Information

Resistance in Nazi Germany



White Rose

The White Rose (German: Weiße Rose, pronounced [ˈvaɪ̯sə ˈʁoːzə] ( listen ) ) was a non-violent, intellectual resistance group in Nazi Germany led by a group of students from the University of Munich, including Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell. The group conducted an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign that called for active opposition to the Nazi regime. Their activities started in Munich on 27 June 1942, and ended with the arrest of the core group by the Gestapo on 18 February 1943. [1] They, as well as other members and supporters of the group who carried on distributing the pamphlets, faced show trials by the Nazi People's Court (Volksgerichtshof), and many of them were sentenced to death or imprisonment.

Hans and Sophie Scholl, as well as Christoph Probst were executed by guillotine four days after their arrest, on 22 February 1943. During the trial, Sophie interrupted the judge multiple times. No defendants were given any opportunity to speak.

The group wrote, printed and initially distributed their pamphlets in the greater Munich region. Later on, secret carriers brought copies to other cities, mostly in the southern parts of Germany. In total, the White Rose authored six leaflets, which were multiplied and spread, in a total of about 15,000 copies. They denounced the Nazi regime's crimes and oppression, and called for resistance. In their second leaflet, they openly denounced the persecution and mass murder of the Jews. [2] By the time of their arrest, the members of the White Rose were just about to establish contacts with other German resistance groups like the Kreisau Circle or the Schulze-Boysen/Harnack group of the Red Orchestra. Today, the White Rose is well known both within Germany and worldwide.


Key Dates

December 22, 1942
"Red Orchestra" spy executed in Berlin

Arvid Harnack is executed for treason in Berlin. Harnack is a leading figure in the wide-ranging Soviet spy network, dubbed the "Red Orchestra" by the Gestapo (secret state police). The "Red Orchestra" is active in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and inside Nazi Germany. Harnack, a leading figure in the group active inside Germany, was involved in German economic planning. He sought to end Adolf Hitler's dictatorship by helping the Soviet Union defeat Germany. As early as 1936, Harnack began to pass on secret information about German armament production to the Soviet Union. During the war, Harnack combines espionage for the Soviet Union with sabotage and other acts of opposition to Hitler. In 1942, the Gestapo begins watching Harnack. He is then arrested, tortured, and condemned to death. Harnack is strangled and hung from a meat hook. Most of the remaining leaders of the spy network are also arrested and brutally killed.

February 22, 1943
Hans and Sophie Scholl executed in Munich

Hans and Sophie Scholl (brother and sister) are executed in Munich. They had founded the White Rose opposition group in 1942. Both are students at the University of Munich. They write and distribute leaflets opposing the Third Reich. The last White Rose leaflet, which the Scholls scattered in the entrance hall of the University of Munich on February 18, 1943, arouses a particular stir. The leaflet declares that "The day of reckoning has come, the reckoning of German youth with the most abominable tyranny that our people have ever suffered." They are reported by the building janitor to the Gestapo (secret state police) and arrested, along with four others. They are brought before the People's Court. Sophie and Hans are convicted of treason and beheaded.

July 20, 1944
Bomb explodes in Hitler's eastern headquarters

Military reverses following the Soviet victory at Stalingrad in 1943 cause increasing discontent, in the German military, with Adolf Hitler. A small group of high-ranking military officers plans a coup against Hitler. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, an aide on the general staff of the German armed forces, places a briefcase containing a bomb next to Hitler at his headquarters in Rastenburg, in eastern Germany. During a briefing on the military situation on the eastern front, the powerful bomb explodes, shattering the building. Stauffenberg, who made an excuse to leave after placing the bomb, sees the explosion and returns to Berlin to report Hitler's death. However, the weighty conference table used for military briefings shields Hitler from the full force of the explosion. He survives with minor burns, damaged ear drums, and partial paralysis in his right arm. Stauffenberg is arrested and shot. The other participants of the conspiracy are arrested, tortured, tried for treason, and then brutally executed. They are strangled and hung from meat hooks.


The Postwar Nazi Resistance

In their urgent drive to kill the Nazi beast, they had left great swaths of territory in German hands. There were German outposts everywhere over hundreds of miles in Germany itself and in the former German-occupied countries, which seemed to come under no one’s control save that of the local commanders.

Here's What You Need To Remember: Despite the Fuhrer's death in April 1945, isolated pockets of German soldiers continued to fight after the official surrender. Here are some of their stories.

