This article include a book review, a reminder of the resistance group “The White Rose,” and appreciations of Traute Lafrenz Page, MD, at her 100th birthday. Dr. Page was a General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in America in the 1990s.
Long Live Freedom! Traute Lafrenz and the White Rose, by Peter Normann Waage, translated by DiMari Bailey (Cuidano Press, Brooklyn, NY; 2018)
Nicanor Perlas’ new book, Humanity’s Last Stand, carefully describes a tremendous challenge to the worth and existence of human beings. Does “the human being” matter? How will that be decided, over the years ahead? In his earlier Shaping Globalization (2000), Perlas strongly affirmed that social leadership comes from the sphere of culture—ideas, values, conscience, beliefs—which lives and grows through the active sharing of consciousness by individuals.
Long Live Freedom! might also have been titled “Humanity’s Last Stand,” and Peter Normann Waage takes pains to show how culture connected a few young people and supported them in a solemn and fatal statement of dissent in the culminating moments of World War II. They wrote and distributed simple leaflets, each a two-sided sheet, frightening the National Socialist regime of Adolf Hitler because it touched deep chords of national cultural understanding, the “German Idealism” that had exalted the human spirit in the early 19th century. Into these young people the light of humanistic culture had shone also from the great Russian novelists, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Their few months as “the White Rose” coincided with the disastrous German drive into Russia that died at Stalingrad.
Much has been written about this little group: “The White Rose,” not even an official name. Its pamphlets brought no uprising in 1942-43, but it established a link through the abyss of the Hitler time to remind later generations of their true German-human cultural heritage.
Waage’s subtitle, “Traute Lafrenz and the White Rose,” shows his particular concern: how the spirit living in culture was alight in this person, spread to that one, was shared among a few others—finally to melt crystals of thought into courageous action. He also makes a rarelynoticed connection to the work of Rudolf Steiner.
Waage gathers extensive material from Traute Lafrenz, known in the USA by her married name Page, who celebrates her 100th birthday in May, 2019. Dr. Page has long been reticent about these events of over 75 years ago, a witness not a hero she says; but it is good to hear this story of courage in our current moment. I quote now from the book about this cultural root of the White Rose; Traute’s own words are marked with a colored line at left.
Traute: Even though I was only about 14 when Hitler came to power, the other pupils and I were aware very early on of how oppressive the new regime was, Traute recalls. Our favorite teachers were forced to leave the school. … So we were not well disposed toward the new teachers who replaced our old ones. They insisted that students shout Heil Hitler! when entering the classroom. … I was transferred to a new school, closest to our home… It was there I got this brilliant, new teacher: Erna Stahl.
The teacher: “a gift that would last…”
Erna Stahl (1900–1980) was a reforming educator who worked at the Lichtwark School in Hamburg starting in 1928. When the Nazis completely revamped the education system in the Third Reich in 1933, Erna Stahl refused to obey them. “She made no attempt to hide her political convictions. She hoped that everyone would do the same thing, and that it would be possible to limit the damage of the National Socialists,” wrote one of her pupils, Karl Klasen, on the occasion of Erna Stahl’s 80th birthday in 1980. “Unfortunately, all too few thought as she did, and she was soon dismissed.”
Traute: It was very difficult to see through Hitler when he first came to power. Remember, the country was in chaos, in ruins. Then along came a man who said he would restore order and make Germany strong. Many people believed in him. … I don’t think I would have been so aware and able to see what was really going on without my teacher. She was 33 years old when the Nazis took over the country and she understood what all of it meant. She passed her insight on to us through a pedagogical practice that aimed at inspiring independent thought. She woke me up at any rate. I had been a dreamer earlier. Her teaching was a gift that would last my whole life.
