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The White Rose Defies The Nazi Regime

 

Sophie Scholl

by Kathy Warnes 

“Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us has any conception of the demensions 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?”  (From the first leaflet of the White Rose)

 Munich students Sophie and Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst started the White Rose Movement to oppose the Nazi government. Professor Kurt Huber joined them.

 On February 22, 1943, the day that Sophie and Hans Scholl and their friend Christoph Probst were beheaded for defying the Nazis, British and Americans celebrated George Washington’s birthday at Sulgrave Northamptonshire and Americans destroyed German tanks in Tunisia. In Nazi German, the first of the three trials of the White Rose, the Anti-Nazi passive resistance group took place in Munich. German People’s Court Judge Roland Freislter found Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst guilty and sentenced them to be beheaded the same day.

 Hans and Sophie Scholl Passively Resist Hitler’s Regime

Like many German teenagers in the 1930s, Hans and Sophie Scholl enthusiastically joined the Hitler Youth because they believed that Adolf Hitler had taken the German people from humiliating defeat back to greatness. Their parents weren’t quite as idealistic. Robert Scholl told his children that Hitler and the Nazis were leading Germany down a destructive road.

 When they were students at the University of Munich. Hans, 24, a medical student and Sophie, 21, studying biology and philosophy, gradually realized that their father’s words were prophetic. They became convinced that Hiter and the Nazis were enslaving and destroying the German people in the name of freedom and the salvation of Germany. They also realized that they couldn’t directly oppose Hitler and the Nazis. Most Germans took the position that every citizen had a duty to support German troops by supporting the government. Hans and Sophie argued that citizens had a duty, even in war time, to stand up against an evil regime, especially one that killed thousands of its own citizens.

 Hans and Sophie shared their philosophy with their friends Christoph Probst, 22, a medical student, Alexander Schnmorell, and Willi Graf. Suddenly, in 1942, leaflets began to appear at the University of Munich, containing an anonymous essay alleging that the Nazi system had been slowly imprisoning and destroying the German people. The essay urged the Germans to resist the tyranny of their government. Besides the students, a professor and a citizen were involved. Eugen Grimminger, a citizen of Crailsheim, financed the printing of the pamphlets and the Scholl’s psychology and philosophy professor Kurt Huber edited some of the pamphlets and wrote the last one.

 The first leaflet and the five that followed energized the student body because this was the first time that anyone had dared disagree with the Nazi regime from within it. The White Rose members risked their lives publishing dissenting opinion because the Gestapo quickly and efficiently smashed internal dissent. Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friends wrote and distributed six leaflets between 1942 and 1943. The first four appeared under the title of “The White Rose,” and the last two under “Leaflets of the Resistance.”

 The Gestapo Arrests the Scholls and Christoph Probst

 The Gestapo agents seethed with anger. They knew that the White Rose bought large amounts of paper, envelopes, and postage and used a duplicating machine. No matter how hard they tried, the Gestapo agents couldn’t catch the White Rose members.

Then on February 18, 1943, Nazi custodian Jakob Schmid saw Sophie throwing the last of a suitcase full of pamphlets that she and Hans had brought to the University of Munich into the air and he called the police. Sophie and Hans were arrested and soon the police discovered that Christoph Probst was involved as well. The three young people were indicted for treason.

 The trial began on February 22, 1943, four days after the Gestapo arrested them. Roland Freisler, chief justice of the People’s Court of the Greater German Reich, came from Berlin to preside over the trial. The court called no witnesses, because the defendants had admitted to their guilt. The entire trial consisted mostly of Freisler denouncing the defendants and ranting divine retribution and eternal damnation on their heads.

 Roland Freisler Sentences the Scholls and Probst to Death

Roland Fresiler couldn’t understand why these young people who had come from solid German families, attended German schools and had been members of the Hitler Youth had turned traitor.

Sophie defiantly told Roland Freisler, “Somebody after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did.”

 Before the trial ended, Robert and Magdalene Scholl, the parents of Hans and Sophie, tried to enter the courtroom and eventually Robert Scholl forced his way in and told the court that he was there to defend his children. A guard seized and forcibly escorted him outside, but the entire courtroom heard him shout, “One day there will be another kind of justice. One day they will go down in history!”

 Roland Freisler declared the three defendants guilty of treason and sentenced them to death by guillotine. They were escorted back to Stadelheim Prison. The prison guards were so impressed with the calm and bravery of the prisoners in the face of impending death that they violated regulations by permitting them to have one last meeting with each other and the Scholls with their parents.