It was said on May 8, 1945, that some of the victors wandered around in a daze. They were puzzled by a strange silence. The guns were no longer firing the permanent barrage, their constant companion, during those last months since they had crossed the Rhine.

Some could not quite believe it was all over. They had longed for an end to the war in Europe for years. “Then suddenly it was upon them all and the impact of the fact was a thing that failed to register–like the death of a loved one,” the historian of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division wrote that year.

On that day in May, a combat engineer sergeant serving with General George S. Patton, Jr.’s Third Army in Austria wrote to his wife, “The war’s over! All we can think about is, thank God, thank God … nobody is going to shoot at me any more. I can’t be killed. I have made it!” Medal of Honor Recipient Audie Murphy, recuperating from his three wounds in Cannes, went out into the crowds celebrating the great victory. “I feel only a vague irritation,” he wrote later. “I want company and I want to be alone. I want to talk and I want to be silent. There is VE Day without, but no peace.”

Pockets of German Resistance Remained

Most of the GIs were not given, however, to philosophizing. They simply got blind drunk instead. It was Tuesday May 8, 1945—Victory in Europe Day. It was all over. The Germans were beaten at last. There was peace again. Were the Germans really beaten? Was there really peace in Europe?

Over the past few weeks, the great Allied armies had swept through Hitler’s vaunted “1,000 Year-Reich,” which had lasted 12 years and five months, occupying everything from great, if shattered, cities to remote intact villages and hamlets. But in their urgent drive to kill the Nazi beast, they had left great swaths of territory in German hands. There were German outposts everywhere over hundreds of miles in Germany itself and in the former German-occupied countries, which seemed to come under no one’s control save that of the local commanders.

In the area of Dessau, where the U.S. and Soviet Armies had failed to link up, the entire German infrastructure still functioned. For nearly two months, the locals ran their own post offices, telephone exchanges, and so on, guarded by a sizeable force of German soldiers, with the Allies totally unaware of the situation. Farther north in the area of the German border, SS troops still held out in the forests around Bad Segeberg. Well dug in, they refused to surrender until the commander of the British 11th Armored Division grew sick of the situation. He was not going to risk any more deaths in his division, which had suffered casualties enough since Normandy. Instead, he ordered the commander of the German 8th Parachute Division to do the job for him. Thus, during the week after the war was officially over, German fought German to the death.

The “Night of the Long Knives” and the Battle of Texel

These were not the only ones. On the Dutch island of Texel, across from the important German naval base of Den Heldern, a full-scale mini war had been under way since the end of April 1945. At that time, the 82nd Infantry Battalion, made up of Russian former prisoners of war from Soviet Georgia under some 400 German officers and noncommissioned officers, had been preparing to fight the Canadians who were advancing into Holland. The ex-POWs believed resistance would mean their death in combat or forced repatriation to Russia where again they might well be put to death as traitors.

Instead of fighting for the Germans, they had mutinied under a broad-shouldered former pilot, Lieutenant Sjalwas Loladze. He argued that if they could take their German superiors by surprise and equip themselves with whatever artillery they could find on the island, they would be able to hold out until Canadian paratroopers dropped on Texel and relieved them.

Thus it was that they carried out their own “night of the long knives” in late April. In one night they slaughtered their German officers and NCOs in their beds, some 250 of them, and took the rest of them prisoner. The battalion commander, a Major Breitner, could not be found in his quarters. That was not surprising. He was in bed with his mistress, a local Dutch girl. Hearing the midnight bursts of firing, Breitner thought the Canadians had landed, but he soon discovered that German weapons were being fired and that his troops had mutinied. At gunpoint, he forced a local fisherman to row him over to Den Heldern and alarmed the authorities there.

The next day, the Battle of Texel commenced. The Germans advanced three battalions, some 3,500 men in all, and they soon forced the Georgians to retreat. Still, the former prisoners refused to surrender. Down to 400 men by May, they continued the bitter struggle in which no quarter was given or expected. When a Georgian was taken prisoner by the Germans, he was stripped of his uniform and shot on the spot. The ex-POWs had an even simpler method. They tied bundles of their prisoners together and attached a single grenade to them. It was bloody, but efficient, they thought. Besides, it saved their dwindling supply of ammunition.

While the Canadians, who now occupied that part of Holland, looked on impotently (or so they said later), the men of the Georgian Battalion and their onetime German masters slaughtered each other ruthlessly. VE Day came and went, and they were still at it.

