Special to the Mirror by Chas Cornweller
I am thinking it may be the signposts that have been cropping up lately. Or maybe it’s a sign of the times. But three names have presented themselves to me recently, within an unusual light. They have been rolling around within my consciousness, this past week, rubbing on my heart like a troublesome stone in a walking shoe. Finally, observing that stone, I was surprised to have discovered a diamond. And those names associated with this diamond? They would be Saint Francis of Assisi, Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen, and The White Rose.
These are strange days indeed. Within a book I was reading, I found out something I’d never known about Francis of Assisi. It was written that he viewed all of nature as a mirror of God. He believed and saw consciousness in all things within this nature. To this day, this belief is still considered a dangerous precept within Christianity, as it veers closely to the paganist belief in spirit in nature. But, pragmatically, it makes a heck of a lot of sense. How many can see consciousness in your family pet? How many people have said that their cat or their dog or even their horse has a personality? What about a tree? Science (that antithesis of faith) has proven that trees not only communicate with one another chemically, but, through numerous repeated experiments, have proven they can anticipate and react to various stimuli. That, my friends, is the definition of consciousness. We are discovering to the depths and heights of knowledge at an alarming rate. But, some discoveries point back to an ancient knowledge that has been with us all along. Saint Francis had the knowledge of the Christ to guide him. Who knows what was revealed to him? It is interesting to note that during World Environment Day 1982, John Paul II said that St. Francis’ love and care for creation was a challenge for contemporary Catholics and a reminder “not to behave like dissident predators where nature is concerned, but to assume responsibility for it, taking all care so that everything stays healthy and integrated, so as to offer a welcoming and friendly environment even to those who succeed us.” The same Pope wrote on the occasion of the World Day of Peace, January 1, 1990, the saint of Assisi “offers Christians an example of genuine and deep respect for the integrity of creation …” He went on to make the point that: “As a friend of the poor who was loved by God’s creatures, Saint Francis invited all of creation – animals, plants, natural forces, even Brother Sun and Sister Moon – to give honor and praise to the Lord. The poor man of Assisi gives us striking witness that when we are at peace with God we are better able to devote ourselves to building up that peace with all creation which is inseparable from peace among all peoples  (Pope John Paul II (December 8, 1990).
“World Day of Peace 1990”) Here, in the seventeenth year of the twenty first century, we still struggle with material over environment. It is known fact that the Native American had no concept of property. It was more related to territory for hunting and subsistence than actual buying or trading of land. When the time came to move, they simply pulled up stakes (dismantled their homes) and moved to a more productive area. The only challenges came if or when they trespassed into someone else’s hunting area or strangers imposed upon theirs. There simply was no concept of property exchange through economics or any other means. The trade with Europeans for land (think Manhattan Transfer for roughly twenty dollars of trinkets) was to satisfy both European concepts for land exchange for material goods and the Native American tradition of allowing hunting/living on previously undeniably understood hunting grounds by the tribe doing the trading. To that tribe a fair and equitable exchange of understanding, not property, was exchanged. The Europeans saw it in a completely different light. Once the land was theirs, it not only would never again be exchanged, it would never revert back into the hands of the Native American. The banks eventually took control and material exchange became part of the bargain. Lines were drawn up by surveyors (another concept the Native American could not easily grasp) as boundaries. Property became divided more and more and conscripted not by exchanges of trinkets, treaties and understandings, but by paper. Money and plats became the order of the day. The land itself became an economic viability. For whatever reason the Native American, could never see this as even a remote possibility. The European could see it no other way. What was lost in the exchange, we will never know. But, today, we are crowded into cities, rivers run polluted to the point you cannot drink out of them, fish and wildlife are sick and dying in certain places, and beneath our feet, men create fissures and split the rocks with high pressure chemically treated water to force impossibly difficult resources to the surface. An acre of land, in some regions, can be so expensive only the very wealthy can afford to live there. Certainly, someone of Saint Francis’ fiscal stature would not be welcome. A certain building today, found in Manhattan (traded for approximately twenty dollars) is expected to sell for 2.5 billion (that’s with a B!) dollars, making it most expensive individual office building in the United States. A quick check of some third world nations national GDP would quickly show you just how out of proportion this is. I would be very curious to hear Saint Francis of Assisi’s thoughts on this. Especially, since his life was dedicated to an order based on the following of the teachings of Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps. This included, of course, a vow of poverty. Sometimes, in days like these, I wonder who is moving the correct direction?
