Friedrich (Fritz) Hartnagel, the son of Frederick and Barbara Hartnagel was born in Ulm on 4th February 1917. His father was the owner of a small company in the town.
Hartnagel was a member of the Hitler Youth and during a picnic with the German League of Girls he met Sophie Scholl. They became close friends and when he joined the German Army they wrote to each other on a regular basis. Sophie found him "decent and attractive" and "sensitive and intelligent". (1)
Sophie wrote in one letter: "It is true, isn't it, that sometimes in the evening you think of me? You dream occasionally of our vacations together. But don't just think of me as I am; think of me also as I would like to become. Only then, if you still can care for me, will we truly understand one another." (2)
Robert Scholl, Sophie's father, was a strong opponent of Adolf Hitler. His children gradually developed similar beliefs. Elisabeth Scholl has argued that all the Scholl children gradually became hostile to the government: "First, we saw that one could no longer read what one wanted to, or sing certain songs. Then came the racial legislation. Jewish classmates had to leave school." (3)
Sophie's 19-year-old sister, Inge Scholl, was also beginning to question the policies of the Nazi government. "We went on trips with our comrades in the Hitler Youth and took long hikes through our new land, the Swabian Jura.... We attended evening gatherings in our various homes, listened to readings, sang, played games, or worked at handcrafts. They told us that we must dedicate our lives to a great cause.... One night, as we lay under the wide starry sky after a long cycling tour, a friend - a fifteen-year-old girl - said quite suddenly and out of the blue, Everything would be fine, but this thing about the Jews is something I just can't swallow. The troop leader assured us that Hitler knew what he was doing and that for the sake of the greater good we would have to accept certain difficult and incomprehensible things. But the girl was not satisfied with this answer. Others took her side, and suddenly the attitudes in our varying home backgrounds were reflected in the conversation. We spent a restless night in that tent, but afterwards we were just too tired, and the next day was inexpressibly splendid and filled with new experiences." (4)
Sophie Scholl also began to question the Nazi-trained teachers. As Richard F. Hanser, the author of A Noble Treason: The Story of Sophie Scholl (1979), has pointed out: "Her zest gradually diminished as it became more and more clear that the BDM, like all other National Socialist programs, was designed for conformity rather than liberation. The three K's that traditionally marked off the boundaries for the German female - Kinder, Kuche, Kirche (children, kitchen, and church) - would remain fully in force under the Nazis, despite the exertions of the Ideological Training Division to persuade everyone that a new day had dawned. The shoulder-to-shoulder marching, the continual sloganeering that emphasized the group rather than the individual, came to have a suffocating effect on Sophie, who always had a sure sense of herself that she never wholly lost even when the marching, singing, and saluting were at their height. The constant pressure to give herself over to organized activity became less and less tolerable." (5)
Hans Scholl also rebelled against Hitler Youth and some of his friends decided to form their own youth organization. Inge Scholl later recalled: "The club had its own most impressive style, which had grown up out of the membership itself. The boys recognized one another by their dress, their songs, even their way of talking... For these boys life was a great, splendid adventure, an expedition into an unknown, beckoning world. On weekends they went on hikes, and it was their way, even in bitter cold, to live in a tent... Seated around the campfire they would read aloud to each other or sing, accompanying themselves with guitar, banjo, and balalaika. They collected the folk songs of all peoples and wrote words and music for their own ritual chants and popular songs." (6)
Hans Scholl was conscripted into the German Army but in 1937 was arrested in his barracks by the Gestapo. Apparently, it had been reported that while living in Ulm he had been taking part in activities that were not part of the Hitler Youth program. Sophie, Inge and Werner Scholl were also arrested. (7)
As Sophie Scholl was only sixteen, she was released and allowed to go home the same day. One biographer has pointed out: "She seemed too young and girlish to be a menace to the state, but in releasing her the Gestapo was letting slip a potential enemy with whom it would later have to reckon in a far more serious situation. There is no way of establishing the precise moment when Sophie School decided to become an overt adversary of the National Socialist state. Her decision, when it came, doubtless resulted from the accretion of offences, small and large, against her conception of what was right, moral, and decent. But now something decisive had happened. The state had laid its hands on her and her family, and now there was no longer any possibility of reconciling herself to a system that had already begun to alienate her." (8)
