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I Would Do It Again

Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel

February 17, 2021 by

“Every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.” Incendiary words for days such as ours, calculated to incite argument, action, transformation. All this their young composers were angling for. But they weren’t writing in our day, and in 1942, these words and others, printed on a mere six leaflets, instead provoked covert, deadly consequences.

Yet the White Rose Movement has an urgent message for our generation. “We are your bad conscience. We will not be silent.” This month, on the anniversary of their arrest in the University of Munich, Plough is publishing a new book in graphic novel format. If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Hans and Sophie Scholl, Christoph Probst, Willi Graf, and the other brave members of this young, subversive band of writers, here’s the place to start: Freheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel (freiheit = freedom).

excerpt from Freiheit, a White Rose graphic novel

It’s not surprising that this book is already garnering attention from the watchmen on our current zeitgeist towers, like Rob Salkowitz of Forbes Magazine, whose review outlines the plot in simple, powerful strokes:

Freiheit tells the story of The White Rose, an undercover resistance movement of university students that formed under the nose of Hitler’s regime as World War II was raging through Europe. The students wrote and distributed pamphlets encouraging resistance against the Third Reich, and criticized the regime in moral, spiritual and historical terms designed to shake their fellow Germans out of complacency. Though the students involved in the White Rose were not themselves members of groups targeted for persecution and extermination by the Nazis, they chose to speak out at tremendous personal risk to themselves and their loved ones.
For seven months, the Gestapo hunted for these elusive subversives, acting on tips from informers all too willing to rat out their compatriots. Eventually, the group was caught and executed, although they never bent to the demands of the regime to express guilt or remorse for their activities. Their writings, however, lived on as leaflets airdropped to German civilian populations by the Allies in the later days of the war, as the demise of the Third Reich was at hand. Though the activities of White Rose might seem like a drop in the ocean given what we now know about the full scope of Nazi atrocities, the stakes for the students could not have been higher, and their example of moral courage speaking out against tyranny remains relevant down to the present day.
…FREIHEIT! is an important reminder that the darkest times can’t extinguish the spark of human conscience, and that history remembers those who take risks – and even pay the ultimate cost – to resist oppression. 

excerpt from Freiheit, a White Rose graphic novel

Italian artist Andrea Grosso Ciponte fills the book’s big spaces with freeze frames of the gathering storm. No one’s going to be fooled into hope of a happy ending. But between those pages, like scattered photographs from a lost album, are those lovely small moments any crowd of friends might share. A quick swim. A ramble in the park. A wrangling argument over cheesecake and good wine while Alex gets carried away at the piano. A page from Sophie’s sketchbook − Sophie, the youngest, who at 21 wasn’t supposed to stumble on her brother’s subversive work, but bought into it with all her passion and verve, from the composition of the protest leaflets to the dangerous subterfuge of distribution.

When the axe falls then, we feel as if we know these young souls not as legends, not as martyrs, but as human beings, frail, frightened, brave, and unbowed.

We don’t have to guess at their final days. The Nazis’ pathological attention to documentation means that their interrogations and court transcripts were filed meticulously, and we know how calmly and bravely Hans and Sophie lied to protect their friends’ identities (especially that of Christoph Probst, who had small children), taking credit or blame for all of the White Rose’s prolific activities. As they were presented with counter-evidence, they knew they were all going down together. But in spite of furious demands for renunciation of their “puny efforts”, this was their answer to the Third Reich.

excerpt from Freiheit, a White Rose graphic novel

“I would do it all over again.” We’ve all heard that phrase before. Sometimes it’s a rebel yell, an auto-confidence booster, a self-justification. Sometimes it’s an epilogue to a long and happy life story. How often is it spoken out when you realize your cry for freedom – not for yourself, but for millions of others – is about to be silenced efficiently and mercilessly, and you’ll never know if it made any difference?

If my life were on trial at this moment, and death waiting in the next room, could I look up (trembling slightly) and tell the shadows I would do it all over again?

***

Resources:

Find out more about Freiheit! and get the book

Watch the Book Trailer:

A graphic novel is one of the best ways to introduce young readers and thinkers to the White Rose movement. Plough has been hearing from high school teachers about including it in their World War II curriculum. Here are other valuable resources to help fill out the history of this important story:

Film:

Sophie Scholl – The Final Days (English subtitles)

Books:

We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler – Russell Freedman

At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl (excerpts: Hans | Sophie)

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About the author

Maureen Swinger

Maureen Swinger

Maureen Swinger is an editor at Plough Publishing House and lives at the Fox Hill Bruderhof in Walden, New York, with her...

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