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Katharina Baron was born in Vienna, on 28th May 1893. Her parents came from Jewish families but Katharina and her brother Otto, were baptised as Protestants. (1)
Katharina studied chemistry at university and shortly after the First World War she married the engineer Konrad Leipelt. Hans Leipelt was born in 1921. A daughter, Maria, was born four years later. Her husband became Technical Director of Zinnwerke Wilhelmsburg.
Life for Katharina Leipelt became very difficult after Adolf Hitler came to power. (2) Under the terms of the Nuremberg Laws her children were classified as "Jews". It is estimated that over 70,000 Christians in Germany had two Jewish grandparents and now lost their rights as German citizens. (3)
In March 1938, Hitler sent troops to Austria and announced to Anschluss. As a result Katharina Leipelt's brother committed suicide and her parents fled the country. Hans Leipelt joined the Motorized Infantry Regiment and served in France and Poland, winning the Tank Combat Medal and the Iron Cross II, before being dismissed from the German Army when they discovered his mother was half-Jewish. (4)
In September 1942, Konrad Leipelt, died of a heart attack. In January 1943, the anti-Nazi White Rose group based in Munich published a leaflet, entitled A Call to All Germans!, It included the following passage: "Germans! Do you and your children want to suffer the same fate that befell the Jews? Do you want to be judged by the same standards as your traducers? Are we do be forever the nation which is hated and rejected by all mankind? No. Dissociate yourselves from National Socialist gangsterism. Prove by your deeds that you think otherwise. A new war of liberation is about to begin." (5)
The Gestapo later estimated that the White Rose group distributed around 10,000 copies of this leaflet. The Leipelt family were involved in distributing the leaflets in Hamburg. (6) The authorities took the fifth leaflet more seriously than the others. One of the Gestapo's most experienced agents, Robert Mohr, was ordered to carry out a full investigation into the group called the "Resistance Movement in Germany". He was told "the leaflets were creating the greatest disturbance at the highest levels of the Party and the State". Mohr was especially concerned by the leaflets simultaneous appearance in widely separated cities. This suggested an organization of considerable size was at work, one with capable leadership and considerable resources. (7)
The authorities arrested and executed the leaders of the White Rose group. Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl, Christoph Probst, Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorell and Kurt Huber. Katharina's son, Hans Leipelt, continued to distribute leaflets and collected money for Huber's family. It was not long before, Katharina, Hans and Maria were all arrested. (8)
Katharina Leipelt committed suicide on 9th December, 1943. (9)
Germans! Do you and your children want to suffer the same fate that befell the Jews? Do you want to be judged by the same standards as your traducers? Are we do be forever the nation which is hated and rejected by all mankind? No. A new war of liberation is about to begin. The better part of the nation will fight on our side. Cast off the cloak of indifference you have wrapped around you. Make the decision before it is too late! Do not believe the National Socialist propaganda which has driven the fear of Bolshevism into your bones. Do not believe that Germany's welfare is linked to the victory of National Socialism for good or ill. A criminal regime cannot achieve a victory. Separate yourself in time from everything connected with National Socialism. In the aftermath a terrible but just judgment will be meted out to those who stayed in hiding, who were cowardly and hesitant.... Imperialistic designs for power, regardless from which side they come, must be neutralized for all time... All centralized power, like that exercised by the Prussian state in Germany and in Europe, must be eliminated... The coming Germany must be federalistic. The working class must be liberated from its degraded conditions of slavery by a reasonable form of socialism... Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the protection of individual citizens from the arbitrary will of criminal regimes of violence - these will be the bases of the New Europe.