The Gestapo searched the Scholl house and confiscated diaries, journals, poems, essays, folk song collections, and other evidence of being members of an illegal organisation. Inge and Werner were released after a week of confinement. Hans was detained three weeks longer while the Gestapo attempted to persuade him to give damaging information about his friends. Hans was eventually released after his commanding officer had ensured the police that he was a good and loyal soldier. (9)
Sophie's letters to Fritz Hartnagel became increasingly critical of the Nazi government. In one letter she said she hoped that he did not subscribe to the established idea that a soldier is obliged to serve his country's cause under any and all circumstances. "I think that right and justice are superior to other loyalties, which are often merely sentimental. It would certainly be better if, in a war, people could choose the side whose cause they felt to be the most just." (10)
Elisabeth Scholl remembers a conversation she had with Sophie Scholl in the summer of 1939: "As time went on Sophie became increasingly disillusioned with the Nazis. On the day before England declared war in 1939 I went with her for a walk along the Danube and I remember I said: Hopefully there will be no war. And she said: Yes, I hope there will be. Hopefully someone will stand up to Hitler. In this she was more decisive than Hans." (11) Sophie wrote to Fritz expressing her bitterness: "Now you'll surely have enough to do. I can't grasp that now human beings will constantly be put into mortal danger by other human beings. I can never grasp it, and I find it horrible. Don't say it's for the Fatherland." (12)
After leaving school in 1940 Sophie became a kindergarten teacher at the Frobel Institute in Ulm-Söflingen. During this period Sophie became very interested in politics. Sophie wrote to Fritz Hartnagel: "If I didn't know that I'll probably outlive many older people then I'd be overcome with horror at the spirit that's dominating history today... I'm sure you find what I'm writing very unfeminine. It's ridiculous for a girl to involve herself in politics. She should let her feminine feelings dominate her thoughts. Especially compassion. But I believe that first comes thinking, and that feelings, especially about little things that affect you directly, maybe about your own body, deflect you so that you can hardly see the big things anymore." (13)
Sophie Scholl continued to take risks by criticising the government. Her sister Inge Scholl later recalled: "We were living in a society where despotism, hate, and lies had become the normal state of affairs. Every day that you were not in jail was like a gift. No one was safe from arrest for the slightest unguarded remark, and some disappeared forever for no better reason... Hidden ears seemed to be listening to everything that was being spoken in Germany. The terror was at your elbow wherever you went." (14)
Sophie became convinced that it was time for German citizens to begin rebelling against the Nazi government. She told her boyfriend, Fritz Hartnagel: "For me the relationship between a soldier and his people is roughly like that of a son who swears to stand by his father and his family through thick and thin. If it turns out that the father harms another family and then gets hurt as a consequence, must the son still stick by him? I can't accept it. Justice is more important than sentimental loyalty." (15)
Fritz Hartnagel came home on leave in late 1941. He was shocked by the changes that had taken place in Sophie concerning the war. "She was striking to see with what incisiveness and logic Sophie saw how things would develop, for she was warm-hearted and full of feeling, not cold and calculating... There was a big propaganda campaign in Germany to get the people to give sweaters and other warm woollen clothing to the Army. German soldiers were at the gates of Leningrad and Moscow in the middle of a winter war for which they weren't prepared... Sophie said, We're not giving anything. I had just got back from the Russian Front... I tried to describe to her how conditions were for the men, with no gloves, pullovers or warm socks. She stuck to her viewpoint relentlessly and justified it by saying, It doesn't matter if it's German soldiers who are freezing to death or Russians, the case is equally terrible. But we must lose the war. If we contribute warm clothes, we'll be extending it." (16)
Fritz Hartnagel, was now sent to the Soviet Union and had taken part in the fighting in Stalingrad. Elisabeth Scholl later explained: "In the letters home to Sophie he wrote about how horrified he was at the shooting of Jews. Then there was the architect Manfred Eickemeyer who provided Hans with use of studio in Munich while he was in Poland. Eickemeyer told him about the executions of Jews and the Polish intelligentsia." (17)
In May 1942, Sophie Scholl entered the University of Munich where she became a student of biology and philosophy. Soon afterwards she joined forces with Hans Scholl, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, and Jugen Wittenstein to form the White Rose group. (18)
According to Elisabeth Scholl, the White Rose group was formed because of the execution of members of the resistance: "We learned in the spring of 1942 of the arrest and execution of 10 or 12 Communists. And my brother said, In the name of civic and Christian courage something must be done. Sophie knew the risks. Fritz Hartnagel told me about a conversation in May 1942. Sophie asked him for a thousand marks but didn’t want to tell him why. He warned her that resistance could cost both her head and her neck. She told him, I’m aware of that. Sophie wanted the money to buy a printing press to publish the anti-Nazi leaflets” (19)