Farmbacher Holds Out in Lorient

On May 8, another cut off German garrison— that of the great German U-boat base at Lorient on the French coast—was still holding out, ignoring both the Allied order to surrender and that of the last Nazi leader, Admiral Karl Dönitz, to lay down their arms. Back in August 1944, Patton had intended to capture the key naval base, but after his army had suffered great losses at Brest and other Breton ports, he had called off the attack.

Lorient was going to be allowed to wither on the vine. Unfortunately for the Allies, Lorient did not wither. For over a year, its commander, elderly General Wilhelm Fahrmbacher, had fought off attacks by the French and American troops who had surrounded the Lorient after Patton had departed with his Third Army. After winning the Knight’s Cross in Russia, Farmbacher had been put out to pasture at Lorient.

During what amounted to a siege, he had been supplied by U-boat and long-range aircraft, supplementing the garrison’s rations with raids on the French and Americans and penetrating their lines in depth to buy food from the local farmers, who were prepared to deal with the enemy—at a price.

Throughout those long months, Farmbacher had succeeded in maintaining the garrison’s morale with a daily supply of that German staple—bread. Unknown to the troops, however, most of that freshly baked Komissbrot was made from sawdust. Fahrmbacher and his chief quartermaster, who kept the matter strictly secret, had had the local rail track pulled up to get at the wooden sleepers below. Daily and in secrecy, these sleepers were sawed up to make sawdust.

Indeed, one of the first things that the fortress commander insisted upon as soon as he was awakened by his soldier servant and given his cup of acorn coffee was for the quartermaster to report the state of the sawdust. Now, over a week after Germany surrendered, Fahrmbacher summoned his quartermaster and asked, “How many railroad sleepers have we left?” The quartermaster hesitated, and the big general knew instinctively that he was in trouble. Slowly, avoiding the general’s eyes, the quartermaster replied, “One!”

Fahrmbacher knew the situation was hopeless. He could not feed the garrison with a couple of sacks of molding flour and the sawdust provided by one lone wooden sleeper. It was time to surrender.

That afternoon, he sent his last message to Dönitz far away in North Germany at the small coastal town of Murwik. It read, “Wish to sign off with my steadfast and unbeaten men. We remember our sorely tried homeland. Long Live Germany.” Thereupon, he ordered one of his officers to make contact with the French besiegers in order to surrender. A little later, the elderly general found himself serving five years in a Parisian jail for having disfigured French property. His real crime was that he did not know the whereabouts of the French postage stamps that had been overprinted with the word “LORIENT” and used by the garrison. His French interrogator had wanted them for himself, knowing they were rare and would soon be valuable. They were, and they are. Today, each one of those 60-year-old stamps is worth at least $1,000.


At Last, Recognition and Praise for the Resistance in Nazi Germany

When the British historian A. J. P. Taylor declared in the 1960's that German resistance to the Nazis was a myth, his was a widely held view. Even today many people in Germany and elsewhere believe there was little internal opposition to Hitler.

After decades of bitter debate, however, the German resistance's tangled history is coming into sharper focus. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the cold war in 1989, newly released K.G.B. and C.I.A. files and long-ignored documents in the Roosevelt Library in

Hyde Park, N.Y., reveal that the once-scorned Communist and socialist resistance deserves more credit.

As Germany celebrates the 10th anniversary of reunification this week, there are signs that the left's contributions are finally being recognized. Streets in western Germany are being named for members of the Red Orchestra, a leftist resistance group that had been maligned for decades, while the high-speed trains plying from Hanover through the former eastern zone to Berlin bear names of German resisters like Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, who had been honored only in the former West Germany.

But this searching re-examination has not been painless. Old East-West antagonisms have shot through attempts to correct the record.

Delicate political sensibilities are part of the reason that a more complete picture of the German resistance has been so long in coming. During the Nazi era the breadth of internal opposition was hidden from the German people and, except for the failed Stauffenberg plot of July 20, 1944, to assassinate Hitler, from the rest of the world. Yet Gestapo records reveal that approximately 800,000 Germans in a population of more than 66 million were jailed for active resistance during the Reich's 12-year reign. Indeed, the first concentration camps, notably Dachau, built near Munich in 1933, were meant for left-wing dissidents. In 1936, a typical year, 11,687 Germans were arrested for illegal socialist activity, according to Peter Hoffmann's standard 1977 study, ''The History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945.''