The Political Development of Sophie Scholl (Answer Commentary)
The White Rose Anti-Nazi Group (Answer Commentary)
Kristallnacht (Answer Commentary)
Adolf Hitler's Early Life (Answer Commentary)
Heinrich Himmler and the SS (Answer Commentary)
Trade Unions in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)
Adolf Hitler v John Heartfield (Answer Commentary)
Hitler's Volkswagen (The People's Car) (Answer Commentary)
Women in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)
German League of Girls (Answer Commentary)
The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (Answer Commentary)
The Last Days of Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)
(1) Klaus Möller, Stolpersteine Hamburg (3rd December, 2012)
(2) Annette Dumbach & Jud Newborn, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose (1986) page 85
(3) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 545
(4) Richard F. Hanser, A Noble Treason: The Story of Sophie Scholl (1979) page 196
(5) The fifth White Rose leaflet, A Call to all Germans (February, 1943)
(6) Annette Dumbach & Jud Newborn, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose (1986) page 180
(7) Richard F. Hanser, A Noble Treason: The Story of Sophie Scholl (1979) page 208
(8) Richard F. Hanser, A Noble Treason: The Story of Sophie Scholl (1979) page 283
(9) Inge Scholl, The White Rose: 1942-1943 (1983) page 71
The White Rose (German: Weiße Rose, pronounced [ˈvaɪ̯sə ˈʁoːzə] ( listen ) ) was a non-violent, intellectual resistance group in Nazi Germany led by a group of students from the University of Munich, including Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell. The group conducted an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign that called for active opposition to the Nazi regime. Their activities started in Munich on 27 June 1942, and ended with the arrest of the core group by the Gestapo on 18 February 1943.  They, as well as other members and supporters of the group who carried on distributing the pamphlets, faced show trials by the Nazi People's Court (Volksgerichtshof), and many of them were sentenced to death or imprisonment.
Hans and Sophie Scholl, as well as Christoph Probst were executed by guillotine four days after their arrest, on 22 February 1943. During the trial, Sophie interrupted the judge multiple times. No defendants were given any opportunity to speak.
The group wrote, printed and initially distributed their pamphlets in the greater Munich region. Later on, secret carriers brought copies to other cities, mostly in the southern parts of Germany. In total, the White Rose authored six leaflets, which were multiplied and spread, in a total of about 15,000 copies. They denounced the Nazi regime's crimes and oppression, and called for resistance. In their second leaflet, they openly denounced the persecution and mass murder of the Jews.  By the time of their arrest, the members of the White Rose were just about to establish contacts with other German resistance groups like the Kreisau Circle or the Schulze-Boysen/Harnack group of the Red Orchestra. Today, the White Rose is well known both within Germany and worldwide.
How a Runaway Nun Helped an Outlaw Monk Change the World
Martin Luther's marriage to Katharina von Bora scandalized their contemporaries—and formed a partnership that shaped the course of history.
In terms of marriage prospects, Martin Luther wasn’t necessarily a natural pick. The middle-aged theology professor was known to be loud, argumentative, and judgmental. He was always on the road, came from a common family, and didn’t have enough money to buy a wedding ring.
Oh, and the pope himself had compared the German theologian to a wild boar, declared him a heretic, and ordered all of his writings burned.
But a noblewoman and former nun named Katharina von Bora saw something in the 42-year-old preacher that captivated her. When the couple married in 1525, it was a scandal that reverberated across Europe—and the beginning of a partnership that lasted more than two decades and shaped the course of history. (Read "How Martin Luther Started a Religious Revolution.")
October 31 marks 500 years since Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of a Wittenberg church, an act that secured his place in history. But historians say his later career—and the Reformation movement he led —might have looked very different if not for his marriage to von Bora.
History 101: The Protestant Reformation
Luther’s bride was no ordinary woman, particularly for the 16 th century. In 1504, at the age of five, von Bora—born to impoverished German nobility—was shipped off to a convent. She spent most of her early life secluded in a cloister in Nimbschen, not far from Leipzig, where she learned to read, write, speak Latin, and sing. It’s possible she also learned to balance books, manage a farm, and tend to the sick behind the cloister’s walls.
At some point, copies of Luther’s fiery pamphlets attacking celibacy and monastic orders may have inspired Katharina and others to reject their vows and leave the cloister. Somehow, a group of Nimbschen nuns smuggled a message to the outside world. Luther worked with a local merchant to engineer a daring nighttime rescue at a time when removing a nun from a cloister was an offense punishable by death. On April 7, 1523, the women were smuggled out of Nimbschen by a merchant delivering herring.
Once the escapees arrived in Wittenberg, they were married off to eligible bachelors within months—all except an older nun who found work as a school headmistress, and von Bora, who turned down several suitors and ultimately refused to marry anyone but Luther. Reluctant at first, Luther ultimately decided to marry. “I have made the angels laugh and the devils weep,” he wrote of his decision.
At the time, Luther’s marriage was a scandal on many levels: He was a monk who had broken his vows, married to a nun who had broken hers. As Luther continued his career as a theologian and preacher, his marriage flouted centuries of Catholic teaching about celibacy and the priesthood—and established married clergy as a precedent for Reformation churches.
