Civil disobedience in Nazi Germany was a difficult task. Those who did push back against the right-wing extremism of Adolf Hitler risked their limited freedom, or even their lives.
A new exhibit that opened Sept. 19 at the University of Missouri St. Louis's Gallery 210 celebrates more than two dozen courageous German youth who were willing to take that risk. It is the American debut for the exhibit, which was developed by the Frankfurt-based German Resistance Research Council. (page mostly in German).
The council's executive director, Thomas Altmeyer, told St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann that many people believe German resistance was limited to the failed July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler.
"There is much more resistance, and we focus on young people trying to be different, trying to resist the regime, and try to overcome Nazi Germany," Altmeyer said.
What forms did their resistance take?
"The most-used forms of resistance are resistance by words. They wrote flyers, newspapers, made little stickers, and tried to distribute this. The production of these things were very hard because now you know Twitter, internet, Facebook and so on you reach many, many persons with one sentence. At that time, you had to buy paper. Then you had to have a printing machine."
How effective was this resistance?
“It wasn’t able to overthrow the system, that’s for sure, but there were special areas where they did succeed, and there were areas where they didn’t succeed and lost their lives or got into concentration camps.”
Why is it that you think most people in Germany haven’t gone back and looked at this portion of the past?
"The people saw in resistance the things they didn’t do. They always told, we couldn’t do anything against Hitler, there was no chance, and we won’t go to concentration camps, we won’t get imprisoned. If they see people who resisted, they see there was a chance to resist, and that was a big, big problem to deal with the theme and it took a long time until the 1960s or 1970s until resistance was more known."
Why is it important that students and scholars outside of Germany, in the United States and elsewhere, also learn about these groups?
"The groups we present in the exhibition were in some cases related to the United States. That’s the one part of the answer. The other puzzle part is that the people resisting, they were courageous people and I think courageous acts are still today worthwhile."
Are there parallels you see to today’s resistance to totalitarian societies?
"What is the same is the need for communication. You must establish ways to communicate within the resistance, and you must communicate outside and must make a counter public."
As you studied this through your academic career, and now working with [the German Resistance Research Council], what did you come to understand about your native country?
"If you think of the time of Nazi Germany and the reactions in the Federal Republic of Germany [West Germany], you see how long it took until there is a good way to deal with the past. It took several years to come up with this theme, and it’s very hard to see."
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann