There is an amazing interview in the newest Spiegel with the 99-year-old Traute Lafrenz, the only survivor of the Munich student anti-Nazi resistance group, the White Rose. She has been living in the US for 70 years, and has apparently never spoken publicly about her war experience. (The journalist simply showed up unannounced. When he phoned from the airport she informed him “Frau Lafrenz is no longer living. She died very suddenly.”)
I was struck by one exchange, about a teacher she had, in Hamburg, who was arrested by the Gestapo and threatened with execution for “premeditated corruption of youth”. She was commenting on her disappointment with a fellow student — who happened to be the later Chancellor Helmut Schmidt! — who declined to speak up for her.
Lafrenz: Ab 1935 veranstaltete sie heimliche Treffen mit uns. Während das Land im Gleichschritt marschierte, entartete Kunst und verbotene Bücher verbrannte, lud sie uns ein, genau diese Bücher mit ihr zu lesen. Tucholsky, Kafka, Erich Kästner. Das war, wie gegen das Böse geimpft zu werden.
SPIEGEL: Kulturelle Bildung hat Sie immun gemacht?
Lafrenz: Auch Adolf Hitler war Büchernarr. In seiner Privatbibliothek standen 16 000 Werke, er konnte Shakespeare oder Nietzsche verehren und trotzdem Millionen Menschen vergasen lassen… Vielleicht braucht man Empathie, damit Schönheit etwas in einem auslöst. Je mehr Bücher ich las, desto mehr machten sie Front in mir.
Lafrenz: From 1935 she held secret meetings with us. While the land was marching in lockstep, burnt forbidden books and deviant art, she invited us to read precisely these books. Tucholsky, Kafka, Erich Kästner. That was like being vaccinated against the evil.
SPIEGEL: Cultural education made you immune?
Lafrenz: Even Adolf Hitler loved books. There were 16000 works in his personal library. He could worship Shakespeare or Nietzsche, and still have millions of people gassed… Maybe you need empathy, before beauty can have an effect on you. The more books I read, the more they created a conflict for me.