Predictably, Luther’s enemies seized on Katharina as a weak point, hoping that by discrediting her they could undermine Luther’s credibility as a man of God. She was called an alcoholic, money-grubbing, and a slut. Anti-Reformation pamphleteers accused her of having children with Luther out of wedlock and worse. Just the fact that she was a former nun was scandal enough.
“As soon as this former monk married a former nun, people took interest,” says Gabriele Jancke, a historian at Freie University in Berlin. “The moment someone left the cloister, they destroyed themselves, from the Catholic point of view. It was as bad as being divorced.”
As Luther’s intellectual fame grew, some of his allies, uncomfortable with his wife’s outsize presence, referred to her as “Doctorissa” in their letters – intended as a mean-spirited dig at both Katharina and her husband. Others tried to needle Luther by suggesting that some of his ideas were actually Katharina’s.
“Women at the time were supposed to be seen and not heard,” says Martin Treu, a historian at the Luther Society in Wittenberg and author of a von Bora biography. “Von Bora was seen as self-confident, strong-willed, and independent, which were all negative attributes for women at the time.”
The Luthers’ 21-year marriage was an arrangement unusual for their era. While Luther spent his time teaching, preaching, and writing, Katharina worked tirelessly to keep the family business running. After marrying Luther, Katharina turned a three-story former monastery building into the 16 th -century equivalent of a hotel, dormitory, and conference center.
While local students and visiting professors boarded in the rooms upstairs, paying top rates for access to Luther’s ideas and prestige, Katharina invested the income in a growing portfolio that eventually included a large farm, multiple gardens, fish ponds, and fruit orchards. Letters and account books show the Luthers owned more cows and pigs than anyone in Wittenberg, a town of several thousand at the time. On top of all that, Katharina ran a household brewery that produced 8,800 pints of ale each year.
Luther sometimes referred to his wife as Wittenberg’s “morning star,” up earlier than anyone else in town to manage a staff of nearly a dozen servants, look after their six children, and manage the equivalent of a mid-sized company. (He also called her “Lord Katie” in some of the 21 surviving letters he wrote to her.) Luther, meanwhile, was free to travel, teach, write, and preach. “He wasn’t so involved in daily affairs,” says Jancke. “He was perfectly happy when his wife took over.”
By subtracting the costs of running the household from what Katharina charged boarders and guests, historians suggest the runaway nun brought in as much money from her various enterprises as her husband did teaching at the local university. “In the cloister, she was at the bottom of the hierarchy,” says Jancke. “Marrying Luther made her the boss.”
As the Reformation movement spread across Europe, the house that Katharina ran became its epicenter. After dinner, Luther, Katharina, and select guests discussed theology and politics in Latin, hammering out the intellectual framework of the Reformation. Her presence at Luther’s “table talks” was unusual. Women were usually excluded from such discussions, and contemporaries remarked on her presence disapprovingly. Sabine Kramer, a historian and Lutheran minister who wrote her doctoral dissertation on von Bora, says when transcripts of the debates were edited and published decades later, many of her contributions were removed, or attributed to men.
Remarkably, Luther’s last will made Katharina his sole inheritor, and named her guardian of their children. (Treu says the move was unheard of at the time, and ultimately ruled illegal by incredulous judges after his death in 1546.) While their marriage had sharply defined roles that would seem foreign to modern feminists, “she was an equal partner,” says Treu.
Kramer says von Bora’s story is a reminder that the Reformation wasn’t a one-man project.
“Luther played his role in the Reformation, but it’s important to remember that she played hers too,” says Kramer. “There wouldn’t have been table talks if she hadn’t provided the table.”
Katharina Leipelt stammte aus einer jüdischen Familie in Wien und war promovierte Chemikerin. Während des Ersten Weltkriegs lernte sie den Diplomingenieur Conrad Leipelt aus Schlesien kennen, den sie nach dem Krieg heiratete. 1921 kam ihr gemeinsamer Sohn Hans in Wien zur Welt. Anfang der 1920er Jahre übernahm Conrad Leipelt die Stelle des Technischen Direktors der Zinnwerke Wilhelmsburg, die Familie bezog eine Villa in dem Dorf Rönneburg bei Harburg. 1925 wurde ihre Tochter Maria geboren.
