The above is a (not very good) photo which we took in Munich last week, when we visited the city. It is the black granite memorial to the White Rose student movement which briefly attempted to raise German public opinion against the Third Reich. Led by sister and brother Sophie and Hans Scholl, White Rose attempted by non-violent means to raise resistance to the Nazi regime and its deeds. Its members were mostly caught, tortured by the Gestapo and beheaded after summary trials.
We all like to think we would have the courage of the resistance, but the truth is that very few us would. I have a small insight into the reality, as my grandmother came from the Channel Islands. She had left as teenager in the 1920s, but her family was there in the Occupation. One of her sisters was a cook in a hotel used by German High Command and the Gestapo. So she cooked for them – when there was food. It was a way for Auntie Mimi to keep herself and her family alive: which is what most of us would do.
The rest of the British population has no experience of defeat, occupation by fascistic forces and the dilemmas of compromise. Nor of the fictions that follow these.
One of my grandmother’s family had an illegitimate child, who was blond. Until this day, it is contended that the father was a Dutchman pressed into service by the German Navy. Likewise, when I once was on a guided tour of Oslo City Hall and they were explaining the occupation, I asked about collaboration. “No, Norwegians did not collaborate: that was the Danish” came the reply from an official guide. She had no answer when I pointed out the nationality of Quisling himself.
The White Rose movement issued six leaflets. Amongst other things, the text of the Fourth Leaflet included the following:
Only in large-scale cooperation among the nations of Europe can the ground be prepared for reconstruction.… Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the protection of individual citizens from the arbitrary will of criminal regimes of violence-these will be the bases of the New Europe.
That Europe was built. The agony of invasion, the privations of occupation, and the shame of collaboration are a thing of the past.
However, that Europe of large-scale co-operation, of freely shared sovereignty, is at risk from various pressures. One of these is the threat of a Brexit vote.
To make our own contribution to the Europe the White Rose movement foresaw as an ideal, we do not need their courage, thank god, let alone their sacrifice.
All we need to do is to mark our ballot papers “REMAIN”. That is what I shall do, for them and for myself, but most of all for future generations.