Even after the war the record was obscured. To many Germans the resistance was an awkward reminder that choices were possible, even in wartime. In Germany's western sector, influential voices echoed the Nazi judiciary in defining all resistance against the fatherland as high treason.

This view persisted after the founding of the German Federal Republic, or West Germany, in 1949. Survivor benefits, for example, were denied to the widows and children of the conservative officers who tried to kill Hitler in 1944, even though the widows of SS officers were receiving benefits.

As West Germany became the anchor of Western Europe, its frontiers guaranteed by NATO, a less defensive populace began to honor some resistance leaders like the army officers led by Count Stauffenberg who tried to assassinate Hitler in 1944, churchmen like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the Catholic students in the so-called White Rose group. Even so, Communist opponents were still shunned. In 1956 the Bonn Parliament voted to compensate many German victims of Nazism, but when the Communist Party was declared illegal in West Germany, the Communists were excluded from any benefits.

Perhaps no group was more consistently misrepresented during the cold war or better illustrates the current re-examination of German resistance than the Red Orchestra. The Red Orchestra was a loosely organized group of about 120 Catholics, socialists, conservatives and former Communist Party members centered on Arvid Harnack, a former Rockefeller scholar and official in the German Economics Ministry his American wife, Mildred a Luftwaffe lieutenant, Harro Schulze-Boysen and his wife, Libertas, who worked for the film section of the Propaganda Ministry.

Although often portrayed as a Soviet agent, Harnack in fact provided top-secret intelligence to an American diplomat in Berlin as well as to the Soviets. And despite Soviet requests to cease all resistance activities, the group printed and distributed anti-Nazi literature and helped Jews and dissidents escape until, because of a gross Soviet intelligence blunder, the Gestapo arrested 120 people in 1942 and 1943. One result was the torture, secret trial and execution of 31 men and 18 women, including Mildred Harnack.

In East Germany, the Soviet-installed government celebrated the Red Orchestra and other 'ɺnti-fascist heroes'' to lend a measure of legitimacy to the regime. Streets and schools were named after Marxist resisters. History was rewritten with Orwellian zeal. Arvid Harnack's last words, uttered before he was executed, were changed from ''I believe in the power of love'' to ''I die as a convinced Communist!''

In West Germany the truth was obscured in a different way. Writing in 1954, the historian Gerhard Ritter expressed a common West German judgment about the Red Orchestra: ''This group had nothing to do with 'German resistance.' They were frankly in the service of the enemy. They not only sought to induce German soldiers to desert, but they also betrayed important military secrets and so destroyed German troops.'' They were, Ritter declared, traitors.

Information that emerged after reunification has renewed the debate over who deserves to be honored. In 1992, for example, the Memorial Museum of the German Resistance in Berlin installed a corrective exhibition on the Red Orchestra intended as a ''tardy atonement for the victims and their survivors, and an apology for long neglect in the history of the German resistance.'' But the group's inclusion at the memorial site provoked an outraged protest by families of the July 20 conspirators.

And when an exhibit from the museum was sent to Washington and New York in 1994, Maria Hermes, the daughter of the Catholic resister Josef Wirmer, insisted that a distinction be made between the men who planned the overthrow of Hitler to restore peace and re-establish Germany as a free constitutional state 'ɺnd those of the anti-fascists who wanted to establish Communist rule.'' Schulze-Boysen's brother, Hartmut, fired back that unlike the officers who served Hitler loyally until 1944, his brother and friends had never served the National Socialist state. They ''had given their lives not for Stalin but rather in fighting Hitler,'' he said.

Yet with the 10th anniversary of reunification, critical opinion is decisively turning in the revisionists' favor. A permanent exhibit honoring Schulze-Boysen and a comrade, Erwin Gehrts, opened last December in the Finance Ministry, a building which at onetime housed Hermann Goring's Luftwaffe.

Perhaps the most telling signal of the shift in German public opinion was the warm reception accorded ''This Death Suits Me,'' the collected letters of Schulze-Boysen, when it was published last fall. Many people were moved by the final letter that the 33-year-old Schulze-Boysen sent to his parents: ''I am completely calm and ask that you accept this with composure. Such important things are at stake today all over the world that one extinguished life does not matter very much. . . . Everything that I did was done in accordance with my head, my heart, my convictions, and in this light you, my parents, must assume the best. . . . It is usual in Europe for spiritual seeds to be sown with blood. Perhaps we were simply a few fools, but when the end is this near, one perhaps has the right to a bit of completely personal historical illusion.''