The second name to enter my frame of reference this past week is a one Clemens August Graf von Galen of Germany. Not a name many people will recognize or have even heard of. He is noted in history as being that unquiet voice preaching from the pulpit during the regime of the Third Reich. His importance in the Catholic Church was of such a standing, he was considered a political risk to the young Nazi Party should something happen to him. Known throughout Germany as a staunch conservative and an early supporter of German Nationalism, he slowly and emphatically began to denounce several of the Nazi doctrine that were being instituted during the early thirties. In 1934 Galen, now consecrated as Bishop of Munster’s Cathedral, attacked the racial ideologies of the Nazi regime, declaring it unacceptable to argue that Jewish authorship of the Old Testament diminished its authority or that morality and virtue were in any way derived from the perceived usefulness of a particular race. He equated unquestioning loyalty to the Reich with “slavery”. Bishop Galen also derided the neo-pagan theories of Rosenberg in The Myth of the Twentieth Century as perhaps no more than “an occasion for laughter in the educated world”, but warned that Rosenberg’s “immense importance lies in the acceptance of his basic notions as the authentic philosophy of National Socialism and in his almost unlimited power in the field of German education. Herr Rosenberg must be taken seriously if the German situation is to be understood.” (Richard Bonney; Confronting the Nazi War on Christianity: The Kulturkampf Newsletters, 1936-1939; International Academic Publishers; Bern; 2009 ISBN 978-3-03911-904-2; p. 128) Standing up to Hitler and his henchmen was a very dangerous thing to do. It didn’t get easier as the nineteen thirties ended and Germany went to war. Several generals and political leaders wanted Bishop Galen assassinated, but fearing a tremendous backlash from the majority Catholics in Germany and from world opinion, Joseph Goebbels and Hitler himself demurred, preferring to deal with the issue at wars end.
Three powerful sermons during the summer of 1941 had a striking and long lasting impression on any dissidence inside Nazi Germany. They earned Bishop Galen the nickname of the “Lion of Munster”. His sermon of July 13 attacked the regime for its tactics of terror and disappearances without trial, closure of Catholic institutions without any stated justifications and the resultant fear inflicted on all Germans. The Gestapo, he argued, reduced even the most decent and loyal citizens to fear of ending up in a cellar prison or a concentration camp. As the country was at war, Galen rejected the notion that his speech undermined German solidarity or unity. Quoting Pope Pius XII’s Opus Justitiae Pax and Justitia fundamentum Regnorum, Galen noted that “Peace is the work of Justice and Justice, the basis for dominion,” then attacked the Third Reich for undermining justice, the belief in justice and for reducing the German people to a state of permanent fear, even cowardice. He concluded: “As a German, as a decent citizen, I demand Justice” (Peter Löffler (Hrsg.): Bischof Clemens August Graf von Galen – Akten, Briefe und Predigten 1933–1946. Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn/Munich/Vienna/Zurich, 2nd edition 1996, p. 843 ff. ISBN 3-506-79840-5) His second sermon the following week, stated that all written protests against Nazi hostilities had proven useless. The confiscation of religious institutions continued unabated. Members of religious orders were still being deported or jailed. He asked his listeners to be patient and to endure, and said that the German people were being destroyed not by the Allied bombing from the outside, but from negative forces within. While strong statements to speak in public, still he persevered. The third sermon dealt further with desecrations of Catholic churches, the closing of convents and monasteries, and the deportation of mentally ill people to undisclosed locations. A notice was then sent to family members stating that the person in question had died. He declared this form of euthanasia, murder. “This is murder unlawful by divine and German law, a rejection of the laws of God.” He went on to say that he had forwarded his evidence to the State Attorney. “These are people, our brothers and sisters; maybe their life is unproductive, but productivity is not a justification for killing. If that were indeed a justification for execution, everybody would have to be afraid to even go to a doctor for fear of what might be discovered. The social fabric would be affected. Galen then remarked that a regime which can do away with the Fifth Commandment (thou shalt not kill) can destroy the other commandments as well”  (Peter Löffler (Hrsg.): Bischof Clemens August Graf von Galen – Akten, Briefe und Predigten 1933–1946. Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn/Munich/Vienna/Zurich, 2nd edition 1996, p. 874 ff. ISBN 3-506-79840-5).
