Center for
              White Rose

March 31, 2012

The Newsletter of the
Center for White Rose Studies

March 31, 2012 - Volume 11, Issue 3

Serious Business
     Usually this monthly newsletter tries to strike a balance between the serious business of Holocaust education (not a topic conducive to laughter) and the lighthearted moments we encounter because of our collective humanity. We try to mix it up between editorial, book reviews, general Holocaust Studies news, and updates about surviving family members and friends from the White Rose circle.
     Sometimes the balance in an issue may skew more towards one element or another. When that happens, we attempt to shift the focus back to a different subject in a subsequent newsletter. This balance reflects not only the way we live, but what we perceive as a healthy approach to scholarship. Anything too dark or too light generally means that something is off kilter.
     In this issue of our newsletter, we need to put that approach behind us for a moment and focus solely on "the serious business of Holocaust education" and what it means. No, this is not a fundraising appeal. This is not about money.
     This is about scholarship, and the ethics of scholarship.
     Recently, a fellow researcher parted ways with us because he did not like the following statement in a flyer for collaborative projects that included our Shades of Grey project:
     Using primary source documents (and not oral histories) from ordinary German citizens during the Third Reich, build an improved profile of the millions who went along with National Socialism. This project focuses neither on those in resistance, nor on people who actively participated in or collaborated with Nazi politics.
     Rather, we want to advance understanding of the lives of ordinary citizens. What stifled protest? Why were they willingly blind to gross injustice? How did they live?
     We are looking for a multi-dimensional view of German society between 1933 and 1945, not a B&W cardboard good-versus-evil

     I was shocked and stunned to realize that he has bought into the Germans-as-victims, apologist viewpoint that anyone who was neither perpetrator nor resister should be deemed "indifferent or a bystander." I personally consider that mindset dangerous for anyone researching and writing about the Shoah, for the following reasons:
     First (and important for anyone writing about White Rose resistance), it directly contradicts the opinion of those who were involved with German resistance. In Leaflet 4, Hans Scholl wrote:
     However, this rebirth must be preceded by a clear confession of all the guilt the German nation has incurred and by a ruthless battle against Hitler and his too-numerous helpers’ helpers, Party members, Quislings, et al. The chasm between the better part of the nation and everything connected with National Socialism must be brutally forced open. There is no punishment on this earth that is adequate for the deeds of Hitler and his followers. Out of love for the generations to come, we must make an example [of them] after the conclusion of the war so that no one will ever have the slightest desire to attempt something similar. Do not forget even the little scoundrels of this regime. Note their names, so that no one escapes! After all these atrocities, they should not be able to change sides at the last minute and thereby pretend as though nothing had happened!
     Second, that attitude absolves non-Party members who:
  • Evicted Jewish tenants from apartments or bought Jewish household goods for cents on the dollar after they "disappeared";
  • Refused to sell groceries to Jewish neighbors, refused to talk to Jewish neighbors, or otherwise assisted in the Nazi marginalization of anyone not "Aryan";
  • Denounced Germans who were protecting or assisting Jews or others deemed "subhuman" by the Nazis;
  • Willingly (even happily) took part in Nazi elections, festivals, and rituals;
  • Joined NSDAP organizations like Hitler Youth, Bar Association, Welfare Relief, or who benefited from Kraft Durch Freude vacations and NSDAP-sponsored hostels;
  • Observed "aligned" traditions such as the prayer for Hitler at the end of Mass or Protestant church services; and,
  • Celebrated when "traitors" like the White Rose friends were executed.
     Without broad public support, Hitler and the NSDAP regime would have collapsed by the end of 1933. And for the first what, seven years?, of National Socialism, there was no reign of Gestapo terror to blame for such global acquiescence to Nazi policy and to the blatant mistreatment of non-Aryans.

     We have tried to make it clear in everything we do, say, and write that we do not believe in collective guilt. We do not believe that every German who lived as an adult between 1933 and 1945 should be seen as a criminal. We do not believe that every German who lived as an adult between 1933 and 1945 agreed with Hitler or the National Socialist platform. We do not believe that every German who lived as an adult between 1933 and 1945 was anti-Semitic or wished to see Germany Judenrein, free of Jews.
     We recognize that those were awful days to be alive. We addressed that topic head-on in our September 30, 2004 newsletter, by re-posting an excellent essay penned by Rabbi Michael Singer, Malverne Jewish Center, Malverne, New York. If you missed that essay eight years ago, please read it now. He says it better than I ever could. Like Rabbi Singer, I have asked myself the question, "Would I have risked my life by hiding Jews or actively resisting the Nazis?" Like Rabbi Singer, my answer is a resounding, "I don't know."
     We also understand that not all Germans knew what was happening to their Jewish neighbors (and neighbors who were Roma-Sinti, Jehovah's Witness, Social Democrats, Communists, and gay as well) when they suddenly disappeared. Many would not have known about the mass murders committed by the Einsatztruppen, nor about the gas chambers at the KZ-Lager.

