribers of the expanded version of our newsletter.

    Third draft. Getting there! Working title: Building A Wall of Love.
    January 14, 1933. Saarbruecken.
    This room, this insignificant nothing in the vast scope of the universe, nurtured the innocents who played in its nooks and crannies. Perhaps in Berlin, angry cries filled Parliament. Perhaps in Britain, people prepared for war in secret chambers. Perhaps revolution fomented in the heartland of America. But here in this room, all was well.
    Loud laughter spilled out from this room into the streets of French-occupied Saarbruecken, as a band of teenage boys bounced off every wall and fixture. Willi Graf sat on a corner of a sofa, intently discussing plans for the spring production. His words were punctuated by the continual need to push his blond hair away from his eyes.
    "Order, order," a tall boy named Rudi Alt cried. "Walter has something important to say."
    Rudi yielded the floor to Walter Gombert as twelve or so boys hurried to gather round their leader. Conversations dangled mid-sentence, five boys squeezed onto a couch meant for three, and a reverent hush filled the room. "Let us open this meeting with prayer," Walter's booming voice proclaimed.
    So it was that the first annual meeting of the Troop With No Name began. For the most part fourteen and fifteen years old, one by one they had latched onto one another in a world growing crazier by the day.
    Walter read a dull but flowery letter from a man who organized groups like theirs. They noisily vowed to live up to the high standards the nameless leader set.
    "And in closing," Walter slammed his fist into his hand, startling even Willi Graf, "let us determine here and now that we shall live by these words in 1933: We will be doers of the Word and not hearers only."
    The boys jumped to their feet, faced Walter and shouted, "We will be doers of the Word and not hearers only."
    Late that night in a darkened room, Willi Graf considered what he should write to describe the profound events of the day. Staring at the blank piece of paper, he chewed for a moment on his pencil, then bent over his diary. "I, Willi Graf, do promise to be a doer of the Word and not a hearer only," he said out loud as if to reinforce his words.

In Closing
    We have in fact made it to California (and love the sunshine and beaches!). But we are still camping out, so to speak, without a permanent home address, much less permanent business location.
    Watch our publisher's blog (or my personal White Rose blog) for news about long-term change in habitat.

    While corresponding recently with Dr. Helen McConnell, and shortly after watching The Sound of Music for the jillionth time, I was struck by the similarities between the Rodgers & Hammerstein version of the Von Trapp family's life, and Inge's White Rose legend. Both are loosely based on actual events, but neither represents historical fact.
    You watch Fiddler on the Roof, and you know that while that script has its roots in the pogroms in Russia and Poland (see Isaac Babel's stories for more visceral versions of that era), there was no Tevye, and "If I Were a Rich Man" is not a Russian-Yiddish folk song. You are aware from the outset that it's historical fiction - excellent historical fiction - and that it makes no pretense to the contrary.
    Where a movie or book claims to tell a true story, I believe that we as readers should be able to expect a true story. Not a romanticized version of a true story, but the way it really was. The Sound of Music can move you with its glimpse of the courage required to say No when the cost was so high. The Captain's singing of "Edelweiss" can be an emotional moment when you comprehend what it took to leave one's homeland - to leave one's beloved homeland. And the loss of childhood friends as portrayed in the famous graveyard scene where Liesl's flame grows a backbone - in favor of the Nazis - opens your eyes to the very real losses that played out on a daily basis in the Third Reich.
    All of that, even though you know that the Von Trapps had basically lost all their money long before Hitler came to power. And that "Edelweiss" is not an Austrian song (but goodness, Rodgers & Hammerstein sure were great composers to fool so many people!). And that Liesl was really named Rupert (the oldest child was a boy); the oldest daughter was named Agathe, her boyfriend Rolf wasn't her boyfriend by then anyway, and that she was years 25 years old in 1938, not 16-going-on-17. The International Movie Database has a short, honest bio about the real Maria von Trapp, since she appeared as an extra in the movie. Joan Gearin of the U.S. National Archives writes even more about the inaccuracies.
    Yes, The Sound of Music has the power to sway and tug at a body's heart strings. But it isn't real. As Joan Gearin notes, "In thinking about the fictionalized movie version of Maria von Trapp as compared to this very real Maria von Trapp, I came to realize that the story of the von Trapp family was probably something closer to human, and therefore much more interesting, than the movie led me to believe." Gearin correctly states that the real Maria was "a true force of nature," a person who had survived incredible odds and bettered the world we live in.
    Teaching by example, bettering our world, making a difference - those are all far more important than haloes and pedestals. Whether writing about Maria von Trapp, Sophie Scholl, or Christoph Probst. Or you. Or me.

    And finally on this September 16, happy birthday, Alexander Schmorell, Schurik to your friends! And happy birthday too to Mildred Harnack nee Fish, the brilliant woman from Wisconsin who likewise gave her all in the fight against fascism, because she loved Germany so very much.
    We have not forgotten.    

All the best,

Ruth Hanna Sachs

(c) 2009 Center for White Rose Studies and Exclamation! Publishers. All rights reserved. Please contact us for permission to quote.

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