Christoph Probst

Since 1993 we have been allowed to bear the name Christoph-Probst-Gymnasium Gilching, in remembrance of a leading member of  the White Rose resistance movement against the Nazis and as a warning to all members of our school not to forget the fight for human rights and against injustice of every kind.

The pride and the seriousness with which parents, teachers and students take the name of our school as an obligation, is for example shown by many speeches held by relatives of Christoph Probst and by former members and friends of the White Rose, by the book "…damit Deutschland weiterlebt", and by a bronze statue which was created by Brigitte Renner, a former arts teacher at our school, who was permanently advised by Christoph Probst’s widow. Today the statue decorates our school  at a striking place.

During the 25th anniversary celebrations of our school in April 2000 Christoph Probst’s companions like his widow and other resistance fighters of the White Rose met and exchanged their remembrances of this extraordinary person. This was maybe the last chance, to gather so many witnesses for conversation.

His youth

Christoph Probst was born on November 6th 1919 - one year after the end of World War I and the establishment of the first German democracy. The first years of the Weimar Republic were characterized by economic shortages and political fights, with their climax in the year 1923. This year was marked by the „Ruhrkampf“ against France, heavy inflation and in Munich by Hitler's Beerhall putsch on November 9th . Christoph’s hometown Murnau, 80 kms south of Munich, was also involved in the riots and soon became a stronghold of National Socialism in Upper Bavaria. The family of the private scholar Hermann Probst was never touched by local politics and SA-parades, but like many contemporary intellectuals they stayed distanced to the political upheavals.

On the whole, the influence of Christoph’s parents on his personal development must not be underestimated. As an all-round educated private teacher, who had specialized in Asian culture, his father promoted Christoph’s intellectual development and his striving for knowledge through intellectual confrontation, which later helped him to upkeep his independent thinking despite difficult circumstances.

He had a very good relation to his mother, because he did not attend a public school in the first year, but was home-schooled by her. So he got more chances to ask his questions than the other children at school, which surely helped him to develop his critical character.

As his parents were divorced when he was very young, Christoph grew up at several places, where he lived with his father or mother respectively.  During that time politics did not mean anything to Christoph and his sister Angelika although the NSDAP got more and more popular until 1933. They concentrated on their family, playing, hiking in the mountains and had an intensive experience of nature.

During his time at grammar school  Hitler and the Nazis destroyed democracy and created their inhumane dictatorship. An essential help to the dictatorship was the Hitlerjugend (HJ: Nazi Youth Organisation for boys), which very soon replaced the other youth associations and in which all German youths had to participate from 1936 onwards. Through group meetings, paramilitary training and vacation camps boys (and girls in the Bund Deutscher Mädel) were distanced from their parents and made enthusiastic about Hitler and National Socialism. In the beginning Christoph Probst was also influenced by the HJ when he attended the independent boarding-school (Landschulheim) in Marquartstein in the Bavarian Alps and had to get member of the HJ.

Roland Klein, his teacher in Marquartstein, decribes Christoph (then 13 to 14)as an unusually intelligent student who was very sympathetic. Klein appreciated his student because of his openminded character towards other students and his cheerfulness. So Christoph never seemed depressed to him, not even in the difficult times later. Although Christoph never placed himself into the foreground, Klein recognized his self-confidence and lack of fear. That is why he called the sport of fencing typical for Christoph as you need adroitness, agility and accuracy of aim.

Later Christoph was one of few young people who were able to avoid participation in the HJ: as he changed school to Munich he was able to shake off his membership, and also when he attended another Landschulheim at Schondorf (50 kms west of Munich) he kept away from the HJ, but participated in some activities to avoid being an outsider in the boarding school. Finally he had to pay 7.50 marks of contribution fees  to get his final A-level certificate (Abiturzeugnis) in 1937.