 No relatives visited Christoph Probst. His wife was still in the hospital after giving birth to their third child and neither she nor any other family members knew that he was on trial or had been sentenced to death. Sophie went to the guillotine first. An observer said that she walked to her death “without turning a hair, without flinching.” Her last words were “Die Sonne scheint noch,” which translates as “The sun still shines.”

 Christoph Probst was next. Hans Scholl, the last, cried out just before he was beheaded, “Long live freedom!”

 The Gestapo continued to relentlessly hunt down White Rose members and a second and third trial took place. After the second trial on April 19, 1943, Alexander Schmorell and Professor Kurt Huber were beheaded on July 13, 1943, and Willi Graf on October 12, 1943. Eugen Grimminger was sentenced to ten years in a penitentiary for financing the printing of the pamphlets.

 German jurist Helmuth James Graf von Moltke smuggled a copy of the sixth leaflet out of Germany through Scandinavia to the United Kingdom.  In mid-1943, the Allied Forces dropped millions of copies of the tract, re-titled The Manifesto of the Students of Munich, over Germany.

 Additional Reading

 Axelrod, Toby. Holocaust Biographies: Hans and Sophie Scholl:  German Resisters of the White Rose. Saddleback Educational, 2000.

 Hanser, Richard. A Noble Treason: The Revolt of the Munich Students Against Hitler:  Putnam, 1979.

 McDonough, Frank. Sophie Scholl:  The Real Story of the Woman Who Defied Hitler. The History Press, 2010.

 Newborn, Jud, and Dumbach, Annette. Sophie Scholl and the White Rose. One World Publications, 2007.

 Scholl, Inge. The White Rose:  Munich, 1942-1943. Wesleyan, 1983.

 

 


February, 1943 –The White Rose Blooms for Freedom in Nazi Germany

 

 Cast: 

Narrator

 Professor Kurt Huber.

Sophie Scholl

Hans Scholl.

Inge Scholl

Christoph Probst.

Helmuth Schmidt the Janitor.

Clara Huber

 

Narrator:

Professor Kurt Huber could have lived out his life in comfort and safety in the position he at earned at the University of Munich. Instead, he helped his students, Hans, Inge and Sophie Scholl and Christop Probst and others write six pamphlets for a passive resistance organization called "The White Rose."

Sophie, Hans, Inge, and Christoph are standing together talking. Professor Huber is sitting at his desk. There is a table with empty chairs in front of him.

Helmuth:

(Carries in a large box and sits it on the table.) Heil Hitler! (Sits box down) You must have some heavy reading in this box. (Holding up pamphlet)

Professor Huber:

The documents for my class have arrived.

Hans:

(Walks over) Oh, they finally came. They are for my Hitler Youth meeting. Professor Huber said I could have them sent here. Thank you, Herr Schmidt. The Hitler Youth are eagerly awaiting this message.

Sophie:

So is the League of German Girls. (Aside) Or they will be after I have spoken to them!

Helmuth:

What is that you say?

Sophie:

I say, thank you Herr Schmidt. (Aside) The door is waiting for you to open it!

Professor Huber:

It is time to begin. Thank you, Herr Schmidt.

(The students stop talking and quickly take their places)

Professor Huber:

Today we will consider the rise of Otto von Bismarck and the building of the German state. (He looks up and sees the janitor still standing there) Thank you, Herr Schmidt.

Herr Schmidt:

Heil Hitler! ( He leaves)

Christoph Probst:

I think he is suspicious. He might telephone the Gestapo.

Inge:

What will we do if we get caught? What will happen to us and Mama and Papa?  Papa has already spoken out. It is too much. I am so frightened.

Hans:

This is the right thing to do.

Sophie:

Inge, you know this is the right thing to do.

Inge:

But why? Why are we the only ones to protest?

Christoph:

Everyone loves their lives. Everyone is afraid. I love my life too, but I love freedom equally well!

Inge:

Is this worth our family?

Hans:

Papa thinks so and so does Mama!

Clara Huber:

 (Walking into the room) Answer her question, Kurt. Is this worth our family?

Professor Huber:

Clara, what are you doing here?

Clara:

Herr Schmidt told me to bring you to your senses before it is too late for us.

Professor Huber:

I have burned all of the incriminating papers and anything else they can use.  You will be safe, Clara. And I have left your passport in the place we hide things.  Escape, Clara, while you can.

