Women of the White Rose: Traute Lafrenz (part 3)
Traute Lafrenz, in her own words, describing her life from March 1944 - April 1945. She was 26 years old when she wrote this document.
On March 14, 1944, I was supposed to be released from the juvenile prison in Rothenfels. Three days before my release, the warden sent for me. “There’s an order from the People’s Court. I am to send you to Münster in Westfalia for a hearing on March 22.” Apparently they had asked if I were to be released before then. If a reply had not been received by March 14, they would have to release me.
None had come. I was released and stayed in Munich for a few days. Then one day in Ulm, and afterwards I traveled to Hamburg. When I arrived home that evening, my mother told me that they had arrested the circle of students in Hamburg.
This was the beginning of an agonizing time for me. Fretting. I went back to Munich, because I believed I would be safer there. Shortly thereafter, my parents’ house was searched again. And a few days later, the Gestapo showed up at my apartment. The same guy [Eduard Geith], sneering, “Let’s go, let’s go, pack your things, it’s back to the kitchen.” I was in the Ettstraβe prison for three weeks without being interrogated, without anyone taking care of me.
One day, a scary guy with piercing greenish-blue eyes fetched me. “If I wouldn’t perhaps like to confess everything now, it would make my situation easier?” Of course, I did not wish to do so. “Whether I understood anything about technology?” Of course, he only meant well for me. “Just like Hans and Sophie, a real Mensch.” He concluded by telling me how I should behave when I was cross-examined.
Sent back to my cell, waiting for cross-examination. No one came. The next day, the same civil servant reappeared. He brought me Wurst sandwiches. “If I didn’t want to confess everything now.” And he kept questioning me about Hans and Sophie. Was he really interested, humanely? He was not stupid, just more refined than the others. He never said who he was. In conclusion: He set a lot of store by a humane, general verdict, and would even be able to help, if he were certain that one was not lying to him. Once he had questioned a female student in Belgium who had been arrested for high treason. He had been convinced that she was not guilty, had wanted to help her, then it had been proven that she was not innocent. He had insisted on being present at her execution. I reminded him of this experience.
He took me back to my cell. I was convinced that they suspected much more about me, and perhaps even mistook me for someone else. I considered my more minor “offenses” that would perhaps be found out. A few days later, some SS men picked me up and took me to Hamburg. It would go too far to describe the difference between the Gestapo in Southern and Northern Germany. In the north, they had different methods.
Immediately upon my arrival in Hamburg, tired and worn out from the hardships of the journey (especially from having had to listen to the idiotic, pretentious conversations of the SS men), I was led to my interrogator Reinhard. I had not even entered the room and he bellowed at me, asking me when was the last time I had listened to foreign broadcasts. (I was not prepared for that at all.) Uninterrupted and for half an hour, he made accusations about crimes I had supposedly committed, that I truly had not done. In addition, he had his own way of hitting one between the eyes. I did not say another word. “Hardened and deceitful”, I was taken to the Gestapo prison in Fuhlsbüttel.
Terrible months from May 1944 till September 1944. Miserably long interrogations. All the same, the following became crystal clear:
These students in Hamburg had duplicated the leaflets anew and distributed them. Albert Suhr, medical student, had taken over the duplication process. They had also undertaken collections for Mrs. Huber. Heinz Kucharsky, previously their leader and chief, had become their undoing. He had been arrested by the Gestapo in November 1943. In an attempt to save his own neck, he made statements about and described characteristics of any number of his friends and acquaintances, whatever the Gestapo wanted to hear. The most notable betrayal was that of our teacher Erni Stahl, in that he stated that she had consciously raised him to be anti-Nazi and that was the reason that his life had taken this course, but that today he professed to hold to the National Socialist world view, which he now embraced with his entire being, thanks to the Gestapo.
The group he handed over to the Gestapo consisted of approximately 12 men and 10 women, among those his mother.
Except for the above-mentioned duplication of leaflets and collection for Mrs. Huber, except for listening to foreign radio broadcasts, and distribution [of leaflets], except for completely romantic ideas about blowing up bridges, nothing else really happened. Just a lot of pacifist, communist, defeatist, and anarchist oriented talk.
During my interrogations, I gave an example of the way that H. Kucharsky worked.
