Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Noble Treason by Richard Hanser

A Noble Treason by Richard Hanser tells the story of a vitally important act of rebellion against tyranny.  The book is a chronicle of what has become known as The White Rose Rebellion. For those unfamiliar with the White Rose group, it consisted of students and one professor who attended and/or taught at the University of Munich during World War II. In 1942 and 1943, the group published a series of anti Nazi protest tracts. They covertly distributed thousands of these leaflets through the University, greater Munich and eventually all of Germany.  The group eventually began to organize a network of resistance groups based in universities and elsewhere. This was one of the few instances of organized resistance within Nazi Germany during World War II. When caught, most of the group was executed. At the heart of the organization were siblings Sophie Scholl and Hans Scholl.

The core members of the group maintained their values up until the moment that they met their deaths on a Nazi guillotine. Even throughout their interrogations, trials and as death’s approached, several members of the group, particularly Sophie Scholl, bravely left us with vital statements and proclamations exhorting the world to fight tyranny and promote decency and liberty. 

There are many striking things about the story of The White Rose. Since most of its members were very literate, most kept diaries. Hanser was able to mine these diaries to paint a picture of the members and their lives, as well as the political and philosophical underpinnings of their movement. One point that stands out is that they were all moderates. This was not a group of radicals. They were not Marxists or followers of any extreme ideologies. They were all immersed in literature, culture and art.  Most were Catholics or admirers of Catholic doctrine. They all looked towards moderate interpretations of Christianity.

Hanser writes,

"They made a highly implausible band of rebels and subversives. All of them came from the same bourgeois background; all of them, in their own idiom, were aus gutem Haus (from a good family); and there was not a political radical among them. They were all well-mannered and properly brought-up children of the middle class, where conservatism and submission to authority were rooted attitudes, especially in the place that bred them, Germany. Yet they had chosen to reject the prevailing values of their society, to cut themselves off from the convictions and enthusiasms of their peers, to make themselves aliens in their own land, and to put their lives in jeopardy rather than accept the mores that a brutal despotism was determined to impose on them. They were oppressed and appalled by the feeling that the Nazi system was robbing them of their heritage, that they were being plundered of their past and their future at the same time.”

In their journals, private conversations, and in their anti-Nazi proclamations, the group continually referenced philosophers, authors, Christian doctrine and Eastern philosophy. 

The leaflets themselves were a condemnation of Nazism and totalitarianism. They often cited literature, history, theology and philosophy. They championed civilization over barbarism. They specifically condemned the murder and oppression of Jews and members of other groups and castigated the German people for being silent on the issue. 

What is also striking is that aside from Professor Kurt Huber, all the group’s members were in their early twenties. The maturity, depth and integrity contained in their writings and public statements reflect wisdom beyond their years. 

An example from the first leaflet, written mostly by Hans Scholl,

“If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order of history; if they surrender man’s highest principle, that which raises him above all other God’s creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass - then, yes, they deserve their downfall. Goethe speaks of the Germans as a tragic people, like the Jews and the Greeks, but today it would appear rather that they are a spineless, will-less herd of hangers-on, who now - the marrow sucked out of their bones, robbed of their center of stability - are waiting to be hounded to their destruction….

…if everyone waits until the other man makes a start, the messengers of avenging Nemesis will come steadily closer; then even the last victim will have been cast senselessly into the maw of the insatiable demon. Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself as best he can at this late hour, he must work against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism”

Hanser also builds a stark picture as to what it was like living in Nazi Germany for everyday Germans. He explains what it was like for literate folks who hated the Nazis but who had no recourse to do anything about it. He builds a picture of a police state that tried to impose a state of terror that permeated into everyday life. 

Hanser writes a compelling story. He holds the reader’s interest. He devotes many pages to the philosophical, historical and literary influences of the group. The book has some flaws, however. At times, the author seems a little too enamored with his subjects. He often gushes over their nobility. This is so understandable based on the circumstances of this history. With that, the book would have been stronger had the author been more unbiased.  

One can argue that The White Rose did nothing to hasten the end of the war. They may not have saved any lives. However, at the very least, they have given us a narrative of resistance to tyranny. It is a narrative of courage and basic human decency. It is narrative of reason and literacy in the face of pure evil. It is a narrative that can be deployed against tyranny and one to inspire those who oppose it.  

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in World War II, tyranny or to those likely to be inspired by this story. Even those who choose not to read this book might be interested in learning more about the White Rose Group. The English translations of their leaflets can be found here. Their story is worth knowing. 



