As a child, Huber had suffered from diphtheria and surgeons had performed an emergency operation, cutting his throat. According to Yvonne Sherratt the "after-effects of the illness and the traumatic treatment had never left him... his hands always trembled... except when he played piano, then he was able to lose himself in the concentration required at the keyboard." (2)
Huber studied musicology, psychology and philosophy at the University of Munich. He obtained his doctorate in 1917 and three years began teaching at the university. Over the years he gained a reputation for giving highly sophisticated and original lectures on the philosophers Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Hegel, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Schelling and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. (3)
Kurt Huber married Clara Schlickenrieder in 1929. Over the next few years she gave birth to two children, Birgit and Wolf. He made recordings of folk songs, a field in which he became a recognized authority. He once wrote: "A folk melody is created in the spirit of the community and possesses inherent poetical and musical qualities which are close to those people." (4)
In 1936, he represented Germany in the International Congress on Folk Music in Barcelona. As Richard F. Hanser has pointed out: "His was a mind that immersed itself with scholarly zest in the music of peasants and mountain dwellers as well as in the philosophical profundities of Hegel, Schelling, and Fichte." (5)
Huber held right-wing political views and has been described as "a nationalist conservative, believing in the sanctity of tradition and the importance of the nation." (6) He was a strong opponent of Adolf Hitler because he considered him leading "a mass movement of revolutionaries did he loathe them". Although he was a passionate nationalist "he never advocated war or conquest as a method to further the German spirit". (7) Due to his limp and his speech impediment, the Nazi authorities considered Huber to be cripple and therefore not a member of the master race. When he applied for a senior post at the university he was told that "we can only promote officer material". (8)
In his lectures on Immanuel Kant, Huber argued that he was a great moralist who believed that all human beings had the ability to reason and ought to have the freedom to exercise this ability. Reason, not accepting the orders of authority, was the basis of morality. "In his own time Kant had opposed all forms of unthinking obedience, repeatedly claiming that independent, rational thought was the basis of all good conduct." (9)
In May 1942, Sophie Scholl entered the University of Munich where she became a student of biology and philosophy. (10) One of her tutors was Kurt Huber. She soon discovered that he would occasionally make an ironic or barbed remark on the Nazi government. For example, during a lecture on the banned Jewish philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, he commented: "Careful, he's a Jew! Don't let yourself be contaminated." (11)
Sophie's brother, Hans Scholl, was a medical student at the university. Hans and his friends, Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst, Willi Graf, Jugen Wittenstein, Traute Lafrenz and Gisela Schertling also began attending his lectures. By this time his lectures "were always packed, because he managed to introduce veiled criticism of the regime into them". (12) Hans told his sister, Inge Scholl, "though his hair was turning grey, he was one of them". (13)
Hans Scholl and his friends formed a discussion group called the White Rose group. "There was no set criterion for entry into the group that crystallized around Hans and Sophie Scholl... It was not an organization with rules and a membership list. Yet the group had a distinct identity, a definite personality, and it adhered to standards no less rigid for being undefined and unspoken. These standards involved intelligence, character, and especially political attitude." (14)
In June 1942 the 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. (15)
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." (16)
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." (17) 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. (18)
Over the next few weeks the White Rose group produced three more leaflets. The last of these was sent to Kurt Huber. He was then invited to the home of Alexander Schmorell. He turned up but was reluctant to get involved in a discussion about resisting the Nazi government. Traute Lafrenz abruptly turned to Huber and asked if he had received a White Rose leaflet. "He must have paused; the question, so pointed and direct, from a young woman he had never met before, must have startled him. He undoubtedly was put on guard: Kurt Huber was a man who did not find independent, sophisticated, and intellectual women sympathetic. He was comfortable with women who accepted the role that nature had given them: the comforter, the nurturer, the provider of sanctuary for the struggling man in a hostile world. As he saw it, women were there to pour coffee for the men as they talked over the serious issues of the world; women were not there for intellectual companionship or friendship, but for spiritual succor. He replied to the young woman that yes, he had received a leaflet. He didn't say much beyond that, except that he doubted the impact of the leaflet was worth the terrible risks." Huber was also strongly anti-communist and was unhappy with the passage in the leaflet that said: "The first concern of every German is not the military victory over Bolshevism, but the defeat of National Socialism." Huber left the meeting without making it clear if he was willing to join the group. (19)
In December, 1942, Hans Scholl went to visit Kurt Huber and asked his advice on the text of a new leaflet. He had previously rejected the idea of leaflets because he thought they would have no appreciable effect on the public and the danger of producing them outweighed any effect they might have. However, he had changed his mind and agreed to help Scholl write the leaflet. (20) Huber later commented that "in a state where the free expression of public opinion is throttled a dissident must necessarily turn to illegal methods." (21)