Aufgrund ihrer Herkunft waren Katharina Leipelt und ihre Familie ab September 1935 von den Bestimmungen der Nürnberger Gesetze betroffen, die alle Deutschen, die jüdische Eltern hatten, zu Juden erklärten. Die Kinder Hans und Maria Leipelt galten als „Halbjuden“. 1936 zog die Familie in das Wilhelmsburger Reiherstiegviertel um. Mit dem „Anschluss Österreichs“ an das Deutsche Reich im März 1938 wurden die in Wien lebenden Verwandten Opfer nationalsozialistischer Verfolgungsmaßnahmen. Leipelts Bruder nahm sich am 12. März 1938 das Leben und ihre Eltern flüchteten nach Brünn, wo auch der Vater starb. Konrad Leipelt reiste nach Österreich und holte seine Schwiegermutter Hermine Baron nach Wilhelmsburg.
Mit Beginn des Zweiten Weltkrieges wurden die Restriktionen verschärft, der Tochter Maria Leipelt wurde der weitere Besuch auf der Oberschule untersagt, Hans Leipelt wurde am 29. August 1940 aus der Wehrmacht ausgestoßen. Hermine Baron wurde am 19. Juli 1942 ins Ghetto Theresienstadt deportiert, sie starb dort am 22. Januar 1943. Als Konrad Leipelt im September 1942 überraschend einen tödlichen Herzinfarkt erlitt, war die Familie ihres letzten Schutzes vor den antisemitischen Übergriffen des NS-Staates beraubt.
Katharina Leipelt führte in der Kirchenallee in Wilhelmsburg, heute Mannesallee, ein gastfreies Haus, es verkehrte dort ein generationsübergreifender Freundeskreis, der insbesondere Menschen umfasste, die aus persönlicher Betroffenheit in Opposition zum NS-Regime standen. Man traf sich sowohl zu Geselligkeiten wie zu politischen Gesprächen und zum Informationsaustausch. Nachdem im Jahr 1943 die Flugblätter der Weißen Rose auch nach Hamburg gelangt waren, wurden diese auch im Kreis der älteren Generation zustimmend diskutiert. Nachdem Hans Leipelt am 8. Oktober 1943 in München verhaftet wurde, reiste Katharina Leipelt nach München und versuchte Hilfe für ihren Sohn zu organisieren. Am 9. November 1943 wurde auch ihre Tochter Maria Leipelt im Zusammenhang mit den Aktivitäten der Weißen Rose in Hamburg festgenommen.
Am 7. Dezember 1943 wurde Katharina Leipelt selber verhaftet und im Polizeigefängnis Fuhlsbüttel inhaftiert. Zwei Tage später, am 9. Dezember 1943, wurde sie tot in ihrer Zelle aufgefunden.  Ältere Quellen besagen, Leipelt habe sich in der Nacht vom 8. zum 9. Januar 1944 in ihrer Zelle erhängt, um dem angekündigten Transport in das KZ Auschwitz zu entgehen.  Nach umfangreichen Recherchen der Initiative Gedenken in Harburg und Schülern des Heisenberg-Gymnasiums in Harburg zur Familie Leipelt wurde zum einen, standesamtlich belegt, das Todesdatum korrigiert und sind zudem Zweifel an den Todesumständen aufgekommen.
An Katharina Leipelt erinnern Stolpersteine in der Mannesallee in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg und in der Vogteistraße in Hamburg-Rönneburg.  Namentlich benannt ist sie neben den weiteren Opfern der Weißen Rose mit dem Mahnmal Weiße Rose in Hamburg-Volksdorf.
Networking with Leipelt Researchers
When it comes families and genealogy research, it's important to remember that different people may have different information: some may even have inherited one-of-a-kind family documents or photos, and the best way to connect with these family members is by posting a message board query -- often in the process of collaboration, you can build a more complete picture of your ancestor or ancestral family. The article "Looking for John Smith - Focusing a Query" provides some valuable tips for posting successful Leipelt queries.
You may also want to consider posting a query to the Community Message Boards at Genealogy Today to get assistance from other researchers on your most elusive Leipelt ancestors.
Santa Clara cop’s career likely over after conviction for indecent exposure
SAN JOSE — A Santa Clara police sergeant was convicted Monday of misdemeanor indecent exposure by a jury convinced that he masturbated nude in front of a Santana Row sales clerk last year, likely ending a 24-year police career.
Thomas William Leipelt was silent as a court clerk read the jury’s verdict and bowed his head as he absorbed the gravity of the conviction. Judge Paul Bernal remanded him to jail. He was then handcuffed in the courtroom and taken into custody by a bailiff.
The victim, identified only as “Danette Doe,” testified Leipelt propositioned her while naked and masturbating in the Annieglass boutique’s storage room after having sex in the restroom with his girlfriend, who also worked there as a clerk. At the time, Leipelt was having a secret extramarital affair that started about a year earlier.
