This year marks the 80th anniversary of the martyrdom of the young Germans who founded the White Rose anti-Nazi group. In this dialogue with the journalist and writer Paolo Ghezzi (author of the book published by Edizioni San Paolo, La Rosa Bianca) we want to highlight the peculiarities of a resistance group against Nazism.
Why this special and unique name in the panorama of European resistance?
“The reason for choosing this fascinating name, which today still strongly reminds of the entire German resistance, is one of the few mysteries that will remain in the history of the White Rose, about which we now know almost everything. Questioned by the Gestapo, Hans Scholl gives a vague answer: “I was influenced by the Spanish novels of Clemens Brentano…” where there is indeed a character with a similar name. But that’s not a convincing explanation. Several other hypotheses have been put forward, but none are satisfactory: I am personally inclined to the idea that it was an excellent communicative intuition with strong symbolic value, stemming from familiarity with this emblem, present both in Luther and in prehistory can be found. Nazi youth groups that Scholl attended, such as i satellites. The rose as a symbol of beauty and purity of ideals, but full of thorns and so sharp also in a political sense. However, after the first four leaflets of 1942 with this title, the last two fatal leaflets of 1943 abandoned this title. Scholl and his friends were more concerned with the idea of resistance than with its symbols.”
Who was the group? Can you name the protagonists?
“The core consisted of five Munich university students (between 21 and 25 years old) and their professor, the 49-year-old philosopher and musicologist Kurt Huber. They are the six who paid for the six leaflets against Hitler with their lives. Around her another dozen friends and acquaintances involved in different ways. Some of them, like Hans Leipelt and Probst’s father-in-law Harald Dohrn, were murdered in 1945. Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell wrote and distributed the first leaflets in June 1942 after the experiences on the Russian front that summer themselves (in the military medical supply company where they were employed as medical students) in the first two months of 1943 they were in the last two Flyers also include Scholl’s younger sister Sophie, who was enrolled in philosophy and biology, Willi Graf and Christoph Probst (still students, but already a young father of three children) and Professor Huber, father of two children. These six are those sentenced to death for attempted treason and guillotined between February 22 and October 12, 1943.”
We saw that it was a multi-religious group (Lutherans, Catholics and Orthodox). An ecumenism shaped by martyrdom. Is that so?
“Yes, unplanned, it has become a truly ecumenical group. Because of the friendship that developed between them, first in high school and then at university, they found themselves faced with a common decision to be Christians to resist the evil embodied by the German dictator. The Ulm Scholl brothers were brought up by their mother Lina in a very socially oriented Lutheranism, and during their time in Munich they became close to two important Catholic intellectuals, Muth and Haecker. Willi Graf was Catholic, born in the Rhineland. Probst was not baptized because his father, a lover of Eastern spirituality, wanted to set him free: he will receive communion an hour before his death. After all, Schmorell, the son of a German doctor and a Russian woman (actually born in what is now Ukraine), who died when he was only two years old, had been baptized according to the Orthodox rite in Orenburg in the Urals. They all knew that they were risking their lives to openly oppose a racist and criminal regime. For all of them, evangelical values were incompatible with those of National Socialism. They did not seek heroic death, but martyrdom was an option they consciously faced.”
We know that the Munich Orthodox Church canonized one of them (Alexander Schmorell) a few years ago. The reason for this beatification is very significant. Can you explain it to us?
“The beatification of Alex in February 2012 meant for the Orthodox Church to highlight the heroic virtues of a young man who opposed an anti-Christian regime. After bringing to the altars in recent years many figures, religious or secular, victims of Communism, particularly Stalinist anger, Schmorell emerged as a witness of resistance to the other totalitarianism, Nazi totalitarianism, based on the Christian faith and from an ideological position far removed from communism. “Your patience, blessed Alexander, amazed the angels,” was the poetic expression at the beatification ceremony. The icon dedicated to him shows him in a white cloak, with a white rose and a cross: a symbol of purity and idealism, valid for all times.”
Who were the teachers and how did their anti-Nazism develop?
“In addition to Huber, Muth and Haecker, exponents of critical Catholic thought who they were able to meet personally in Munich, for them were the authors of the French Catholic renewal from Bernanos to Maritain, but also a great Russian writer such as Dostoevsky and the theologian Berdjajew. Without forgetting the great doctrine of freedom of the great German poets like Goethe and Schiller, which they quoted in their leaflets. Anti-Nazism was gradually born, also out of a feeling of guilt (for the Scholl brothers) that they, like almost everyone else of their kind – but not Willi Graf – had served in the Hitler Youth. Awareness of the crimes committed by Hitler’s Germany, especially the beginning of the extermination of the Jews, and the struggle undertaken by the regime to regain freedom of expression and thought prompted them to choose the minority and dangerous path of denunciation and resistance.”
What are the words of their opposition (for theirs was an opposition of the Word, the Logos)?
“Liberty, Dignity, Honour. Critical thinking, defending the values of Christianity and Western Civilization. awareness and responsibility. Willi Graf’s motto was inexorable, he had taken it from the letter of the Apostle James. “Don’t just listen to the word, put it into action”. Everyone bears the entire responsibility, the resulting imperative. The White Rose tried to awaken the Germans from the sleep of conscience and thus from complicity with a criminal government, using the only tools they had as young intellectuals: the word, dialectics, reasoning, critical intelligence .”
Their ideal was not only a Germany liberated from National Socialism, but also that of a new Europe. Is that so?
“It is, and they write it loud and clear in their flyers. Enough with authoritarian states, enough with expansionist imperialisms, yes to a federalist Europe, to the recognition of peoples’ rights in a peaceful dialogue between democratic states inspired by what they called a “reasonable socialism” that would protect the fundamental freedoms of the person “.
Let’s talk briefly about a young woman from the White Rose: Sophie Scholl. She is often remembered along with the great thinkers and contemporary witnesses of this dark time (Edith Stein, Simone Weil, Hanna Arendt and Etty Hillesum). Why?
“For although she was killed at the age of 21 and had no opportunity to live longer and to study and write important works such as those of extraordinary philosophers and writers, her radicalism appears in her letters and diaries as prophetic, courageous, very clear . His intellectual coherence, his non-conformism, his anti-militarism, his rejection of nationalism, the consistency of his decision to break away from the regime demonstrate an extraordinary courage and make his voice important and exciting, like the expression of a pure resistance that transcends time and her Germany, is the voice of a girl from Europe, of an absolute modernity”.
“The White Rose will not give you peace”; that’s what it says in one of your flyers. I ask you: Doesn’t your testimony still give us peace today?
“They wanted to annoy the vast majority of Germans who conformed to the dictatorship. Their leaflets proclaimed that every people deserves the government they tolerate. Your words should worry us, because we should ask ourselves every day: in the face of injustices, abuses, violated rights – especially of migrants who come to our Europe – we know how to take a stand, even take sides like them, our jeopardize securities? Do we know how to fight the neo-nationalisms, the neo-fascisms, the authoritarian resurgences that are crossing Europe? We know we could and should do more, protest more, mobilize more, risk more. Just like the students at the Weisse Rose eighty years ago. If we read their leaflets again, we cannot find peace.”