The first draft of the fifth leaflet was written by Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell. (22) Kurt Huber then revised the material. The three men had long discussions about the content of the leaflet. Huber thought that the young men were "leaning too much to the left" and he described the White Rose group as "a Communist ring". (23) However, it was eventually agreed what would be published. For the first time, the name White Rose did not appear on the leaflet. The authors now presented them as the "Resistance Movement in Germany". (24)
This leaflet, entitled A Call to All Germans!, included the following passage: "Germans! Do you and your children want to suffer the same fate that befell the Jews? Do you want to be judged by the same standards as your traducers? Are we do be forever the nation which is hated and rejected by all mankind? No. Dissociate yourselves from National Socialist gangsterism. Prove by your deeds that you think otherwise. A new war of liberation is about to begin."
It ended with the kind of world they wanted after the war finished: "Imperialistic designs for power, regardless from which side they come, must be neutralized for all time... All centralized power, like that exercised by the Prussian state in Germany and in Europe, must be eliminated... The coming Germany must be federalistic. The working class must be liberated from its degraded conditions of slavery by a reasonable form of socialism... Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the protection of individual citizens from the arbitrary will of criminal regimes of violence - these will be the bases of the New Europe." (25)
The Gestapo later estimated that the White Rose group distributed around 10,000 copies of this leaflet. Sophie Scholl and Traute Lafrenz purchased the special paper needed, as well as the envelopes and stamps from a large number of shops to avoid suspicion. Each leaflet was turned out one by one, night after night. "In order to stay awake and to function during the day, they took pep pills from the military clinics where the medics worked." (26) The conspirators had to ensure that the Gestapo could not trace the source to Munich so the group had to post their leaflets from neighbouring towns." (27)
The authorities took the fifth leaflet more seriously than the others. One of the Gestapo's most experienced agents, Robert Mohr, was ordered to carry out a full investigation into the group called the "Resistance Movement in Germany". He was told "the leaflets were creating the greatest disturbance at the highest levels of the Party and the State". Mohr was especially concerned by the leaflets simultaneous appearance in widely separated cities including Stuttgart, Vienna, Ulm, Frankfurt, Linz, Salzburg and Augsburg. This suggested an organization of considerable size was at work, one with capable leadership and considerable resources. (28)
On 3rd, 8th and 15th February, 1943, Willi Graf, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell went out into the darkened streets and painted slogans such as "Freedom" and "Down with Hitler!" on the walls of apartment houses, state buildings, and the university. In some places they added a white swastika, crossed out with a smear of red paint. Christoph Probst, who was living in Innsbruck at the time, heard about this, he told his friends that "these nocturnal forays were dangerous and foolish." (29)
On 18th February, 1943, Sophie and Hans Scholl went to 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." (30)
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. He was arrested on 20th February. Following interrogation, they were all charged with treason. (31) Christoph, Sophie and Hans 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". (32)
Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst were all tried for high treason on 22nd February, 1943. They were all found guilty. Judge Roland 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." (33) They were all executed later that day. (34)
The Gestapo began arresting other members of the White Rose group. Huber destroyed all details of his involvement in the group. It was not until the 26th February, 1943, that he was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Stadelheim Prison. While waiting for his trial to take place, Huber spent his time writing a book on Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. Meanwhile, his family made an appeal for clemency. They eventually received a letter signed by Adolf Hitler that stated: "I reject all petitions of mercy." (35)
Kurt Huber was put on trial with other members of the White Rose group on 19th April, 1943. The lawyer representing Huber leaped to his feet at the beginning of the trial, raised his arm in the Nazi salute, and shouted "Heil Hitler!" He then announced that he was disassociating himself from his client: "This is the first time I have heard the contents of these leaflets. As a German and a protector of the law of the German Reich, I cannot tolerate such vilification of the Führer. I cannot defend such a monstrous crime. I respectfully ask this court to be relieved of the obligation to defend my client." (36)
Judge Roland Freisler replied: "This court thoroughly understands your position. You may lay down your brief." Freisler ordered another attorney present to represent Kurt Huber. This lawyer protested that he didn't know the case, had not examined the evidence. Freisler waved away the objections. Huber was also upset by the news that other academics had refused to serve as character witnesses." (37)
Kurt Huber, Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf were all charged with high treason. "Kurt Huber, Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf in time of war have promulgated leaflets calling for sabotage of the war effort 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." (38)
Kurt Huber gave a speech in the court. He tried to explain his sense of responsibility as a German professor. "As a German citizen, as a German professor, and as a political person, I hold it to be not only my right but also my moral duty to take part in the shaping of our German destiny, to expose and oppose obvious wrongs. What I intended to accomplish was to rouse the student body, not by means of an organization, but solely by my simple words; to urge them, not to violence, but to moral insight into the existing serious deficiencies of our political system. To urge the return to clear moral principles, to the constitutional state, to mutual trust between men."