Deputy district attorney Lindsay Walsh said the verdict was a sound rejection of the Leipelt’s starkly contrasting contention that he was simply urinating in restroom when the clerk walked in on him.
“I think justice was served,” Walsh said outside the courtroom. “This was very egregious since he was a police officer. It’s sad.”
Leipelt faces a maximum of 180 days in jail when he is sentenced, currently scheduled for Wednesday. But the more damning consequence is that he must register as a sex offender for life.
Leipelt’s attorney, Cameron Bowman, was stoic upon hearing the verdict and voiced his disapproval.
“I’m very disappointed in what happened here today,” Bowman said.
The veteran officer, with 24 years’ experience — 14 with the Santa Clara Police Department — has been on paid administrative leave since his arrest in July, about six weeks after the encounter the evening of May 15, 2015. The department has the final word on his future with the agency, but it is unlikely he could stay on given his imminent sex-offender status.
Lt. Kurt Clarke declined to comment on Leipelt’s conviction, citing it as a personnel matter, but said now that the criminal case has concluded, the department will soon “finalize” its administrative review of the sergeant.
The jury of six women and six men deliberated for about two days after a two-day trial that began last week. Both Leipelt and Doe took the stand in a case that, like most, came down primarily to a credibility contest.
Leipelt did not deny the woman’s accusation at the time. Instead, he just said he was sorry it happened and departed from Annieglass, which sells jewelry and handmade glass housewares. He testified under repeated questioning by Walsh that he didn’t proclaim his innocence because he wanted to be “respectful.”
“I used her bathroom and made an uncomfortable situation,” Leipelt said.
Doe initially testified that this was the first such incident she had experienced. But Bowman, Leipelt’s lawyer, produced evidence that she had filed a restraining order in 2009 against a former tenant who allegedly exposed himself in her Santa Cruz County home.
When questioned about why she didn’t divulge the previous incident earlier, Doe said several times, “I’m perimenopausal.” She also said it slipped her mind because it was her friends, not her, who were the victims. Bowman seized on that statement and noted that Doe had filed a restraining order after the previous incident, claiming under penalty of perjury that she had been a victim.
Walsh said the scrutiny of the victim was an anticipated defense strategy and credited the jury for seeing through Leipelt’s own explanation of events.
“(The victim) was very believable and was consistent the whole time,” Walsh said. “His story was completely unreasonable and unbelievable.”
Leipelt’s case marks the third Santa Clara police officer to be arrested or convicted in the past year. Officer Kiet Nguyen, a 25-year veteran, was given probation after pleading no contest in December to misdemeanor shoplifting and possession of burglary tools after he shoplifted a smartwatch from a West San Jose Target store in May.
And last week, Officer Tyson Green, who has been with SCPD for 14 years, was charged with running a chop shop and possessing stolen car parts.
Inspiring Thursday: Women fighting against the Nazi Regime
On Tuesday, 8 May 1945, when the Allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Germany’s armed forces, World War II in Europe ended. In commemoration of what is celebrated as ‘Liberation Day’ in many European countries, today’s Inspiring Thursday post will shed some light on a topic that has only started to be acknowledged in recent years: The role of women in resisting the Nazi Regime and Fascism.
Remembering Women in the Resistance
Apart from Sophie Scholl, whose sister Inge wrote the first book to describe German resistance to the Nazi regime about her siblings Sophie and Hans called “The White Rose” (Die Weiße Rose) in 1952, female resistance has not been examined in detail for a long time.
The reasons for this lie, as is so often the case, in patriarchal norms and role attributions undermining and denying female agency: The images of women and resistance, of women interfering in politics and having their own opinions simply did not fit together in the eyes of (predominantly male) politicians, historians or journalists, whether during or after the war. The idea that “the woman’s task is to be beautiful and to bring children into the world” and that her place is in the supposedly private realms of the home existed before the Third Reich – and it didn’t just disappear with the end of the Nazi era.
It is not surprising then, that many of the female resistance fighters who were at least mentioned in the historiography were portrayed as a kind of appendix, as “wife, fiancée, friend of”, without their actions actually being recounted and appreciated.
Additionally, many women resistance fighters were/are not remembered in the post-war memory due to their private political opinions and history: Many of them came from socialist homes, had grown up in communist youth groups or belonged to the Socialist Workers’ Party. In times of the Cold War, such biographies did not fit into the West German view of the resistance.
