Falk Harnack, the son of Otto Harnack and Clara Harnack, was born in Stuttgart, Germany, on 2nd March, 1913. His father committed suicide just before the First World War by drowning himself in the Neckar River.
Harnack studied theatre sciences at the University of Munich before being conscripted into the German Army and reached the rank of corporal. However, he also became a member of the Red Orchestra network that had been established by Leopold Trepper, a member of the NKVD, in 1939. (2)
During the Second World War a group of students at the University of Munich established the White Rose anti-Nazi group. Members included Alexander Schmorell, Hans Scholl, Jürgen Wittenstein, Christoph Probst, Willi Graf, Sophie Scholl, Inge Scholl and Traute Lafrenz. In June 1942 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. (3)
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." (4)
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." (5) 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. (6)
Falk Harnack was engaged to Lilo Ramdohr was a member of the White Rose group. (7) Lilo put him into contact with its leader, Hans Scholl. They met in 1942. Harnack was critical of the leaflets because he thought they "were academic, intellectual, and much too flowery to have an impact on the masses" and had obviously been published by people who "didn't speak the language of the working people." Harnack insisted that the group needed to join forces with those on the left of the political spectrum. (8)
Scholl agreed and Harnack and suggested that they formed a branch of their group in Berlin. "They were eager to establish some kind of contact with the anti-Nazi opposition in Berlin, where efforts were being made to bring together the various factions of the resistance - Communist, liberal, conservative-military - into a unified movement with a consensus on aims and action. Falk Harnack had the necessary connections, including contacts with high-ranking army officers." (9)
The first draft of the fifth White Rose leaflet was written by Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell. (10) It also reflected the ideas of Falk Harnack. Kurt Huber then revised the material. They had long discussions about the content of the leaflet. Huber thought that they were "leaning too much to the left" and he described the group as "a Communist ring". (11) 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". (12)
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." (13)
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. (14) 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". (15)
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." (16) They were all executed later that day. (17)
The Gestapo began arresting other members of the White Rose group. This included Falk Harnack and they were put on trial on 19th April, 1943. Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorell and Kurt Huber were all convicted of high treason and were all sentenced to death. Other sentences included Eugen Grimminger, ten years; Heinrich Bollinger and Helmut Bauer, seven years; Hans Hirzel and Franz Müller, five years; Heinrich Guter, eighteen months; Susanne Hirzel, six months; Traute Lafrenz, Gisela Schertling and Katharina Schüddekopf, one year each. (18)
Falk Harnack was surprisingly found not guilty. Judge Roland Freisler commented: "Falk Harnack failed to report his knowledge of treasonous activity. But such unique and special circumstances surround his case that we find ourselves unable to punish his deed of omission. He is accordingly set free." (19)
Harnack grabbed Kurt Huber's hand and said desperately, "It was not in vain." Alexander Schmorell called out to him about Lilo Ramdohr: "Give my best to Lilo, tell her I think about her often." Harnack was ordered to follow the three men walking to death row. They walked through the long corridor. "harnack noticed boxes outside each cell, intended to hold the condemned men's clothing. They were to sleep naked, manacled." (20)
Harnack was released the next day. Richard F. Hanser, the author of A Noble Treason: The Story of Sophie Scholl (1979) has argued that the Gestapo knew he was guilty and also knew he was a member of the Red Orchestra network. His brother, Arvid Harnack, and his wife, Mildred Harnack, had been executed two months earlier. "As it turned out, his acquittal was only a tactic. The Gestapo wanted to watch him after his release, in the hope of linking him to his dead brother's organization." (21)
In August 1943 he was sent to fight in Greece. In December, he was to be arrested and sent to a Nazi concentration camp, but he managed to escape. He then joined the Greek partisans fighting the Nazis, working with the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS) and co-founded the Anti-Fascist Committee for a Free Germany with Gerhard Reinhardt, becoming leader of the organization.
After the war, Harnack worked at the Bavarian state theater in Munich and the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. He proudly supported his war record: "There was a fundamental, worldwide difference between high treason and espionage committed in a democratic state or in a bestial dictatorship. In a democracy, the opposition has legal methods and can work for a change in national politics. Counter to this is a dictatorship, where all opposition to the government is brutally suppressed and (the facts speak for themselves) stamped out. The Hitler dictatorship killed 100,000 of its opponents, millions of others were eliminated on racial grounds, countless friendly nations were invaded, all had to be destroyed in the interests of the German people. But Hitler's dictatorship had at its disposal limitless power; it had extraordinary means of support. Only the most extreme measures had any real chance of success. The (resistance) acted from moral duty. Above all, the people had to be torn from the criminal path that Hitler's leadership had trodden, and a national catastrophe had to be avoided. That was the opinion both of the right as well as the left resistance." (22)
Harnack was married to German actress Käthe Braun, directed The Axe of Wandsbek in 1951. The movie was adapted from a book by Arnold Zweig. The film was attacked for not being politically acceptable and was banned by the East German communist government. Harnack reacted by leaving the country and settling in West Germany. Over the next few years he directed several films including The Plot to Assassinate Hitler (1955), Nacht der Entscheidung (1956), Is Anna Anderson Anastasia? (1956), The Night of the Storm (1957), The Restless Night (1958) and Doctor Without Scruples (1959).