He finished with the words: "You have stripped from me the rank and privileges of the professorship and the doctoral degree which I earned, and you have set me at the level of the lowest criminal. The inner dignity of the university teacher, of the frank, courageous protestor of his philosophical and political views - no trial for treason can rob me of that. My actions and my intentions will be justified in the inevitable course of history; such is my firm faith. I hope to God that the inner strength that will vindicate my deeds will in good time spring forth from my own people. I have done as I had to on the prompting of my inner voice." (39)
Kurt Huber was found guilty of high treason. Judge Roland Freisler ruled: "A German university professor is first and foremost an educator of the young. As such he ought to try, in time of difficulty and struggle, to see that our university students are trained to be worthy younger brothers of the soldiers of 1914 at Langemarck in Flanders; that they are reinforced in their absolute trust in our Führer, our people and our Reich; and that they become seasoned fighters, prepared for any sacrifice! The accused Huber, however, acted in an exactly opposite manner! He nourished doubt instead of dispelling it; he delivered addresses about federalism and democracy for Germany, about a multiparty system, instead of teaching and setting an example in his own life of rigorous National Socialism. It was not a time for tackling theoretical problems, but rather for grasping the sword, yet he sowed doubt among our youth.... Huber further states that he believed he was performing a good deed... The days when every man can be allowed to profess his own political beliefs are past. For us there is but one standard: the National Socialist one. Against this we measure each man!" (40)
Kurt Huber was executed on 13th July, 1943.
When Professor Huber lectured on subjects like these, he could not resist tossing in an occasional ironic or barbed remark. He had a dry wit-not a very academic trait in Germany, and certainly not under the Nazis. The unexpected remark just seemed to leap out of him, as if he could not do otherwise, as if there were some deep need to throw down the gauntlet. He would mention Spinoza and say with a wry smile, "Careful, he's a Jew! Don't let yourselves be contaminated." There would be restless and fearful murmurs in the hall, but the students came back in droves, and somehow there were no repercussions.
Kurt Huber's political and social attitudes were conservative, and precisely because he viewed the Nazis as a mass movement of revolutionaries did he loathe them. He was an authentic representative of German philosophical and historical nationalism - but he never advocated war or conquest as a method to further the German spirit. At one time, early in the Nazi regime, he had tried to get a full professorship, which he undeniably deserved: he was considered one of the more brilliant, universal, and articulate younger figures in the academic world. He was turned down by a National Socialist university bureaucrat who said: "We can only use officer material."
That casual and brutal remark may have been shattering to a man who had spent his life overcoming pain and affliction by sheer self-discipline and intelligence. In addition, he was deeply committed to the German cause and a fervent admirer of the military as a pillar of a moral German order. His own inability to serve his country in uniform must have been among the sorest of his trials; he had been of age during the First World War and had missed sharing the legendary bonds of comradeship that grew out of the trenches and that were so extolled later by nationalist writers. Now again, in the thirties and early forties, he was living in a society that prized everything he was not. Nevertheless, he went on admiring Prussia and the military for their discipline, steadfastness, and code of honor. He hated the man who would soon send these brave and strong young men out to die without purpose or reason.