Clara:

You have answered the question, Kurt.

Kurt:

I have asked the question, Clara, and answered it for myself. You must do the same.

Clara:

The passport must be under the biography of Leibnitz that you finished last night. I will take both with me. (She leaves)

Sophie:

 (Jumps up and gets a pamphlet. She reads)   Freedom and honor! For ten long years, Hitler and his associates have abused, stomped, and twisted these two glorious German words till they are loathsome. Only dilettantes are capable of doing this, dilettantes who cast the highest values of a nation before swine…

(She gives the pamphlet to Hans) Here Hans, you finish reading it.

Hans:

Over the last ten years, they have more than shown us what freedom and honor means to them-they have destroyed all material and intellectual freedom and all moral substance in the German people. The terrible blood bath that they have caused in all of Europe in the name of the freedom and honor of the German people – a blood bath that they cause anew every day – has opened the eyes of even the stupidest German.

Christoph:

The German name will be forever defamed if German youth does not finally arise, avenge, and atone, if he does not shatter his tormentor and raise up a new intellectual Europe. Students! The German nation looks to us. In 1943, they expect from us the breaking of the National Socialist terror through the power of the spirit, just as in 1813 the Napoleonic (terror) was broken.

Sophie:

Beresina and Stalingrad are going up in flames in the East, and the dead of Stalingrad beseech us:  “Courage, my people! The beacons are burning!

Professor Huber:

 (He reads with her) Our nation is awakening against the enslavement of Europe by National Socialism, in a new pious revival of freedom and honor!

Helmuth Schmidt:

 (Stomps back into the room) I have reported your treason to the Gestapo. They are on their way to arrest you. I will detain you until they come.

Professor Huber:

We will not resist you with blows, Herr Schmidt. We will only resist you with words and hopeful hearts.

Helmuth Schmidt:

Don’t speak your treason to me. They are dead words like you soon will be.

Professor Huber:

They are living words that fly between all peoples.

Professor Huber and Students:

Courage my people! The beacons are burning!

Narrator:

Sophie and Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst were beheaded on February 22, 1943, and Professor Kurt Huber on July 13, 1943. 

German Jurist Helmuth James Graf von Moltke smuggled a copy of the sixth leaflet out of Germany through Scandinavia to the United Kingdom. In mid 1943, the Allied Forces dropped millions of copies of the tract, retiled The Manifesto of the Students of Munich, over Germany.

 

References

 Hanser, Richard. A Noble Treason: The Revolt of the Munich Students Against Hitler. Putnam, 1979

McDonough, Frank. Sophie Scholl: The Real Story of the Woman Who Defied Hitler. The History Press, 2010

Newborn, Jud, and Dumbach, Annette. Sophie Scholl and the White Oneworld Publications, 2007

Scholl Inge. The White Rose: Munich, 1942-1943. Wesleyan, 1983

 

 

 

 

 

Clara Schumann, Musician

 

 Clara Wieck - Wikimedia Commons

 

Composing gives me great pleasure…there is nothing that surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound.”

Clara Schumann

Clara and Robert Schumann had a complicated marriage, but despite undercurrents of artistic jealousy and mental instability, they loved each other. Biographers and musicians often cite Clara and Robert Schumann as examples of a perfectly matched couple and an enduring love story, because despite its undercurrents and complications their marriage appeared to be a happy one.

Clara Wieck is Born into a Complicated Life

Clara’s life was complicated from its very beginning. Clara Josephine Wieck was born in Leipzig on September 13, 1819. Her parents Friedrich and Marianne Wieck divorced when she was four years old and Friedrich, who was a pianist and a piano teacher, raised his daughter and her brothers. He was determined that Clara would be concert pianist and tour the continent.

Clara Wieck Becomes a Concert Pianist

In March 1828, when she was eight years old, Clara Wieck performed at a musical evening at the Leipzig home of Dr. Ernst Carus, where she met another gifted young pianist named Robert Schumann, nine years her senior. Seventeen-year-old Robert Schumann admired Clara’s playing so much that he took rooms in the Wieck household and stayed for about a year taking piano lessons from Friedrich Wieck.

In 1830 when she was eleven, Clara’s father took her on a concert tour to Paris through other European cities. In Weimar, Clara performed for Goethe who gave her a medal with his portrait and a written note that said, “For the gifted artists Clara Wieck.”

