Joel_Whitney-small.jpgNobody loves spam. But what if the spam is to bring down Adolph Hitler? For the Scholls, the three Protestant siblings behind Germany’s short-lived White Rose movement, the choice to spam their fellow Germans was an easy one. Here’s what they told readers in the Fourth Leaflet:

And do not forget the petty scoundrels in this regime; note their names, so that none will go free! They should not find it possible, having had their part in these abominable crimes, at the last minute to rally another flag and then act as if nothing had happened!

To set you at rest, we add that the addresses of the readers of the White Rose are not recorded in writing. They were picked at random from directories.

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

They repeatedly warned Germans of the consequences of war crimes for years to come, and declared the war unwinnable. Here’s another chunklet from the First Leaflet (there were six in all, and a seventh was under way when the movement ended in arrest):

Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes—crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure—reach the light of day?

Hans and Sophie Scholl were caught distributing the leaflets, and were executed (beheaded); it fell on Inge to tell her siblings’ story. When I read about the Scholls, I read their work as a reflex, spurred by an inability to properly weigh self-preservation against the ghastliness of what is going on around them, as is perhaps the folly, the noble folly, particularly of the young. (Another pamphleteer, William Blake, thought “experience” was the process of socializing us away from our true nature, rather than toward it, in a way that defined our self-interest as increasingly narrow.)

The Scholls’ earnestness and desperation, the scathing hatred for Hitler and his program in the leaflets bring to mind one of Hannah Arendt’s best lines from Men in Dark Times:

_“However much we are affected by the things of the world, however deeply they may stir and stimulate us, they become human for us only when we can discuss them with our fellows. We humanize what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human.”_

I first heard of the White Rose from a friend who was studying at the University in Munich where the Scholls distributed their pamphlets. She stood at the top of a magisterial stairway and told me of those daring siblings and how they distributed leaflets against one of history’s monsters. Then she flung her arms in imitation of Sophie Scholl tossing a batch of leaflets down to students on the landing below. I pictured the leaflets fluttering down like white rose petals. Then she pointed to the monument outside in cobblestones. I have no idea if this image of my friend’s is apocryphal or real (it appeared in the movie version as well, a riveting film). Real or not, I am grateful to have that image. Even if, technically, we might call that spamming or junk mailing today.

Bio: Joel is a founding editor of Guernica. Read his interview with Edith Grossman here. Read his last recommendation of Edith Grossman’s Why Translation Matters “here”:

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