Galen went on to raise the question of whether permanently injured German soldiers would fall under the program as well. Thousands of copies of his sermons were circulated throughout Germany. The results were exposing the secrecy of the euthanasia program known as Aktion T4 to the general public and consequently, the rest of the world. The sermon was so powerful; copies were even dropped on German soldiers by RAF fliers. The condemnation of this one policy was used to draw wider conclusions about the nature of this regime. And it fomented the establishment of one of Germany’s most famously known resistant groups, The White Rose.
The White Rose, the last facet on this diamond that I’d discovered, I already had known about. I had first heard of this dissident group years ago, but was once again reminded of their existence just this following week. And though ideology is not a new concept to both the young and to colleges, this group resonates with an ideological truth so strong, pure and dedicated, just reading their story will certainly break your heart. It is a righteous human condition coupled with faith resisting against an evil so large and strong; personified. Begun the summer following Bishop Galen’s brazen sermons, the rise of this intellectual, non-violent resistance group was an inevitable step in the efforts to stymie and reverse the ever destructive policies of Adolf Hitler and his government. Hundreds of thousands of young men were dying or being captured on the battlefields to East. Tens of thousands of German citizens had been or were being rounded up and deported to re-education camps, as they were then known as to the German public. The cities were virtual police states where sons were reporting fathers, neighbors condemning neighbors and the very churches and synagogues, good German citizens had frequented for generations, were boarded up and closed. What you read, what you said, what you did; could endanger you to deportation, or re-education in a camp. Or far worst. From this fear, a small group of young like-minded college people rose up to say, enough is enough. They lasted nearly eight months. From July, 1942 until February, 1943, culminating with the arrests of the core group. The University of Munich housed a medical school in which several of the core members were medical students. Studies were regularly interrupted by terms of compulsory service as student soldiers in the Wehrmacht medical corps at the Eastern front. Their experiences there had a major impact on their thinking and served to only motivate their resistance. One of the students, having been raised by Russian nurses, spoke fluent Russian, allowing him direct communication with the Russian population. This communicated insight provided valuable intel, while, proving to these young students that the rumors of atrocities and the morale decline of the German army to be true. When these students returned, their convictions were strengthened by the knowledge that what they were fighting against was, truly, a great evil. They wrote pamphlets and spread them throughout the greater Munich area. They tried and were successful in recruiting others with sympathetic leanings. As time progressed these pamphlets began to find their way further and further afield into other townships and cities. In total, White Rose authored six leaflets, which were multiplied and spread for a total of nearly fifteen thousand copies. These pamphlets branded the Nazi regime’s crimes and oppression, and called for resistance. They openly denounced the persecution and murder of the Jews and other political groups opposing Hitler and the war effort. As stated by Hans Scholl during his interrogation, he said “I knew what I took upon myself and I was prepared to lose my life by doing so.” Even as the arrest were being made, The White Rose was in communication with other resistance groups throughout Germany. None of the other groups were ever uncovered by any member of the White Rose resistance group. Over twenty students and several professors were arrested and tried for crimes of treason against the Nazi regime. Eight were executed and the rest imprisoned. All were tortured and only a very few survived the war.
