Women of the White Rose: Katharina Schüddekopf
Professor Kurt Huber was her Doktorvater. She was part of the small group on 7/22/1942 that discussed advisability of continuing the leaflets. And she is as good as unknown. That must change.
Katharina Schüddekopf – Käthe to her friends – was born on February 8, 1916 in Magdeburg into a comfortable world of privilege, yet her life had been anything but easy. Her doctors said she had a dislocated hip. In reality, she suffered from cerebral palsy with diplegia of the legs. She’d always had difficulty walking. And as she was growing up, there was nothing her doctors could do to help her.
As Hitler came to power, her home life added to her unhappiness. Käthe’s father Friedrich Schüddekopf was a high-ranking engineer with Krupp Grusonwerke, the Krupp division that manufactured Germany’s mid-sized tank, the SdKfz 161. He had wasted no time applying for membership in the NSDAP and was accepted on May 1, 1937 in the first batch of new members after January 31, 1933.
On the other hand, Käthe’s mother – Katharina Schüddekopf nee Ohlmeier – despised everything associated with National Socialism. She refused to join the National Socialist Women’s League. Worse yet, she was relentlessly stubborn in her insistence that she would have nothing to do with any National Socialist organization, making a big deal out of refusing to participate in collections for money, furs, and clothes sponsored by the NSDAP. The final straw for the Gestapo in Magdeburg: Mrs. Schüddekopf attended Mass regularly and lived as a strict Catholic.
Initially, Käthe tried to navigate her problematic home life by placating both parents, going to church with her mother, and contributing to National Socialist causes for her father’s sake. Her illness prevented her from participating in the “normal” activities of the Bund deutscher Mädel and Reich Labor Service, but she dutifully joined the NS League of Students when she enrolled at the university in Berlin in 1939. Käthe even volunteered her services to the Reich propaganda department while she was in Berlin, translating documents from the French and quotations from philosophical writings of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. She tried hard to please her father.
And yet, Käthe put an end to her inner conflict. Perhaps the resolution came after the year she spent in Vienna, where her older sister Anna lived with her husband Dr. Allinger-Csollich, who was a prosecutor for the Reich district attorney’s office. The only mention Käthe made of the Allinger-Csollich family came during the Gestapo interrogation when they specifically questioned her about siblings. Otherwise, it was as though Anna did not exist.
Käthe likewise had piqued the interest of the Gestapo in Magdeburg. Their files noted that when she was home, she too attended church regularly and made a big deal out of not joining the NSDAP collection efforts. An agent sarcastically noted, “The student Katharina Schüddekopf takes after her mother, while her sister takes after her father.”
The year 1942 started off mixed for Käthe. When results were announced for Krupp Grusonwerke in Magdeburg for 1941, her father would have been proud of his contribution to the war effort: Their factory had increased assembly of the SdKfz 161 by about 25%! Not good news for Käthe. And then in February 1942, that difficult father suddenly died of a middle ear infection.
At least she had found an intellectual home in Munich. Käthe had transferred from Vienna to Munich beginning with the summer semester in 1941. Her academic interests tracked those of Professor Kurt Huber almost exactly. She never could make up her mind between musicology, philosophy, or French literature, so she majored in all three.
Although Käthe and Traute Lafrenz had likely sat in the same Huber lectures for two full semesters, it was not until May 1942 that the two women began to talk. Neither could remember exactly what triggered the first conversation. They just remembered that they were both in the same language seminar given by Professor Huber, and their friendship blossomed. Käthe would later recall that she admired Traute’s wide range of interests and thought she was very gifted.
This connection could not have been more perfectly timed for both women. Käthe had found an intellectual equal with whom she could talk through the contradictions of her life. Traute had already faced the same internal debates and chosen resistance to Nazi authority, especially as related to parents. Traute understood Käthe’s core conflict.
And Traute? She thought she had been “dating” Hans Scholl. She thought Sophie Scholl was her close friend. Yet without a word, the siblings increasingly deserted Traute, skiing, camping, taking fun weekend excursions without this woman who believed herself to be part of the warp and woof of their life. As if to rub salt in the wound, Hans and Sophie invited Ulla Claudias, Traute’s “best friend” since childhood, to accompany them on their camping and skiing excursions instead of Traute. Ulla, who was daughter of the prominent Nazi poet Hermann Claudias, and who apparently shared his political outlook. Käthe understood Traute’s loneliness and sense of abandonment.
