Thursday, February 22, 2007

February 22

On 22 February 1943, shortly after the German defeat at Stalingrad, three members of the White Rose -- a German anti-war group comprised of students at Munich University -- were tried by a special German court and beheaded. Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and fellow student Christoph Probst had been captured after a janitor witnessed them scattering leaflets in one of the university buildings on February 18, the night of Joseph Goebbels “total war” speech at the Sportpalast. Probst, Hans Scholl, and several other men in the group had all served in the German military and had been horrified by what that witnessed on the French and Russian fronts. Beginning in June 1942, the group composed a series of essays, which they distributed by the thousands across the country; couriers delivered copies to Stuttgart, Cologne, Vienna, Freiburg, Chemnitz, Hamburg and Berlin.

In their first manifesto, the White Rose observed that
Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes - crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure - reach the light of day? 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 the 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.

The February 22 executions were followed by two more in July and a sixth in October; other friends and collaborators were sentenced to prison terms that were interrupted by the end of the war they so courageously opposed. Christoph Probst left behind a widow and three children, the youngest of whom had been born a month before his execution. In summer 1943, English planes dropped millions of copies of the group’s sixth manifesto across the German landscape.

One year to the day after the first White Rose beheadings, American bombers from the 8th Air Force, 446th bomber group accidentally bombed Nijmegen, Arnhem, Enschede and Deventer -- four Dutch towns that had the misfortune of being located a few kilometers from the German border. Bad weather had caused confusion during the high-altitude daytime raid, and several bridges and railyards were mistaken for German targets. Nearly 800 people died in Nijmegen as a consequence of the error, while several hundred more perished in the other three towns.

Photo of Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Propst here

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