Some Key Words used in the Leaflets
‘Freiheit‘: The German word for freedom, which features especially heavily in the sixth leaflet, in the phrase ‘Freiheit und Ehre’ (‘freedom and honour’). The repetition makes this something of a rallying call, as the White Rose call for the freedom of the individual. They imply that the love of freedom is intrinsically German, evoking a German literary and philosophical tradition which includes Goethe and Kant. Goethe’s famous knight-hero in his play Götz von Berlichingen (1773) embodies these values, refusing to bow to an unjust authority and fighting to protect German independence. Götz dies in prison with the last word ‘Freiheit’. Hans Scholl’s last words were ‘Es lebe die Freiheit!’ (‘Long live freedom!’).
‘Untermensch’: ‘subhuman’. This word was commonly used in Nazi propaganda to describe non-Aryans deemed ‘inferior’, including Jewish people, Roma, and Slavs.
‘Mitläufer’: A ‘fellow-traveller’, one who follows a group without particularly supporting or even liking it, instead becoming a hanger-on through opportunism or lack of courage. The term was widely used in the Nuremberg Trials and throughout the post-war period to denote ‘followers’: those who were considered lesser offenders in the Nazi hierarchy, but were still not wholly exonerated. Hannah Arendt provides a good summary of the sense of being a ‘Mitläufer’ in Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), where she describes how the Nazi regime made it easier to do wrong than right: ‘Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it — the quality of temptation. Many Germans and many Nazis, probably an overwhelming majority of them, must have been tempted not to murder, not to rob, not to let their neighbours go off to their doom […], and not to become accomplices in all these crimes by benefiting from them. But, God knows, they had learned to resist temptation.’(Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, ed. by Amos Elon (London: Penguin, 2005), p. 150.)
‘Mitschuld’: The term ‘Mitschuld’ is a compound of the words ‘Schuld’, meaning ‘guilt’ or ‘fault’, and the prefix ‘Mit-’ (‘with’). Thus, it expresses an individual’s share in someone else’s guilt. The notion of ‘Mitschuld’ had great importance in the post-war discussion of Germans’ responsibility, as it is used to express the idea that the individuals within a society, which allows deeds like the Nazi atrocities to happen, share the blame for these actions.
‘Staat’: Broadly corresponds to the English ‘state’ with more emphasis on the mechanism of government (as in the adjectival sense of ‘state’ in ‘state pension’, for example). It can also refer to the nation as a whole.
‘Volk’: A term meaning ‘nation’ or ‘people’ originally used by the nationalist völkisch movement, which had its roots in the late nineteenth century and resurfaced after the First World War in opposition to liberal democracy under the Weimar Republic. The National Socialists used ‘Das deutsche Volk’ [the German people] as an umbrella term for everybody whom they considered to be ‘ethnically German’, including those who lived outside of Germany.
(Definitions adapted from those published in The White Rose: Reading, Writing, Resistance, ed. by Alexandra Lloyd (Oxford: Taylor Institution Library, 2019).)