Even the reviewer in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the most conservative of dailies, described the Red Orchestra as one of the ''most moving, most courageous and most farsighted groups of the German resistance.''


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&ldquoMost people had not actually read &lsquoMein Kampf,&rsquo but my father had,&rdquo says his son, who also practiced as a lawyer. &ldquoHe read it, and immediately came to the conclusion that Hitler fully believed what he was writing. He was therefore depressed and worried.

Freya and Helmuth James with James' siblings and Edgar Mowrer with his daughter Diana in front of the "House on the hill" in Kreisau in 1932. Courtesy of Helmuth Caspar von Moltke

&ldquoMy father would recommend to his Jewish clients to &lsquoGo! Go! Go!&rsquo&rdquo Caspar von Moltke adds. &ldquoOne cousin of my mother married a Jewish man, and they were making plans to go to Holland. But my father said, &lsquoHolland is not far enough.&rsquo&rdquo

&lsquoReligious opposition&rsquo

Born to prominent Christian Scientist parents in 1907, Helmuth von Moltke became an evangelical Christian at 14 and his faith became an increasing part of his life. &ldquoThe German upper class tended to be conservative and almost in totality taken with the Nazis. But if you were not conservative &ndash a rarity in the German upper class at the time &ndash it was different,&rdquo Caspar von Moltke explains. &ldquoMy grandparents with their Christian Science background were already out of step with other people. We were not a typical German aristocratic family &ndash and my father and mother weren&rsquot. They believed strongly in democracy and the Weimar Republic, and wanted it to work. All the things the Nazis did not want.&rdquo

Norbert Frei, chairman of modern and contemporary history at the University of Jena, Germany, says Helmuth von Moltke was an important figure in the German resistance &ldquobecause he had a principled, religious opposition to the Nazis from the start.&rdquo Frei contrasts von Moltke&rsquos consistency with that of many other members of the upper class who became part of the resistance but did so very late on, after initially welcoming Hitler in 1933.

German Countess Freya von Moltke, wife of German Count Helmuth James von Moltke, is seen during an exhibition opening ceremony on the resistance during Nazi rule in Berlin, on July 19, 2004. AP

Mary Fulbrook, a professor of German history at University College London, concurs. Without diminishing other resistors&rsquo personal courage and moral integrity, she says, it bears remembering that there were tens of thousands of other courageous individuals, mainly left-wingers, who had been attempting to protest against and even sabotage the regime much earlier.

She argues in her book &ldquoA History of Germany 1918-2014: The Divided Nation&rdquo that there was very little that ordinary opponents of the regime in Germany could do, as they were simply too far removed from the center of power and influence, and had no chance of getting close to Hitler &ndash let alone toppling him. But those in elite positions in the army and government, as well as those from influential families like Helmuth von Moltke, might have been a different story. For the most part, though, she says it was all &ldquotoo little, too late.&rdquo

Caspar von Moltke says his father&rsquos concerted efforts against the Nazi regime began soon after the start of the war. &ldquoMy father and his friend Yorck [von Wartenburg] had been unhappy about the German military successes at the beginning of the war, but they started corresponding and hatching plans in earnest after the German Army had run through France,&rdquo Caspar von Moltke recounts. &ldquoThey were both working in the government by then and were increasingly depressed, because it felt like everything they were most against was winning.&rdquo

It was 1940 by this point, and Helmuth von Moltke and von Wartenburg gathered around them a group of like-minded men and women to debate and outline political and economic plans for a postwar democratic Germany. They dubbed themselves the Kreisau Circle because they met several times at Helmuth von Moltke&rsquos family estate of Kreisau in the province of Silesia, some 560 kilometers, or about 350 miles, from Berlin (and today part of Poland).

Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering in Poland, in 1939. Roger-Viollet

&ldquoWhat shall I say when I am asked &lsquoAnd what did you do during that time?&rsquo&rdquo Helmuth asks his wife, Freya, in a letter dated October 1941. &ldquoSince Saturday the Berlin Jews are being rounded up. Then they are sent off with what they can carry. . How can anyone know these things and walk around free?&rdquo

Ancestral war hero

After four years of clandestine Circle meetings, in January 1944 Helmuth von Moltke was arrested after alerting an acquaintance, Otto Kiep &ndash the chief of the Reich Press Office and part of another anti-Nazi group &ndash that the Gestapo was onto him. Von Moltke was sent to a prison in the grounds of the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women. His connection to the Kreisau Circle initially went undiscovered, and he was treated relatively well. He even believed he would be released, he confided in letters to his wife &ndash with whom he had corresponded regularly since the start of 1939.