As May turned into June, Traute ensured that Käthe was included in the evening soirees, whether at the home of Alexander Schmorell, or Gertrud Mertens (wife of medical professor Dr. Viktor Emmanuel Mertens). Yes, they had to tolerate the Scholls during those evenings, but Ulla was not there.
In fact, the very first soiree that Käthe attended erupted into the most glorious debate! Mrs. Mertens followed Sigismund von Radecki’s reading of his comic works with a serious sketch about ‘inner renewal’, straight from the NSDAP playbook. Those gathered did not react as Mrs. Mertens intended. Sure, the Nazis thought it nice. The students, not so much. Christoph Probst broke the ice by comparing the Germans’ inadequate sense of homeland to the healthy French version. Heresy! The publisher Heinrich Ellermann, one of Christoph’s former teachers, contradicted Christoph’s assertion. Professor Huber tried to mediate middle ground. Francophile, anti-Nazi Käthe jumped feet first into the conversation. Huber and Ellermann could do nothing to stop the flow of treasonous words spoken by Christoph Probst, Hans and Sophie Scholl, Traute Lafrenz, and Käthe Schüddekopf. And the esteemed Mrs. Mertens was powerless against the unthinkable.
For the next 4 – 5 weeks, Käthe and Traute became fixtures at these discussions. The participants changed occasionally. Willi Graf joined often, quiet but insightful. He brought along friends – Otmar Hammerstein for one. Käthe and Traute also invited people from their circle of French lit majors, especially a bright fellow known only to the group as Monsieur Rousset. And Traute’s introduction of Josef Furtmeier – “The Philosopher”, as he was called – added depth to any conversation.
These glorious, glorious weeks when they could all speak openly in front of trusted friends culminated in the farewell party on July 22, 1942. Manfred Eickemeyer was in town and opened his studio to a going-away party for the student soldiers who would be headed for the Russian front the next day. Hans Scholl had told Eickemeyer he wanted to invite “a few people” to the affair. Instead, close to thirty showed up, invitees inviting friends who invited friends. Sophie Scholl brought black tea for the festivities, Hans Scholl showed up empty-handed, so Manfred Eickemeyer quickly sourced pastries and champagne.
After the telling of many jokes, poking fun at Nazi ineptitude and Hitler’s ignorance, Eickemeyer turned the conversation to a more serious topic: The atrocities he was witnessing and hearing about in Poland, where he worked for the Generalgouvernement. 600,000 Jews crammed into the Warsaw Ghetto! Among other horrors he could hardly believe.
Alexander Schmorell raised the question – how should they behave when they were on the Russian front? How were they to perform their duties? He suggested passive resistance as the only way to bring about peace. This sparked a controversy so furious that some like Willi Graf did not know what to say. Käthe and Traute joined Hans, Sophie, Eickemeyer, and Huber in the contention that the student soldiers had to compensate with active resistance for the crimes being committed in the name of the German people.
As Eickemeyer’s champagne continued to flow – with one person remembering that there were fewer glasses than there were people – the heated conversation slowly died down. Those uncomfortable with the topics discussed left the party. A small group, including Traute and Käthe, gathered to quietly discuss the leaflet campaign. Both women had known about the writers and disseminators of the White Rose leaflets for a while. Hans Scholl had personally handed a copy to Käthe, and Traute had figured it out and confronted Hans directly. At this farewell party, they wondered aloud if the group should continue with leaflets once the student soldiers returned from Russia. At the heart of the question: They were hearing from others that the leaflets were of Communist origin, since leaflet distribution was a common practice of the Communist Party. How about placards? Or refusal to attend mandatory assemblies? They could not reach a resolution.
Hans Scholl then privately discussed the leaflets with Käthe. The topic of their discussion was not recorded. Someone – apparently in an off-the-record comment – would later tell the Gestapo, who then asked Käthe what she had talked to Hans Scholl about. She would profess ignorance.
When those student soldiers returned from the Russian front, they made good on their plans to organize better. On November 29, 1942 during an impromptu gathering at the Scholls’ apartment – to say goodbye to Christoph Probst, who was being transferred to Innsbruck – the friends seemed to have drafted a war plan. Käthe was not present, but Traute was. Her assignment: Go back to Hamburg and test the waters with friends she knew to be trustworthy. And take a leaflet.