Johannes Tuchel, director of the German Resistance Memorial Center, states that:
“It took a long time for the resistance of workers, communists or exiles to be recognized. Until well into the 1980s, there were sometimes heated discussions about what should be counted as resistance to the National Socialists. Today, we include everything that weakened the system, all people who tried to do something against the dictatorship. For Germans after 1945, this was difficult to acknowledge. If someone resisted, then he [sic!] stood for an alternative course of action. For the fact that one would not have had to go with Hitler and the NSDAP, but would also have had a choice. And admitting that was, of course, very difficult for many people after 1945.”
Female Members of the White Rose and the Red Orchestra
Back to Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, which is considered the best-known and most symbolic example of student-citizen resistance to the Nazi regime in Germany until today. According to Barbara Distel, former head of the Dachau concentration camp memorial site, “it was only thanks to the women’s movement that the women members of the resistance came back into focus.” The stories of other women who risked their life as part of the group only became public later, such as:
- (*1919), who, after meeting Alexander Schmorell (co-founder of the White Rose) in Hamburg, took part in many of the group’s conversations and discussions and brought the third White Rose leaflet to Hamburg in November 1942. Along with Sophie Scholl, Traute Lafrenz obtained paper and envelopes for dispatching more leaflets in January 1943. She was arrested by the Gestapo twice. On April 15 th 1945, she was liberated from prison by American troops and emigrated to the US in 1947. (*1919, †1945), who printed and distributed leaflets with frequencies and broadcasting times of foreign radio stations as a medicine student in Hamburg. She became part of the Hamburg White Rose circle in 1941 and was arrested together with 30 others in 1943. She died in a Gestapo women’s prison due to pulmonary tuberculosis in 1945. (*1923, †2003), who grew up in a Social Democratic family and met Heinz Kucharski and Margaretha Rothe in mid-1942, who were customers at the bookshop where she worked. They received the third White Rose leaflet at the beginning of 1943 by Traute Lafrenz. Willbrandt transcribed the leaflet and the Erich Kästner poem “Little Marching Song” and distributed the copies together with Albert Suhr. She was first arrested by the Gestapo in December 1943 and spent 10 months in solitary confinement. She and other Hamburg White Rose members were prosecuted before the “People’s Court” on February 23, 1945 for “preparation for high treason, aiding the enemy, subverting the war effort, and radio crimes.” Hannelore Willbrandt was liberated in Bayreuth by the U.S. Army on April 14, 1945.
In Berlin, too, many women in the resistance put their lives on the line to protect the persecuted. A loose network of resisters called the Red Orchestra (Rote Kapelle) by the Nazis helped the persecuted, obtained ration cards, documented the crimes of the Nazi regime and went public with leaflets. Of the roughly 400 members and supporters, more than 65 were murdered, including at least 19 women. Among them were Ilse Ströbe, Libertas Schulze-Boysen and Elisabeth Schumacher.
Resistance and Gender Stereotypes
In some cases, women in the resistance benefited from traditional gender roles: they were taken less seriously and less frequently sentenced to death. Historians have collected examples in which the Gestapo and judges treated women more leniently because they supposedly lacked political awareness. Margot Linsert, for instance, in whose shop the International Socialist Combat League met, was let go in 1938 by the Gestapo, stating that she was an “ignorant mother”, while her husband was arrested with the same charges.
On the other hand, women from the resistance were not necessarily feminists. According to Barbara Distel, they were confined to traditional gender roles like other women. So, just as they bravely fought until 1945, most of them quietly withdrew to their private lives when the war ended.
One example is Centa Herker-Beimler (*1909, †2000), who as a communist had already clashed with the Nazis in Munich during the 1920s, at age 17, and handed out leaflets against the regime when she was 24. She was arrested several times for a total of four years, but was released after her husband had died fighting Franco in Spain. When communists in Munich avoided her so as not to be targeted by the Gestapo as well, she went to Augsburg to establish contacts and build up an anti-fascist group there.
Distel points out that “the woman who was not intimidated by the Nazis had been completely dominated by her husband: the two were not yet married when she started taking care of the children from his first marriage, gave up her job in Hamburg and moved back to Munich. She also retreated to private life after the war: she organized sewing parlors and cared for the sick. She was involved in bringing together people persecuted by the Nazi regime — but […] she did not act as spokesperson. Instead, she stayed on the sidelines and took care of the bookkeeping.”
