The Last of the White Rose Conspirators Against Hitler Has Died - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Last of the White Rose Conspirators Against Hitler Has Died

A heroine died the other day. Traute Lafrenz, a member of the White Rose resistance to Germany’s Nazis, passed away at 103 years old. She was the last known living member of the doomed group of idealistic students.

The Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin and China’s Mao Zedong were the world’s most prolific mass murderers. German’s Adolf Hitler remains the most monstrous, with his attempt to exterminate an entire people. Many Soviets and Chinese died as a result of horrendous policies which caused, but may not have intended, mass starvation. Hitler was determined to kill and sought to do so ever more brutally yet efficiently as the war continued.

Few Germans resisted. Explained George Juergen Wittenstein, a member of White Rose:

Organized resistance was practically impossible. One could not speak openly, even with close friends, never knowing whether they might not be Nazi spies or collaborators. So well organized was the control and surveillance by the party, that each city block had a party functionary assigned to spy on his neighbors. This “Blockwart” was ostensibly responsible for the well-being of the residents of his city block, but in reality had to monitor, record and report on activities, conversations, and remarks of each person, as well as on their associations. Even the privacy of one’s home was not assured: a tea cozy or pillows placed over the telephone were popular precautions against eavesdropping by bugging. Nor did one ever know what mail had been secretly opened.

Unsurprisingly, most people, whatever their opinion of the regime, simply tried to stay out of the way. Keep your head down, obey the rules, draw no attention, do your job. Some sought advancement but as factotums and apparatchiks, more skilled at bureaucratic warfare than violent combat. However, an unseemly number went along with the Nazis and committed the most hideous crimes. These people willingly aided the slaughter, providing the regime with the means to murder six million Jews and many others.

One of the most noted examples of otherwise normal Germans becoming mass murderers were members of Reserve Policy Battalion 101, whose participation in the Final Solution was detailed three decades ago. Few refused to kill, and most who did were physically, not morally, revolted by the task. After the war most went back to police work. Only a handful were prosecuted.

Book reviewer Walter Reich observed that the killing was …

the cold-blooded fulfillment of German national policy, and involved, for the policemen, a process of accommodation to orders that required them to do things they would never have dreamed they would ever do, and to justify their actions, or somehow reinterpret them, so that they would not see themselves as evil people.

In such a world, what caused a few Germans to not just refuse to participate in evil, but to actively resist? Most famous are the July 20, 1944 plotters, who sought to kill Hitler. The most arresting figure in that effort was Col. Claus Graf von Stauffenberg, who was executed in the War Ministry’s courtyard after the coup attempt collapsed. His statue now stands there. Many others were involved in that effort as well as other attempts on Hitler’s life.

The White Rose gained fame after the war, but most attention centered on the leaders, a professor, Kurt Huber, and five students, Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, and Alexander Schmorell. However, several others, such as Lafrenz, also were involved. The participants were not organized to overthrow the state. Indeed, they were more intent on making a moral statement than anything else. Explained Lafrenz: There was lingering misconception “that the White Rose was some kind of organization. This was not the case. It was just a group of friends who had connections to the Scholl siblings.”

Which made their efforts simultaneously more heroic and tragic. Two factors set them apart. One was seeing the Nazis clearly. For instance, Hans Scholl was a Hitler Youth standard-bearer at the 1935 Nuremberg Nazi party rally. In contrast to most of his comrades, that experience sped his disillusionment. Amid a torrent of propaganda and pressure, members of the White Rose recognized the extraordinary evil being committed in their name.

Their second distinction was the willingness to act despite having no hope of practical success. Rather, they acted as the collective conscience of people who tried the ostrich solution, burying their heads and ignoring the horrendous evil around them. For instance, one of their leaflets denounced the mass murder of Jews “in the most bestial manner imaginable,” which constituted “a terrible crime against the dignity of mankind, a crime that cannot be compared with any other in the history of mankind.”

Hans and his sister Sophie were discovered while distributing another leaflet, which led to their arrest, along with Christoph Probst, and almost immediate execution by guillotine. Others, including Lafrenz, were subsequently arrested, with a few killed and most imprisoned. She was liberated by the allies while awaiting a second trial, facing a possible death sentence. Lafrenz emigrated to America in 1947 and was living in South Carolina at the time of her death.

Even though unsuccessful, resistance by the White Rose and others was vital for Germany. One of the July 20 conspirators, Lt. Heinrich Graf von Lehndorff-Steinort, who was executed for his role in that effort, explained:

The assassination must be attempted, coûte que coûte[whatever the cost]. Even if it fails, we must take action in Berlin. For the practical purpose no longer matters; what matters now is that the German resistance movement must take the plunge before the eyes of the world and of history. Compared to that, nothing else matters.

In a world like our own it is important to remember that resistance to evil is possible — and essential. Traute Lafrenz imbued and exuded that spirit, risking everything in the fight against Nazi rule in Germany. She and her friends succeeded even as they appeared to fail, with many of them paying with their lives. Thankfully she survived. Decades ago she demonstrated uncommon courage. She deserves to be remembered for doing what so many other Germans did not: count the cost and take a stand.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

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Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.
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