By Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries
PULLMAN, Wash. – They were college students with lives Washington State University students might have today. Some studied medicine and did military service. One had a fiancé. One was a married father of three.
But for the unpardonable crime of speaking out, considered treason in Nazi Germany, the University of Munich students and a sympathetic professor were executed. Their story is the subject of a traveling exhibit, “Die Weisse Rose: The White Rose,” at WSU Libraries’ Terrell Atrium Feb. 3-March 7.
A discussion of the White Rose movement by David Clay Large, Montana State University, will be part of a reception at 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3, in the atrium. Large has authored several books on German history, including “Where Ghosts Walked: Munich’s Road to the Third Reich,” “Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936” and “Berlin.”
A film series and panel discussion at noon Friday, March 7, in the Honors College lounge are part of the exhibit. For details, visit http://libguides.wsulibs.wsu.edu/whiterose.
The White Rose movement is remembered more than 70 years later because its message is still relevant, said WSU humanities librarian Gabriella Reznowski.
“It’s a great reminder to stand up for what you believe in,” she said. “It gives us hope that there are people who are willing to stand up and speak for what is right. Human rights are always worth fighting for, and the human spirit can overcome in the darkest of human times.”
Leaflets and graffiti led to worldwide interest
“…now we are facing the end. Now it is a question of mutually coming to our senses, of mutually keeping one another informed. We must always keep these things in mind and allow ourselves no rest until the last man is convinced of the utmost necessity of his battle against this system. If a wave of insurrection surges through the country, if ‘it is in the air,’ if many join us, then this system can be cast aside with one last mighty effort. An end with terror is always better than terror without end.”
—From the second White Rose leaflet, 1942
Brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl. Christoph Probst. Alex Schmorell. Willi Graf. Kurt Huber. They formed the core of the resistance group that created and distributed some 10,000 copies of six leaflets urging German citizens to rise up against Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. They also painted anti-Nazi messages on Munich’s walls and buildings at night.
Resistance members called their missives “Leaflets of the White Rose,” possibly taking their name from a German novel by the same name, according to an essay (http://www.judnewborn.com
/docs/Solving%20Mysteries%20-WhiteRoseArticle-Newborn.pdf) by Jud Newborn, cultural anthropologist and curator of New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. Newborn co-wrote two books about the movement with Annette Dumbach: “Shattering the German Night: The Story of the White Rose” and “Sophie Scholl and the White Rose.”
For eight months, White Rose members managed to evade the Gestapo until Feb. 18, 1943, after the Scholls were caught throwing copies of the last leaflet off the balcony of the University of Munich atrium.
Four days later, they and Probst were tried, found guilty of treason and executed the same day. Schmorell, Huber and Graf shared the same fate later that year. The Gestapo arrested, interrogated and imprisoned others connected to the group.
But the students’ cause – and their willingness to die for it – ignited hope and the desire to spread their message. The last leaflet was smuggled to other countries and other hands worldwide during the war; Allied aircraft dropped millions of copies over German cities.
Lessons of the White Rose today
The White Rose continues to inspire today, said WSU’s Rachel Halverson and Raymond Sun, precisely because anyone could have done what the Munich students and professor did.
“Very normal people can undertake very major resistance,” said Halverson, associate professor of German and Marianna Merritt and Donald S. Matteson Distinguished Professor in Foreign Languages and Cultures. “It’s really ordinary people who can make change happen, believing in doing the right thing.”
“Those students of the White Rose could have said, ‘This is too big for me.’ But if everybody did that, nothing would change,” said Sun, associate professor and chair of history. “The threat today is not the Gestapo, but the numbing from an abundance of distractions. There are so many ways we can disengage.”
Bringing the story of the White Rose to students is a fitting way to celebrate the World War II resisters, Reznowski said, and for WSU students to think about their own lives and dreams as a result.
“For students, the message of standing up for what you believe in will carry them forward as they fight for their own causes in the future,” she said.
“These are their peers,” Halverson said. “Think of the sacrifices these young people had to make – college, relationships and more. What would WSU students do? Many of us don’t think about that until much later in life.”
Faculty may identify with Kurt Huber, the philosophy professor who wrote the last leaflet and shared the students’ beliefs about the Nazis.
Huber helped the students articulate their message, Sun said: “He represented a source of authority for their words, and that’s important too. The university in itself is a center of resistance, a place of independent thinking.”
“Die Weisse Rose: The White Rose” was created by the Munich-based White Rose Foundation. The exhibit and related events are sponsored by the WSU Department of History, WSU Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures, WSU Libraries and Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center.
Gabriella Reznowski, WSU Libraries, 509-335-5596, firstname.lastname@example.org
Raymond Sun, WSU history department, 509-335-4622, email@example.com
Rachel Halverson, WSU foreign languages and cultures, 509-335-4361, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries public relations/communication coordinator, 509-335-6744, email@example.com