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February 15, 2006

White Rose Redux
By Garth Cartledge

A day or two ago I looked again at the anti-Hitler pamphlets issued by Munich university students Hans and Sophie Scholl in late 1942 and early 1943 as part of the White Rose resistance group. (I did so after reading one of John Wilmerding's recent CERJ newsletters advising that Steven Spielberg's next movie was to be about the White Rose group, which provided links to a site containing all six pamphlets.) The Scholls were caught when distributing in a university auditorium the sixth and last pamphlet, a quite bitter document issued in February 1943 after the fall of Stalingrad. The pamphlet, inter alia, condemned Hitler for his betrayal of the 320,000 Germans lost there, all for his ego. Other, earlier pamphlets condemned the regime as well as the slaughter of the Jews; Hans and others in the group were soldiers and had served in Poland where the Germans started murdering Jews in 1939 by shooting. The Scholls were guillotined in early 1943. Sophie was 22. Others were executed later that year and in 1944.

Refreshing my memory about the White Rose also brought to mind some words of Traudl Junge (Hitler's secretary from 1943 to the end in 1945) in the documentary of her life, "Traudl Junge: Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary," when asked about whether she should have known about the atrocities that Hitler's regime had perpetrated. The relevant excerpt from this documentary formed part, as a postscript, of the recent German movie about Hitler's last days in the bunker, "Downfall". I found this excerpt one of the most telling moments in Downfall, but its import was lost unless one knew of the White Rose — which many of my friends did not.

In the excerpt she said something to the effect that for years she had believed that, because she was young at the time, she could not have known about the atrocities for which Hitler had been responsible. In what was the most telling moment in the excerpt/interview she said that she had believed this until a year or so before she had seen the monument to Sophie Scholl. She then went on to say:

"I realized that she (Sophie Scholl) was the same age as me, and I realized that she was executed the same year I started working for Hitler. At that moment, I really sensed it was no excuse to be young and that it might have been possible to find out what was going on".

This is very reminiscent of the moment when Speer's long time private secretary, Annemarie Kempf, realized just how the German people had been duped by Hitler about his intentions and plans for the Jews:

"... [Annemarie] suddenly said, quite resignedly, 'It will never end, will it, this business about the Jews? It will go on and on, won't it?' ... Did she, I asked her ... think it was wrong that the 'business about the Jews' had permeated not just Speer's conscience — and Germany's — but the world's? Annemarie ... suddenly turned old before my very eyes — her next words, more than anything else she had said over the years, showed me how deep her feelings had been, and her distraught face proved how deep they remained. 'Of course,' she said, 'if Hitler had this solution of the "Jewish Question" in mind from the start, if that solution could even enter his mind, then everything he was and did was an abuse of our confidence, our loyalty, our faith. Because then there was never any national integrity, any nobility in the movement, in the sense in which we believed we were living it. My God,' she said, 'if this was in his mind then there was never anything pure in it. It means that we were betrayed to the very depth of our beings."
Gita Serenyi, "Albert Speer: His Battle With the Truth", Alfred A. Knopf (New York, 1995)(ISBN 0-394-52915-4), page 703.

What is frightening about these quotes is that so many people still allow themselves to be duped, refuse to question the obvious pap they are served up, or, even if they are uneasy about what their governments are serving up to them, fail to ask themselves why what they are told seems not quite right. Because of the failure to think critically, to really analyze what they are being told, they allow their higher feelings of loyalty to be hijacked to support base causes. The Germans of the 1930s were a whole nation of people who allowed themselves to be fooled because the short term gain and wishful thinking — despite their misgivings about "temporary emergency measures". When Annemarie Kempf was actually made to face what Serenyi concluded had been niggling at her for all those years she felt as though she had been betrayed by Hitler who had harnessed her (and Germany's) enthusiasm for national renewal and misused it for evil purposes. And, if Serenyi's report is to be believed, Annemarie Kempf had had these doubts all along but had swept them aside or buried them.