I hadn’t liked going to school at all before because it was boring, and so I was constantly rebelling… In Erna Stahl’s class, there was no need for defiance. There was a completely different kind of attitude among the pupils and real engagement from the teachers, especially Erna Stahl. She taught us the history of art and culture, general history, and literature. …
There was a very gifted boy in our class who later became a painter. In spite of his talent, he was never able to talk about anything in a way that made any sense because it all came out in stutters and sounded confusing. One time when we were adults and we were speaking together, he suddenly began to describe a cathedral we had visited during one of our trips with Erna Stahl’s class. He conjured forth pictures of light shining through the stained glass windows, the dust playing in the air, and the solemn, devout atmosphere. Suddenly he paused and said: “Isn’t that the way it is? You never really see things again the way you did as a fourteen-year-old. At that age the images make a deep and lasting impression.” It was at that impressionable age that I met Erna Stahl. …
Erna Stahl was inspired by Waldorf (Steiner) pedagogy… and made liberal use of some elements from Waldorf. The fact that she also had read Rudolf Steiner was something I found out later. I am the only one who continued with anthroposophy later in life. As a matter of fact I started reading The Philosophy of Freedom shortly after I left the school. I tried to get Hans [Scholl] interested in anthroposophy, but he wanted no part of it!
Instruction in the arts was a critical part of our education at the school. We went out and watched Christmas plays at a Waldorf school in the neighborhood. Erna Stahl tried to inspire us through literature and art. We read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. We attended the so-called “degenerate art” exhibition in Essen and saw paintings by Franz Marc, Vasily Kandinsky, and Emil Nolde. We also traveled to Berlin, and saw a performance of Faust … We were amazed. Why should all that art and all these books be banned? There really had to be something in them that was a threat to the authorities! Erna Stahl used art in her teaching to unveil unforeseen aspects of the world. For example, she used the paintings of Franz Marc as a basis for discussions of the nature of animals, about the horse, the lion. She was all in all an exceptional pedagogical talent and a strong and significant human being. …
After the war Erna Stahl herself characterized her principles and mission as a teacher with these words: “… The truth was that I had become convinced that there was a destructive, demonic denial of all human spiritual worth, especially in Germany, which could not be undone. I made a solemn pledge that, in the circles where I carried out my work, each and every minute, and with all the means I had at my disposal, I would work to create some kind of inner counterbalance to these destructive forces in my students.”As Traute pointed out, Erna Stahl gained some of her inspiration in her efforts to counter these destructive forces from Rudolf Steiner. As early as 1917, Steiner wrote about what was later to become the driving force and main ideological interest of the Nazis, the theory of the master race. “Someone who speaks of the ideal of race and nation and of tribal membership today is speaking of impulses which are part of the decline of humanity… Nothing is more designed to take humanity into its decline than the propagation of ideals of race, nation and blood.” [Rudolf Steiner, The Fall of the Spirits of Darkness, trans. Anna Meuss (Forest Row, UK: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), p.186.] This is precisely what Stahl believed she was witnessing all around her.
Traute: We had a short wave radio and were able to follow the Spanish civil war closely. This naturally led to discussions about what was wrong with Nazism and about freedom and the structure of society. If I were to single out just one of the sources that inspired opposition to the Nazis, it would be the exposure to the world of literature and art that Erna Stahl made possible. Later, when I went to Munich and met Hans Scholl, I introduced literary evenings that were modeled on the classes we attended with Erna Stahl. … The Scholl siblings were as used to that as I was.
Long Live Freedom! goes on to introduce each of the young people, the professor in Munich who joined them, the choices they made, the obscene “People’s Court” where they were tried, the abrupt first three executions, the tenuous survival of a few, saved by the war’s end.
DiMari Bailey has capably translated this story from the Norwegian, and she adds a helpful introduction:
I became acquainted with Peter Normann Waage during my years living and working in Norway… A committed philosopher, essayist, and anthroposophist, he is also a kind of peaceful warrior, so to speak, unafraid to speak truth whenever necessary. He believes in ideas and the power that they have in our lives. His work is inspirational and all encompassing… the perfect person to tell the story of Traute Lafrenz.
From the Author’s Preface
The small group of students who were known as the White Rose became an extraordinary example of German resistance against the Nazi regime. They spread leaflets that challenged the regime, painted slogans on walls around Munich, and systematically committed other types of non-violent resistance. The memory of who they were and what they did has not been erased by history. Remarkably, there is a growing interest in them that has only increased their significance. One member of the group, however, has almost entirely escaped attention: Traute Lafrenz (now Traute Lafrenz Page). She has, of course, been mentioned, but so far her own story and memories have remained untold.
