Adolf Hitler, Carl Orff & Sophie Scholl

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Eighty years ago, on 22 February 1943, Professor Kurt Huber was murdered by the Nazis. His “crime” was that he wrote a leaflet calling for democracy.

This is the story of the resistance fighter Kurt Huber, the Nazi-careerist and composer Carl Orff, and White Rose member Sophie Scholl. It is also a story about resistance to Nazi rule and the new evidence that only recently came to light which, in fact, puts a somewhat different light on what happened eighty years ago.

Professor Kurt Huber was not the type of person who wanted to get into a comfortable relationship with Nazis. Huber might well have been the intellectual brain behind the anti-Nazi resistance group  the White Rose, a group that included the Scholl siblings. All of these group members were executed by the Nazis.

Today, Professor Huber’s son – Wolfgang Huber – remembers what happened on that fateful day in February 1943 when the first members of Scholl’s and Huber’s White Rose group were executed in Munich’s Stadelheim prison. He remembers that his father – a professor of music – had once belonged to that highly secretive resistance group and that shortly before he was murdered, while in prison, he wrote a farewell letter.

Wolfgang Huber says “The letter is on page 18 of a manuscript on vocal theory.” His father was still allowed to work in that Nazi prison, and in fact was in the middle of writing an essay when the Nazis came to tell him that he would be executed on that very same day. Professor Huber was writing about vibrations and perception in music.

In his final manuscript one can see how the word perception breaks off in the middle of the text. This marks the exact moment when the message of his impending death by Nazi thugs – now dressed up in uniform – must have reached him.

“On the next line, he immediately begins with ‘My Dearest’ and then comes the farewell letter to my mother, my sister, and me – right there in the middle of the manuscript. For us, this was our luck,” says Wolfgang. In fact, it was a common Nazi habit that the relatives of an executed person were only allowed to read farewell letters briefly – right on the spot and only once.

Such farewell letters were never handed over to the relatives. The Nazi police simply leafed through the thick stack of Kurt Huber’s scholarly papers for a very short time. “They found these to be scientific writings. And after a while, they returned these papers to my mother.”

Wolfgang Huber was born in Munich in 1939, and just three days before the arrest of his father, Wolfgang celebrated his fourth birthday. Wolfgang says, “I don’t remember the exact details of what happened.” Eventually, Professor Huber’s resistance leaflet – together with the farewell letter, being the most personal – became ever more important to the son as time went by.

Of course, after all the years which have passed in-between, Wolfgang no longer remembers the exact date when he read his father’s letter for the first time. He assumes it must have been during his high school years. Obviously these were very sad lines of a very personal nature, however they also unexpectedly included a poem. And, still true to his basic tenets, his father wrote that Wolfgang and the family should not be ashamed of him.

Professor Huber was loudly accused of being a traitor to the Fatherland. Even in his son’s extended family: “All the people on my father’s side saw it that way,” says Wolfgang. Perhaps, this is the power of propaganda – particularly Nazi propaganda. For many of his own relatives Professor Huber was seen as the black sheep of the family. Worse, Professor Huber’s own brother, Richard, was a member of Hitler’s Nazi – thuggish as well as killer – squad, the SA.

Understandably, Kurt Huber had very real concerns that his four-year-old son could grow up with propaganda-induced images of his father. A well-founded fear, because the picture of the traitor did not change at all during Germany’s immediate post-Nazi years. Hitler’s propaganda lived on. Perhaps Madeleine Albright wasn’t wrong when she said: “It’s easier to remove tyrants and destroy concentration camps than to kill the ideas that gave them birth.”

In their small community west of Munich, everyone knew the Huber family. People actually still changed to the other side of the street so as not to have to greet family members. At the same time, the first Persilscheine [Persil is a popular German detergent brand; a Schein is a document like a driver’s licence] were generously handed out to former Nazis – whitewashing them from Nazism and making them suitable to be re-integrated into Germany’s economic and state apparatus.

A good example was a local barber. Shortly after liberation, the barber/hairdresser sought the Huber family’s help. The man claimed that Kurt Huber frequented his barbershop because he knew that the he, the owner, was opposed to the Nazis. In reality the man was, as Wolfgang says, “an Obernazi” – a top-ranking Nazi who wanted a Persilschein to diminish, and if possible, even eliminate his Nazi past. All this years after Kurt Huber was murdered by the Nazis.

During his life, Kurt Huber always believed that the truth was very important. He was ready to stand up for the truth. Members of the White Rose, who had the same conviction, had organized a resistance group against the Nazi dictatorship. Initially, the group was created on the initiative of a circle of friends, around the two students Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell. That was in Munich in June 1942.