The White Rose group began producing leaflets. They were typed single-spaced on both sides of a sheet of paper, duplicated, folded into envelopes with neatly typed names and addresses, and mailed as printed matter to people all over Munich. At least a couple of hundred were handed into the Gestapo. It soon became clear that most of the leaflets were received by academics, civil servants, restaurateurs and publicans. A small number were scattered around the University of Munich campus. As a result the authorities immediately suspected that students had produced the leaflets. (20)
The opening paragraph of the first leaflet said: "Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be "governed" without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes - crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure-reach the light of day? If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order in history; if they surrender man's highest principle, that which raises him above all other God's creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass - then, yes, they deserve their downfall." (21)
According to the historian of the resistance, Joachim Fest, this was a new development in the struggle against Adolf Hitler. "A small group of Munich students were the only protesters who managed to break out of the vicious circle of tactical considerations and other inhibitions. They spoke out vehemently, not only against the regime but also against the moral indolence and numbness of the German people." (22) Peter Hoffmann, the author of The History of German Resistance (1977) claimed they must have been aware that they could do any significant damage to the regime but they "were prepared to sacrifice themselves" in order to register their disapproval of the Nazi government. (23)
On 18th February, 1943, Sophie and Hans Scholl arrived at the University of Munich with a suitcase packed with leaflets. According to Inge Scholl: "They arrived at the university, and since the lecture rooms were to open in a few minutes, they quickly decided to deposit the leaflets in the corridors. Then they disposed of the remainder by letting the sheets fall from the top level of the staircase down into the entrance hall. Relieved, they were about to go, but a pair of eyes had spotted them. It was as if these eyes (they belonged to the building superintendent) had been detached from the being of their owner and turned into automatic spyglasses of the dictatorship. The doors of the building were immediately locked, and the fate of brother and sister was sealed." (24)
Jakob Schmid, a member of the Nazi Party, saw them at the University of Munich, throwing leaflets from a window of the third floor into the courtyard below. He immediately told the Gestapo and they were both arrested. They were searched and the police found a handwritten draft of another leaflet. This they matched to a letter in Scholl's flat that had been signed by Christoph Probst. Following interrogation, they were all charged with treason. (25)
Sophie, Hans and Christoph were not allowed to select a defence lawyer. Inge Scholl claimed that the lawyer assigned by the authorities "was little more than a helpless puppet". Sophie told him: "If my brother is sentenced to die, you musn't let them give me a lighter sentence, for I am exactly as guilty as he." (26)
Sophie was interrogated all night long. She told her cell-mate, Else Gebel, that she denied her "complicity for a long time". But when she was told that the Gestapo had found evidence in her brother's room that proved she was guilty of drafting the leaflet. "Then the two of you knew that all was lost... We will take the blame for everything, so that no other person is put in danger." Sophie made a confession about her own activities but refused to give information about the rest of the group. (27)
Friends of Hans and Sophie had immediately telephoned Robert Scholl with news of the arrests. Robert and Magdalena went to Gestapo headquarters but they were told they were not allowed to visit them in prison over the weekend. They were not told that there trial was to begin on the Monday morning. However, another friend, Otl Aicher, telephoned them with the news. (28) They were met by Jugen Wittenstein at the railway station: "We have very little time. The People's Court is in session, and the hearing is already under way. We must prepare ourselves for the worst." (29)
Sophie's parents tried to attend the trial and Magdalene told a guard: "I’m the mother of two of the accused." He responded: "You should have brought them up better." (30) Robert Scholl was forced his way past the guards at the door and managed to get to his children's defence attorney. "Go to the president of the court and tell him that the father is here and he wants to defend his children!" He spoke to Judge Roland Freisler who responded by ordering the Scholl family from the court. The guards dragged them out but at the door Robert was able to shout: "There is a higher justice! They will go down in history!" (31)
