Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The German resistance movement White Rose and the hierarchy of commemorated resistance

Next to the well known failed 20 July 1944 plot (Operation Valkyrie), the German anti-Nazi resistance group Weisse Rose is the most commemorated German WWII resistance group. While members of Operation Valkyrie were still openly called traitors by some as late as the 1980s, the non-violent, idealistic students were embraced across party lines. Some officers in the ever so democratic West German military would whisper "he only got that far because of his name" when a colonel with the name tag "von Stauffenberg" walked past. Non violent resistance by church officials is also very well liked.

The Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team introduces the Weisse Rose as follows:

The White Rose (weisserose), named after a Spanish novel (Rosa Blanco). The Group coordinated efforts on Campus for Civil Rights and Opposition to Nazi policies. Among their efforts on campus were weekly discussion groups, painting 'freedom' on brick walls at the entrance into campus, and distributing leaflets opposing the Reich on moral and political grounds, encouraging students to think for themselves. 

The two most widely known individuals are siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl, so here are the other members, from the same website: Kurt Huber, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst. Wikipedia has the names of several others, Traute Lafrenz, Katharina Schüddekopf, Lieselotte (Lilo) Berndl, Jürgen Wittenstein, Marie-Luise Jahn, Falk Harnack, Hubert Furtwängler, Wilhelm Geyer, Manfred Eickemeyer, Josef Söhngen, Heinrich Guter, Heinrich Bollinger, Helmut Bauer, Harald Dohrn, Hans Conrad Leipelt, Gisela Schertling, Rudi Alt and Wolfgang Jaeger.

Founded in the summer of 1942 by students and their professor at the university of Munich,
the group wrote and distributed anti-Nazi leaflets, and the text of their last one, leaflet #6, was smuggled out of Germany after their arrest and air-dropped later in the war as "The Manifesto of the Students of Munich".

Arrests and trials staring in February 1943 marked the end of the White Rose.

And here is where the janitor and the executioner come into the picture. The janitor witnessed a drop of leaflets at the university and called the police.

The man who executed the Scholl siblings and others was Johann Reichhart. His career continued after the end of World War II, when he worked in the same capacity for the Allied military justice system, executing 156 Nazis and war criminals sentenced to death by the Allies. He quit his job in 1946, and spoke up against the death penalty in 1964, when some German politicians called for reinstatement of capital punishment - which had been banned by the West German federal constitution. It remains "on the book" in at least one 21st century German state, the state of Hessen, but the federal law supercedes it.

In both West and East Germany, the White Rose soon became a symbol of anti-Nazi resistance. Schools, streets, and squares were named after individual members, several TV films and movies followed, mainly from the 1970s onward.

The communist resistance was only commemorated in East Germany, and is largely relegated to the political education center (Bundeszentrale for Politische Bildung) website these days. Social democrats fared slightly better, but Chancellor Willy Brandt, who fought in the resistance in Norway, continued to be called a traitor in private by some upstanding members of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU).

Even further down the hierarchy of celebrated resistance are individuals like Georg Elser.

At the very bottom of the hierarchy were the many thousand sentenced to death by the German military justice system (an estimated 23 000 were executed). Their rehabilitation, incomplete as it is, came only in 1991, after the reunification of Germany.

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