Traute Lafrenz had a central role in the White Rose, but always just behind the frontline. She participated in everything except the writing and copying of the leaflets. An inspirational figure, she prepared and distributed leaflets. She kept track of everything and everyone while they were on the move, and made sure no trace was left behind that might reveal any of their activities. Her participation was critical, but it has not always received much attention. … Traute has absolutely refused to be called a hero, preferring instead to call herself a witness to history, her testimony based on participatory observation. …I first met Traute Lafrenz Page during a 1984 trip to Chicago. In 2003, she asked me whether I would be willing to write about her experiences with the White Rose. Of course I agreed. The people who founded the White Rose were rare and unique individuals able to withstand totalitarianism and utilize the many possibilities that non-violent resistance offers. To all outward appearances, they were the losers in these efforts, but the increasing interest in them demonstrates that they were victorious on a transcendent plane. As long as their memory is preserved, they will be an inspiration to people fighting for human dignity and insight, resisting all threats to those efforts, no matter what disguise those threats may assume.
This short book will inspire you, and would be a thoughtful gift to a young person. Our humanity is always being challenged, in ways new and old, and it is good to know how others have fought the human battle.
John Beck (email@example.com) is editor of being human.
“Please Duplicate and Pass Along”
From the Leaflets of the White Rose
1 Nothing is more shameful to a civilized nation than to allow itself to be “governed” by an irresponsible clique of sovereigns who have given themselves over to dark urges—and that without resisting. Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us can imagine the degree of shame that will come upon us and upon our children when the veil falls from our faces and the awful crimes that infinitely exceed any human measure are exposed to the light of day? If the German nation is so corrupt and decadent in its innermost being that it is willing to surrender the greatest possession a man can own, a possession that elevates
mankind above all other creatures, namely free will—if it is willing to surrender this without so much as raising a hand, rashly trusting a questionable lawful order of history; if it surrenders the freedom of mankind to intrude upon the wheel of history and subjugate it to his own rational decision; if Germans are so devoid of individuality that they have become an unthinking and cowardly mob—then, yes, then they deserve their destruction.
2 It is impossible to come to terms with National Socialism on an intellectual basis, because it is simply not intellectual. You cannot speak of a National Socialist ideology. If such a thing existed, you would be forced to try to defend or engage it on an intellectual basis. Reality offers us a completely different image. When the movement was still in embryonic form, it relied on deception of its fellow man. Even then, it was rotten to the core and could preserve itself only on the basis of constant lies. Hitler himself wrote in an early edition of “his” book—a book that is written in the most awful German I have ever read, despite which the nation of poets and thinkers have elevated it to the status of the Bible: “You would not believe how one must deceive a nation in order to rule it.”
3 But our present State is a dictatorship of Evil. “We’ve known that for a long time,” I can hear you say, “and it is not necessary for you to remind us of it once again.” So I ask you: If you are aware of this, why do you not stir yourselves? Why do you permit this autocrat to rob you of one sphere of your rights after another, little by little, both overtly and in secret? One day there will be nothing left, nothing at all, except for a mechanized national engine that has been commandeered by criminals and drunks. Has your spirit been so devastated by rape that you forget that it is not only your right, but your moral duty to put an end to this system?
4 Who has counted the dead, Hitler or Goebbels? Probably neither. Thousands fall every day in Russia. It is the time of harvest, and the reaper approaches the standing crops with all his energy. Mourning returns to the cottages of the homeland and no one is there to dry the tears of the mothers. But Hitler deceives the ones whose most precious possession he has stolen and driven to a senseless death.
Every word that proceeds from Hitler’s mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war. And when he names the name of the Almighty in a most blasphemous manner, he means the almighty evil one, that fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the stinking maw of hell and his might is fundamentally reprobate. To be sure, one must wage the battle against National Socialism using rational means. But whoever still does not believe in the actual existence of demonic powers has not comprehended by far the metaphysical background of this war.
Traute Lafrenz’ path went on, and so we are pleased to offer also a few reflections from some of the many whose lives she has touched in North America.
