BOSTON — Analogies between Adolf Hitler’s regime and the impending presidency of Donald Trump were made during an exhibition on Nazi Germany’s youth resistance movement on Tuesday night.
Hosted by Hebrew College, the exhibition focuses on the clandestine student publishers of six anti-Nazi leaflets that were distributed throughout Germany. Apart from several botched attempts on Hitler’s life, the self-labelled “White Rose” group’s activities are recalled as the most daring anti-regime efforts undertaken in Nazi Germany.
Although the exhibition in New England was planned several months ago, widespread emotional unrest following Trump’s election victory made Tuesday’s opening event particularly poignant, said organizers.
“Many, if not most people under pressure, do not stand up,” said Germany’s consul-general to New England, Dr. Ralf Horlemann.
In his remarks, Horlemann paid homage to Sophie Scholl, who along with brother Hans Scholl are most closely associated with the White Rose group. At 21-years-old, Scholl was sent to the guillotine for her role in publishing two of the leaflets. Today, nearly 200 German schools bear her name.
‘Scholl is to young Germans what Anne Frank is to young Jews’
“Scholl is to young Germans what Anne Frank is to young Jews,” said Horlemann.
This summer, the consul-general accompanied 12 Boston rabbis on a week-long mission to Germany. At Horlemann’s behest, the group visited his alma mater, the University of Munich, the one-time headquarters of the White Rose students. At the university gates, Horlemann pointed out the ground-level monument of scattered documents fit into the cobblestones.
The idea of “resistance” was mentioned by several exhibition attendees, but not always in the context of Scholl and her White Rose co-publishers.
“I am sitting with my students at Harvard and they are scared,” said Dr. Sabine Hildebrandt, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
An expert on the history and ethics of anatomy in Nazi science, Hildebrandt has also published on public health efforts as a form of Jewish resistance during ghetto incarceration. She was the first scholar to publish the names of some 200 victims of Nazi anatomy experiments, almost all of them women.
‘I tell my students that sometimes we have to resist. Now, I have no idea how’
“I tell my students that sometimes we have to resist,” said Hildebrandt. “Now, I have no idea how,” she added, regarding the election.
Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, president of Hebrew College, spoke about the “stark contrast” between two terms of President Barack Obama followed by the rise of Trump.
“It’s fascinating that someone like Donald Trump follows President Obama who in many ways is the most rational [of leaders], in both his process and his decision-making,” said Lehmann.
Also on Tuesday, a group of young Jews took to downtown Philadelphia to protest Trump and his appointment of Steve Bannon to a senior advisory role. Activists demanded the Jewish federation deal more firmly with Trump, and they placed white roses outside the federation building in honor of the martyred students from Munich.
Nationally, “white rose” activists have organized against Trump since last winter. Under the moniker “Operation White Rose,” some activists claimed hack attacks on Trump’s campaign website. With the real estate mogul’s unexpected victory, “White Rose Societies” are proliferating around the world — at least according to their own hype.
“While we coordinate and network on the Internet, our actions are primarily carried out in the streets and at rallies,” according to the mission statement of a White Rose Society claiming to represent the decentralized movement.
“[Chapters] should print out flyers and circulate them at protests, rallies, shows, on light posts, or bulletin boards. …They should hand out white roses at rallies and should wear them to represent our numbers at protests,” instructed the group.
During their ill-fated revolt, the White Rose students conducted both targeted mailings and guerrilla marketing-style distributions. Indeed, Scholl’s tossing of a pile of leaflets into a Munich atrium one day was witnessed by a janitor who reported her to the Gestapo, costing Scholl and her brother their lives.
The delivery method of the anti-Hitler leaflets varied, but in all six editions, their messaging was uniformly opposed to the war. In one July 1942 leaflet, information about the genocide of Polish Jewry was published and denounced in Germany for the first time, however clandestine the medium.
‘We want to cite the fact that since the conquest of Poland 300,000 Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way’
“…We want to cite the fact that since the conquest of Poland 300,000 Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way,” read the manifesto. “For Jews, too, are human beings — no matter what position we take with respect to the Jewish question — and a crime of this dimension has been perpetrated against human beings.”
In addition to the leaflets, the Munich students used tar and paint to write anti-Hitler slogans near the university. On three separate nights in February 1943, students wrote slogans such as “Hitler Mass Murderer” and “Down With Hitler” on buildings along the posh Ludwigstrasse.
In the group’s fifth, penultimate leaflet, the German people were rhetorically asked, “Do you and your children want to suffer the same fate that befell the Jews? …Prove by your deeds that you think otherwise.”
The country was not ready to hear this message in 1943, but passages from the White Rose leaflets are inscribed on buildings and monuments throughout Germany today.
Meanwhile, new “white roses” are organizing to become thorns in the side of Donald Trump, the free world’s next leader whose rhetoric and policies, for some, echo the Nazi era.