April 1943 marks the date of their exposure, the arrests, and the subsequent execution of its members, who were sentenced death by Hitler’s euphemistically named People’s Court. It had nothing to do with “the people” nor was Hitler’s Nazi court a court in the legal sense. Instead, it was a fascistic show-trial and an instrument of Nazi propaganda.

While distributing the group’s sixth leaflet, Hans and Sophie Scholl were arrested by the Gestapo at Munich University. The leaflet was originally written by professor Kurt Huber. In their flyer, the group attacked the doctrinal “ideological training” inside the Nazi’s demagogic “education” system. Nazi training was designed to stifle any form of “self-awareness and independent thinking”. The leaflet called on the students of Munich’s University to rebel against the oppression of intellectual freedom. It stated:

In the name of the entire German youth,

we demand from Adolf Hitler’s state,

personal freedom, which is the most

precious asset of the Germans,

and for which he has cheated us in the most pitiful way.

This took a lot of courage during the years of Nazi power. Kurt Huber was certainly brave. His bravery also included the teaching of Spinoza’s philosophy in his university lectures, even though Spinoza was Jewish. This was not without danger – especially if you have Heidegger-like pro-Nazi colleagues and academics filled with envy, and someone who even wrote a PhD that allegedly “proved” that Einstein’s philosophical theories must be wrong because Einstein is Jewish and Jewish people are incapable of doing philosophy.

Undeterred by the drivel of Nazi-academics, Kurt Huber would not give in. Instead, he maintained: “Spinoza is a great philosopher, period!” Huber continues to be correct. Besides being a philosophy professor, Huber’s other passion was music. Earlier, he had completed his dissertation on musicology. He was also always a scientist who looked beyond what he was actually employed for.

Young Wolfgang Huber remembers that he was allowed to play next to his father’s desk and under the grand piano. That was a privilege. His older sister was strictly forbidden to do that. Wolfgang Huber said: “I felt comfortable around him.”

As an almost 50-year-old professor, Huber organized what he called Leseabende – “reading evenings”. This is where people met in private salons for discussions. On one occasion, professor Huber met Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell. Subsequently, Huber was invited to an evening at Schmorell’s house. These first meetings were probably the initial occasions for what became known as the White Rose. Necessarily, they had to be somewhat secretive meetings.

Only a handful of students and Kurt Huber attended. It quickly became clear that they were all Nazi opponents – sitting together in one room. Quite soon after that, the group started talking about the topic of leaflets. Later, they started to meet more often in the Munich suburb of Gräfelfing.

The initial role of the professor within the group was to slow the group down. It is quite possible that the professor wanted to dissuade the students from the life-endangering project of writing and distributing anti-Nazi flyers.

More than the students, the professor was aware of how quickly their project would be able to put them in a lethally dangerous situation. Eventually, Kurt Huber got involved in the planning for the flyers. One of the reasons for all that was Stalingrad.

The victory of the Red Army left a lasting impression on the professor. In Stalingrad, soldiers were mercilessly killed on the side of the Nazis as well as on the side of the Red Army. The victory in Stalingrad was certainly one of the key triggers as to why Huber finally took a more active part. He also wrote the sixth leaflet of the White Rose group – the leaflet that the Scholl siblings had distributed at the university when they were discovered.

During this, Sophie Scholl threw a whole pack of leaflets down from the balustrade into the university’s atrium. That’s when the university’s janitor saw her. Sophie Scholl and Alexander Schmorell mentioned the man in their statements as someone they knew. The Gestapo had him as part of their radar.

However, there was also Richard Harder, a professor of classical philology and a convinced Nazi. He wrote a report for the Gestapo, and in his report he “stylistically” analyzed the leaflets of the White Rose resistance fighters. Harder, the Nazi, came to the conclusion that the author of the last leaflet had to be a man within the Faculty of Philosophy.

Harder had lost his chair after World War I, but soon got a new job at the University in Münster. It is said that Harder was popular with his students and organized entertaining get-togethers. So, through Harder’s assertions, the Gestapo was quickly onto Kurt Huber. They arrested Huber barely five days after the execution of Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst.

The Gestapo protocols make it very clear that Huber confessed everything immediately. Today, Wolfgang thinks that his parents probably already had an inkling that something was in the works in the days immediately before the arrest.

Of course Wolfgang didn’t know exactly what his parents were afraid of at the time. In any case, his parents took him away from the house for a few days. Wolfgang’s sister had to go to school and had to stay.

The family was at home when the Gestapo picked up his father. It was a Saturday. Wolfgang also remembers that in the family, after the murder of his father, there was almost no talk about his father at all. The only thing that was mentioned was that he was an intelligent man. But there was no talk about the circumstances of his death – never.

It probably just took a long time to digest what had happened. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. Wolfgang Huber remembers how on the first day of school, at his desk, a boy next to him asked: “Are you the one from the beheaded man?”