You had recently become the Director of Esperanza School when I first interviewed as a teacher there. You were an active, stylish woman who had a doctor’s keen diagnostic eye. (Now I would say you are sanguine, mercurial with a bit of Mars to make it all happen!) As Director, you were able to speak with people from the Chicago Public Schools, Department of Mental Health, as well as Chicago politicians. We had “his honor” Mayor Harold Washington at our Oberufer Play one year. You cultivated their interest and financial support and we went from having a grade school to a whole range of life: birth to old age with therapies and workshops.
The parents and children loved you! You made the contacts with the artists and teachers from Mexico, Germany, Emerson College, and Waldorf Institute in Detroit.
As an anthroposophic physician it was wonderful to be with you in the Monday Study Group at the Rudolf Steiner Branch. You told us about the early days and the group who studied and helped make the little house on Grant Place a dignified home for the Society. With other groups we held seasonal festivals and regional conferences. You also brought several eurythmy troupes to Chicago. This culminated when the national Society moved from New York to Chicago. After many years on the General Council you were asked to become General Secretary.
At one Council meeting in Fair Oaks we were standing together on the sunny lawn at coffee break. I noticed you were unusually quiet and asked if something was wrong. You said this was the date Hans and Sophie died. You told me that you tried not to dwell on these things but there were certain dates when these memories were especially strong. When we had an outbreak of lice at Esperanza you told me about your cellmate, a nun, who had very different spiritual views from yours. But the two of you had to pick the nits out of each other’s hair and snap them between your thumbnails.
It was a great victory when a grant came through for you to build a big bathtub at Esperanza. It was in the Therapy Room and was what passed for your office as well. You and your therapeutic eurythmy colleague named it your “ether lab.” It was such a great experience—an oil dispersion bath, massage table with wonderful oils, and at the end you could do therapeutic eurythmy with the children. The parents loved it when their children came home smelling so nice—they knew their child had seen Dr. Page that day.
When people would call and beg for interviews for articles or tv shows, you said they could come not to your lovely home and garden in the northern suburbs, but to the near west side in downtown Chicago. So they would enter your Therapy Room and learn about anthroposophy, eurythmy and Waldorf education before you would answer their questions about your experiences.
One other heroic deed you did was make a home for your husband and four children. You tried to start a Waldorf school but people seemed satisfied enough with their public school so you took your children to the Christian Community through their growing up years. Advent is a very busy time, yet you and your dedicated group of parents, priests and musicians would perform all three Oberufer plays in one day. What strong people you were and what a strong foundation for anthroposophy you built in Chicago!
Barbara Richardson, ever grateful.
Many years ago my wife Connie and I were asked to come to Chicago by the Starzinsky’s and Richardson’s to help with the Chicago Waldorf School. We were also new parents looking for an anthroposophical doctor. We were told to visit a doctor practicing at the Esperanza School—my first meeting with Traute Page. Traute gave our daughter Delia a thorough examination and then turned to both of us and asked. “Now why are you coming to Chicago?” We told her our story and she looked at both of us and said, “No, no, no, they have plenty of help here. You two stay in Cincinnati and start a school there.” I was dumbfounded since I had no pedagogical knowledge whatsoever. As fate would have it we now have a thriving school in Southwest Ohio partly because someone saw something in both of us that I never imagined.
We have kept our connection with visits to Chicago over the years and more recently to the Charleston area. Last summer we stopped by to visit while we were on vacation; we would stay for just a little while. Traute would have none of that and insisted we stay for tea and a bite to eat. We reminisced for a while and enjoyed the breeze off the wetlands near her front porch. I recall a silence fell upon us and I looked over at a well weathered face, wisps of white hair and clear eyes looking out into the world with love, curiosity and confidence. I realized as I drove off that this was the gift she gave me at every meeting.
Jack Michael, Cincinnati, Ohio
Traute Page was the family physician for our family starting in the 1950’s in Chicago. She had a small but light filled consultation room in her house. The first time I saw her I was a teenager and I had an episode of back pain. She greeted me coming from the garden with flowers in her hand. She promptly gave me my first anthroposophical injection—which worked! From her I first learned practical aspects of anthroposophical medicine, such as taking oral remedies, applying ointments and administering injections. She made it all seem very doable.