The couple had met in 1929 at a get-together organized by Eugenie Schwarzwald, a Jewish educator famous for her literary salons in Vienna.

It had been love at first sight, says Caspar von Moltke. The two worldly law students married in Cologne and started a family: Caspar, born in 1937, and his brother Konrad, born three years later.

Although she was also involved with the Kreisau Circle, Freya evaded suspicion and spent the year of her husband&rsquos imprisonment taking the long train journey between Kreisau, where she was based with her sons throughout the war, and Berlin, where she used every political and social connection to try to secure her husband&rsquos release. The general commander of the Gestapo in Berlin saw her twice, Caspar von Moltke reveals. He was polite &ndash but refused to help.

&ldquoHitler&rsquos government, out of deference to our ancestor the field marshal [Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, who helped Chancellor Otto von Bismarck defeat the Austrians] &hellip whom many Nazis considered a hero, didn&rsquot want to harm a von Moltke,&rdquo Caspar von Moltke says. &ldquoAt the end they couldn&rsquot avoid it, because my father had done things they could not accept. But still, they treated him and my mother with respect.&rdquo

An excerpt from a letter from Helmuth James to Freya on October 1, 1945. Courtesy of Helmuth Caspar von Moltke.

Hope that Helmuth von Moltke would be released dissipated after Stauffenberg&rsquos failed attempt on Hitler&rsquos life on July 20, 1944. In its wake, some 5,000 dissidents, including Circle co-founder von Wartenburg &ndash who was a cousin of Stauffenberg &ndash were rounded up by the Gestapo and executed.

Helmuth von Moltke was moved from Ravensbrück to Tegel Prison in Berlin, where his conditions worsened. He was charged with treason, defeatism and attempting to overthrow the regime &ndash not because of Stauffenberg&rsquos plot, which the authorities were unable to tie him to directly, but merely for having discussed a post-Hitler future within the Kreisau Circle.

While his son says it is hard to know what Helmuth von Moltke might have done about the assassination plot if he hadn&rsquot already been in jail when it was hatched and attempted, all the indications suggest he would have been against the idea &ndash for fear of turning Hitler into a martyr and sweeping subsequent retribution against the resistance (which did take place). As proof, Caspar von Moltke recites one of his father&rsquos last letters to his wife: &ldquoI never wanted or encouraged acts of violence like July 20. Quite the contrary. I fought preparations being made for them because I disapproved of such measures &hellip for many reasons, and above all because I believed this was not the way to eliminate the fundamental spiritual evil.&rdquo

In the final analysis, Caspar von Moltke says, &ldquoI think Stauffenberg was right to attempt [the assassination]. But I also think my father was right in thinking [Nazism] had to be burnt out of the German soul. Both were right, in a way.&rdquo

Love and soul-searching

The fact that Helmuth von Moltke was able to continue writing freely to Freya from Tegel &ndash albeit often handcuffed while putting pen to the thin sheaves of paper &ndash is highly unusual. It was made possible because, by a stroke of luck, the prison&rsquos longtime chaplain &ndash a priest named Harald Poelchau &ndash was a friend of his and also an undetected member of the Kreisau Circle. Poelchau would stuff von Moltke&rsquos letters in his pockets and smuggle them out of prison. Freya would then come to Poelchau&rsquos home, read the letters, compose her replies and send them back with the priest.

All told, the couple exchanged 176 letters during this period, never knowing whether one might be their last correspondence. Their letters, which were translated into English last year and published as &ldquoLast Letters: The Prison Correspondence between Helmuth James and Freya von Moltke, 1944-45,&rdquo are filled with love and soul-searching, honest attempts to sift through their fears and understand their fates, and, increasingly, to find solace in their strong Christian faith.

&ldquoI was too young to grasp the implications of what had happened,&rdquo Caspar von Moltke reflects. &ldquoYes, I saw my mother&rsquos grief. But I also knew she was supported and sustained by the faith in those letters. My parents felt, I believe, that they were under God&rsquos guidance.&rdquo


Influence from Great Britain

By mid-1941, isolated individuals began to form small Resistance groups and networks. The most developed of these was the Free French Movement, led by General de Gaulle of Great Britain, which could benefit from BBC support to recruit volunteers from France and to establish a symbolic link between those who continued the war on behalf of free France. But de Gaulle’s movement, although very important, was different from what actually happened on the mainland, in occupied France. Here, the Resistance movements gradually developed, and some groups did not even know of the initiative of the general on the other side of the English Channel. Along with the Resistance groups, there were also secret networks that transmitted information about the Germans to the British.