As early as age thirteen, Clara Wieck was one of the first pianists to perform from memory, since her father had trained her to play by ear and memorize. Critics noted her style as exceptional and it helped set the standard for concertizing. At age fourteen she wrote her piano concerto, with some help from Robert Schumann, and performed it at age sixteen at the Leipzig Grewandhaus with Mendelssohn conducting.

In 1837, when she was 18, Clara Wieck gave a series of recitals in Vienna, from December 1837 to April 1838, performing to sell out crowds and great critical reviews. Frederic Chopin described Clara’s playing to Franz Liszt who came to hear one of her concerts and praised her in a letter that was published in the Parisian Revue at Gazette Musicale and later, in translation in the Leipzig Journal. On March 15, 1838, Austria named Clara a “”Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuoso,” Austria’s highest music honor.an planning her own programs, Clara played music by the new Romantic composers like Chopin, Mendelssohn, and the less flamboyant, more classical composers of the past like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. She also played some of Robert Schumann’s music.

Clara Wieck Marries Robert Schumann

In 1837, Robert Schumann asked her father Friedrich for Clara’s hand in marriage, but he refused and he did everything he could to prevent them from marrying. In 1838, Clara and Robert took Friedrich to court to win the right to marry. Robert Schumann wrote many of his most famous lieder or romantic songs during this period.

Eventually Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck married on September 12, 1840. From the day after their wedding until the summer of 1844, they kept a joint diary. In one entry in The Marriage Diaries of Robert and Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann wrote in part:

“Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing,”

Clara wrote in June 1841: “My piano playing again falls completely by the wayside, as is always the case when Robert composes. Not a single little hour can be found for me the entire day! If only I don’t regress too much! The score reading has also stopped again for now, but I hope not for too long!”

Clara Schumann Continues Her Career

Despite the artistic tensions of living with a fellow pianist and composer and caring for a household and eight children, Clara Schumann continued to perform and compose after her marriage. She accompanied Robert Schumann on various tours which extended her reputation beyond Germany and her promotion of his music gained acceptance of his work throughout Europe.

In 1853, Clara and Robert Schumann met twenty-year-old Johannes Brahms in Dusseldorf and they were both impressed with his talent. Brahms and Clara became lifelong friends and she was the first pianist to publicly perform some of Brahm’s works, especially Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel .In 1878, Clara Schumann was appointed teacher of the piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt am Main, a position she held until 1892. Her teaching made vast improvements to modern piano playing technique.

Clara Schumann often had to take charge of finances and general household affairs because of Robert’s mental instability. She earned money by giving concerts out of necessity, but she also loved touring because she was a concert artist by nature and training. Robert Schumann admired her talent, but in keeping with the expectations of their society, he wanted a more traditional wife.

Life did not always treat Clara Schumann kindly. Four of her children and her husband died before she did and she took on the responsibility of raising some of her grandchildren. Robert had a nervous breakdown, attempted suicide in 1854, and he spent the last two years of his life in an insane asylum before he died on July 29, 1856. As Clara grew older, she became deaf and she often needed a wheelchair. She died on May 20, 1896, at age 76 and she is buried at Alter Friedhof-Old Cemetery- in Bonn, Germany, with her husband and lover, Robert Schumann.

Clara Schumann, Musician,

Clara Schumann’s musical reputation linked her with the leading musicians of her day. She devoted herself to interpreting Robert Schumann’s works after his death, and she helped restore Brahms D minor concerto to general repertory. She played her last public concert in Frankfurt on March 12, 1891, and the last work she played was Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Today Clara Schumann’s compositions, which include songs, piano pieces, a piano concerto, a piano trio, choral pieces, and three Romances for violin and piano, are still performed and recorded.

Clara Schumann deferred to her husband and often put his needs before her own. She loved him, but her life with him is an example of the constant juggling between husband, home, family, and career that women have practiced for centuries. Robert Schumann put his own work first, and Clara Schumann expected him to do so. The Schumanns loved each other, but it was a complex love, intensified by artistic temperament and artistic undercurrents.

Additional Reading

Litzmann, Berthold. Clara Schumann: An Artist’s Life. New York: De Capo Press, 1979.

Nauhaus, Gerd, ed. And Oatwald, Peter, trans. The Marriage Diaries of Robert & Clara Schumann: From Their Wedding Day through the Russia Trip. Boston: Northeastern University, 1993.

Reich, Nancy B. Clara Schumann, The Artist and the Woman. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2001.

