Traute Lafrenz, the last survivor of the White Rose resistance movement against Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and his grip over Germany, has died. The courageous medical student who became an activist survived imprisonment and evaded execution. She was 103.
Though the Hamburg-born activist died Monday at her home in Meggett, South Carolina, the White Rose historical foundation announced her death Thursday, according to The Guardian. Her son, Michael Page, confirmed her death to The New York Times on Friday.
The White Rose was one of the most renowned anti-Hitler movements in Nazi Germany. Its most distinguished members, leaders Christoph Probst and Hans and Sophie Scholl, were beheaded for treason at the Stadelheim prison in Bavaria in 1943.
Lafrenz met Hans Scholl in the summer of 1941, The Guardian reported. When she spotted an anti-war leaflet as a medical student at Munich University the next year, she recognized he was involved by its quotes, which included the words of Lao Tzu, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller and Aristotle, according to the Times.
These pamphlets were distributed across campuses until 1943 in hopes of sparking a revolution. The first said that no one would be able to imagine “the degree of shame” that would befall “every honest German” when the Nazis’ “awful crimes” finally came to light.
The second pamphlet condemned the genocide of 300,000 Jews “in the most bestial manner imaginable,” an undeniably “terrible crime against the dignity of mankind, a crime that cannot be compared with any other in the history of mankind,” according to the Times. Postwar estimates put the number of Jews eventually killed in the Holocaust at 6 million.
Lafrenz not only distributed these pamphlets, of which six are known, but helped the group acquire ink to print them. She was hopeful, like many of her peers, that open rebellion would follow the German Army’s defeats at Stalingrad in 1942 and 1943. It never did.
“We will not keep silent,” read the fourth of the group’s six leaflets, according to the Times. “We are your guilty conscience. The White Rose will not let you alone.”
The movement fell apart when the Scholls were arrested while distributing flyers on Feb. 18, 1943, after a Munich University janitor, Jakob Schmid, alerted the Gestapo. They were executed four days later, joining about 5,000 other German resisters who were put to death.
Lafrenz was arrested in March and spent the rest of the war behind bars, the Times reported. The beheadings, in which Hitler reintroduce the guillotine, didn’t stop until January 1945. Lafrenz survived because the Allies liberated the prison before she was tried.
Lafrenz immigrated to the United States after completing her medical studies and married an eye doctor named Vernon Page. She had four children, and when the family moved to Chicago, she ran the Esperanza Therapeutic Day School for disadvantaged kids.
Lafrenz, whose husband died in 1995, would move one last time — and spent the rest of her life in South Carolina. On her 100th birthday on May 3, 2019, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier awarded Lafrenz the Order of Merit — one of the highest civilian honors.
Lafrenz “belonged to the few who, in the face of the crimes of national socialism, had the courage to listen to the voice of her conscience and rebel against the dictatorship and the genocide of the Jews. She is a heroine of freedom and humanity,” he said, according to an account in the Times.
Trauate Lafrenz is survived by her sons Michael and Thomas, daughters Renee and Kim, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.