German Resistance: “Driven by the Restlessness of their Conscience”

German Resistance: “Driven by the Restlessness of their Conscience”

Questions on the Weiss Rose resistance

A Ger­man par­lia­men­tary jour­nal quotes Churchill on the Ger­man resis­tance to Hitler: “These men and women fought with­out help from with­in or with­out, dri­ven only by the rest­less­ness of their con­science.  As long as they lived they were invis­i­ble and unrec­og­niz­able to us. In their death, the resis­tance became vis­i­ble. Their deeds and sac­ri­fices are the foun­da­tion of the recon­struc­tion.” (Hans-Adolf Jacob­sen, Ger­mans Against Hitler, 3rd ed., Berto-Ver­lag, Bonn, 1960; Bar­ry Sul­li­van, Thresh­olds of Peace, 1979).  I can­not find the orig­i­nal doc­u­ment and some­what doubt its authen­tic­i­ty.  Can you  shed any light?  —N.B., England

I am work­ing on a les­son plan for a uni­ver­si­ty sem­i­nar at Munich Uni­ver­si­ty and heard in a film that WSC spoke in the Com­mons in 1946 of the deaths of Hans and Sophie Scholl of the Munich resis­tance group “Weiss Rose.” Does this remark exist and how can I find it? —A.B., Copenhagen

Answer: inconclusive

I found only one source for this quo­ta­tion, in Richard Lamb, Churchill as War Leader (Lon­don: Blooms­bury, 1991), 292:

After the war Churchill stat­ed: “In Ger­many there lived an oppo­si­tion which was weak­ened by their loss­es and an ener­vat­ing inter­na­tion­al pol­i­cy, but which belongs to the noblest and great­est that the polit­i­cal his­to­ry of any nation has ever pro­duced. These men fought with­out help from with­in or from abroad. [They were] dri­ven for­ward only by the rest­less­ness of their con­science. As long as they lived they were invis­i­ble and unrec­og­niz­able to us, because they had to cam­ou­flage them­selves. But their death made the resis­tance visible.”

Lamb adds in a foot­note: “Churchill’s remarks about the Resis­tance have been quot­ed by sev­er­al Ger­man his­to­ri­ans includ­ing Pechel in Deutsch­er Wilder­stand.

“I might quite well have used the words…”

I can­not find proof that Churchill said these exact words, but he him­self admit­ted to the sen­ti­ments. On 19 Novem­ber 1946 he wrote to Wal­ter Ham­mer of Hamburg:

Since the receipt of your let­ter I have had a search made through my speech­es for the pas­sage to which you and Count Hard­en­burg refer…. So far no record can be found of any such pro­nounce­ment by me. But I might quite well have used the words you quote as they rep­re­sent my feel­ings on this aspect of Ger­man affairs.

Churchill makes no men­tion of the Scholls or Weiss Rose, nor are these words in any tran­scripts. I would be very doubt­ful about quot­ing such off­hand ref­er­ences in a film with­out bet­ter attri­bu­tion. Dig­i­tal search­es by the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project now enable us to search more thor­ough­ly than ever. Yet the only ref­er­ence to these words, or even to par­tial phras­es, is Lamb, with his cau­tion­ary footnote.

It would make sense to quote Lamb, not the film, and include Lamb’s foot­note. This sug­gests that although Churchill may not have said these exact words, he did share the sentiments.

2 thoughts on “German Resistance: “Driven by the Restlessness of their Conscience”

  1. Churchill has some knowl­edge of Ger­man resis­tance (no doubt some from Ultra or oth­er source.) I always thought it unusu­al that he would praise Rom­mel dur­ing WWII but he prob­a­bly knew a lot more than he was telling the pub­lic. In any case it could not have been easy to oppose the fero­cious Nazi Gestapo. Many many who did paid with their lives. The moral of the sto­ry to me is: 1) Praise the Lord and pass the ammu­ni­tion (nev­er allow your­self to be com­plete­ly dis­armed). The armed minor­i­ty are the true mas­ters of the unarmed major­i­ty. 2) Nev­er let the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment have so much pow­er. Any big gov­ern­ment can grad­u­al­ly trans­form into a bul­ly and a tyrant and even a Mur­der Machine. Anywhere.

  2. It seems that Lamb (which I have) took his cue from Jacob­sen and Sul­li­van (which I do not). Where Jacob­sen and Sul­li­van took their infor­ma­tion is the real question.
    As for the White Rose, unless I am mis­tak­en, inter­est in it is a fair­ly recent (post-2000) devel­op­ment. Nobody talked about it in Churchill’s lifetime.

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