But he could not totally avoid the HJ: in one of his letters he described his visit to the 1936 party rally (Reichsparteitag) at Nuremberg. On his way he wanted to visit his mother and his stepfather and so he used the time for astronomy, his hobby. A letter shows that he wasn’t really impressed by the party rally as he said that the  rally was boring, but that he had a nice time with his mother and at the observatory. So conversation, reading and searching for silence were more important to Christoph than parades and the chaos at the party rally which he mentioned only by the way in this letter.

When Christoph went to school in Munich in 1935 he met his friend and later fellow-combatant Alexander Schmorell. Alex and Christoph  were intellectually and mentally close and shared their hobbies like hiking in the mountains and skiing. In one of his letters Christoph wrote about a development of an unbreakable friendship. So it isn’t surprising that Alexander Schmorell was witness to Christoph’s marriage with Herta Dohrn and godfather of his second son Vincent. Later when both of them were soldiers, they practised the same hobby: fencing.

During this time at Schondorf he actively participated in the life at boarding-school and looked after the younger students. On the one hand he complained about the total planning of his life which kept him away from astronomy, but on the other hand those duties were very important for him to avoid being an outsider in the school community which he had entered very late. Maybe lacking an adult and intellectual conversation partner in the family because of his father’s early death, he found replacement with his teacher. Berhard Knoop, later his brother in law. Knoop said that is why he was accepted as an equal conversation partner more than a student. The certificate of character which every student has received in addition to his final certificate in Schondorf until today comfirms this estimation:

".... the adults appreciated his knowledge from the very first day, while some of his companions did not recognize his character  so quickly...“

The just mentioned qualities, the intellectual happiness of life and self-confident ability to judge obviously disagree with the ideal characteristics of a young Nazi.

Christoph Probst as a husband, father, and student of medicine

 Christoph Probst was the only member of the White Rose who married early, when he was 21, maybe because of his bad experiences as his parents divorced and he wanted a working family life. Herta Dohrn, his wife, also came from a family who was critical about the system: her brother had to escape from the Gestapo (secret state police) and her father was shot by the Nazis in Munich shortly before the end of  World War II in April 1945.

Herta and Christoph had two small sons. Many pictures with his wife, his children and his grandmother show, how Christoph enjoyed his family life. Sophie Scholl told about a visit at Christoph’s house in the mountains: „He was holding his two-year-old son in his arms and looked like banned with magic at his child's face.“

The family got a young Ukrainian woman called Olga to work in the house, who – despite being a forced labourer - was accepted in the family and who had a good relationship to them. In January 1943 Herta and Christoph got their third child.

After 1933 the system of universities soon became a basis and stronghold for the Nazi government with only very few critical university lecturers, who were able to keep their jobs after the so-called Gleichschaltung (elimination of oppositional groups). For example the chemist Heinrich Wieland and Kurt Huber, the mentor of the White Rose, were some of those lecturers at Munich university.

In 1939 after his obligatory army service Christoph Probst started to study medicine in Munich. There he met  Hans Scholl at Alexander Schmorell’s house (both were members of a student company and were frontline soldiers during their university holidays) and got to know the later resistance fighters. Later Christoph had to change universities and continued his studies in the occupied Strasbourg and from 1942 onwards he studied in Innsbruck. There it was very difficult to live as he missed his family and his friends to discuss the latest news with them. In the February of 1943 he wrote:

„It is not that simple to live in Innsbruck. I’m missing a friend as there are many thing you can’t stand alone without talking.“

So he stayed in contact with his family and his friends and used every possibility to meet them.

War

After a war of conquest and destruction almost all of Europe and making it "free of Jews“ the eastern front stopped moving in the winter of 1942/1943 near the Soviet city of Stalingrad. Almost 300. 000 German soldiers were surrounded by the Red Army. In January the German troops had to surrender after numerous casualties. 100.000 soldiers were killed and 91.000 were taken as prisoners of war by the Soviets.