42 comments:

CyberKitten said...

Very interesting a completely unknown to me. Thanks very much for bringing this to my attention!

R. T. (Tim) Davis said...

Thank you for your important review. It has become easy to think that Nazi Germany was a unified, single-minded monolith of abject Hitler worship and militaristic horror; I'm glad to find a book that gives an important correction to that thinking. I hope I can find a copy in my library. Again, thanks.

Laurie said...

Stellar review about this important group. I have seen the film, but I have never read anything they wrote. Regardless, whether or not they saved lives during their time, they are a role model for those who come after. I especially like the emphasis that they were not radicals, but good German sons and daughters. It is so easy to dismiss protesters as 'fringe' 'radicals' and any host of derogatory names to discount their intent, when most of the time it is the same, good American sons and daughters (of any age).

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks R.T. - The book also delved into others trying to resist Hitler. This particular group was trying to make tenuous connections to all of them.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Cyberkitten - My understanding is the The White Rose is well known in Germany, but no so well known in the rest of the world.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Laurie.

I really want top see one or more of the several films out on The White Rose.

Indeed, there is an effort to attack the characters of folks currently protesting in America. I see Facebook and Twitter memes characterizing protesters as violent, anarchists, lazy, etc. As someone who has participated in protests lately, I cab attest that this is nonsense. It is an Ad Hominem attack on what is are mostly moderate, hard working people.

thecuecard said...

Oh I didn't know much about the White Rose Group, but now I must read this! It's so heartening to know that these students rebelled against the Nazi regime. How many were executed? Has their story ever been done in film? Hmm. just wondering. What courage they had. It's inspiring to hear of people like this. Similar to my feelings about Anne Frank.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph, the Scholls and the other members of this White Rose Group are new to me as well. I'm interested now in reading the leaflets (in English). Wonderful review!

Mudpuddle said...

scary and alarming... human behavior seems almost always more extreme than i think it is... excellent review, tx...

baili said...

I read it half and will come back hopefully today to finish it ,New to me and really interesting as though I knew what Hitler did to world but was unaware that he faced revolt from his country men

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan -I believe that there were six executions, that was the core group. Many other peripheral members of the group were jailed.

There have been several films made. This one seems to be the most famous and it looks very good:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0426578/

When one realizes the position they were in, that is, completely immersed in Nazi society, their courage is astounding.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - The leaflets are worth reading. The above link is a great resource.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Mudpuddle - Indeed, human history can be scary and alarming. We can rake some solace from the fact that there are people like the members of The White Rose in this world too.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Baili - There was not a lot of resistance to Hitler from within Germany. That is what made this rebellion so important.

Caroline said...

This sounds like a great book. I have never read any of their dairy entries.
I admire them so much. Have you seen the German movie Sophie Scholl? It's terrific.
Their history proves that age is no excuse for not seeing things. So many say "I was too young".

James said...

This book sounds very interesting. I'm a big fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who also opposed the Nazis and paid with his life. We are fortunate that we live in a free country with freedom of speech. There are too many countries like Cuba, our close neighbor, that still put people in jail and murder them for speaking out against the current dictator.

Sharon Henning said...

This review reminded me of Bonhoeffer's writings and also a brilliant biography I read of his life by Eric Metaxas.

I actually heard of this movement when it was referred to in another book I read.

It takes a lot of courage to take an unpopular stance, but truth isn't always popular.

Thanks for alerting me to this book. I will look it up on Amazon.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - I am interested in reading that Metaxas book on Bonhoeffer.

I have heard about Bonhoeffer and he seems like he is worth knowing about..

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - As I mentioned to Sharon, I know a little about Bonhoeffer but I want to know more.

We are indeed very lucky to have the freedoms that we do.

HKatz said...

I'd heard about the Scholl siblings, and this is a book I'd want to read. To find such moral clarity when so many people around them were caving to authority is remarkable.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Hila - Moral Clarity is such a good term. They showed such moral and physical courage.

Kathy's Corner said...

Thanks for the review Brian. I had heard about the White Rose students. What a brave and good group of young people they were and their professor too. I like to think I'd be as brave but I don't know that I have their kind of courage.

R. T. (Tim) Davis said...

Brian, FYI, I have a different address for my blogging adventures:
http://rtcommonplace.blogspot.com/
I look forward to your visits and comments.

The Reader's Tales said...

