On the Feast Day of John Henry Cardinal Newman it is fitting to remember the anti-Nazi student group–the White Rose. German academics and Newman scholars have argued that the most poignant expression of Newman’s theology materialized amongst a group of young men and women who were studying in Munich during WW II. These students gathered to read banned philosophy and theology works under the guidance of Theodore Haecker, who was responsible for translating Newman’s writings into German. Haecker introduced to them Newman’s theology of conscience, and it has been argued that their anti-Nazi pamphlets carried within them echoes of Newman. Their resistance led to their arrest and subsequent beheading. These young students were martyrs for the truth of conscience.
The students of the White Rose were not the only famous beneficiaries of Haecker’s tutelage on Newman. A young Joseph Ratzinger’s first encounter with Newman came via Haecker.
In this post I share a few excerpts from the letters of Lt. Fritz Hartnagel to his girlfriend– Sophie Scholl, the heroine and heart of the White Rose. Fritz was enlisted in the German military and was sent off to the Eastern Front. Sophie gave Fritz theology books to read in order to convince him to abandon the German military. These letters that I share were written from the Ukraine and Russia.
[translated from Sophie Scholl und Fritz Hartnagel: Damit wir uns nicht verlieren]
… I still read at the moment in my Newman book, above all, about faith, especially faith and reason. It has already revealed much beauty for me, even if I only advance laboriously…
… Finally, I can sit once again at a table, unpack the ink and fountain pen and with the candlelight in my comfortable tent to write a letter to you in complete silence. Because the [army] advance has faltered at the moment due the strong Russian opposition, we have been sitting for three days in the same place whereby I have at my disposal a little bit more time again. Today after three weeks I come again to my reading, to my Newman. Since I was occupied all this time with quite different and almost opposing activities, I could only take in a few pages, and I took up every line in myself like drop of a drink.
This everyday reading, I notice this just now so clearly, am to me still an indispensable pillar, which preserves me from slipping into the emptiness from which I cannot protect myself from own strength yet…
With love and sincere heart from your Fritz
… Have you already sent to me something to the reading? I would like to have something for work, maybe a Thomas Aquinas, also good history of literature would interest me. You will already find what is right for me. The loss of my books hurts me more than all the other things.
Above all 2 volumes of Newman, my small Augustine and Martin Deutinger of Inger were precious to me.
Warmly your Fritz today