Germany commemorates icon of resistance to Nazism

BERLIN (AP) — Germany on Sunday commemorated what would have been the 100th birthday of Sophie Scholl, a young woman who became an icon for her role in the anti-fascist “White Rose” resistance group.

Scholl and other group members were arrested in 1943 after scattering leaflets critical of Adolf Hitler’s regime and the war from a balcony at the University of Munich. She and her brother Hans refused to apologize or give up their co-conspirators, and were executed four days later.

The group’s story, contrasting the Scholl siblings’ gradual awareness and then rejection of the horrors of National Socialist ideology and militarism with that of millions of Germans who supported the Nazis, has become a staple of history lessons in German schools. It also has been regularly dramatized in films, plays and most recently an Instagram account.

On Sunday, dozens of young people in Munich took part in a theatrical live performance about Scholl’s life — held in the open air due to pandemic restrictions.

Recent attempts by anti-lockdown protesters to portray Sophie Scholl, who was born on May 9, 1921, as an example of the need to resist government rules on mask-wearing and social distancing have been denounced by organizations representing Holocaust survivors, including the International Auschwitz Committee.

Josef Schuster, the head of the German Central Council of Jews, said comparisons between anti-lockdown protesters and the victims of Nazi persecution were “repulsive and intolerable.”

The governor of Bavaria, Markus Soeder, paid homage to Scholl on Friday, noting that at 21 she had been willing to “sacrifice this life for freedom, for her stance, for her conscience.”


Communist resistance groups in the Nazi German military

In a recent newspaper article about a Jewish man concealing his identity in Norway during the five years of Nazi German occupation, a reference is made to a "secret Communist group" among German troops stationed outside Oslo. The article in Norwegian is here, the relevant passage is

Av landhandlerkona Johansens erindringer fremgår det også at flyktningene faktisk fikk hjelp fra to av okkupasjonsmaktens soldater. Østerrikeren Joseph Kraval, leder av en hemmelig kommunistisk gruppe blant troppene i Maridalen, klarte sammen med en kamerat å smugle koks ut av leiren om natten og bære den gjennom skogen til hytta.

In the recollections of the shopkeeper's wife, Johansen, it emerges that the refugees actually obtained help from two of the soldiers of the occupying power. The Austrian Joseph Kraval, leader of a secret communist group among the troops in Maridalen, managed, together with a friend, to smuggle coke (fuel) out of the camp at night and carry it through the woods to the cabin.

The shopkeeper, Johansen, is earlier in the article said to have been a member of the Communist resistance, so his wife might have been prone to exaggerating the Communist-ness of the German soldiers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I found no relevant Google results for the name of the soldier. Wikipedia's article on German resistance to Nazism focuses on resistance among the elite and among those staying in Germany.

Does any documentation exist of Communist resistance groups in occupying German armies (in any country) during the Second World war? I would be interested both in information about successful ventures (also small-scale like in the example above) and in groups that were outed during the war.

I am primarily interested Communist resistance not driven by Soviet interference, though I realize the difference may be hard to tell. I do expect the influence of Soviet agents in Norway 1940-45 to have been very limited, though.


“Resistance and Rescue in History and Memory. Rethinking Opposition in Nazi Germany” - A panel discussion of Mark Roseman's new book

You can now view this event's recording in full here.

Lives Reclaimed . A Story of Rescue and Resistance in Nazi Germany ( Holt, Henry & Company, Inc., 2019 ) tells the story of a little-known German left-wing group, based in the Ruhr, that survived the Nazi years and reached out during the Third Reich to assist Jews in the region. He analyzes the choices and challenges both sides faced as they negotiated dictatorship and Holocaust. It also pursues the group into the postwar period, in particular seeking to understand why they enjoyed so little resonance or recognition for their actions after 1945. Here Roseman has a larger story to tell, about the way the memory of rescue has come to occlude the experience of it.