Great review, Brian :) In Germany, the name of Sophie and Hans Scholl is very well known and synonymous with courage. In fact, they were an inspiration to many young people of the Baader-Meinhof Group.Just a year ago we saw a mini-series on TV based on their story.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks RT. I have added your new site to my blog reader.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Readers Tales.

I have heard that they were famous in Germany. I really want to see one or more of the movies.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - I have not seen the film but I really want to soon.

Carol said...

Sharon & James already mentioned Bonhoeffer & I immediately thought of him also when I read this post. I read the Metaxas book last year.

Carol said...

BTW Brian, I went to the link you posted & saw they had an article on the Bielski Brothers. I read about them a couple of years ago & there was a movie made about their story.(Defiance)There are so many untold or lesser known stories of courage & resistance that have come out of the WW2 era.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Carol - Those who defied the Nazis from within showed courage that seemed to show no bounds.

baili said...

what i like most about your review that it seem to give a message that when one see something wrong is being done by anyone we should not pretend that we did not see it or we saw but ignored it.unlike this we should perform our most possible probable role to stop or even to protest against it.
i know little about Nazis and have read in my school era some horrible stories about them .some movies revealing so negative about them but never read something about this special group but now i am going to look for it .

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Baili.

On top of it all, It was such a difficult thing to protest the Nazis. As we see in this case, it usually ended in death.

Tracy Terry said...

Definitely something I'd be interested in learning more about. Thanks for sharing that link Brian. I'm hoping our library will be able to get hold of a copy of the book as well.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tracy - I think that you would like this book.

JaneGS said...

Sounds fascinating--living within tyranny, trying to retain decency in the face of fear, are the sparks that eventually lead to a better, freer world. Excellent review--I enjoyed reading your comments.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Jane.

Some folks have trouble maintaining ethics in a free society. Much less in Nazi Germany.

Literary Feline said...

I was not familiar with the White Rose Group, but it sounds like I should be. Their influence may not have been great at the time, but it sounds like we can learn a lot from them now. Thank you for such a insightful review.

Maria Behar said...

AWESOME commentary as usual, Brian!! :)

The Nazi period in Germany is an especially heinous one in world history. Although I've heard of the French resistance during WWII, I was not familiar with the White Rose group. How amazing that this group was made up mostly of young students! And, as you have pointed out, they had a maturity well beyond their years. The quote you have provided, written by Hans Scholl, is very impressive. The prose style, the terms employed, all point to a much older person, although that wasn't the case at all. Furthermore, it is very evident that Scholl was a great writer. How terrible that his life was cut short....

I would be very interested in reading this book, except for the fact that most of these idealistic young people were executed. As you know, reading anything sad -- especially if based in fact -- affects me very deeply. That was why I never could make it through "The Diary of Anne Frank". On the other hand, this is such an important work! We need to be reminded, on a constant basis, that it's all too easy for tyranny to rear its ugly head, and catch us unaware, even in this great country of ours! (As we know from recent events....)

Before I forget -- how very fascinating that all these young people were moderates! So perhaps I will read this book, after all. As you know, I consider myself a moderate. It hasn't always been that way, though. I, too, come from a very conservative, "bourgeois" family. I was pretty liberal in my late teens and early twenties. This was, of course, part of the typical rebellion against one's parents. Lol. As the years have gone by, I have retained some of my liberal leanings, but tempered them with some conservative ones. I feel this is the type of balance we need in our society today, and, indeed, in the world. Extremes of the Left and the Right are just that -- extremes, and thus, very dangerous. I'm very glad indeed that these young people were moderates, and feel very sad that they lost their lives in the process of resistance. However, they did leave us a very valuable legacy, as you have pointed out -- one we would do well to treasure and heed!

Thanks for your thoughts!! Happy Sunday!! :) :) :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Literary Feline - It seems that outside of Germany The White Rose is not known as it should be.

There is indeed wisdom to be found in their story.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Maria.

There is so much to this story that was impressive. The age of the group's members, their courage, their moderate views.

I call myself Left of Center but I also consider myself close to the middle and I try to avoid the extremes of both the Right and Left. Thus I also admire the group's moderation.

Though the entire core group was executed the historical record indicates that they were making positive statements about freedom and liberty up until the end. The fact that they were not broken takes away some of the darkness reading about their executions would usually bring.

So many books, so little time said...

I love this review, I have never heard of this Brian. Definitely one to keep an eye out for. I think with these types of books, because we know the history it has a bigger impact I think for the reader xxx

Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Lainy.

This is indeed a story worth knowing.

I agree, the more one knows about history the more one gets out of books like this.