The hopes of the White Rose members that the defeats at Stalingrad and Moscow would incite German opposition against the Nazi regime and its crimes against humanity did not come to be. On the contrary, Nazi propaganda used those same defeats to call on the German people to embrace “Total War”. Coincidentally, on 18 February 1943, the same day that saw the arrests of Sophie and Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels delivered his Sportpalast or Total War speech (English Translation), and was enthusiastically applauded by his audience, the German public. On 22 February 1943, the students of the University of Munich were assembled, and “officially protested” against the “traitors” who came from within their ranks. Gestapo and Nazi jurisdiction documented in their files their view of the White Rose members as “traitors and defeatists”. On 23 February, the official newspaper of the Nazi party, “Völkischer Beobachter” and local newspapers in Munich briefly reported about the capture and execution of some “degenerate rogues”. Such is the power of propaganda. However, the network of friends and supporters proved to be too large, so that the rumors about the White Rose could not be suppressed any more by Nazi German officials. Until the end of World War II, further prosecutions took place, and German newspapers continued to report, mostly in brief notes, that further people had been arrested and punished. On 15 March 1943, a report by the Security Service of the Reichsführer-SS stated that rumors about the leaflets spread “considerable unrest” amongst the German population. The report expressed particular concern about the fact that leaflets were not handed in to the Nazi authorities by their finders as promptly as they used to be in the past. On 18 April 1943, the New York Times mentioned the student opposition in Munich. The paper also published articles on the first White Rose trials on 29 March 1943 and 25 April 1943. Though they did not correctly record all of the information about the resistance, the trials, and the execution, they were the first acknowledgement of the White Rose in the United States. On 27 June 1943, the German author and Nobel prize winner Thomas Mann, in his monthly anti-Nazi broadcasts by the BBC called “Deutsche Hörer!” (“German Audience!”) highly praised the White Rose members’ courage. The Soviet Army propaganda issued a leaflet, wrongly attributed by later researchers to the National Committee for a Free Germany, in honor of the White Rose’s fight for freedom. The text of the sixth leaflet of the White Rose was smuggled out of Germany through Scandinavia to the United Kingdom by the German lawyer and member of the Kreisau Circle, Helmuth James Graf von Moltke. In July 1943, copies were dropped over Germany by Allied planes, retitled “The Manifesto of the Students of Munich”. Thus, the activities of the White Rose became widely known in World War II Germany, but, like other attempts at resistance, did not provoke any active opposition against the totalitarian regime within the German population. But, the actions resonated within the hearts of Germans. As time has given distance to the fears and softened to the heartache that once was Germany, many people have come to embrace these young people’s actions and subsequent martyrdom as a higher calling. Memorials commemorate them throughout Munich. On February 5, 2012, Alexander Schmorell, was canonized by his Orthodox Church as a New Martyr.
How and why these three names were presented to me this week, I’ll never know. Well, I do know how, and I can tell you. One, Saint Francis was found in a passage of a book I am now reading. The second, The White Rose was found in a post found on Facebook. During my lunch break, I researched a little more deeply on them and found Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen’s connection to this young group of humanities’ patriots. Each, very unique in their own ways, representing from same source. One, upon renouncing his life of privileged ease, by taking a vow of poverty and renouncing the world proved his intentions to follow Christ. Thus opening his mind and heart as to one who saw the God in all things. Allowing his deed to grow an order sanctioned by the Established Church, known as the Order of Friars Minor. How many countless souls touched by this order, will never be known. Another, being a staunch conservative and raised in privilege within a militaristic nation, becomes a priest. Later, endowed with a strong sense of justice and an even stronger belief in his God and its affiliated religious order, feels the need to speak out against his nation’s governance of corruption and injustices. In doing so he becomes that voice all good souls within that system so desperately need to hear. The third, a group of well meaning, intelligent, young intellectuals with a sense of justice so strong, not even death can stay their words; seize upon those speeches as release to reason to do a greater good. I can only imagine what Saint Francis would have thought of this powerful connection in time. Of how Bishop Galen felt when he saw parts of his sermons reprinted by a young group of dissidents, tying his words to an even higher calling. But, for me, having looked further and deeper here within the confines of history, I can say they are now a part of me. A deeper curiosity took me there. Where it leads me…that, I truly cannot say. But I can write what I feel. And I feel these are strange days, indeed.