The initial impulse to ask more serious questions and to investigate the life of his father actually came from Wolfgang’s wife. His wife is from Istanbul and knew nothing about the history of the White Rose at the time they met.

Then she began to ask, gently but rather insistently. “After all, we had to talk about our families,” says Wolfgang. Like Niklas Frank, Wolfgang also engaged with his father’s past – on the side opposing Nazism – through studying and writing about what had happened.

For the first few weeks after his arrest – until the verdict on Hitler’s birthday, April 20 – Kurt Huber’s wife Clara was also in custody – in what the Nazi’s called Sippenhaft [arrest of kin]. Clara was allowed to visit him once during his time in jail, and then a second time shortly after the verdict. When she went out the door, she turned around for a moment and stared into a pale and completely horrified face. Wolfgang’s father knew that he would never see Clara again.

Today, the University in Munich commemorates the executed members of the White Rose. Before his murder by the Nazis, professor Huber had prominent friends. Among them was the composer Carl Orff. Huber and Orff were good friends. Carmina Burana was actually created mostly in the house of Kurt Huber.

Carl Orff lived nearby and regularly visited Huber’s house to play his compositions to him. Orff also incorporated Huber’s supportive criticism.

One day, Orff was standing in front of Huber’s door – once again – with his music scores. He wanted to play a new composition for Kurt. Orff was not aware of Huber’s arrest and subsequent “conviction” (!).

Orff’s first reaction was, “And what will become of me now?” Orff quickly retired to a medical facility in order not to be associated with Kurt Huber. The website holocaustmusic says three things about Carl Orff:

  1. Orff never either overtly or covertly resisted or opposed Nazi policies;
  2. He was trying to integrate his ideas into the music of the Hitler Youth; and,
  3. There were Orff’s increasing contacts with Nazi officials

During Kurt Huber’s funeral, at a forest cemetery, dubious figures lurked behind trees – probably Gestapo people. Little Wolfgang was told not to look at them. Only close family members were at the funeral. There were no speeches. But a song had been sung.

The melody stuck with Wolfgang. It was only much later that he realized that it was the Andreas Hofer song – a song that describes the execution of Tyrolean freedom fighters.

From time to time, the Huber family received local support and there were anonymous cash donations in the mailbox. Hans Leipelt – a friend of the Scholls – later distributed Kurt Huber’s leaflet in Hamburg.

At some point the Huber family also received a donation of 604 Deutschmarks from him – a lot of money at that time. Later Leipelt “confessed” to communism during a fabricated Nazi trial. He was also sentenced to death.

In retrospect, the White Rose occupies a rather prominent position among anti-Nazi resistance groups. Today, it appears extremely unlikely, perhaps even irrational, to believe that a small group of people could achieve something serious against the powerful Nazi machinery by simply distributing a few hundred leaflets.

On the other hand, it is precisely their courage to simply tell the truth against an overpowering regime that impresses many. This is the significance of Kurt Huber and his life. He had an unwavering conviction in the power of the word and in the power of reason.

Yet, when we think of the White Rose, we first of all think of the siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl. This might be related to the fact that Inge Scholl – the sister of the two – published one of the earliest books about the White Rose.

The focus on Sophie Scholl might have started during the 1950s and this focus set the tone for almost all subsequent interpretations of the White Rose as well as the role Sophie Scholl played.

As a consequence, for example, the importance of Alexander Schmorell still remains undervalued in the public perceptions of the White Rose. For a very long time he was framed as a minor character. Yet Alexander and Hans Scholl were the actual founders of the White Rose.

Today almost everything is about Sophie although she had not played a central role in the group. She did not contribute a word to the leaflet. She did not participate in any meetings where the leaflets were discussed.

With all this in mind, Germany’s foremost lyricist and songwriter Konstantin Wecker wrote a song about the White Rose in the 1980s. To commemorate the White Rose, it says,

You would be just as uncomfortable today

as everyone would be who stands between the flags.

Because those who walk upright,

are highly regarded only in historical terms.

Particularly today, in our overly propagandized world, anti-Nazi White Rose resistance fighter Kurt Huber would not be able to identify himself with the current regimes in Russia, Poland, Hungary, the UK and the USA, not to mention the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, South Asia and Asia.

Not only for him, but standing up for what is right is the most important thing that remains of the White Rose. Today’s schoolchildren, students, and anyone else with a smattering of empathy should be aware that freedom of speech is the most important asset we currently have to defend our democracy.

And freedom of speech is linked to self-awareness and freedom of thought: all linked to the personal freedom Kurt Huber wanted for himself and for the German people.

Thomas Klikauer is the author of German Conspiracy Fantasies – out now on Amazon.


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