Worthen, John. Robert Schumann: Life and Death of a Musician. Yale University Press, 2010.

 

Clara Schumann, "My Piano Playing Again Falls Completely by the Wayside"

 

Cast:  Narrator… Clara Schumann… Robert Schumann… Ludwig Schumann…Gretel Schumann... Friedrich Wieck

Narrator

Clara Wieck loved Robert Schumann for years and she fought her father to marry him. Robert Schumann had been attracted to Clara since she was fifteen. By the time she was seventeen, Schumann was in love with her. In 1837, Schumann asked her father Friedrich for Clara's hand in marriage, but he refused. In 1838, when Clara was 19, Friedrich did everything he could to keep her from marrying Schumann and the lovers took him to court. They finally married on September 12, 1840, and Clara continued to perform and compose after her marriage, even though she found it more difficult to find time for her music.

Clara Schumann

(Sitting at piano or keyboard. Some of her music is playing in the background. She listens) No, no, it should go like this! (She plays)

Friedrich Wieck

 (Walks into the room) No, no, it should go like this.(He plays something different.

Clara

No, Papa, in my head it goes like this. (She plays the original song)

Friedrich

You have let him ruin your music. You have let him ruin you!

Clara:

I have let him make music with me, but I provide my own music and he provides his.

Friedrich

You wrote more music when you did not have a husband and two children to look after.

Clara

I still write music and I will soon have three children to look after.

Friedrich

Clara, you cannot do this. Another child will take away more time from your music.

Clara

Papa, I can do this and I will. I can have a husband and children and write and play my music. I am young. I have energy! I have ambition! I love for my music and my husband and children. I can have them all!

Friedrich

They will wear you down, Clara. The children take time. Robert devours his own time and nibbles around the edges of yours. He will take larger bites of it as the years go by.

Robert Schumann

Your Papa is right. Your music will shrivel and dry up like the beans you burnt in the pot the other day. You must spend more time with it. Today is Anna’s day off, so I will make dinner while you work on your music.

Clara

This week I sat down a lot to compose, and finally succeeded with four poems by Rückert for my dear Robert. May they satisfy him just a little, then my wish will be fulfilled. We are harmonizing our music, Papa.

Robert

You, see. Herr Wieck, we complement each other. Now, if Clara will just rewrite that score for the romance, we can send it off to the publisher.

Clara

There is no need to rewrite it, Robert. That is the way I wanted it to sound.

Robert

Now, now, child. I do know best how to write romances.

Clara

Of course, Robert. Your way is probably best and I did write it in haste between feeding the children and dusting the parlor.

Friedrich

She compliments you. You devour her!

Clara

Papa, you must not talk to Robert like that in our house.

Friedrich

Then let us step outside to the arbor and we can continue our discussion out there.

Clara

Papa, there is nothing to discuss. Robert has sent the nocturne to the publisher and that is that. Let’s have some lunch.

Friedrich

I can’t stay to lunch.

Robert

That is a pity, Herr Wieck.

Friedrich

 (Muttering as he exits) There are many things in this world to pity, and especially in this household. (He stomps out)

Clara

There, see what you have done, Robert. Did you have to be so cross to him?

Robert

I cross to him? He was the one that said I devour you!

Clara

He was speaking of my music.

Robert

I am making dinner tonight so you can work on your piano piece. I’m going to start it right now.

(He walks to the side and rattles pots and pans. Clara plays in time to his banging)

Ludwig

 (Runs into the room) Mama! Mama! Grandpa taught me to play a song on the piano. Will you listen to it?

Clara

Yes, Ludwig, Mama will listen.

Robert

Clara, where is the pan to bake the biscuits?

Clara

It is in the kitchen cupboard.

Robert

 I am looking, but I can’t find it.

Gretel

Mama, you said we could sew a cloak for my doll this afternoon.

Clara

I did say that, Gretel. Come, let’s listen to Ludwig play his song and then we can sew.

Robert

Clara, I really must insist that you find the biscuit pan for me.

Clara

I am coming to find it Robert. I know it will be exactly where I told you it would be. 

Clara

(Playing a sad note on the piano) My piano playing again falls completely by the wayside.

Narrator

Despite her other responsibilities, Carla Schumann’s piano playing did not fall completely by the wayside. She accompanied her husband on various tours and her efforts to promote his music gradually made his work accepted throughout Europe. She continued her own career and enjoyed a 61 year career as a concert pianist. She composed songs, piano pieces, a piano concerto, a piano trio, choral pieces, and three Romances for violin and piano.