For months on end, my clerk made vague assumptions about me, which I denied in a nutshell. I could not know what Kucharsky actually knew about me, especially which names he knew in connection with my life and friends in Munich. I had time. It did not matter to me where I had to sit. Finally, Reinhard threatened me with a face-to-face interrogation with Kucharsky. We were both summoned to the Gestapo, but Mr. Kucharsky preceded me in the interrogation. For hours on end, he gave a 30-40 page report about me to the Gestapo. Afterwards, I was summoned, and Reinhard read everything aloud triumphantly.
Since Heinz had known me since I was 13 years old, it was a sort of mental acrobatics that he performed. The primary points:
1) The leaflets I had produced;
2) Approximately 20 times we had listened to foreign broadcasts from Moscow, England, Beromünster, and Communist Spain together;
3) In 1937, we had distributed Thomas Mann’s Responsa to the office of the dean in Bonn as his honorary doctorate was rescinded;
4) Banned books that I owned, borrowed, or read;
5) Aid and friendship that I had provided to a Jewish family known to both of us;
6) A particularly radical attitude, being conspicuous during political discussions, a special talent in maneuvering discussions during literary evenings to political topics;
7) An especially free spirit, withdrawal from all connections to family, etc. This last point became a bit nebulous. One must consider that I had seen Heinz Kucharsky perhaps only five times since 1940. He had not lied about anything. No previously unrevealed names had been disclosed. Relieved, I admitted to everything.
At the end of October 1944, we were called before the judiciary. On November 11, 1944, our matter was transferred to the People’s Court in Berlin. Together with the other women, I was taken to Cottbus, where the People’s Court was supposed to convene in those days, since Berlin had been nearly totally destroyed by bombs. In January 1945, after the penitentiary in Cottbus had received several transports from Auschwitz, all inmates were sent further west to stay ahead of the advancing Russians. We were sent to Leipzig.
Those of us from Hamburg were sent on to Bayreuth. The First Council of the People’s Court was supposed to convene there soon.
An exhausting foot race began for us, a race between the advancing American army and our court date. From the beginning of February on, we expectantly waited for one or the other to happen. Finally, on April 15, 1945 the Americans won the race. Only later did we learn that the trial had been scheduled for April 17, 1945, and that the trial actually did take place, but in Hamburg where most of the men had remained, [and not in Bayreuth].
At this trial, Heinz Kucharsky was sentenced to death. It did him no good when he pleaded with the People’s Court to give him another chance to prove his newly acquired National Socialist worldview.
As he was on the way to his execution, which was supposed to take place in [the town of] Anklam, he was supposedly chained together with a convicted murderer-robber. A low-flying air raid provided cover for them to escape, although supposedly the murderer-robber pulled him to safety, because he was too cowardly to escape on his own.
Therefore, no one [from the circle in Hamburg] was executed.
Note 1: Source of this text by Traute Lafrenz - her February 21, 1946 letter to Inge Scholl to be used in the publication of Inge Scholl’s book about the White Rose.
Note 2: Parts 1 and 2 of Traute Lafrenz’s story will follow. This slice of her life is so little known, it seemed best to start with it.
Note 3: The places Traute Lafrenz describes as “Gestapo prisons” were actually concentration camps. Fuhlsbüttel was generally first stop for political prisoners who were to be sent on to Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, or other KZ-Lager. The “prison” was administered by the Gestapo, and in 1936 Heinrich Himmler ordered that it be called the Gestapo prison and not a KZ-Lager. Similarly, the “prison” in Bayreuth was another concentration camp.
Note 4: Fritz and Elisabeth Hartnagel nee Scholl provided us with our copy of this and other “Inge Scholl” documents. After the war, as Inge Scholl reinvented herself and applied for (and won) millions of dollars in Marshall and McCloy funds, she needed people who had been involved with White Rose resistance to tell her what had happened. She put out a call for letters. Traute Lafrenz was among those who responded. Inge Scholl ignored a good 50% or more of the information she received, as she crafted the White Rose story to feature only Hans and Sophie Scholl, and would not incorporate information that did not belong in her preconceived narrative. This bothered Fritz and Elisabeth Hartnagel for decades. They gave me this copy of all documents, ‘so Inge would not be the only person who had access to the information.’ We have tried to honor their request to present the fully story, “without making anything up,” to the best of our ability. [In honor of Fritz Hartnagel’s memory…]
Note 5: Translation © Denise Elaine Heap.