Revolt of the White Rose

Allow me to put this as provocatively as I could: I believe a few people wish we were living under Hitler. I really don’t signify the neo-Nazis, odious however they are. I mean the aspiring freedom fighters, that appear to see a brand new Third Reich lurking around every corner. “You will find coincidences in life,” composed self-proclaimed”historian” @AsherWhites in a viral tweet. “The #CPAC2021 point isn’t one. It is a Nazi emblem .” There followed images of the point at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, juxtaposed from the Odal Rune–a late antique epigraphic character adopted by a few SS components as a symbol of the”pure” German bloodline.
Whites’s accusation was absurd, but it taken weight all over the internet. Had we a federal memory lasting more than a couple minutes at a stretch, so we would realize that not just Donald Trump, but George W. Bush, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan had the H-word lobbed at them. But Zoomers will remember the ancient bygone days of last month, when former Star Wars heroine Gina Carano was axed by Disney with the temerity to place the shoe on the other foot.
Carano posted and then deleted a silly comparison between cancel civilization as well as the Nazi regime. Unlike her liberal counterparts, she was satisfied with indignant censure instead of solemn nods of assent. But besides that double standard, the most remarkable characteristic of the Carano incident was the sheer amount of philosophical obsession with Hitler it represented. Apparently both correct – and – left-wingers now attain reflexively for the Holocaust as a go-to touchstone for political and social discontents of every sort. What’s going on here?
Certainly the solution is a mixture of ancient illiteracy with what the British ethnic secretary Douglas Murray, after the philosopher Kenneth Minogue, recognized as”St. George in retirement syndrome.” St. George’s entire identity is wrapped up with slaying the dragon. Once he slays it, what does he do? He goes about inventing ever-more unlikely villains to ruin, until he’s discovered a day thrashing vainly at thin atmosphere –anything instead of give up his individuality for a monster-slayer.
People–particularly young men and women, particularly young men–come to understand through adversity. We crave real experience with real stakes, a proving ground where we could refine ourselves in rebellion against an evil energy. Looking about our comparatively comfy landscape and discovering no such wicked ability to withstand, we invent one by analogy into the past.
But the only bad of the past we understand anything about is the Holocaust, and the only thing we all understand about it is that it was awful. So every fresh bad issue is the growth of the Nazis, and our staff –the good guys–are constantly the freedom fighters (it never occurs to us we’ve been among the Quislings). The result is what the political philosopher Leo Strauss known as reductio ad Hitlerum.
The Calabrian artist Andrea Grosso Ciponte has prevented making any particular comparisons between the current day and also the stirring true story behind Freiheit! : The White Rose Graphic Book. As a result the publication itself is thankfully free of self-serious references to our own times. The story proceeds using a pristine and haunting economy: siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl join forces with fellow college students in Hamburg, Freiburg, Berlin, and Vienna to undermine Hitler’s oppressive regime from within. They read forbidden books, collect below the moonlit trees of Munich’s English Garden– and–most famously–disperse six leaflets urging fellow dissenters to”dissociate yourselves from National Socialist gangsters.”
In Germany, the White Rose opposition movement has been dramatized on film: Percy Adlon’s Fünf Letzte Tage (Five Last Days) along with Michael Verhoeven’s Die Weiße Rose (The White Rose) both came out in 1982; Marc Rothemund’s Sophie Scholl: Die Letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl: The Last Days) emerged in 2005. Nevertheless, it is a testament to our flippancy about the Holocaust that few Americans actually know the story of the or any other resistance movement.
Hans Scholl had witnessed the ghoulish remedy of Polish Jews firsthand as a soldier on the Eastern front. The White Rose leaflets say his terror at his countrymen’s ignorance and complacency:”In the aftermath a terrible but just judgment will be meted out for those who remained in hiding, who were cowardly and hesitant.” The first step pamphlet, distributed after Germany’s resounding defeat at Stalingrad in 1943, captured the group discovered by means of a janitor, who turned them over to authorities. Both Scholl siblings along with their four chief co-conspirators–Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Kurt Huber, and Willi Graf–have been gruesomely executed by the country.
Hans and Sophie Scholl using Christoph Probst, directly, in Munich in 1942
It’s one of the real stories that reads like a myth–a grand and poignant narrative of defiance in the face of dire persecution. Ciponte tells it well. At its closing, he shows how”the British dropped five million flyers quoting in the sixth White Rose booklet on towns around Germany” in precisely the same month as the majority of those White Rose leaders were executed.
Throughout, Ciponte’s design is original and striking. He paints in a sort of stippled watercolor that produces a grainy result, like a faded photograph. “Just look at this moon,” says Christoph as the five rebels roam into the woods. “Enormous and golden as an egg yolk.” Nevertheless, it’s not: it’s light and dappled contrary to the blue-grey clouds. We are looking back here through the haze of legend at today of self indulgent and valiant childhood. Ciponte catches their exuberance in addition to their own bravery, the heady enthusiasm of this late-night reading group where they see”which Jew, Heine”–protecting the greats of German Romanticism from annihilation at the hands of monstrous ideologues.