Over the summer when there had been rumors of betrayal, Sophie and Traute had disposed of all extra copies of the leaflets, except for the ones stored in Lilo Berndl’s broom closet… and the one that Käthe had kept. On a hunch, Traute asked Käthe if she had kept her copy of that leaflet. Käthe found it where she had hidden it, in her textbooks. The two women discussed the dire straits their country was in. Although Käthe agreed with Traute’s outlook, she was bothered by her extreme pessimism, as Traute spoke of the “lost war” and seemed to be making plans already for “after the war”. It was one of those things Käthe stored away in her memory as a marker.
However, 1943 began splendidly for Käthe. Professor Kurt Huber had agreed to be her Doktorvater! Not only had she been accepted into the doctoral program at the university in Munich, but Professor Huber…!
Käthe did not know what to think when Hans Scholl stopped by her apartment to chat on January 6, 1943. Sophie had not yet joined him in Munich. As with the private conversation at the farewell party, Käthe never revealed the subject of that conversation.
By mid-January, Käthe and Traute’s discussions regarding Hans Scholl had taken a more disturbing tone. These women trusted one another’s instincts implicitly. Where others in the group may have perceived Käthe as a “fragile friend” because of her physical handicap, Traute relied on her as a genuine source of strength. And when The Philosopher, Josef Furtmeier, told Traute he did not trust Hans Scholl, Traute wondered, “Did he not agree with what he saw?”
But they could not stay away. The group of friends we call White Rose provided the only safety net in a crazy, dangerous world.
So, on January 17, 1943, Käthe returned a book to Hans Scholl that she had borrowed. When he invited her into his room for a private conversation – to the great displeasure of Gisela Schertling – she took him up on the offer. And refused to tell the Gestapo later what they had talked about.
Käthe and her friend Monsieur Rousset participated in the February 4, 1943 meeting in Eickemeyer’s studio, where Theodor Haecker read aloud from his works. Perhaps it was then that she met Wilhelm Geyer, because shortly thereafter, she visited Geyer in the studio, ostensibly to view his works, but primarily for a long private conversation. She refused to disclose the contents of the conversation to the Gestapo, except to say that they scheduled a reading of French literature by Monsieur Rousset – with Traute, Geyer, herself, and others in attendance – for a time they knew the Scholls would be gone.
Monsieur Rousset’s reading never took place. On February 18, Käthe was at the university when Hans and Sophie Scholl were arrested. Although a classmate gave her bad information, telling her that two male students and one female student had been apprehended, she suspected what had happened. [Note: It is possible that the classmate referred to Count von Metternich, who was briefly detained until the Gestapo proved his Nazi bona fides.]
For the next week, both Käthe and Traute kept a low profile, not knowing what the Gestapo knew about their activities. On February 25, Traute briefly told Käthe she had received a subpoena for an interrogation the next day. Someone should know… The two friends quickly discussed how they could limit exposure for one another. They knew what was at stake. And indeed, Traute was able to get through her entire interrogation, only naming people already known to the Gestapo. She protected everyone else from Gestapo Agent Eduard Geith’s scrutiny.
But the next day, Professor Kurt Huber sat across the table from the same Gestapo agent. Unlike Traute, Professor Huber unloaded with specific names and dates, identifying “Miss Schüttekopf (sic)” as part of the group as early as June 1942. He further insulted Käthe by calling her his Schülerin or female pupil, the word one would use for an elementary school girl, not a PhD candidate. Käthe’s name immediately went into Gestapo Agent Geith’s mental database.
Unaware that she had been betrayed, Käthe expressed extreme gratitude over the next couple of days. The house where she rented a room had been bombed, with everything in the house flattened and burned – except for the contents of her room. Not only did she escape with her life, she also rescued her valuable papers. And quickly found another room in Harlaching, near Alexander Schmorell’s home.
It was not to last. Chief Gestapo Agent Robert Mohr – he had received a promotion after February 22 – traveled to Ulm and questioned Robert and Magdalena Scholl. The Scholl parents gave up Wilhelm Geyer, Otl Aicher, and Traute Lafrenz. Armed with the new information, Geith called Traute in for another interview on March 15. And another on March 16. Traute stuck to her story and limited answers to persons already known to the Gestapo. On March 19, Geith asked her specifically about Käthe. Traute stated, “Schüddekopf is always ill and does not have the least thing to do with the Scholl matter.”
Professor Huber’s name-dropping out-trumped Traute’s demurrals. On March 21, Käthe received an invitation to Gestapo headquarters. She would later say, “I went there sure of victory and did not come home again.” She also sat across from Gestapo Agent Eduard Geith. Like Traute, Käthe limited her responses to persons known to the Gestapo. And slipped up only once. She admitted to having given a leaflet to Traute. And immediately regretted the slip. She was arrested the same day.