Sophie Scholl & the White Rose
“ S uch a fine, sunny day, and I have to go,” 21-year-old Sophie Scholl lamented, before she was guillotined by the Nazis. “But what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” Scholl was a member of the White Rose, a small, anonymous group of mostly university students who hoped that by distributing leaflets and graffitiing public spaces, they could awaken complacent German intellectuals.
Seven months earlier in June of 1942, Sophie was sitting in a lecture hall at the University of Munich when she noticed a slip of paper under her desk. She picked it up and began to read, “Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible crimes — crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure — reach light of day?”
The mass deportation of Jews to concentration camps was now fully underway. As a child, Sophie had been a member of the girl’s branch of the Hitler Youth, but had been troubled when her Jewish friend was prohibited from joining. As Jud Newborn and Annette Dumbach explained in their book, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, Sophie and her siblings — still under the sway of the Hitler Youth — often clashed with their father, an avowed anti-Nazi. One evening, walking along the Danube, he had turned to his children suddenly and hissed, “All I want is for you to walk straight and free through life, even when it’s hard.” Slowly, skepticism wormed its way in. Her alienation reached fever pitch in high school as nearly everything she learned was steeped in Nazi propaganda. Then her father was arrested when his employer overheard him calling Hitler “the scourge of humanity.” But reading the pamphlet, Sophie was conflicted. She had two brothers at the front, her father was in jail awaiting sentencing, and her mother was ill. Waiting to report anti-Nazi literature was a crime. She walked out of the lecture hall with the pamphlet in hand.
Sophie went in search of her older brother Hans, who was a medical student also at the University of Munich. He wasn’t in his apartment, so she waited for him there. She found a book by the German poet, Friedrich Schiller on his desk and began reading. One page in particular was covered in marks. The exact words she had read in the pamphlet were underlined. Sophie was terrified. Her brother must have had something to do with the pamphlet. When he returned, Sophie confronted him. He demurred. Two of his friends arrived, and eventually they told her the truth. Her brother and four others were a part of an anonymous resistance campaign. Sophie decided to join them.
For the next month, the group worked on their campaign. They bought stamps and paper from different post offices to avoid arousing suspicion. They collected quotes and copied them with a mimeograph. The second pamphlet read, “Since the conquest of Poland 300,000 Jews have been murdered, a crime against human dignity.” The third called for the sabotage of armament plants, newspapers, and public ceremonies, and the awakening of the “lower classes.” Rumors buzzed about the pamphlets. As the language of the pamphlets became increasingly explicit, the gestapo ramped up their efforts to find the perpetrators, arresting anyone at the slightest suspicion of collaboration.
In July, four members of the White Rose including Hans were ordered to spend their summer break working as medics at the Russian front. On their way, they passed the Warsaw ghetto and were horrified. Once in Russia, they understood that Germany was losing to the Soviets despite the fact that the Nazis claimed otherwise. When they returned home in November, they were emboldened, and the White Rose increased the number of pamphlets they were publishing. The group traveled by train to distribute the leaflets all over Germany. They wanted to create the impression that the White Rose was a vast network, that the public was behind them. When the Germans admitted their loss to the Soviets in February of 1943, some White Rose members went out at night and graffitied the words “Freedom,” “Down with Hitler” and “Hitler mass murder” on the city hall and other public places. They believed Nazi Germany might be crumbling, they just needed the people to realize it.
The Pastor’s Wife
Marriage to Luther was a social step down for Katharina, who was born into a noble family, with generations of lordly lineage. It also catapulted her into scandal and public ridicule. Erasmus of Rotterdam even predicted that the union would result in the birth of the Antichrist!
In spite of the tumultuous environment for their controversial marriage, the allegiance proved affectionate, loving, fruitful, faithful, and enduring. The couple moved into their new home, dubbed “The Black Cloister,” and Katharina pioneered a “new” calling that had been absent in medieval times — the pastor’s wife.
The morning after her wedding, Katharina initiated her new vocation by serving breakfast to the few friends that had attended the ceremony the night before. Katharina’s role as spouse of the famed Reformer, mother to six biological (and several orphaned) children, and manager of their parsonage (another innovation of the Reformation) and property became an instructive model for Protestant pastors’ wives of that era.
The Reformers firmly established this role as a high vocational calling with theological and biblical foundation and gave new dignity to Christian women by including domestic work in the ministry of the gospel, thereby transforming the ideal Christian woman from its former medieval ideal (i.e., nun).
