Tag Archives: The White Rose

In the face of oppression

“You shall not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
Leviticus 19: 16

Martin Niemöller once wrote:

“If we had recognized that in the communists who were thrown into concentration camps, the Lord Jesus Christ himself lay imprisoned and looked for our love and help, if we had seen that at the beginning of the persecution of the Jews it was the Lord Jesus Christ in the person of the least of our human brethren who was being persecuted, and beaten and killed, if we had stood by him and identified ourselves with him, I do not know whether God would not then have stood by us and whether the whole thing would not then have had to take a different course.”

He was a decorated U-boat commander in the First World War. After the war he became a Lutheran pastor and later a pacifist, speaking out forcefully against war and especially the proliferation of nuclear weapons until his death on March 6, 1984.

Imprisoned by Hitler he did not stand idly by when his neighbor’s life was at stake. He recognized the call of God to respond to the forces of evil and protect the innocent.

I have since my high school days been plagued by the seeming indifference of many, including religious leaders, to the violence and racism of Hitler and Nazism. The witness of people like Martin Niemöller, the members of the White Rose, and the Austrian peasant Franz Jägerstätter who risked their lives in opposition to evil.

Will I continue to try to do this? Will I see the challenge that we followers of Christ face when we see the hungry, the refugee, the defenseless, the imprisoned? Will I, as todays Gospel notes, be among the sheep who respond to those in need or among the goats? (Matthew 25:31-46)

Young heroes of the White Rose

For decades I have been collecting quotations that touch me. Since high school I have been fascinated by people who stand up for justice, identify with the poor, and work for peace. About twenty years ago I began to put together a calendar of these heroes and quotes from them.

Each morning I check the calendar and I am often moved by remembering the many women and men who are witnesses to love, very often based in a deep faith in Christ.

Every once in a while I am reminded of some persons who have touched me in a steep way by their witness.

Today is the anniversary of the execution of three members of the White Rose, a group mostly of young students – Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox – who made a courageous witness against Nazism. On February 22, 1943, Sophie and Hans Scholl (sister and brother) and Christoph Probst were executed in Munich. Others were later apprehended and executed.

They didn’t start a revolutionary movement. Their major weapon was an illegal duplicating machine which they used to print thousands of leaflets that they distributed in defiance of Hitler.

“We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace.”

I am touched that these young people had more courage than many religious leaders in Germany and elsewhere to denounce – in clear words – the evil that Nazism was.

They challenge me to speak boldly, yet peacefully and lovingly, in the face of the evils around us.

And, as far as I can discern, they did this because of a deep faith in God.

That gave them a great courage that moved them to rouse themselves from a survival ethic. As Sophie Scholl wrote:

The real damage is done by those millions who want to “survive.” The honest 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, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate 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.

How will we burn with the love of God and others in our hearts?

 

 

Ash Wednesday, fraternal correction, and the White Rose

In his Lenten message this year Pope Benedict called Catholics to renew the practice of “fraternal correction,” recovering the spiritual work of mercy of “admonishing the sinner” as a dimension of Christian charity.

I believe that admonishing the sinner is not only something that concerns individuals. I believe that we are called to denounce injustices in our society as failures of love. That’s why I share stories of witnesses who have given their lives.

On this day, February 22, in 1943, Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and Christopher Probst, three young Germans, members of the White Rose, were put to death by the Nazis. The White Rose was a clandestine group of mostly young Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox Germans in the Munich area who opposed Hitler and disseminated written material by mail, by night distribution, and by throwing pamphlets in public places.

Sophie and Hans were caught after distributing the leaflets at a Munich University.

Another member, Alexander Schmorell, was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia on February 4 of this year. Jim Forest has some beautiful and moving pictures of the canonization, of places connected with the White Rose, and of some of the members in his Flickr set.

A few years ago a moving film on Sophie Scholl was produced, called “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.”

As Lent begins it is helpful to remember these witnesses against evil for their courage and ingenuity in resisting. For many of them their faith and the search for God sustained them in the struggle and the difficult times of Nazi Germany.

This is clear from these words of Sophie Scholl:

The only remedy for a barren heart is prayer, however poor and inadequate…

I’m still so remote from God that I don’t even sense his presence when I pray. Sometimes when I utter God’s name, in fact, I feel like sinking into a void. It isn’t a frightening or dizzying sensation, it’s nothing at all — and that’s far more terrible. But prayer is the only remedy for it, and however many devils scurry around inside me, I shall cling to the rope God has thrown me, even if my numb hands can no longer feel it.

This Lent let us cling to the rope God has thrown us, pray often, and speak out against injustice – admonishing our society and our nation to stop practices of injustice and oppression.