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Every year, and especially around November 11, the war dead are officially remembered. At this same time the white poppy has become one of the symbols of the PPU’s work to make Remembrance a yearly renewal of commitment to the abolition of war. There have always been people prepared to risk their lives in the struggle to resist war, and there is a too-seldom summoned roll-call of those whose resistance has been, on principle, nonviolent. Here are some of the names from that peace-dedicated and inspiring roll of honour. They are all citizens of Germany’s Third Reich, who looked for and found ways to resist Nazi oppression. ‘Not all my people are like this,’ cried a Quaker German girl physically assaulted by a shopkeeper because she didn’t give the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute.

The students

In Germany, 1933 was a year of hope. ‘It can only get better’, proclaimed the media, now Adolf Hitler was at the helm: the miseries of the previous, post-war, decade would soon be over. Across the country, people’s spirits lifted.

That year, Hans Scholl was 15 and his sister Sophie 12, both eager to join their local branches of the new Hitler Youth and German Girls’ League. Their enthusiasm didn’t last. Sophie was distressed to find that Jewish friends were excluded; already fiercely dedicated to ideals of freedom and tolerance, she left the League. Hans was troubled by the baffling restrictions on the music he played, the books he read, and Hitler Youth’s military discipline was alien to him. Chosen to be his troop’s flagbearer for the 1935 Nazi Party rally, Hans came home a changed and sombre person. So the Scholls turned to the old Youth Movement, now illegal and operating underground. After war began, Hans, as a medical orderly (compulsory during university vacations), observed the brutal treatment of Jews and prisoners-of-war on the eastern front; Sophie, forced into auxiliary war work before she could continue her education, endured postings in bleak camps, barracks and factories, supporting a war she knew was wrong.

‘We grew up in a state in which all free expression of opinion is unscrupulously repressed. The Hitler Youth, the SA, the SS have tried to stupefy us, subvert us, regiment us, in the brightest years of our lives. We want genuine learning, real freedom of opinion.’ – words from a leaflet for students by Kurt Huber, a professor at Munich University. It was the last in a series printed and distributed by the White Rose, a resistance movement founded in 1942 by a group of Munich students, including the Scholls, and Huber. Their call was for ‘passive resistance,’ and in particular nonviolent sabotage, against the Nazi regime.

It was copies of Huber’s leaflet that Hans and Sophie Scholl scattered through the university lecture rooms early in the morning of February 18, 1943. In a final gesture they let the last copies flutter down from an upper landing into the inner courtyard. The Scholls were spotted by the caretaker, who locked the doors and called the Gestapo.

After months of covert leaflet-distribution – through letterboxes at night, through the mail from different towns and cities (using stamps bought a few at a time from scattered post offices, and addresses drawn at random from directories) – this last act seems rash. Perhaps Sophie almost wanted to be caught: she had said, ‘So many people have died for this government, it’s time someone died against it.’ Perhaps, among like-minded students and professors, they felt briefly safe. They were not: they were imprisoned, tried (by Hitler’s notorious ‘hanging judge’, the hostile and unbalanced Roland Freisler), and beheaded on February 22. Hans was 25, Sophie 22.

Despite the Scholls’ repeated assertions that they alone were responsible, their friends were also punished with prison or death. Kurt Huber was executed on July 13. His purpose, he wrote, had been ‘to rouse students not to any act of violence but to insight into the existing evils in political life. A return to clear moral principles, a constitutional state and mutual trust among people: this is not an illegal aim, it means the restoration of legality’.

In 1953 a memorial ceremony was held for the White Rose. The German president said: ‘The courageous death of these young people, who pitted integrity of mind and courage to voice the truth against empty rhetoric and the lie, became a victory at the moment when their life was cut off.’

Outside the university, squares have been named after the Scholls and Kurt Huber. The floor of the university courtyard has been re-tiled, with images of the leaflets that had lain there incorporated into the design. In Hamburg, one of several cities to which the White Rose movement spread, Sophie has a street named after her. Their graves are well-tended, planted with white roses.

Hans’ last words before his execution were ‘Long live freedom’. At her trial Sophie said, ‘What we said and wrote is what many people are thinking. Only they don’t dare to say it’.


Franz Jäggerstätter

  The Christians

Munich was ‘the birthplace of the Nazi Party’: it wasn’t surprising that Judge Freisler was specially sent for, or that the Scholls were executed on the same day as their trial. Freisler also presided over the trial of Count Helmuth von Moltke, who did dare to say what he thought.

