Traute Lafrenz, member of the White Rose anti-Nazi resistance group, dies at the age of 103


Traute Lafrenz, the last known survivor of a small group of medical students and others in Nazi-ruled Germany who were part of a resistance known as the White Rose, which distributed leaflets containing some of the earliest warnings of Adolf Hitler’s genocidal plans, died on April 6 at her home in Yonges Island, SC She was 103.

The death was confirmed by their daughter, Renee Meyer. No reason was given.

The White Rose group – never more than a few dozen – was one of the first organized protests to draw attention to the Holocaust, which eventually claimed the lives of 6 million Jews in addition to Roma, the disabled and others.

“We will not remain silent,” said one of the leaflets. “We are your guilty conscience. The White Rose won’t leave you alone!”

Many members of the White Rose group were executed without trial on Hitler’s orders – decapitated by the guillotine, a method of execution used by the Nazis in some prisons and elsewhere.

Ms. Lafrenz was never as well known in post-war Germany as the founders and directors of the White Rose: Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst, Willi Graf and their mentor, the philosophy professor Kurt Huber. After the war they were honored as martyrs, and schools, streets and squares bore their names.

Frau Lafrenz (who took the name Traute Lafrenz Page after marriage) was arrested twice by the Gestapo, Hitler’s feared secret police. She was facing a prison trial in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth and possible execution within three days when US forces liberated the prison and city in April 1945.

“I was a contemporary witness,” she told the Bild newspaper in 2018. “In view of the fates of others, I must not complain.”

Ms. Lafrenz, a medical student in Munich, saw the mounting evidence of the Nazi campaign against Jews and all others that stood outside of Hitler’s “master race” visions.

Ms. Lafrenz helped provide the equipment for clandestinely printing leaflets at a Munich bookstore whose owner was gay and feared the Nazi purges that were also targeting his community. She also carried leaflets to her hometown of Hamburg in northern Germany, where she secretly left the leaflets in libraries or threw them out of buildings.

Ms. Lafrenz, who emigrated to the United States in 1947, rarely spoke about her wartime experiences. Her daughter told her she did not tell her about her wartime activities until 1970.

On May 3, 2019, on the occasion of Ms. Lafrenz’s 100th birthday, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier awarded her the Federal Cross of Merit, 1st Class, the nation’s highest award for civilians.

She “was one of the few who, faced with the crimes of National Socialism, had the courage to listen to their conscience and to rebel against the dictatorship and the genocide of the Jews. She is a heroine of freedom and humanity,” the quote reads.

The leaflets were very literary and often quoted writers and philosophers such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Plato, Aristotle and the Bible. The White Rose group also risked their lives painting anti-Nazi graffiti such as “Down with Hitler!” through Munich in the middle of the night, sometimes with pistols to protect himself.

Another leaflet distributed by Ms. Lafrenz said that Jews in Germany and its occupied countries were “murdered in the most bestial manner imaginable… a terrible crime against the dignity of mankind, a crime unparalleled in any other in the history of mankind.”

Hans Scholl, a member of the White Rose group, is said to have been executed not only for his anti-Nazi activities, but because the Gestapo discovered his gay connections. Ms Lafrenz revealed years later that while she had been Scholl’s “friend” for a time, their relationship was based on their shared passion against discrimination and a shared humanity. It was never sexual, she said.

She said she attended Scholl and Sophie Scholl’s funerals in disguise, risking her arrest and likely her life.

The White Rose name was thought to have been taken from the title of a 1929 novel about an American oil company looking to buy a Mexican ranch. (The author, who went by the pen name B. Traven, is better known for his novel The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which inspired the 1948 film directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart.)

Traute Lafrenz was born in Hamburg on May 3, 1919, less than a year after the end of the First World War. Her father was a civil servant and her mother a housewife. Ms. Lafrenz first studied medicine in Hamburg and later at the University of Munich, where she met her future White Rose comrades.

After reaching the United States, she completed her medical degree in San Francisco, where she met her future husband, Vernon Page. He became an ophthalmologist and she went into general medicine.

They lived in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, from 1972 to 1994. She ran the Esparanza School in Chicago, a private school that helps students with developmental needs. She also became a leading believer in anthroposophy, a spiritual movement built around the idea of ​​being able to perceive beyond the physical world.

Her husband died in 1995. In addition to their daughter, survivors include sons Michael, Kim and Thomas; seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel in 2018, she said she got goosebumps when she saw pictures of modern-day far-right supporters waving stiff-armed Nazi salutes at a rally in the German city of Chemnitz.

“Maybe it’s not a coincidence,” she told the magazine. “We are dying out and at the same time everything is coming back.”

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