 

Clara Zetkin Spoke Against Hitler in the German Reichstag

Clara Zetkin Memorial - Wikimedia Commons

by Kathy Warnes

Clara Zetkin fought all of her life for Socialism and Communism and for women’s rights. She made her last speech in the German Reichstag against Hitler.

“The German Communists have only one good man and that is a woman: Clara Zetkin.”

Time had nitpicked at the body of Frau Clara Zetkin, but she had an important duty to perform that was more important for Germany than the aches and pains of getting older. In Moscow, 75 year old Frau Clara Zetkin stirred from her sick bed. A lawfully elected Communist Deputy in the German Reichstag, she had to open the newly elected German Reichstag in Berlin which was scheduled for August 30, 1932.The ambulance arrived and aides carried Frau Zetkin to a Soviet train bound for Berlin about 1,000 miles away. Husky young Communist guards patrolled the train in case German Fascists broke in and tried to harm Grandmother Zetkin.

Grandmother Zetkin’s past history was as colorful as the patchwork summer countryside outside of the train windows. She had been a member of European Socialist and Communist organizations since the late 1800s and early 1900s, focusing on the liberation of women through Marxist reforms of the capitalist system. Clara Zetkin expressed her radical beliefs as editor of Die Gleichheit, the German Social Democratic Party’s women’s journal. She also later served in the German Reichstag from 1920-1933 as a representative of the German Communist Party and as an associate of Vladimir Ilich Lenin in the Soviet Union.

Adolf Hitler Gives Stern Orders Not to Harm Grandma Zetkin

National Socialist German Workers Party leader Adolf Hitler barked orders over his pencil mustache. He decreed that there would be an appropriately noticeable and noisy Nazi demonstration outside the Reichstag, but inside no National Socialist Deputy dare touch one gray hair on Clara Zetkin’s head.

On August 30, 1932, at 3 p.m . while the Nazis yelled taunts and battle cries in front of the Reichstag, Grandmother Zetkin’s aides carried her stretcher in the back door and lifted her to her feet. With a husky Communist Deputy on each side of her, Grandmother Zetkin leaned on a heavy cane and slowly picked her way up the stairs of the Reichstag

The Oldest Member Calls the Reichstag to Order

As Grandmother Zetkin made her time tortured way up the stairs of the Reichstag, the Communist Deputies cheered her, but others sat in belligerent silence, some pretending to read newspapers or staring into space at visions only they could see.

For the moment, Grandmother Zetkin had the influence and she intended to use it. She mopped her brow and gulped several swallows of water. With trembling hands, she lifted and rang the Speaker’s bell. She spoke in a quavering voice: “It is a rule of this house that its oldest member shall preside at the opening of a new session. I was born July 5, 1857. Is there anyone older?”

Silence, except for the occasional throat clearing and shuffling of feet.

“Then I call this session to order!” Grandmother Zetkin cried. Gathering her strength like a warm, insulating cloak around her shoulders, she started to speak. At times her voice faded. Several times her aides begged her to stop, but she said, “Nein! Nein! I will speak on!”

Grandmother Zetkin knew this was her last chance to vanquish her ancient, unrepentant enemy Paul von Hindenburg, 84.

Grandmother Zetkin Makes a Speech

The ideological clash between Paul von Hindenburg and Clara Zetkin dated back to 1915 when German police arrested Clara Zetkin when as the editor of a Socialist newspaper, – she didn’t become a Communist until l920 – she demanded “Proletarian Peace.” Now Grandmother Zetkin resumed the attack. She charged that President von Hindenburg had grasped power without consulting the Reichstag and that he was the servant of the monopoly capitalists and the Army. She demanded the impeachment of President von Hindenburg for violation of the German Constitution and charged that Chancellor Franz von Papen had failed to solve domestic and foreign problems.

She said, “The best means to overcome the economic crisis is proletarian revolution! I open this Reichstag in fulfillment of my duty as senior member. I hope to live to see the day when, as a senior member, I can open the first worker’s and peasants’ congress of Soviet Germany.”

Most of the correspondents present for the opening of the Reichstag reported that “only Communists” cheered Grandmother Zetkin, but Albion Ross of the New York Evening Post had a different perspective. He reported that when Grandmother Zetkin had finished speaking deputies in all of the galleries applauded wildly in a tribute to the physical courage of the old revolutionary instead of for political reasons.

