02 February 2012

In Honor of the 70th Anniversary of the Munich Students Movement - Die Weiße Rose - 2nd Leaflet

Someone asked me, why bring this up now?  Why remind ourselves of things better forgotten? Why be gloomy or sad, and burden our beautiful minds?

First, because it is after all, the 70th anniversary of an heroic event, a moment when several people laid down their lives for their fellow men and for the truth. And what we remember makes us who we are, makes us the people we wish to be, whether we intend it or not.   

Secondly, of course, it is because throughout history there are lights, great beacons in the dark seas of time, that stand out for us as examples of what it is to be human. Such examples are frequently not 'successful' in the estimation of the world. Winners.  More often than not they give up their lives, one way or the other, quietly or perhaps with some notice, but almost always for the sake of their conscience.  Sometimes they even die ignobly, flanked on the right and left by common thieves. 

We are so low and perverse in our thinking these days, in our expectations for ourselves, that if Mother Theresa or Dorothy Day had given up their great work for the poor and the dying, and left to become actresses in Hollywood, we would smugly say, 'oh, well that is only human.' Why didn't Sophie Scholl forget her calling and her conscience, and aspire to be the girlfriend of a wealthy banker living extravagantly on the misery of slave labor? As if such a selfish and shallow choice is the epitome and meaning of our lives.

And thirdly, because there is compelling evidence and advice in these pamphlets for our world of today, although we can hope it is quite early and still innocent. If you think these things cannot happen here or ever again, amongst a free and educated people, you are under that most arrogant of delusions, exceptionalism.  Every people, every would be empire, that goes badly first considers themselves to be different, better than the rest, above history and even God, uber mensch.

Then they came with clubs, bullets, and gas.  But sometimes it is with finance,  fraud, and official corruption.  If they come for the weakest,  to rob and even murder them, and the people allow it by saying nothing at all, then the hour will be late, and the die may be cast.

And if you cannot see this, see this tendency to rationalize even the injustice and repression in our own time, torture, confiscation, and murder, then perhaps you are in denial, or willfully asleep.

But who am I? What can I do? The whole of the law is this: to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself, to reject greed and fear and the hatred and envy that they bring, and to keep ourselves well for He who has a triple claim on us, through creation, through redemption, and through His own, to us at least, incomprehensible love. He has allowed us to go out into the world and to be free, and our duty is to bring ourselves home safely again at the last.

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to 'get by.' The ordinary men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies.

Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, love small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you.

But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does.

I choose my own way to burn.”

Sophie Scholl

The White Rose
Second Leaflet
Munich, 1942

We will not be silent.

It is impossible to engage in intellectual discourse with National Socialist Philosophy, for if there were such an entity, one would have to try by means of analysis and discussion either to prove its validity or to combat it. In actuality, however, we face a totally different situation.

At its very inception this movement depended on the deception and betrayal of one's fellow man; even at that time it was inwardly corrupt and could support itself only by constant lies. After all, Hitler states in an early edition of "his" book (a book written in the worst German I have ever read, in spite of the fact that it has been elevated to the position of the Bible in this nation of poets and thinkers): "It is unbelievable, to what extent one must betray a people in order to rule it."

If at the start this cancerous growth in the nation was not particularly noticeable, it was only because there were still enough forces at work that operated for the good, so that it was kept under control. As it grew larger, however, and finally in an ultimate spurt of growth attained ruling power, the tumor broke open, as it were, and infected the whole body.

The greater part of its former opponents went into hiding. The German intellectuals fled to their cellars, there, like plants struggling in the dark, away from light and sun, gradually to choke to death.

Now the end is at hand. Now it is our task to find one another again, to spread information from person to person, to keep a steady purpose, and to allow ourselves no rest until the last man is persuaded of the urgent need of his struggle against this system. When thus a wave of unrest goes through the land, when "it is in the air," when many join the cause, then in a great final effort this system can be shaken off.

After all, an end in terror is preferable to terror without end.

We are not in a position to draw up a final judgment about the meaning of our history. But if this catastrophe can be used to further the public welfare, it will be only by virtue of the fact that we are cleansed by suffering; that we yearn for the light in the midst of deepest night, summon our strength, and finally help in shaking off the yoke which weighs on our world.

We do not want to discuss here the question of the Jews, nor do we want in this leaflet to compose a defense or apology. No, only by way of example do we want to cite the fact that since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way.

Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history. For Jews, too, are human beings - no matter what position we take with respect to the Jewish question - and a crime of this dimension has been perpetrated against human beings.

Someone may say that the Jews deserve their fate. This assertion would be a monstrous impertinence; but let us assume that someone said this - what position has he then taken toward the fact that the entire Polish aristocratic youth is being annihilated? (May God grant that this program has not yet fully achieved its aim as yet!)

All male offspring of the houses of the nobility between the ages of fifteen and twenty were transported to concentration camps in Germany and sentenced to forced labor, and all the girls of this age group were sent to Norway, into the bordellos of the SS!

Why tell you these things, since you are fully aware of them - or if not of these, then of other equally grave crimes committed by this frightful sub- humanity? Because here we touch on a problem which involves us deeply and forces us all to take thought.

Why do German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? Hardly anyone thinks about that.

It is accepted as fact and put out of mind. The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so.

Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencelessness from which they will never, never awake?

It seems to be so, and will certainly be so, if the German does not at last start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminals, if he shows no sympathy for these hundreds of thousands of victims. He must evidence not only sympathy; no, much more: a sense of complicity in guilt.

For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do; he tolerates this "government" which has taken upon itself such an infinitely great burden of guilt; indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all...

Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.

"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

Edmund Burke

See also The White Rose, First Leaflet