Falk Harnack was highly critical of the West German government and their involvement with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He was especially upset by the employment of Reinhard Gehlen: The Americans copied the system (of phone taps and surveillance) that the Gestapo had. The Gestapo developed a very good system of entrapment and the Americans took it all over - instead of directing it against the Nazis, they directed it against the anti-Fascists after the war. The Americans employed all these National Socialist criminals... in the CIA! They all worked for the CIA and defamed us (the resistance) after the war... The West German Intelligence Service employed General Reinhard Gehlen (a senior figure in the Hitler administration). He hired all these people from the Gestapo and the SS. All of this is very, very dark, very dark. A disgrace for the United States that is cooperated with these people, these mass murderers. And the people that knew the truth, they were left on the outside. They were not considered." (23)
Falk Harnack died on 3rd September 1991.
Falk Harnack had the necessary connections, including contacts with high-ranking army officers whose plotting would one day result in the explosion of a bomb in Hitler's headquarters. Harnack promised to arrange a meeting between Hans Scholl and key conspirators in Berlin.
It was an extremely hazardous undertaking. Falk Harnack's own brother, Dr. Arvid Harnack, had recently been arrested and executed for his role in a conspiracy called the "Red Orchestra", in which military information of the highest importance was regularly transmitted to the Russians by a network of Communist sympathizers who had infiltrated the Luftwaffe, the German air force. Fifty men and women, including Arvid's American wife, Mildred, whom he met at the University of Wisconsin, were executed in the Red Orchestra affair. The men were not granted the swift dispatch of the guillotine but, on Hitler's orders, were hung on meat hooks and slowly strangled to death. The courts had sentenced the women only to jail, but Hitler insisted that they, too, be executed, and they were.
The meeting of Hans, Alex, and Falk Harnack in Chemnitz was not the only one. Harnack twice came to Munich-partly to see his friend Lilo Ramdohr - and there were further discussions in which Professor Huber and Willi Graf also took part. There were acute differences of opinion between Professor Huber, whose outlook was in essence traditional and conservative, and Falk Harnack, whose orientation was to the left, as his brother's had been. There was no agreement on how the postwar government of Germany should be constituted, but there was unanimity that after the fall of Hitler, all Nazi activists would be hunted down, arrested, prosecuted, and harshly punished. Only three political parties would be allowed-Marxist, Liberal, and Christian-in contrast to the dozens that had caused such political chaos during the Weimar Republic. But the immediate goal, to which all other considerations must give way, was the ending of the war as soon as possible and the downfall of National Socialism.
They (Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell) waited impatiently for Falk Harnack's reaction. He was blunt in his response; he told them that the leaflets were academic, intellectual, and much too flowery to have an impact on the masses. One could see immediately that they were created by intellectuals living in a world of literature and philosophy who didn't speak the language of the working people.
They agreed with him. They were determined to learn, to develop the skills of the underground; they realized leaflets were not enough, just a place to start, and they wanted to link up with the network of German resistance. They had been isolated in Munich, a handful of students, and a few of them had briefly been posted to the Russian front; that experience redoubled their determination. The war had to be stopped and Hitler destroyed: it was the only way to save Germany and restore it to its rightful place in the community of peoples.
Harnack warned them that the resistance was not based on well meaning intellectuals and their outrage, but on coldly rational premises. It had to be a wide anti-Fascist front in every city in Nazi Germany, from Communists on the left, through the Social Democrats and liberals, to the conservative and military opposition on the right. People who had loathed each other in the Weimar days had to forget the past and work together for one goal: kill Hitler, overthrow the government, and negotiate peace with the Allies.
Alex and Hans seemed excited; it was likely they had not anticipated hearing such ambitious plans. The three talked on for hours, even exploring what the world would look like once they succeeded with their plans. Hans wanted to give up medicine after the war and go into politics. It is often the case that conspirators have a great need to be visionaries.
The Americans copied the system (of phone taps and surveillance) that the Gestapo had. The Gestapo developed a very good system of entrapment and the Americans took it all over - instead of directing it against the Nazis, they directed it against the anti-Fascists after the war. The Americans employed all these National Socialist criminals... in the CIA! They all worked for the CIA and defamed us (the resistance) after the war... The West German Intelligence Service employed General Richard Gehlen (a senior figure in the Hitler administration). He hired all these people from the Gestapo and the SS. All of this is very, very dark, very dark. A disgrace for the United States that is cooperated with these people, these mass murderers. And the people that knew the truth, they were left on the outside. They were not considered.
There was a fundamental, worldwide difference between high treason and espionage committed in a democratic state or in a bestial dictatorship. In a democracy, the opposition has legal methods and can work for a change in national politics. Counter to this is a dictatorship, where all opposition to the government is brutally suppressed and (the facts speak for themselves) stamped out. The Hitler dictatorship killed 100,000 of its opponents, millions of others were eliminated on racial grounds, countless friendly nations were invaded, all had to be destroyed in the interests of the German people. But Hitler's dictatorship had at its disposal limitless power; it had extraordinary means of support. Only the most extreme measures had any real chance of success. The (resistance) acted from moral duty. Above all, the people had to be torn from the criminal path that Hitler's leadership had trodden, and a national catastrophe had to be avoided. That was the opinion both of the right as well as the left resistance.