It would not have mattered. March 31, Gisela Schertling once again sat for an interrogation. Gisela had been among the first taken into custody, because of Hans Scholl’s statement to her as he was being led from the university. She had denounced many, many people on February 18, but had not mentioned Käthe. On March 31, she told her interrogator about Käthe’s January 17 visit with Hans Scholl.
The very next day, Gestapo Agent Geith re-called Käthe. He now knew for certain she was part of the inner circle. He pressed her for details about the meetings she had attended. In a stroke of genius, Käthe turned the tables. Instead of denouncing others who had been present, Käthe attacked Hans Scholl! She launched into a short diatribe about Hans’ treatment of Traute. The summary recorded by Geith: “However, I did look for an opportunity to speak to [Hans Scholl] alone so I could remonstrate with him about his behavior towards Lafrenz. At that time, Lafrenz was very depressed, because she felt like Hans Scholl had put her aside.”
Despite the denunciations by Kurt Huber, Gisela Schertling, and the Scholl parents – accidental or conscious – neither Traute nor Käthe would point the finger at one another. Their interrogations are replete with examples of true friendship. It’s my fault. She only answered my question. She did not know. She wasn’t there. Käthe even protected Gisela Schertling.
As the agents worked with the prosecutors to prepare indictments for the April 19 trial, Traute’s file was forwarded to Berlin. Gestapo Agent Eduard Geith was convinced that she was one of the primary ringleaders of the group and proposed a separate trial for her. To that end, he sent copies of her interrogations to the Chief Prosecutor of the Reich. But the files for Gisela Schertling and Katharina Schüddekopf remained in a vague bureaucratic limbo. Dr. Trenker – he of the SS who had helped design the “gas vans” for execution of the Jewish population, and who now served at the top of the Gestapo in Munich along with Schaefer – had personally seen to Käthe’s transfer for arrest and arraignment.
When the trial rolled around, Traute Lafrenz, Käthe Schüddekopf, and Gisela Schertling were loaded into the police transports along with the prisoners who had been indicted. Once court convened, Judge Freisler ordered oral indictments for the three women. Prosecutor Bischoff quickly made up charges. Gisela Schertling and Käthe Schüddekopf were guilty of preparation for high treason, aiding and abetting the enemy, and demoralizing the armed forces. Traute Lafrenz was guilty of failure to report [leaflets], plus “miscellaneous criminal offenses”. It was clear that Bischoff did not have Traute’s file in front of him.
The three women were unsurprisingly found guilty. Because they were “girls” [Mädchen], they were sentenced to only one year in prison.
As evidence of the disorder surrounding the April 19 trial: On April 21, 1943, Bischoff penned a memorandum to the files regarding Katharina Schüddekopf. According to his memo, her indictment was still pending, and her files should be split out from the Scholl/Schmorell case #6J 24/43. There is no note in Bischoff’s files regarding his realization that she was already on her way to the women’s prison in Rothenfeld.
For the next six months, Käthe’s mother pleaded for clemency on behalf of her daughter. No clemency petitions were filed by Käthe’s sister and influential brother-in-law, nor by August Deppisch, Käthe’s court-appointed attorney. Deppisch was more concerned with getting paid for “pre-trial consultation”, which the accountants in Berlin were denying because Käthe had not been indicted prior to the trial. Not a shred of paperwork filed on behalf of his client, not even the routine petitions generally filed by other court-appointed defense counsel. Käthe was alone, except for her mother. And Traute.
Käthe died too young. Her work and influence have been all but forgotten. Her friend Traute continued to speak of her. In our correspondence, her happiest memories were of time spent with Käthe.
We too should honor and forever remember a woman overlooked in her time as a “fragile friend”, one whose physical disability made her an Other. And yet whose life inspired her circle of friends who knew her as a smart, outspoken defender of liberty and justice.
A more complete biography of Katharina Schüddekopf has long been on our list of Call for Papers. Are there traces of her in Kiel, Berlin, Vienna, or Munich, where she pursued her studies? What became of her sister and very-Nazi brother-in-law? What did Käthe’s doctoral thesis involve? What did she do after the war? How did she handle life in the DDR? So many unanswered questions. Please help us replace the placeholder at the top of this post with a photograph!
If you are interested in primary source materials regarding Katharina Schüddekopf’s association with White Rose resistance, check out the online store of Exclamation! Publishers for those publications in English translation. For the specific CFP related to her life, click here.