Later that day Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst were all found guilty. Judge Freisler told the court: "The accused have by means of leaflets in a time of war called for the sabotage of the war effort and armaments and for the overthrow of the National Socialist way of life of our people, have propagated defeatist ideas, and have most vulgarly defamed the Führer, thereby giving aid to the enemy of the Reich and weakening the armed security of the nation. On this account they are to be punished by death. Their honour and rights as citizens are forfeited for all time." (32)
Robert and Magdalena managed to see their children before they were executed. Their daughter, Inge Scholl, later explained what happened: "First Hans was brought out. He wore a prison uniform, he walked upright and briskly, and he allowed nothing in the circumstances to becloud his spirit. His face was thin and drawn, as if after a difficult struggle, but now it beamed radiantly. He bent lovingly over the barrier and took his parents' hands... Then Hans asked them to take his greetings to all his friends. When at the end he mentioned one further name, a tear ran down his face; he bent low so that no one would see. And then he went out, without the slightest show of fear, borne along by a profound inner strength." (33)
Magdalena said to her 22 year-old daughter: "I'll never see you come through the door again." Sophie replied, "Oh mother, after all, it's only a few years' more life I'll miss." Sophie told her parents she and Hans were pleased and proud that they had betrayed no one, that they had taken all the responsibility on themselves. (34)
Else Gebel shared Sophie Scholl's cell and recorded her last words before being taken away to be executed. "How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause.... It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives. What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted. Among the student body there will certainly be a revolt." (35)
They were all beheaded by guillotine in Stadelheim Prison only a few hours after being found guilty. A prison guard later reported: "They bore themselves with marvelous bravery. The whole prison was impressed by them. That is why we risked bringing the three of them together once more-at the last moment before the execution. If our action had become known, the consequences for us would have been serious. We wanted to let them have a cigarette together before the end. It was just a few minutes that they had, but I believe that it meant a great deal to them." (36)
With the arrival of Allied troops Robert Scholl was released and appointed mayor of Ulm. (37) On his return from the war Fritz Hartnagel helped Elisabeth Scholl to get a job. It was the beginning of a romance that led to marriage and the birth of four sons. (38)
Fritz and Elisabeth both joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and became active in the peace movement and gave advice to youthful conscientious objectors. This included involvement in the War Resisters' International. He was eventually appointed Chief Judge of the Regional Court of Stuttgart. In September 1983, he was arrested for protesting against the US Pershing II missiles. (39)
Fritz Hartnagel died on 29th April, 2001.
There are times when I dread the war and feel like giving up hope completely. I hate thinking about it, but politics are almost all there is, and as long as they're so confused and nasty, it's cowardly to turn your back on them. You're probably smiling at this and telling yourself "She's a girl".
If I didn't know that I'll probably outlive many older people then I'd be overcome with horror at the spirit that's dominating history today... I'm sure you find what I'm writing very unfeminine. It's ridiculous for a girl to involve herself in politics. She should let her feminine feelings dominate her thoughts. Especially compassion. But I believe that first comes thinking, and that feelings, especially about little things that affect you directly, maybe about your own body, deflect you so that you can hardly see the big things anymore.
For me the relationship between a soldier and his people is roughly like that of a son who swears to stand by his father and his family through thick and thin. If it turns out that the father harms another family and then gets hurt as a consequence, must the son still stick by him? I can't accept it. Justice is more important than sentimental loyalty.
It was striking to see with what incisiveness and logic Sophie saw how things would develop, for she was warm-hearted and full of feeling, not cold and calculating. Here is an example: in winter 1941-42 there was a big propaganda campaign in Germany to get the people to give sweaters and other warm woollen clothing to the Army. German soldiers were at the gates of Leningrad and Moscow in the middle of a winter war for which they weren't prepared... Sophie said, "We're not giving anything." I had just got back from the Russian Front... I tried to describe to her how conditions were for the men, with no gloves, pullovers or warm socks. She stuck to her viewpoint relentlessly and justified it by saying, "It doesn't matter if it's German soldiers who are freezing to death or Russians, the case is equally terrible. But we must lose the war. If we contribute warm clothes, we'll be extending it."