The same is now happening in the US where over 50% of the Americans are now saying "We were duped and our patriotism abused by a leader who lied us into a war". But this, like Annemarie Kempf's reaction, is really a denial of personal responsibility for their own actions / reactions and, to use the vernacular, a cop-out! It was easier at the time to be carried away in the euphoria of "whupping" Bin Laden / Saddam Hussein's "ass" just as their German predecessors in the 1930s were swept up in the national euphoria of a new and glorious Germany which had the right to take other parts of Europe because there were Germans there. It is only when they have to pay the price that they start to question the ethics, morality, and legality of what they so vociferously supported when others paid the price and they were comfortable, when they had so much to gain whilst others bore the pain.

In this sense, is there any real difference between the attitudes of the Germans who supported Hitler from 1933 to, say, 1939, and the Americans who were so enthusiastic in their support of Bush's aggressive plans and actions? In both cases the signs that people were being duped were all quite clearly there at the time they were being duped into supporting the invasion of Iraq.

It is a common thread evident in regimes which manipulate popular feelings. I recall an interview with an old German in the 1963 BBC series World at War where he said that on one occasion he was backstage when a crowd roared its approval of Hitler, and felt how sad it was, because he disapproved of and disagreed with Hitler and the Nazis, that he could not submerge himself in that crowd feeling and cheer too; that he could not be part of the exciting movement that was carrying his nation on the huge wave of enthusiasm; that he was left outside the warmth as it were. That at least was the essence and meaning of what he said.

I am not saying that the people of any other nation would do it differently, but what is frightening is the propensity for people to behave in such a fashion and the reality that they will continue to do so.

And just to avoid any misunderstanding, I am neither saying Americans are Nazis, nor am I using any other labels. I am just examining human behavior in historical and current contexts, and addressing what I see as the real issues but which many of us feel less uncomfortable about if we can argue about them in the abstract by labelling and arguing about the label.

It is counter-productive to argue by labels (e.g., "right wing", "left wing", "fascist", "reactionary", etc.) because we can then move away from and avoid the real issues and argue against or attack a less real person or concept. It allows us to dehumanize those we have difficulties with and makes it easier to arrive at less humane responses. That is what happened with the Jews in Nazi Germany, is happening with the condemnation of "Muslims", the labelling of people as "Zionist" or "terrorist" — they are less human and therefore it is easier to argue for drastic solutions such as "driving the Zionists into the sea" or turning Iraq into "a glass car-park" (by the use of nuclear weapons). We can advocate such terrible solutions because we are no longer dealing with human beings but a faceless dehumanized enemy and killing them all is not killing humans like those we see about us in our daily lives. Just look at what happens when officialdom countenances (either by positive action or by inaction) prisoners or detainees being called "cockroaches" or, as in the case of the Japanese human experiment units such as unit 731 in Manchuria in the 1940s, calling people used in their experiments "maruta" or logs. And labels can symbolize different things to different people, so I try to avoid arguing in labels because arguing about symbols doesn't lead to understanding. I am not labelling here.

This, of course, comes back to and is related to the issues raised by Harry Belafonte's use of the term Gestapo some weeks ago — the discussion of labels rather than the processes that are at the heart of what we say.

I also do not know that I would have the courage of the Scholls, but I do not live under a regime which will chop my head off for dissent or critically examining what my government tries to bulldoze me into doing. I also do not know what either Junge or Kempf could have realistically done had they honestly acknowledged what it took them until their old age to acknowledge (I know the argument is that if enough people had spoken out the atrocities would not have happened), but again, the situations prevailing in the US and Australia were entirely different. (Interesting point though — the Australian government took us into the criminal conspiracy of the willing to invade Iraq despite opposition from 60-70% of the Australian population; which suggests that if there is no election in the offing, then even a large vocal majority opposition to government is not likely to change its mind. There were, however, other sycophantic issues driving the Australian government.)

A White Rose web site is available at:

And the leaflets of the White Rose are here:

Garth Cartledge is an attorney with the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). A retired Lieutenant Colonel and military lawyer in the Australian Army, he was at one time Director of International Law for the Australian Defence Force. He lives in Sydney and may be contacted at:

This article is based on an original post to the JUSTWATCH listserve.

2006 Garth Cartledge

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