As they led Grandmother Zetkin down to her Deputy’s seat, her two Communist aides shook their fists at the Nazis. The Nazis replied by singing a line from a popular German song: “It Happens only Once!”

Grandmother Zetkin’s Speech Signifies Beginnings and Endings

Clara Zetkin’s last Reichstag speech underscored the beginning of the Nazi takeover of the German Reichstag. The week of Grandmother Zetkin’s speech, the Reichstag organized itself for business and elected Hermann Wilhelm Goering as permanent Speaker. Although there were only 230 Nazi Deputies, Colonel Goering won the election by a vote of 367 to 216. Goering had won fame during world War I as Commander of Baron von Richthofen’s Flying Squadron, and now he acknowledged his election with military precision, replying with a Nazi salute to the cheers of the Nazi Deputies who jumped from their chairs shouting, “Heil Hitler!”

For the twelve years from 1920 to 1932, the Reichstag’s Speaker had always been Socialist Paul Lobe, so the Nazis had replaced the socialists as Germany’s dominant party. The steps for President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Adolf Hitler German Chancellor in 1933 had been put into place. Just four months later, Chancellor Adolph Hitler disbanded the Reichstag and decreed that he saw the future of German women as mothers and caretakers for the warriors of the Third Reich.

Her speech in the German Reichstag marked the end of Clara Zetkin’s long and activist career and her last battle against Paul von Hindenburg. She returned to Moscow where she died on June 20, 1933. Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin’s widow, and other leading Communists attended her funeral and she was buried in the Kremlin Wall.

References

Boxer, Marilyn J., and Jean H. Quataert, editors, Socialist Women: European Socialist Feminism in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, Elsevier, 1978.

Di Caprio, Lisa and Wiesner, Merry E. Lives and Voices: Sources in European Women’s History. Wordsworth Publishing, 2000.

Evans, Richard J., “Theory and Practice in German Social Democracy, 1880-1914: Clara Zetkin and the Socialist Theory of Women’s Emancipation,” History of Political Thought, summer, 1982, pp. 285-304.

Pore, Renate, A Conflict of Interest: Women in German Social Democracy, 1919-1933, Greenwood Press, 1981.

Stephenson, Jill. Women in Nazi Germany. Longman, 2001

Zetkin, Clara, Clara Zetkin: Selected Writings, edited by Philip S. Foner, translated by Kai Schoenhals and Angela Y. Davis, International Publishers, 1984.

 

Grandmother Clara Zetkin Faces the Opposition

Cast

Narrator:  Clara Zetkin...Rosa Luxemburg...Herr Koenig…Herr Landau…Adolf Hitler…

Narrator

Herr Koenig and Herr Landau, if indeed the names are real, are two gentlemen from the Gestapo. They are discussing the Socialist Clara Zetkin and means of preventing her from addressing the Reichstag on August 30, 1932. It seems that Adolf Hitler has a vested interest in keeping her from speaking.

Herr Koenig

We have received instructions to assassinate her.

Herr Landau

We can’t assassinate her on the floor of the Reichstag. The time for that has not yet come.

Herr Koenig

We must kill her at some other place.  What do you know about her?

Herr Landau

She is a little old lady. She looks like my grandmother.

Adolf Hitler

She is dangerous. Her voice is stronger than her looks. She will speak against me.

Herr Landau

Let her tell you about herself.  I arrested her yesterday. May I present Frau Clara Zetkin.

Clara Zetkin

Clara Eissner, born in Saxony. Father:  Gottfried Eissner, a schoolmaster and church organist who was a devout Protestant.  Mother: Josephine Vitale Eissner, from a bourgeoisie family from Leipzig and highly educated. I studied to become a teacher and developed connections with the women’s and labor movements in Germany from 1874 into the 1930s.

Herr Koenig

I like your concise style, Frau Zetkin. Wild eyed revolutionaries are not often so concise.

 

Adolf Hitler

My Kampf is both  concise and direct.

Clara Zetkin

I am not wild eyed revolutionary, but I am clear eyed revolutionary. You are trying to kill me, but if you succeed my ideals will survive. Women all over the world will continue to fight for their rights. You Herr Hitler, are not for women’s rights or for any rights except those of Aryan males.

Adolf Hitler

Women will be part of the Reich.

Clara Zetkin

You have assigned them parts as wives and mothers and caretakers of soldiers. You have not assigned them personhood.