Moltke was born in Prussia on his family’s estate at Kreisau, which was to give its name to a resistance movement: the Kreisau Circle, including representatives, distinguished in both status and intellect, of all aspects of the German resistance, who did not necessarily agree about how to resist. Moltke refused to associate himself with any plan to use violence. Trained as a lawyer, from 1933 he used his legal knowledge to help Jewish emigrants and Scandinavian refugees. He was arrested as an anti-Nazi in January 1944, and executed on January 23, 1945, aged 37. In his farewell letter to his two young sons, he wrote: ‘For my whole life, from school-days onwards, I have been struggling against the spirit of narrowness, violence, arrogance, and intolerance that has found expression in the National Socialist state.’

Moltke was a Christian, and it was for this that Freisler regarded him as an enemy. ‘In one of his tirades Freisler said to me, "We and Christianity resemble each other in only one respect: we claim the whole man".’ Hitler had remarked: ‘One is either a German or a Christian. One cannot be both.’ Josef Goebbels had said fiercely, ‘Christianity and Nationalist Socialism are incompatible’. There were many clergy and church people, of all denominations, who agreed. To be a Christian meant resisting Nazism, from its demand for ‘proof of Aryan birth’ to its wholesale slaughter and prosecution of unjust war. More than 12,000 priests, pastors and parish workers were victims of persecution and abuse because of their open resistance.

Among them was Franz Jäggerstätter, an isolated Austrian farmer and sacristan of his local Catholic church. After Austria was incorporated in the Third Reich and Franz was called up, he refused to fight on grounds of religious conscience. Only when he was in prison did he discover that there were other objectors like him; he was hugely encouraged. He knew (he wrote) that he wouldn’t change world affairs, but was ‘glad to be another sign that not everyone let themselves be carried with the tide... And if I must write this with my hands in chains, that’s better than having my will in chains.’ He was sentenced to death by a military court for refusing ‘to fulfil his patriotic duty in Germany’s hard struggle for survival’, and executed on August 9, 1943, aged 36.

Paul Schneider, an evangelical Protestant minister, drew Nazi hostility from 1933, when he began speaking out against the ‘lying machinations’ of the new regime and the neo-paganism it attempted to impose. Banned from his own pulpit and parish, he still continued to preach there. He was repeatedly arrested, and was finally put in solitary confinement in Buchenwald concentration camp. Whenever the chance arose, and despite weakness from torture, Paul Schneider’s voice could be heard ringing out across the camp, denouncing Nazism and giving comfort to fellow prisoners. Many said that he saved them from despair. ‘In both word and deed he protested against injustice’. He died after a lethal injection on July 18, 1939, aged 41: the first churchman to perish in a Nazi concentration camp.

It was against the cruelties of the concentration camps that Carthusian monk Bernhard Lichtenberg protested personally to Hermann Goering in 1935. Lichtenberg was one of the clergy of St Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin, the Nazi capital. He held a Mass for the Jews after the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938. He issued a statement to be read aloud in churches throughout the diocese, deploring Nazi propaganda against Jews and asking every Christian to ‘love your neighbour’. In 1941 he announced, in one of many sermons criticising the regime, that public prayers for Jews and concentration camp prisoners would be said at every evening service. He was imprisoned shortly afterwards for ‘endangering the public peace from the pulpit’ and died two years later, on November 5, 1943, on the way to Dachau. He was 67.

Clemens von Galen, Bishop of Münster, was among those who publicly objected in 1936 when a Nazi regional leader ordered the removal of crucifixes, or pictures of Luther, from schools in his district. There was an immediate mass demonstration. Church bells were rung, a nine-day service was held, children wore crucifixes to school, and well-organised protest groups sprang up. Even Nazis were drawn in: some members of Hitler Youth and the Nazi Women’s League did not co-operate with the decree. It was withdrawn.

When reports of the Nazi euthanasia programme began to leak out, Bishop Galen was again a leader of the opposition; people now understood that the buses full of mentally and physically disabled children and adults were taking them off not for treatment but for ‘elimination’. Local authorities were ordered to take ‘the severest measures’ against anyone spreading ‘rumours of a character detrimental and hateful to the state’. In 1941 Bishop Galen preached three sermons warning against the Gestapo and its uncontrolled power and brutality. Thousands of copies were printed and circulated. Hitler’s chief aides called for Galen’s execution, but he was too widely respected for them to risk the disaffection his death would cause. The euthanasia programme was reduced, reprehensibly confined in its last months to victims who had no-one to speak for them. The Bishop’s sermons, meanwhile, continued to be read, inspiring other people – such as the White Rose – in their own protests.  continue...


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