Traute Lafrenz Fought Nazi Propaganda During WWII, Germany Just Bestowed Her With Its Highest Honor

Nazi flag brandenburg gate
The White Rose fought Nazi propaganda in Germany. Many paid for it with their lives. Getty Images

The last surviving member of the White Rose, an underground anti-Nazi resistance group during World War II, has been awarded the German Order of Merit.

On Twitter Friday, the German Foreign Office announced the award had been given to Traute Lafrenz, 100, in recognition of her "courage to stand up to the Nazis' crimes" during the Third Reich. It is the highest honor bestowed on civilians by the German government.

Traute Lafrenz is the last survivor of the White Rose resistance group. She is one of the few people who had the courage to stand up to the Nazis´ crimes. Consul General Heike Fuller presented the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany to Traute Lafrenz today

— GermanForeignOffice (@GermanyDiplo) May 3, 2019

The White Rose consisted mainly of University of Munich students who covertly distributed leaflets around the country opposing the Nazi regime. Combining fierce anti-government writings with philosophical disquisition, the students wrote of the high calling to "topple National Socialism."

"Our present "state" is the dictatorship of evil," one such pamphlet declared. "Why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanized state system presided over by criminals and drunks?"

In front of the university's main entrance at Geschwister-Scholl-Platz, a memorial was installed to commemorate the distribution of the group's leaflets. The memorial, created by Robert Schmitt-Matt in 1988, is designed to look like a flurry of White Rose pamphlets had just been scattered about.

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A memorial in front of the University of Munich imagines that a flurry of White Rose leaflets has just been distributed. Adam Jones / Creative Commons

After finishing her secret primary education in the late 1930s, Lafrenz went to Munich to study medicine, according to an interview with the German newspaper Bild. At the University of Munich, she met Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell, leaders of the nascent White Rose group.

As she told Bild, Lafrenz helped distribute White Rose leaflets around campus and brought the group's material to other cities like Vienna and Hamburg. Her friends and fellow resisters were caught distributing material and were put on trial before being executed in 1943. Lafrenz attended their funeral despite it being surveilled by SS officers. In April of that same year, she was imprisoned and put on trial.

Even though she played a critical role in getting out the group's counter-Nazi message, Lafrenz minimized her importance to the group.

"I am just a contemporary witness," she told Bild. "Given the fates of the others, I am not allowed to complain."

The University of Munich has a permanent exhibition devoted to the stories of the White Rose dissidents. According to its website, the exhibition is "a central place to commemorate the history of the White Rose students' resistance."

After Germany's defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943, a White Rose leaflet lamented the "330,000 German men [who] have senselessly and irresponsibly [been] driven to death and destruction."

"The name of Germany is dishonored for all time if German youth does not finally rise, take revenge, and atone, smash its tormentors, and set up a new Europe of the spirit," the leaflet proclaimed. "Students! The German people look to us."