Germans who resisted Nazis focus of exhibit at UMSL gallery

A detail of one panel in the ‘Long Live Freedom!” exhibition on display through Oct. 18 at Gallery 210 at UMSL.  

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

The story of those who resisted the Nazis in occupied France is well known. Less known are those in Germany who also opposed the Nazis from within.

Young Nazi resistors and their organizations are the focus of a new exhibit at University of Missouri -St. Louis’ Gallery 210. The “Long Live Freedom!” (“Es lebe die Freiheit!”) exhibit is named for the last words of one of those young people, Hans Scholl, who along with his sister Sophie led the youth resistance group White Rose. 

The exhibit consists of 25 graphic panels detailing the youth resistance movement in Germany. The panels are arranged along the lobby walls of the gallery and down its hallway. The first few panels give an overview of the history and how Adolf Hitler particularly tried to recruit youth, followed by five panels describing youth resistance groups. The rest of the panels tell individual stories. 

“Long Live Freedom!” is making its United States debut here, running through November 1. It is sponsored by the German Culture Center at UMSL, with co-sponsorship by the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, St. Louis/Stuttgart Sister Cities, the German American Heritage Society of St. Louis and the Goethe Institut Chicago. The exhibit was created by the Research Institute for the Study of German Resistance 1933-1945. 

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“This is just such a remarkable exhibit,” said Larry Marsh, coordinator of the German Culture Center at UMSL. “It was just created last year…(It) was in German and it had been exhibited in Germany last year, starting off in Frankfort.” 

The traveling exhibit has been displayed in many schools and institutions in Germany. Marsh said there are now plans to take the exhibit to other countries, including Israel. 

“I thought this would be a wonderful exhibit to bring here but if we are going to do it, it has to be in English,” Marsh said.  He found support for that from a whole host of organizations. 

“The German Culture Center is part of the Center for International Studies programs, which Joel Glassman is the director of. Of course, before I could begin, I had to get Joel’s support. He was enthusiastic from the very beginning,” Marsh said, refering to Joel Glassman, associate provost for Academic Affairs and director of International Studies and Programs.    

At the opening reception earlier this month, Thomas Altmeyer, one of the creators of the exhibit and director of the Research Group of German Resistance 1933 – 1945 in Frankfurt, explained how he used his extensive research on Nazi resistance to develop educational materials for schools. Also at the opening was another of the exhibit’s creators, Gabriele Prein, a former journalist who is now editor of the organization’s magazine.   

The stories and backgrounds are surprisingly varied, while nearly all those featured are young. As one of the panels points out, Hitler particularly targeted youth for his recruitment efforts, which makes those who resisted all the more striking.  

“We wanted to present the variety of the social and political backgrounds of the opposing and resisting young people. We wanted to show their suffering as well as that resistance did not mean death in every case. And we wanted to show the wide range of possibilities anti-Nazis could choose from,” Altmeyer said.

“Out of a variety of biographies we had to decide which story to present in our exhibit, so it would not become too big for a general public,” Prein said. “Another criteria in choosing the biographies was that we wanted to cover different places and cities in Germany.”

Opposing the Nazis took great courage but the youth of people involved is shocking. One of those featured is Gertrud Liebig, a 17-year-old deported to Buchenwald for reading Nazi-banned newspapers. Another was Hans Gasparitsch, a young artist and printer arrested at age 17 for printing anti-Nazi materials. Each story is both unique and compelling.

Among the spotlighted groups were the well-known but short-lived White Rose. Other groups described were the Red Orchestra, a group of more than 100 liberal intellectuals, artists, journalists, both young and older, and the Edelweiss Pirates, a group made up of young people from blue-collared families, straining against the blind obedience of the Hitler Youth. There are panels on the Swing Youth, who embraced jazz music and dance, something that the Nazis labeled “un-German.” Another was the Baum Group — Jewish youth led by a left-leaning young electrician named Herbert Baum and his wife, whose members included many 15 and16-year-olds. 

All these groups engaged in resistance, publishing pamphlets or organizing campaigns to scrawl anti-Nazi messages on walls. Many youth resistance groups grew out of hiking clubs, where outdoor hikes may have permitted freer discussions away from Nazi surveillance.