Anyone unfamiliar with the history behind Freiheit! Will require some help from external sources: this can be Ciponte’s only important shortcoming in the technical perspective. His design is really terse and spare that it may get disorienting–after a brief opening in medias res, he drops back at the start and follows Sophie through her induction into the group. From there we’re off to the races, both obscure German poetry and all. This slender volume is probably not clear enough for the uninitiated to trace with no assistance from a primer.
This is a wonderful historic resource in its own right. They are astonishing documents, mixing large paganism with impassioned Christian theology in the true Romantic style. “Every word that comes out of Hitler’s mouth is a lie…. His mouth is the most bizarre maw of hell, along with his might is at bottom accursed.” Goethe and Lao-Tzu, Novalis and Ecclesiastes are gathered into a Kantian plea for justice, whatever the cost.
Inside the picture book itself, we’re spared any heavy-handed injunctions to go and do likewise. However, Ciponte, or his publication, obviously wants us to draw out on their own parallel lines between then and now. “Andrea Grosso Ciponte’s haunting imagery will resonate with the current students and activists,” the publication’s jacket reads. “The challenges they face may change, but the need for people to stand up against bad, whatever the cost, will stay.” As a means to sell books this might be effective; as a characterization of Freiheit! Itself, it will Ciponte a disservice.
A cynical reader can’t help but heave a tired sigh imagining how”students and activists” will liken their own protests from a Ben Shapiro lecture into the heroism of the White Rose. About halfway through the novel there is a two-page spread dedicated to some truly slimy speech by Paul Giesler, the party chief of the Westphalia-South region who would eventually catch the White Rose leaders. “I will understand if some women think they have to study since they are not quite enough to come across an admirer,” smirks Giesler. “However, I can reassure you, women. I will gladly assign you one of my aides. And I will assure you a pleasant encounter.”
We fondly imagine we have moved beyond history, to some glorious progressive future against whose backdrop Hitler and Donald Trump represent just disgusting and momentary aberrations.It’s a dreadful speech. However, are we supposed to see at Giesler a precursor of Candace Owens, famous enforcer of”the tyranny of the gender binary”? The blurb invites all these kinds of comparisons, along with the publication seems to have been obtained this way in certain circles:”Stories like this… give new generations of activists heroes to emulate,” wrote Joshua Winchester in his review.
Do they, however? If anything, the effect of Freiheit! Itself would be to demonstrate how utterly unlike Nazi Germany the current case of America’s youth is. No one will catch you and kill you in the event that you try to yell down Heather Mac Donald. Just the contrary: you will probably get a award. Even cancel civilization, though it’s a travesty and could presage much worse abuses of electricity down the road, hardly equates in its current form to the guillotine which Hans and Sophie faced.
Ciponte is a faithful and complicated enough storyteller to create this apparent, whether he plans to: since it’s historically accurate, Freiheit! Shows us what real resistance fighting looks like. Hint: it isn’t secure spaces and diversity departments.
Around the world there really are, right now, people risking their own lives to fight for freedom. You will find Hong Kongers locked in an interminable legal torment, separated from their own families and slandered by the CCP after rebelling in summer 2019. There are Christians in Nigeria who will be murdered should they claim Christ. You will find Uyghur Muslims whose ongoing genocide registers as little more than a PR inconvenience for its Disney executives that fired Gina Carano. It should go without saying it to compare the plight of university students of any of these surviving wolves, or together with the fate suffered by the White Rose, is a clownish affront to the memory of them all.
But maybe less naturally: if these many oppressed people are united in their longing to succeed, they are nonetheless each of them different and unique. The particulars of human suffering are irreducible; it shows naïveté of the first water to bulge all pain in a box known as”very poor things.” We do this in America since we have of late been so blessedly protected in the”very bad things” that history has to offer you.
This has allowed us to create a childish fantasy story in that time passing means technological advancement: if it’s later, it’s better. We fondly imagine we have moved beyond history, to some glorious progressive future against whose backdrop Hitler and Donald Trump represent just disgusting and temporary aberrations.
But tragically, the Nazi regime was not an aberration from the grand scheme of individual life. Evil and oppression are constants of the species that are broken. That is one reason why people often screen out Stalin and Mao as well as Mussolini when we assess the 20th century: we can’t bear to consider that Hitler’s violent despotism was not an exception into the individual rule. The tyrants of the 1900s were of them heirs into a line which goes straight back through Maximilien Robespierre and King Henry VIII, all of the way to Caligula and Nebuchadnezzar.
We are not prepared, in our sheltered optimism, to acknowledge how good we’ve got it. We can’t bear to understand what real suffering and real oppression look like, how common they are, how rare and delicate is our American liberty. Freiheit! Can do a terrific service to its readers, but only if they understand out of it that true evil isn’t to be bandied about as a rhetorical weapon to score cheap political issues. The proper response to the lengthy and hideously diverse history of individual pain is humility. The appropriate way to honor the White Rose would be to stand in awe of the courage–not claim it glibly as one’s own.