     That said and acknowledged, stipulated for the record, all Germans did know that their Jewish neighbors were not allowed to sit on park benches, shop in "German" stores, and live in "German" houses. All Germans witnessed Kristallnacht, saw Jewish shops and homes plundered, and knew that in almost every city and town, Jewish neighbors had been dragged from their beds in the middle of the night and beaten, some even sent to Dachau.
     All Germans were aware of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws. All Germans knew that Jewish CPAs, attorneys, teachers, civil servants, and performers had been discharged, their positions given to non-Jewish Germans. All Germans could see the NSDAP Party Platform and the gross injustices it openly promoted. All Germans heard the vicious rhetoric pronounced by Hitler, Goebbels, Goering, and the rest of Party leadership.

     And knowing these things, all Germans fell into three distinct camps: Those who joined the NSDAP; those who resisted Nazi crimes and ideology; and, those who went along for one reason or another.
     That third group, the focus of our Shades of Grey project, may have had reasons for their silence. They may have thought that if they simply survived the war, they could then bring down Hitler (although that does not explain their silence prior to 1939). They may have been afraid for their lives, especially if they had a particularly vengeful Blockwart. They may have practiced the "my country right or wrong" philosophy. They may have believed that their families were more important than any family living next door.
     Some, like Franz Josef Müller, were so religious that they deemed resistance to National Socialism the equivalent of heresy. Since the Pope had signed the Concordat, he believed he was "obligated" under its terms to obey Nazi law. Others saw National Socialism as less of a danger, with Soviet Communism the greater evil. Once it had been conquered, they could (they thought) turn their attention to domestic politics.

     No matter their reasoning, the Germans who did not resist enabled the Nazi cause. Especially in the early years, their silence enabled the Enabling Act, it enabled the T-4 Program (practice run for the gas chambers that would kill Jews), it enabled the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, it enabled Kristallnacht. If opportunity for resistance dwindled post-November-pogrom, it is only because those vast silences had not shut down the National Socialist regime when given the chance.
      The German Bar Association and the German equivalent of the Supreme Court could have declared the Enabling Act unconstitutional, and Hitler would have been neutered. The Churches could have refused alignment (and one should never underestimate the power and political clout of the Lutheran and Catholic Churches in Germany prior to 1945), and masses of Germans would have voted Hitler out of office. Military brass could have risen up when Hitler demanded a change to their loyalty oath, insisting that their duty was to Constitution and Country, and Germany would not have become a military state.
     For that matter, educators could have protested en masse when commanded to teach Nazi ideology, and hundreds of thousands of students would never have been brainwashed.
     Along the way, people - both individually and corporately - made choices. And those choices strengthened the strong arm of National Socialism. Germany did not enter the Third Reich by accident. Hitler was not inevitable. The Third Reich was the culmination of many conscious decisions, as the German nation resolved to follow a strong man who promised them prosperity at the expense of freedom.

     And yet, and yet, even as The Masses followed that strong man who promised them prosperity at the expense of freedom, there were those who saw "freedom lost" as the worst possible outcome. And who passively and actively worked for regime change. To these people, prosperity was meaningless if one was not allowed freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear.
     They may not have agreed regarding best methods to remove Hitler from power. Some of these brave people worked harder or smarter than others. Some had clear political motives, others merely tried to right wrongs immediately at hand. Some figured out Hitler's end game earlier than others. Some protested on religious grounds, while others recognized a larger moral imperative at stake.
     Although we currently know the stories of a handful of these freedom fighters, there were probably 15,000 in Germany alone.

    And yet, and yet - If we ignore The Masses who followed that strong man who promised them prosperity at the expense of freedom, we will never understand how the Shoah came to be. Without studying the "why" behind the silence, we won't be able to figure out what drove some people to make the ultimate sacrifice while others were content to bow at Hitler's shrine. We won't have the necessary tools to teach our young people the best ways to effect change, to bring about liberty and justice for all, right here in the United States of America.

     So what difference does this make?, you may ask. Who cares whether people in that third group were bystanders or enablers? Isn't it enough to simply study those who resisted?
     When the researcher mentioned above parted ways with us, he forced me to directly consider those very questions. I wondered if this were not perhaps a matter of my being too stubborn. What would it hurt to water down the collaborative projects handout? We need all the people we can get involved in our work, I reasoned with myself. Better not to alienate a valuable and valued fellow researcher. So yes, I thought about backing down.

     Two things brought me back to reality, back to basics.

     First, the One Family's Houston book that we are currently working on (Denise says it will be finished by May 31!). Originally envisioned as an annotated scrapbook of Houston's history, with primary sources (e.g. articles from The Houston Post) as historical context, the book has morphed into a history of Houston with our Sachs-family photographs as illustrations.
     That history can be a bit depressing. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Texas - indeed most of the Deep South - came within millimeters of the same type genocide as occurred in Germany during the Holocaust, only with the complete extermination of the African-American population as their goal. The political movement was known as Vardamanism, named for the Mississippi governor who was its loudest proponent.
     Under Vardamanism, lynching would have been made legal. For starters.
     It was nothing in those days for posses of white men to set out on murderous rampages, killing dozens of unarmed black men on a whim. (The recent events in Tulsa, Oklahoma have reopened old wounds from 1921, when a band of white men went on a killing spree in the black community.)
     As in Germany from 1933 to 1945, whites in the Deep South and Texas fell into three groups: Those who joined Vardaman and organizations like the Ku Klux Klan; the few brave souls who opposed this racism; and those who went along, not taking sides. As in Germany, the third group enabled the atrocities by their silence.

