Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The White Rose: Hopeless Resistance out of A Sense of Moral Duty.

The year was 1944, decades before the internet. They were students at the University of Munich. Anyone who knows German demographics knows that Munich, capitol of Bavaria was the birthplace of the Nazi movement. Those who resisted the Nazis in Bavaria were doing so in a hostile environment.

Despite this, a group of students formed an underground organisation known as the White Rose. Although they were about fifty strong, the two who were most famous were Hans and Sophie Scholl, a brother and sister who were at the centre of the group's activities. They and four other members of the group were convicted and beheaded by the Nazis


The group passed out leaflets that they had composed, mailing them to random addresses and leaving them in public places. The leaflets condemned Hitler and Nazism. There were six such leaflets. It was an incredibly dangerous course of action. It served mainly as a way of maintaining morale among scattered citizens who wrestled privately with their own doubts. Despite the manner in which their tragic fate captured the imagination of the west, the majority of their fellow citizens were hostile to their course of action. Those who fled Germany in the thirties regarded them as icons of the "good Germany."

What use is resistance? When a cause seems lost, fighting for it ascends to a higher level. Instead of being a rational course of action, it becomes a prayer. In rare instances, such as that of the White Rose prisoners, it becomes a sacrifice as well.

Our own American revolution was once a "lost cause." Its soldiers, clad in rags sometimes left bloody footprints in the snow. Abolition was once an impossible dream, so enrenched was the idea of chattel slavery.

Those who are willing to build with their dreams as a blueprint are what moves society forward. The ideals of freedom and its accompanying institutions have finally taken root in German soil. When I see democracy in action in that country, I feel that the martys of the White Rose did not die in vain.

As the Ohio state motto says, "With G-d, all things are possible." What I learn from that is to struggle for what is right, not what is possible.

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I am including in this posting the English translation of leaflets one and two of the White Rose. I am also including two tribute videos


The First Leaflet

Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be "governed" without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes - crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure - reach the light of day? If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order in history; if they surrender man's highest principle, that which raises him above all other God's creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass - then, yes, they deserve their downfall. Goethe speaks of the Germans as a tragic people, like the Jews and the Greeks, but today it would appear rather that they are a spineless, will-less herd of hangers-on, who now - the marrow sucked out of their bones, robbed of their center of stability - are waiting to be hounded to their destruction. So it seems - but it is not so. Rather, by means of a gradual, treacherous, systematic abuse, the system has put every man into a spiritual prison. Only now, finding himself lying in fetters, has he become aware of his fate. Only a few recognized the threat of ruin, and the reward for their heroic warning was death. We will have more to say about the fate of these persons. If everyone waits until the other man makes a start, the messengers of avenging Nemesis will come steadily closer; then even the last victim will have been cast senselessly into the maw of the insatiable demon. Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism. Offer passive resistance - resistance - wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late, before the last cities, like Cologne, have been reduced to rubble, and before the nation's last young man has given his blood on some battlefield for the hubris of a sub-human. Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.

From Friedrich Schiller's "The Lawgiving of Lycurgus and Solon":

Viewed in relation to its purposes, the law code of Lycurgus is a masterpiece of political science and knowledge of human nature. He desired a powerful, unassailable state, firmly established on its own principles. Political effectiveness and permanence were the goal towards which he strove, and he attained this goal to the full extent possible under the circumstances. But if one compares the purpose Lycurgus had in view with the purposes of mankind, then a deep abhorrence takes the place of the approbation which we felt at first glance. Anything may be sacrificed to the good of the state except that end for which the State serves as a means. The state is never an end in itself; it is important only as a condition under which the purpose of mankind can be attained, and this purpose is none other than the development of all of man's powers, his progress and improvement. If a state prevents the development of the capacities which reside in man, if it interferes with the progress of the human spirit, then it is reprehensible and injurious, no matter how excellently devised, how perfect in its own way. Its very permanence in that case amounts more to a reproach than to a basis for fame; it becomes a prolonged evil, and the longer it endures, the more harmful it is...

At the price of all moral feeling a political system was set up, and the resources of the state were mobilized to that end. In Sparta there was no conjugal love, no mother love, no filial devotion, no friendship; all men were citizens only, and all virtue was civic virtue.

A law of the state made it the duty of Spartans to be inhumane to their slaves; in these unhappy victims of war humanity itself was insulted and mistreated. In the Spartan code of law the dangerous principle was promulgated that men are to be looked upon as means and not as ends - and the foundations of natural law and of morality were destroyed by that law...

What an admirable sight is afforded, by contrast, by the rough soldier Gaius Marcius in his camp before Rome, when he renounced vengeance and victory because he could not endure to see a mother's tears!...

The state [of Lycurgus] could endure only under the one condition: that the spirit of the people remained quiescent. Hence it could be maintained only if it failed to achieve the highest, the sole purpose of a state.

From Goethe's "The Awakening of Epimenides, Act II, Scene 4:

SPIRITS: Though he who has boldly risen from the abyss Through an iron will and cunning May conquer half the world, Yet to the abyss he must return. Already a terrible fear has seized him; In vain he will resist! And all who still stand with him Must perish in his fall

HOPE: Now I find my good men Are gathered in the night, To wait in silence, not to sleep. And the glorious word of liberty They whisper and murmur, Till in unaccustomed strageness, On the steps of our temple Once again in delight they cry: Freedom! Freedom!

Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.
The Second Leaflet

It is impossible to engage in intellectual discourse with National Socialism because it is not an intellectually defensible program. It is false to speak of a National Socialist philosophy, for if there were such an entity, one would have to try by means of analysis and discussion either to prove its validity or to combat it. In actuality, however, we face a totally different situation. At its very inception this movement depended on the deception and betrayal of one's fellow man; even at that time it was inwardly corrupt and could support itself only by constant lies. After all, Hitler states in an early edition of "his" book (a book written in the worst German I have ever read, in spite of the fact that it has been elevated to the position of the Bible in this nation of poets and thinkers): "It is unbelievable, to what extent one must betray a people in order to rule it." If at the start this cancerous growth in the nation was not particularly noticeable, it was only because there were still enough forces at work that operated for the good, so that it was kept under control. As it grew larger, however, and finally in an ultimate spurt of growth attained ruling power, the tumor broke open, as it were, and infected the whole body. The greater part of its former opponents went into hiding. The German intellectuals fled to their cellars, there, like plants struggling in the dark, away from light and sun, gradually to choke to death. Now the end is at hand. Now it is our task to find one another again, to spread information from person to person, to keep a steady purpose, and to allow ourselves no rest until the last man in persuaded of the urgent need of his struggle against this system. When thus a wave of unrest goes through the land, when "it is in the air", when many join the cause, then in a great final effort this system can be shaken off. After all, and end in terror is preferable to terror without end.

We are not in a position to draw up a final judgment about the meaning of our history. But if this catastrophe can be used to further the public welfare, it will be only by virtue of the fact that we are cleansed by suffering; that we yearn for the light in the midst of deepest night, summon our strength, and finally help in shaking off the yoke which weighs on our world.

We do not want to discuss here the question of the Jews, nor do we want in this leaflet to compose a defense or apology. No, only by way of example do we want to cite the fact that since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history. For Jews, too, are human beings - no matter what position we take with respect to the Jewish question - and a crime of this dimension has been perpetrated against human beings. Someone may say that the Jews deserved their fate. This assertion would be a monstrous impertinence; but let us assume that someone said this - what position has he then taken toward the fact that the entire Polish aristocratic youth is being annihilated? (May God grant that this program has not fully achieved its aim as yet!) All male offspring of the houses of the nobility between the ages of fifteen and twenty were transported to concentration camps in Germany and sentenced to forced labor, and the girls of this age group were sent to Norway, into the bordellos of the SS! Why tell you these things, since you are fully aware of them - or if not of these, then of other equally grave crimes committed by this frightful sub-humanity? Because here we touch on a problem which involves us deeply and forces us all to take thought. Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? Hardly anyone thinks about that. It is accepted as fact and put out of mind. The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so. Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cried out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencelessness from which they will never, never awake? It seems to be so, and will certainly be so, if the German does not at least start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminals, if he shows no sympathy for these hundreds of thousands of victims. He must evidence not only sympathy; no, much more: a sense of complicity in guilt. For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do; he tolerates this "government" which has taken upon itself such an infinitely great burden of guilt; indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all! Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty! It is not too late, however, to do away with this most reprehensible of all miscarriages of government, so as to avoid being burdened with even greater guilt. Now, when in recent years our eyes have been opened, when we know exactly who our adversary is, it is high time to root out this brown horde. Up until the outbreak of the war the larger part of the German people were blinded; the Nazis did not show themselves in their true aspect. But now, now that we have recognized them for what they are, it must be the sole and first duty, the holiest duty of every German to destroy these beasts.

"If the people are barely aware that the government exists, they are happy. When the government is felt to be oppressive, they are broken. " "Good fortune, alas! builds itself upon misery. Good fortune, alas! is the mask of misery. What will come of this? We cannot foresee the end. Order is upset and turns to disorder, good becomes evil. The people are confused. Is it not so, day in, day out, from the beginning? " "The wise man is therefore angular, though he does not injure others: he has sharp corners, though he does not harm; he is upright but not gruff. He is clear-minded, but he does not try to be brilliant." - Lao Tzu

"Whoever undertakes to rule the kingdom and to shape it according to his whim - I foresee that he will fail to reach his goal. That is all. " "The kingdom is a living being. It cannot be constructed, in truth! He who tries to manipulate it will spoil it, he who tries to put it under his power will lose it. " "Therefore: Some creatures go out in front, others follow, some have warm breath, others cold, some are strong, some weak, some attain abundance, other succumb. " "The wise man will accordingly forswear excess, he will avoid arrogance and not overreach." - Lao Tzu

Please make as many copies as possible of this leaflet and distribute them.





video video Sphere: Related Content

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Stettner,
Many years ago I worked with a physician whose German mother (also a physician who practiced in Chicago and was associated with the Waldorf School) had been a member of the White Rose while a student in Germany. This lady was sent away on an errand the day the Nazis came for the other students, and thus narrowly missed arrest and death. The story of the White Rose that she recounted was every bit as compelling as the one you provided.
Thank you for reminding us of the profound importance of fighting for a cause that may seem momentarily "lost".

Magdeburger Joe said...

I am so moved by your comments. My great uncle was a journalist whose opposition to the Nazis cost him his life. I treasure his memory as I do that of the White Rose members. Thank you for sharing your memories