Saturday, 20 December 2008

White Flower and White Rose

John Smeaton recently posted on the White Flower appeal run each year by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. John draws a parallel between the thought of joining a "pro-life resistance" by supporting this appeal and the resistance to Nazi Germany of a group of young people at Munich University in 1942-43 known as "The White Rose".

It is certainly fair to see in Nazi Germany a manifestation of what is intended now by the phrase "a culture of death", and, in this sense, to see anti-Nazi resistance as "pro-life" in a broad sense.

But, so far as I can determine, it is quite misleading to represent the White Rose as if they were in some way a precursor of today's movements of opposition to abortion and euthanasia. I am therefore somewhat irritated by the attempt to assimilate their motif of the "White Rose" to SPUC's symbol of the "White Flower".

The first literature the group distributed was the famous 1941 sermon by Bishop Clemens von Galen, Catholic bishop of Munster against the Nazi euthanasia programme. ....The students took a white rose as their symbol, to represent purity and innocence in the face of evil.

John Smeaton's source appears to be this website, but I have not been able to verify (either in print resources available to me or in internet sources) its assertion that the "White Rose" distributed Bishop Clemens von Galen's sermon, or that their first leaflet made any reference at all to euthanasia. On the contrary, the reading of the duplicated and secretly circulated text of Bishop von Galen's sermon by the Scholl family was a key inspiration for the later idea of duplicating and distributing leaflets, and the text of the first "White Rose" leaflet properly identified as such makes no reference to euthanasia.

Similarly, it is not clear exactly what the prompted the choice of the "White Rose" as their symbol. One suggestion is that it was taken from the title of a novel published in Spanish, and another is its reflection of innocence in the face of evil.

If anyone can shed further light on this question, I will be happy to post any comments received.


Anonymous said...

Transcripts of the Gestapo interrogations of the Scholls are available on Google. Hans says (while being questioned by the Gestapo about a whole range of pamphlets, to see what he was and was not involved in) that while he did know that someone was duplicating and distributing Galen's sermons, it was not him (since he says he never saw such a copy).

Gestapo Interrogation Transcripts

Joe said...


Many thanks for this.

Annette Dumbach and Jud Newborn, in chapter 8 of their "Sophie Scholl and the White Rose" describe the delivery of the von Galen sermons to the Scholl's home in Ulm, Hans being at home at the time. They quote him as saying to his family: "Finally has the courage to speak, and all you need is a duplicating machine" [pp.67-68 of my 2007 paperback edition].

No original source referenced. At interrogation, was Hans lying to try to protect his family?

Joe said...

Sorry: the quotation should be "Finally someone has the courage to speak, and all you need is a duplicating machine".

Anthony Ozimic said...

Sorry, I'm not really sure what your complaint is or why you are irritated. The White Rose group was partly comprised of members of the Scholl family, and as you say, the Scholl family distributed von Galen's sermon and this was the Scholl's inspiration for their work in the White Rose group. We didn't claim that the White Rose group's first official leaflet mentioned euthanasia, and as you say, we referred to a source which does say that the first literature the group distributed was von Galen's sermon. And again as you say, some sources say that the group adopted the white rose for the same reason SPUC adopted the White Flower. You give no real reason why the parallel is misleading. In fact, the parallel is apt in many ways. Why use a controverted distinction without a difference to cast a shadow on SPUC's work? How does that help raise the funds necessary to stop the forthcoming attempts to legalise assisted suicide?

Joe said...


Part of my point is that, though they appear to have received a copy of von Galen's sermon, the Scholl's (and the White Rose) did not distribute it. Neither does the text of their first leaflet, in the published sources available to me, refer at all to euthanasia.

John Smeaton's original post appears to me inaccurate in this respect. This inaccuracy does in my view make the parallel inapt and unhelpful to a proper understanding of the White Rose.

There is perhaps a need to verify the accuracy of material reported on the particular internet source on which you relied. I recall a journalistic rule of thumb which expects verification of something from two independent sources ... I put that into practice with regard to this source, and found it wanting.

Anthony Ozimic said...

Joe, there is no proof that the Scholl's or the White Rose did NOT distribute the sermon, whereas there is at least one source which says they did.

As I said in my original post, we never claimed that the text of the White Rose group's first official leaflet referred to euthanasia.

Less than five minutes googling revealed to me that the copy of von Galen's sermon received by the Scholl's may well have been one duplicated and circulated by Franz Mueller, who himself later joined the White Rose.

As I said in my first post, the purported inaccuracy which has irritated you so much that you had to rush into (electronic) print is really a distinction without a difference. It does not make the parallel inapt or unhelpful to a proper understanding of the White Rose. Like much of SPUC, the Scholls were Catholic and/or Christian, opposed to euthanasia, and inspired by the sanctity and dignity of human life to distribute leaflets as an act of resistance against an anti-life government.

There are many facts in history, accepted by historians and society generally, for which there is only one source, and even then not an independent source. (Btw, this includes facts in Sacred Scripture, the Acta Sanctorum etc.)

Don't you think that, instead of unnecessarily casting a shadow on SPUC's White Flower Appeal by seeking to pick holes on a minor historical quibble, your time, effort and skills might have been better spent promoting the Appeal? I think the Scholls and the White Rose would agree with me as to the answer.

Joe said...


1. I am sufficiently confident of my original post to stand by it. It was not rushed, and I feel that the distinction involved is significant for how the White Rose is understood.

2. SPUC, like others who post on internet blogs or websites, are not exempt from the accountability of the "comment" box and posts on other blogs.

3. I am happy to publish comments expressing unhappiness with my original post. However, I am not going to let myself feel that I should not have posted it in the first place, or that SPUC's appeal is somehow so special that it is exempt from criticism.

Anonymous said...

No fisticuffs please!