Katharina von Bora Luther
Katharina von Bora is most famous for being the wife of Martin Luther. Traditionally, sources have suggested she was born in 1499. Nevertheless, because early modern Europe was lacking in birth certificates, there is no direct evidence of this. There is also something of a dispute about the location of her birth. Some sources state that she was born in Lippendorf, while some modern historians have suggested that her place of birth was actually Hirschfeld.
The first concrete evidence that we have of von Bora’s life is her entry into the Benedictine cloister at Brehna in 1504. She was placed there by her father for the sake of furthering her education. Later, as a teenager she was moved to a Cistercian monastery where her aunt resided. There she eventually became a nun.
As a young woman, von Bora became increasingly unhappy with the monastic life and interested in the Church reform movement that was afoot in Germany. As a result, in 1523 von Bora and a number of her friends eventually contacted Luther and asked for his help in escaping their monastery. This was an extremely dangerous undertaking in the sixteenth century. A person caught abandoning their monastic vows could be tortured and imprisoned for the rest of their lives.
Luther employed a sympathetic merchant to help smuggle Katharina and her friends out of the monastery on Easter Eve of 1523. Some sources say that Katherina escaped by hiding in a barrel used to transport herring, although this is disputed. When they first arrived in Wittenberg, Luther tried return the women to their families. This proved to be an unworkable solution, since none of their families would have them returned. Indeed, aiding and abetting a runaway nun was a violation of Roman Catholic canon law and therefore a grave crime in the sixteenth century.
For this reason, Luther decided to find husbands for the women in accordance with their wishes. Katharina was difficult to find a husband for, since she did not find many of her suitors acceptable. Finally she made it known that she would be willing to marry either Nicholas von Amsdorf (a university colleague of Luther’s), or Luther himself. After some resistance, Luther finally agreed to marry Katharina in 1525. He was forty-one years old and she was twenty-five.
Many of Luther’s colleagues (including Philipp Melanchthon) were against his marriage on the grounds that this decision would simply confirm the claims of some Roman Catholic critics that he had started the Reformation as a way to avoid fulfilling his vow of celibacy. Luther explained that he agreed to marry Katharina in order to please his father, and to spite the devil and the pope. Indeed, Luther saw the devil as attacking creation and its orders (family, church, state) by drawing people away from their status as creatures and towards a desire to be God. Justification by faith was understood by Luther as freeing people to enjoy their status as creatures and their vocation within the created orders. Within these, marriage was most central. Consequently it was up to him to give a good example to the Church he was trying to reform.
After Luther and Katharina were married, they moved into the Black Cloister. The Black Cloister was the former Augustinian monastery in which Luther had lived as a friar and was a gift to the Luther family from the ducal family of Saxony. The Black Cloister possessed vast holdings of cattle and pigs, as well as a brewery. Katharina took over management of these holdings and worked as a businesswoman of a sort. Because of this, von Bora has not infrequently been held up as the model of a dutiful Christian housewife.But that is only part of the story. Prior to the nineteenth century, economic production and the life of the household were actually not separate from one another. Therefore women’s roles as managers of a household was inevitably tied up in the role as both economic producers and managers. Beyond her work as an entrepreneur and housewife, Katharina also bore six children to Luther. She also took care of four adopted children.
After Luther’s death in 1546, Katharina entered a period of serious financial trouble. As a result of her husband’s death, she lost the income from his salary. Since the ducal family of Saxony was defeated and imprisoned as a result of the Smalkaldic War, it was impossible for Katharina to turn to them for assistance. During the period of the Augsburg and Leipzig Interims, Katharina left Wittenberg and took refuge in the city of Magdeburg, which continued resistance against the Emperor. After the Lutheran princes were again triumphant, she returned to Wittenberg to find her house and property almost completely destroyed. In spite of this, she insisted on remaining there. She was finally able to sustain herself as a result of the financial generosity of the elector Johann Friedrich.
Nevertheless, by 1552 the situation in Wittenberg again became dire. The yearly crops failed and there was an outbreak of the plague. Katharina escaped to the city of Torgau, where she was unfortunately involved in a deadly cart accident at the city gates. Although she held onto life for three months, she eventually died at the age of 53.
Although Katharina’s life was full of many pains and struggles, she displayed a great deal of courage and fortitude in the face of them. These virtues would not have been possible without her faith in the Gospel, which freed her to follow her vocation as a wife, mother, and entrepreneur. As such, she serves as a great model of faith for both men and women in the contemporary Church.
Jack Kilcrease is a member of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.