Lycurgus in Leaflets and Lectures: The Weiße Rose and Classics at Munich University 1941-45

Wednesday 28 January 2015 (17:15-18:30)
  • Niklas Holzberg (Munich)
  • 305, Arts Building
  • CAHA research seminar series 2014/2015


Seventy-one years ago, in February 1943 - a little more than two years before the end of the Second World War - three Munich students who belonged to a group that called itself Die Weiße Rose and who, in a series of anonymous leaflets and in graffiti painted on the walls of the university's central building, had tried to encourage resistance to Hitler amongst the population, were arrested and, only a few days later, executed. Over the remaining years of the Nazi regime the Gestapo tracked down all other members of the group, including Kurt Huber, a professor of philosophy, and they were all put to death. The history of this resistance movement was first written down in 1953 by Inge Aichinger-Scholl, the sister of Hans and Sophie Scholl, who had been two of the first to die. Her book - Die Weiße Rose - was translated into several languages and has to date seen a number of successive editions.

The Munich Department of Classical Philology, at which I used to teach, has a close connection with the events of 18-22 February, 1943, and their appalling consequences, but not simply because its typewriters too were immediately checked on February 18 to see whether they had been used for the flyers. When, on the morning of Thursday, February 18, the university's janitor caught Hans and Sophie Scholl distributing their flyers in the main building, it was the Professor of Greek and Head of Department Franz Dirlmeier who, acting in his capacity as dean of the faculty, handed the brother and sister over to the Gestapo. Together with Christoph Probst, who was arrested shortly afterwards, the Scholls spent the weekend in the hands of the Gestapo in Munich, undergoing repeated interrogation. On Monday, February 22, they were given a pretence of a trial in the morning, the presiding judge being the notorious Roland Freisler from the Volksgerichtshof, and they were guillotined late that afternoon. In my presentation I intend not only to outline the activities and fate of the Weiße Rose in more detail, but also to show how all the while, and later, life at the Classics' Department went on apparently unaffected by these enormities. One reason for this is that the Nazis issued as little information as possible about the movement and its fate, and yet that does not really explain satisfactorily why, for students of Latin and Greek, day-to-day life then, in the last few years of the war, differed little from that of today.

Seminars are held on Wednesday afternoons at 17.15 in the Arts Building, Room 305 (CAHA Museum) on the North campus of the university.  All are most welcome to attend; if you need further directions, please contact either Dr Gideon Nisbet ( or Helen Tank ( via email.