Extract: White Rose Resistance Movement - Fr D Fenlon

Theodor Haecker’s approach to the Birmingham Oratory in 1920 was soon followed by that of the great Jesuit Erich Przywara. Przywara, as Haecker wrote to Fr Bacchus, would help his countrymen theologically to discover Newman.[1] He was not mistaken. Through Przywara and his collaborators, together with a variety of German translators, a whole generation of German readers found in Newman the modern counterpart to Augustine, providing a convincing subjective and personal expression of the Divine Ordo delineated in Aquinas. The German ‘kairos for Newman’ henceforward found expression in a fresh appreciation of Newman’s personalism, in the writings of Husserl’s pupil Edith Stein who, at Przywara’s suggestion, translated Newman’s Idea of a University, and a number of his letters. It was found again through the translations of Newman by Matthias Laros, and again, in Dietrich von Hildebrand, Romano Guardini, and Otto Karrer. Throughout the thirties and forties Newman’s translators and friends supplied the spiritual and religious depth necessary to sustain an inward resistance to the claims of Nazism. ‘In the footsteps of Newman’, to borrow Guenter Biemer’s description of Theodor Haecker, and in Munich, at the house of Carl Muth, the prospect of a German Catholic Renaissance was delineated. In what follows, I wish to acknowledge an immense debt of gratitude to Professor Biemer, and to Jakob Knab for generously allowing me to draw upon his exhaustive knowledge and for findings which are shortly to appear in the series edited by Guenter Biemer and others: Newman Studien (2010).

In 1941 Bishop von Galen of Muenster preached against Euthanasia. ‘For the past few months’ he declared:

We have been hearing reports that patients in hospitals and convalescent homes for the insane, especially those who have been afflicted for some time and may appear incurable, are being forcibly removed by orders issued from Berlin. Shortly afterwards their relatives are invariably informed that the patient has died, the body has been cremated, and the relatives collect the ashes. There is widespread suspicion, amounting almost to certainty, that the unexpected death of these many mentally afflicted men and women is not due to natural causes but has been brought about intentionally, that this has been done in obedience to the doctrine which claims that so called ‘worthless lives’ may be destroyed, that innocent people may be killed if they are considered to be no longer useful to the nation and to the state. A monstrous doctrine, which tries to justify the murder of the innocent, which permits on principle the slaughter of invalids, cripples, the incurable and the aged.[2]

Among those moved by von Galen’s preaching was a medical student at the university of Munich, Hans Scholl. ‘At last’ he remarked, as he studied the sermon in the spring of 1942, ‘someone has the courage to speak’. He added, reflectively, ‘We really ought to have a duplicating machine.’[3] For Hans Scholl, von Galen’s words helped to trigger the idea of a pamphlet war conducted in the name of ‘The White Rose’, directed to a non-violent undermining of the Nazi state.

The name of the Rose was decided by Hans Scholl. There is no agreement as to its derivation. In the mind of Hans Scholl it may perhaps be linked with his decision in 1938, following his military conscription, to keep close to his breast a rosebud, as a secret reminder of an emotional life hidden from his military comrades. [4]It was not necessarily a symbol of innocence. He said nothing of it to his sister Sophie. At this stage she knew nothing of the White Rose.


[1] Birmingham Oratory Archives, MSS Box 213, 27 November 1922.

[2] Quoted from Inge Scholl, Six Against Tyranny (London, 1955), p. 19. Inge Scholl’s account of “Die Weisse Rose” stands in need of corroborative and sometimes corrective detail, as in Ruth Hanna Sachs, The White Rose History (available as CDROM from De Heap publishers, California), below, n 65..

[3] Ibid., p 20 and McDonough, pp.79-80.

[4] ‘I keep a rosebud in my breast pocket. I need that little flower because it’s the other side of the coin, far removed from soldiering but not at odds with a soldierly frame of mind. You should always carry a little secret around with you, especially when you’re with comrades like mine.’ To his sister Inge, 27 June 1938, (Jens, p. 12).