 

Adolf Hitler

 There is no personhood, just statehood, just the Reich.

Clara Zetkin

There is Germany. I have worked for Germany all of my life.

Herr Landau

But you were in exile. When Chancellor Bismarck banned socialist activity in Germany in 1878, you left for Zurich in 1882 and went into exile in Paris.

Clara Zetkin

Yes, while I was in Paris I helped found the Socialist International. I met Ossip Zetkin in Paris and we had two sons, Kostja and Maxim. 

Herr Landau

Ossip Zetkin died in 1889.

Clara Zetkin

Please do not remind me. (Sobs) He died of tuberculosis. I mourn him yet.

Herr Koenig

You and Rosa Luxemburg developed the far left revolutionary wing of the Social Democratic Party. You created the social democratic women’s movement in Germany.

Rosa Luxemburg

I , too, can speak for myself. Clara, you are too modest. Do tell him about how you started the first International Women’s Day. The first day was on March 8, 1911 in Copenhagen.

Clara Zetkin

Yes, I organized an international socialist women’s anti-war conference in Berlin in 1915.

Herr Landau

(Clearing his throat) Ah, yes, we have the records of your arrest.

Clara Zetkin

You should have more than one record. I was arrested several times.

Herr Koenig

We discovered that in 1916, you and Rosa Luxemburg  founded the Spartacus League and the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. The Independent Social Democratic Party had split off from the Social Democratic Party in 1917, because the Social Democratic Party favored the war.

Clara Zetkin

You know, of course, that I joined the Communist Party of Germany after it was founded in January 1919. I represented the Party in the Reichstag from 1920 to 1933.

Rosa Luxemburg

She interviewed Lenin in 1920 about “The Women’s Question.”

Clara Zetkin

Tell them what happened to you, Rosa.

Rosa Luxemburg

We named the League after Spartacus, the leader of the largest slave rebellion of the Roman Republic.

Herr Landau

The we is Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknect, and Clara Zetkin.

Herr Koenig

The Spartacus League was most active during the German Revolution of 1918 and it sought to incite a revolution by circulating illegal subversive publications such as the newspaper, Spartacus Letters. 

Rosa Luxemburg

We opposed the imperialist war and we opposed the Social Democratic Party of Germany. They believed in the parliamentary method.  We believe in revolutionary methods. We spent two years in prison helping to organize a public demonstration in Berlin against German involvement in the war.

Clara Zetkin

The Spartacus League began agitating for a government based on local worker’s councils after the Russian Revolution of 1917. After the German Revolution of November 1918 overthrew the Kaiser, a period of instability lasted until 1923.

Rosa Luxemburg

In November 1923, Liebknecht declared a Germany a “Free Socialist Republic” from a balcony of the Kiaser’s Berliner Stadtschloss.

Clara Zetkin

On the same night Philipp Scheidemann of the Socialist Democratic Party declared a republic from the Reichstag.

Narrator

In December 1918, the Spartakusbund was officially renamed the Communist Party of Germany. In January 1919, the KPD, along with the Independent Socialists, launched the Spartacist uprising. This included staging massive street demonstrations intended to destabilize the Weimar government. The centrists of the SPD under chancellor Friedrich Ebert led the uprising. The government accused the opposition of planning a general strike and communist revolution in Berlin. The uprising was quickly crushed by the government, with the aid of the Freikorps. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were taken prisoner, and killed in custody.

Clara Zetkin 

They killed Rosa Luxemburg and Liebknecht.

Herr  Landau

You escaped, then.

 

Clara Zetkin

In August 1932, I escaped from Moscow to Berlin. As the chairwoman of the Reichstag by seniority, I came to the Reichstag and called for people to fight National Socialism. I warned them against you, Herr Hitler. I am still fighting.

Adolf Hitler

I will twist power and Germany to my will, Frau Zetkin.

Clara Zetkin

Germany will twist you in its winds of change, Herr Hitler.

Herr Koenig

I will arrest you.

Adolf Hitler

I will take away my protection and my men will assassinate you.

Clara Zetkin:

I will get rid of me.  My work in Germany is finished. If you gentlemen will excuse me, I am going home to Moscow. I am 76 years old and I am going home to Moscow.

Herr Landau

The plan to get rid of her is to deport her to Moscow!

Clara Zetkin

 (Standing up and walking out of the room.  They silently watch her. When she reaches the doorway, she turns around and shouts, Deported!