These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Posted on February 16, 2014

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Fast approaching the 20th anniversary of the beginnings of our White Rose research (July 1994), sometimes it’s easy to feel a little blue about this work. Days when people who publish fluff bask in adulation for perpetuated legend, or those perplexing times when doors are slammed shut or brick walls erected around primary source documents, we wonder why we’re doing this. It can feel beyond frustrating. More than once we’ve asked ourselves if maybe we’re more than a little bit crazy for staying the course.

And then. And then.

Something wonderful will happen. Audrey Kennedy or Baylee Santa Valentina will start asking questions on Facebook, and those questions bubble into serious conversation about the meaning of resistance, or the humanity behind the heroes, or where to go to learn more about a specific subject. These questions and conversations make my day! They are one of our favorite things.

Or we will hear from Chris Sterling, who took a week’s vacation to read our White Rose Histories from cover to cover. Chris notes that he attended… well, here it is in his own words:

The Willi Graf poster, October 2013. Photograph copyright by Chris Sterling. Used by permission

The Willi Graf poster, October 2013. Photograph copyright by Chris Sterling. Used by permission

I have a tidbit of White Rose related “news” that you might find interesting. I am part of a WWII “living history” organization in the New England area.

This past weekend was a very large public display event at the Collings Foundation, in Stow, MA. My group attended with several WWII period vehicles. As we all know, Saturday (October 12, 2013) also marked the 70th Anniversary of Willi Graf’s execution. To mark the occasion, I threw together a quick a poster board with some info about Willi and the White Rose.

Considering all the WWII airplanes, tanks, motorcycles, armor, displays, etc., I didn’t think there would be much interest in some little poster about a dead German. I could not have been more wrong!

While I was supposed to be there talking to the public about WWII vehicles, the interest in the Willi poster was SO high that I ended up just dealing with that ALL of Saturday and Sunday. There were even LINES to view it. I was shocked by the reception, and NEVER would have imagined such a response.

The Willi Graf "exhibit" in Stow, MA, October 2013. Photograph copyright by Chris Sterling. Used by permission.

The Willi Graf “exhibit” in Stow, MA, October 2013. Photograph copyright by Chris Sterling. Used by permission.

I would have been happy if 5 people read it. Instead, over the two days I spoke with well over 1,000 people about Willi and the others, and mentioned Exclamation! Publishers many, many times. It turned out to be fitting memorial for Willi on the anniversary (and of course, 99% of the spectators were learning about him for the first time).

This sort of spontaneous exhibit confirms for us that what we do is indeed worthwhile. We’re not wasting our time when we work so hard to tell the true story instead of the legend.

Because as Chris demonstrated, that true story grips people from the inside out and won’t let go so easily. The true story makes a body want to know more, not less. The true story speaks to our humanity, to us as flawed human beings who struggle hard to do right, and who do not always succeed. We are inspired beyond words by the lives of these college students and their adult friends who managed to get through such an evil time with their integrity intact, even when it cost them their lives.

Chris and his spontaneous exhibit is a big part of our favorite things.

As is the message from Domenic Saller about the more-official Willi Graf memorial service he attended in Munich on October 12, 2013. Sponsored by the Weisse-Rose-Institut e.V., and led by Michael Kaufmann, the ‘rememberers’ talked about the strong Catholic (more specifically, the Renouveau Catholique) aspect of Willi Graf’s resistance efforts.

Willi Graf poster. Weisse-Rose-Institu e.V., October 12, 2013. Copyright held by Weisse-Rose-Institut e.V. Used by permission.

Willi Graf poster. Weisse-Rose-Institu e.V., October 12, 2013. Copyright held by Weisse-Rose-Institut e.V. Used by permission.

Unlike the Scholls or Alexander Schmorell or Christoph Probst, and especially unlike Professor Kurt Huber, Willi Graf’s resistance found its source in his strongly-held Catholic faith. After the war, Willi’s friend Hermann Krings would write:

The extraordinary thing about this person is that neither a remarkable talent can explain the greatness of his death, nor can a sensational effect disturb the image of simple hardship. His existence and his deeds had a true form, and kept that form till the very end. For what was extraordinary was his joy, which was grounded in the same basis as his restlessness and agony and even the end of his life: In the basis of his faith and of the sacraments. This basis remained untouched by the diabolical cacophony of a Freisler.

Thankfully, this basis also remained untouched by internal struggles. Willi Graf lived consciously and decisively as a Catholic Christian, and he died as a Christian, even if in an eminent sense as the isolated Christian, for the official Church maintained a perceptible distance to his fate.

Since Willi Graf wrestled long and hard with Romano Guardini’s call for liturgical reform, the Weisse-Rose-Institut considered Guardini’s influence on White Rose (especially on Willi Graf) for its October 12, 2013 memorial service. Domenic reported, “The professor doing the lecture highlighted a nice motto: Zwecklos aber nicht sinnlos – Futile but not pointless. She emphasized the philosophy of not respecting evil as such, that is, not reacting by means equaling those of the Nazi regime. Very theological thoughts, but quite interesting.”

[Note: While we are always the first to warn against the overemphasis of religion as motivation for White Rose resistance, in Willi Graf’s case, religion indeed formed the basis for his actions. One should not extrapolate his faith onto the rest of the White Rose friends, who each had a unique and personal way of looking at God or religion or faith.]

When we hear that people on the other side of the world are talking about tough topics and thinking hard thoughts, that is one of our very favorite things.

With a grateful heart to all who think, and argue, and write, and research, and document, and persevere, on topics of lasting importance, to all of you who are in fact our favoritest of things… our friends,

Denise Elaine Heap
Center for White Rose Studies
Exclamation! Publishers
Los Angeles, California USA