     Second, I returned to a book that had helped shape my thinking on this subject when I began writing my White Rose histories: Ernestine Schlant's Language of Silence (New York: Routledge, 1999).
     A friend had invited me to hear Dr. Schlant speak. Her husband - Senator Bill Bradley - was a candidate for the presidency on the Democratic ticket. Everyone assembled fully expected her speech to focus on his campaign. Schlant was, after all, a good political wife who did stump for her husband.
     But on this occasion, she neglected politics completely to talk about about Language of Silence.
     Schlant was almost ten years old when World War II ended. She lived in beautiful Passau, where the Danube joins the Inn (and the Ilz). Passau lies on the border between Bavaria and Austria. Adolf Hitler lived there as a young child, from 1892 - 1894. The city housed subcamps of the awful Mauthausen KZ-Lager. After the war, it was the site of a major DP (displaced persons) camp.
     As Schlant told her story, she said she had never heard about events of the Holocaust while she was growing up. People in Passau didn't talk about what had gone on in Germany and Austria, and they most certainly did not speak of anything that took place in Passau.
     It was not until she came to the United States to study at Emory University that she started hearing about what her fellow Germans had done during the war. She was appalled, ashamed, humiliated. And determined to learn more.
     Her parents were among the group we wish to examine in our Shades of Grey project. Schlant said that writing Language of Silence (it took ten years) was part of her personal process, the "individual memory work" she insists is lacking in most treatments of the Holocaust. And without which, she also claims, true healing and atonement are impossible.

     I've posted a few important excerpts from her book here, along with a link to purchase it from, and another link that will take you to a longer preview of the book on Please take the time to read that page. It's not easy reading, but it will make you think. Guaranteed.

     So, what can YOU do to ensure that Holocaust Studies and research into this era remain fair, objective, as impartial as possible (or at least recognizing our prejudices), and truthful?
  1. You can read our Ethics of Holocaust Scholarship document, and then affirm in our Guestbook that you support our manner of work.
  2. You can join one of our collaborative projects. For the next eighteen months, we are waiving all fees for access to the raw data we'll be posting (no requirement to purchase the finished product) if you actively participate in the discussion and editorial process. Note: We welcome high school students, undergraduates (at four-year institutions and community colleges), and graduate students, along with middle school and high school teachers, lecturers, professors, and independent scholars.
  3. If you are a high school student or undergraduate, we would love to talk to you about participating in research for one of our archive projectsContact us if this is something you'd be interested in. We can figure out tuition and cost-sharing on a case by case basis. We'll also work with you to convince your school or university to give you independent study credit for your research.
  4. Invite us to speak at your synagogue, church, school, university, or civic center.
  5. Donate (German) primary source materials you find from that era: Postcards, letters, diaries, photographs and photo albums, newspapers, family newsletters, medals, business documents, church records, scrapbooks, memorabilia, flyers... What may seem mundane or irrelevant to you will add to the data. Who knows what critical link your scrap of paper could provide? The more data, the clearer the picture. Contact us for mailing address.
  6. Join our translation team. You won't earn any dollars, but I can attest that it's otherwise rewarding. You can translate, transcribe, copy-edit, or annotate. We need all sorts of skills. Contact us to volunteer.
  7. In the very near future (the next six to twelve months), we will need people to volunteer in our archives, scanning and cataloging documents. We will need people to assume leadership and event-planning roles for our 2013 White Rose conference. We will need people to assist (or guide) fundraising efforts, especially for archive acquisition. If you'd like to be involved with any of those programs, contact us to volunteer.

     We welcome high school (and mature middle school) and college students for any of the above! If the students of the White Rose could accomplish what they did, why shouldn't American students be responsible for accurately telling their story? Why shouldn't students set a very high bar when it comes to research, or asking questions?
     Finally, the "paid subscription" version of the First Quarter 2012 newsletter will contain excerpts from our existing Shades of Grey material. As a one-time only offer, we will mail anyone a copy of that expanded newsletter free of charge. You only have to ask. We want you to see with your own eyes why we feel like this project is too important to abandon.

     In 1999, Ernestine Schlant mentioned a German writer named Ralph Gehrke. In 1995, Gehrke had published an essay based on his PhD dissertation in the Osnabrücker Jahrbuch Frieden und Wissenschaft, entitled "Elternspuren: Autobiographische Versuche über das NS-Trauma." Schlant paraphrased one of Gerhke's conclusions, and it's something worth mentioning here:

     It is not true that history cannot teach us anything. She only needs students.

     May all of us humbly accept our role as History's students, so our Never Again may have meaning and credibility.

     All the best,
     Ruth Hanna Sachs
     Center for White Rose Studies
     Los Angeles, California USA

(c) 2012 Exclamation! Publishers and Center for White Rose Studies. All rights reserved. Please contact us for permission to quote.

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