Mark Roseman is Distinguished Professor of History, Pat M Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies, Adjunct Professor in Germanic Studies at Indiana University. His anthology ÜberLeben im Dritten Reich. Handlungsspielräume von Juden und ihren Helfern will appear next year. He is general editor of the four volume Cambridge History of the Holocaust (in preparation).

Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann is Associate Professor in Late Modern European History at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent publications include (as co-editor), Seeking Peace in the Wake of War. Europe 1943-1947 (2016) The Ethics of Seeing. Photography and Twentieth-Century German History (2018) as well as Sediments of Time. On Possible Histories (2018), a new edition and translation of Reinhart Koselleck’s writings.

Rebecca Wittmann is Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto. She has recently edited Eichmann: The Man, the Trial, the Aftermath (forthcoming, University of Toronto Press) and is currently working on a project entitled Guilt and Shame through the Generations: Confronting the Past in Postwar Germany


Alarm as German anti-maskers co-opt Nazi resister Sophie Scholl

But the legacy of the young woman sentenced to a brutal death for distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets has recently been co-opted by Germany’s anti-lockdown movement, to the dismay of historians and the Jewish community.

At a demonstration in April, one woman had a placard featuring a picture of Sophie Scholl draped on string around her shoulders.

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace,” it read — words famously pronounced by the resistance campaigner.

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Even one of her nephews, Julian Aicher, has prominently spoken at corona skeptic demonstrations, including on a stage decorated with white roses — evoking the name of Scholl’s resistance group.

In a country where right-wing extremism is seen as the number one threat to security, and where a record number of xenophobic and anti-Semitic crimes were recorded in 2020, historians say the misappropriation of Scholl’s memory is deeply alarming.

Some also warn that democracy itself is being attacked at a time when living witnesses of World War II have dwindled significantly in numbers.

“By trivialising the Holocaust and dictatorship, these activists are endangering democracy,” said Ludwig Spaenle, Bavaria’s anti-Semitism
commissioner.

Fourth favourite German

On February 22, 1943, Scholl and her older brother Hans, both members of a small resistance group called the White Rose, were beheaded in the Stadelheim prison in Bavaria following a summary trial.

They had been found guilty of distributing pamphlets on the grounds of Munich University, having converted to the resistance after being exposed to the horrors of the Third Reich as members of Nazi organisations in their teens.

Sophie Scholl, born on May 9, 1921, has become the most famous face of the resistance movement, with surviving photos showing her distinctive cropped hair and determined smile.

Hundreds of schools and streets now bear her name, and in 2003 she was named the nation’s fourth favourite German behind Konrad Adenauer, Martin Luther and Karl Marx.

The country’s political class also like to evoke the memory of the young biology student who stood up to the Nazis.

Annalena Baerbock, the Green party’s candidate to become Germany’s next chancellor after Angela Merkel retires in the autumn, has named Scholl as one of her “heroes”.

Carola Rackete, the former captain of the Sea-Watch 3 migrant rescue ship, has said if Scholl were still alive, she would be part of the Antifa left-wing political movement.

But at the other end of the political spectrum, the far-right AfD also claimed in 2017 that Scholl would have given them her vote.

And now the resistance campaigner’s image has been hijacked by protesters against coronavirus restrictions in Germany, who have often sought to compare themselves with victims of the Nazis.

‘Vaccination makes you free’

Some protesters have been seen wearing yellow stars similar to those Jews were forced to wear under the Nazis, carrying the words “not vaccinated”.

Others have worn concentration camp uniforms and carried placards with the words “Impfen macht frei” (“Vaccination makes you free”), a reference to the “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes you free”) inscription at the entrance to Auschwitz.

“I feel like Sophie Scholl, because I’ve been active in the resistance for months,” one protester told a rally against virus restrictions in Hanover in November, leading to widespread condemnation.

“Followers of conspiracy theories like to imagine themselves as victims, while demonising and delegitimising the democratic field,” Samuel Salzborn, the city of Berlin’s point man on anti-Semitism, told AFP.

According to Jens-Christian Wagner, a German historian who specialises in the Nazi era, the appropriation of Sophie Scholl by the anti-mask movement shows a loss of “historical awareness” among parts of the German population.

There are “almost no remaining witnesses” to the Nazi era, Wagner told AFP.

“They can no longer defend themselves when they are instrumentalised or when the far right rewrites history and the present by reversing guilt. It worries me,” he said.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has said it will monitor the “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers) movement, a particularly vocal anti-lockdown group, over concerns it poses a threat to democracy and has ties to right-wing extremism.