The medical office was just one part of her extensive anthroposophical activity. At that time in the absence of a “real” Waldorf school she gathered together interested teachers and artists and did a “Waldorf summer school.” Also in the summers she visited the biodynamic farm of the Zinniker family in Wisconsin and made grape jam that our family really appreciated. In the winter she invited everyone of the Christian Community to her house to sing the Kalevala song. For years she led the Esperanza School; we visited her there and she demonstrated how she massaged the children to help heal them.
My husband and I are now practicing anthroposophical doctors in Chicago, her home town. We often feel that our activity here was made easier by her having laid the ground work so many decades earlier. Thank you, Traute.
Andrea Rentea, MD
For over two decades, I worked at Esperanza School, many of those years working with Dr. Traute Page. She was always full of energy, attentive to each and every individual, with a positive attitude towards the numerous problems that arose. She acted out of the belief that each person has a place in this life and an important contribution to fulfill. She gave the same respect to each individual no matter how severely handicapped they were. She served as a role model for me to emulate. I learned a lot working with Dr. Page at Esperanza School as well as at the Rudolf Steiner Branch in Chicago, and I still do. I am proud to consider her my friend.
My reflections begin by marveling at the range of her interests, how she welcomed fresh insights, especially those with historical depth or of conceivable importance for the future, which I believe she had broadly in mind most of the time. I never thought of Traute as “settled.” As director of Esperanza School she was willing to give any seemingly good idea a chance to earn a place within the school’s therapeutic programs. Underlying her many activities and projects was imperturbable calm, an aptitude for finding value in our having together exercised an initiative and learned something in doing so. An excellent summarizer of a situation, Traute did not lavish words on a subject, she saved them, letting them fall how and as they came—naturally, as if from a long way off.
“Come gather round me, my merry choir. Like chestnuts roasting on the fire.” So speaks the Starsinger opening the Oberufer Shepherds Play, a role brilliantly played by Dr. Traute Page in one of the Esperanza School productions for our community—one of my favorite memories of her. So many of us have had the great fortune to gather round Traute’s warmth of heart, humor, and wisdom. She generously gives to the world of her deep reverence for life and what it means to be a human being.
While busily raising four children in the early 1960s, she created a parent study group in the neighborhood, my mother being one of the participants. The study material was The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy. Along with other anthroposophists in the area, Traute organized a Waldorf-inspired summer program for young children in Evanston which I attended along with some of my school friends. I remember loving to learn to play the recorder! This little program was a seed that took root, for the founding of the now-thriving Chicago Waldorf School. I have no memory of Traute then, so I am grateful that our paths would cross again at the Waldorf Institute of Detroit where I was completing teacher training and she was a visiting lecturer, and that she hired me for my first teaching position. Dr. Page became Director of Esperanza School in 1972 and remained for twenty-five years.
We were an amazingly diverse group of students and faculty. Publicly funded, the school served children and adults with special needs from underserved neighborhoods in a curative educational setting. Mainstreaming had not yet begun in the public schools. Dr. Page was a deeply admired leader, as she creatively and respectfully served the students and families that she so loved. Her patience with the many young teachers who thought they knew it all was exemplary. She guided the co-working group with humor, perspective, and diplomacy. Perhaps she loved her work with the children as school doctor most of all. In a recent visit in South Carolina, it was a joy to experience how her life flows on in the family circle of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Thanks to the support of her daughter, Dr. Renee Meyer, Waldorf education is taking root in the Acorn Preschool of Charleston, SC. Traute’s devotion to anthroposophy and Waldorf education continues to flow.
Dr. Page is a wellspring of wisdom, inspiration, and joy. I see Traute as one who carries the inspiration of the Star that leads the way to the best in humanity. And, like the Starsinger with the star scissors, she carries that brave Star along. God bless her for that!
Christine Culbert , with love and gratitude
Traute, friend of 50+ years, here is a little remembrance that is simply a large part of you. Once years ago we stopped at a market for a few staples. You headed for the garden section. When I caught up with you, there you were at the end of a long row of beautiful, thriving plants of all kinds. I asked what you had found and you turned holding up the most bedraggled, limp, nearly dead plant saying, “I’ll take this one, they’ll just throw it away.” Of course you would choose that one! Whoever could think otherwise? Happy 100th birthday! Love, Judith
Judith Pownall Gerstein