The defeat which made the Germans withdraw brought about a change of the general opinion. The degree of agreement which Hitler had enjoyed at the zenith of his power in the summer of 1942 decreased more and more. The crisis of the regime was also to be sensed during a protest by students of the university of Munich. The protest was a reaction to a speech held by the Gauleiter (Party leader) Giesler in front of students in January 1943: „In those times the female students should have children instead of  hanging around on the campus.“. Maybe his aides could give a „wonderful experience“ to the uglier of the girls. Those sentences led to the maybe biggest scandal at a German university: many students wanted to leave the hall but were not allowed and were arrested. After some riots they were allowed to leave.

Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf had been sent to Poland to the Soviet front in 1942. There they closely experienced the atrocities of war and the holocaust which strengthened their resistance.

As a married father of two children Christoph Probst did not have to go to the front, but served in a different company: he was stationed in a military hospital of the air force near Garmisch. But he knew about the atrocities of war as he had heard much about it from his friends.

The beginning of the White Rose

Hans and Sophie Scholl's father Robert was mayor of the village of Forchtenberg near Ulm until 1930. Their mother Magdalena was a Lutheran nurse. In 1932 the family moved to Ulm. Hans Scholl was educated to act on his own and was a very thoughtful, critical but also law-abiding person. In the first years after 1933, Hans was the perfectly ideal Nazi and an enthusiastic member of the HJ. He was very proud of being allowed to carry the banner as group leader at an NSDAP- party rally. But he came back from this party rally changed and could not praise the  Nazis any longer and distanced himself from the HJ.

He studied medicine at Munich University. There he was - like his friends - a member of the medicine student company, that meant in an emergency they could  be sent to one of the theatres of war like an ambulance. Hans soon became the leading member of the White Rose.

Sophie Scholl was born  in 1921. She was also very thoughtful and striving for justice, but she was also often very cheerful and loved fun. After finishing school she studied biology and philosophy in Munich. During the war she had to do her compulsory labour service in an ammunition factory. She discussed politics and joined the White Rose.

Fritz Hartnagel , a very good friend of Sophie Scholl's. regularly exchanged letters with her. As Fritz  was an officer keeping up their friendship was very difficult during the war. They met in 1942 for the last time. Fritz  was injured and evacuated in one of the last airplanes from Stalingrad. Her last letter to Fritz was written by Sophie six days before her death. After the war Fritz studied law and cared especially about the war-victims.

The Scholls and their friends participated in the passive resistance against the Nazis by reading forbidden authors for example Thomas Mann, Werner Bergengruen or Paul Claudel. The Scholls and their friends were shocked about the events of 9th November 1938, when the SA destroyed most of the German synagogues and shops owned by Jews.

The lecturer Kurt Huber from Munich University supported the friends, who named their group of resistance probably after the book La Rosa Bianca by B. Traven, in which a small Mexican hazienda is destroyed by the machinations of an oil company. Kurt Huber supported the members with their thoughts and actions and wrote texts for the leaflets.

In addition to publishing anti-Nazi texts and leaflets the members did some other active resistance. They collected bread for the prisoners of the Konzentrationslager (concentration camps) and looked after their relatives. They refused contributions for NS-organisations.

Step by step, the White Rose had developed into a network of connections mainly in Munich and in Hamburg. In Munich there were over 80 informal members and supporters, in Hamburg about 50. Hans Scholl had connections to Falk Harnack, the leader of the Communist Rote Kapelle resistance group.

At the zenith of the German war victories in the summer of  1941 Hans Scholl got the last impulse for his will to resist: he heard of the sermons of Bishop Clemens August Earl of Galen from Münster who claimed criminal charges for the killing of mentally retarded people. Hans’s reaction was: „At last someone is brave enough to speak out ... We should have a duplicating apparatus.“

Inge Aicher-Scholl, his sister explained why the students were motivated for resistance: 

„The trust and the hope in God could give them the necessary energy. I’m convinced of the Christian attitude of all of them."

Even for Christoph Probst, who was baptized only on the day of his execution,  that was the main motivation. At a remembrance ceremony in 1946 his sister Angelika even talked about a purely religious motivation for his resistance:

„Christoph is not to be described with the words „fighter for freedom“ or „revolutionary“. Naturally he was no political person. He only seemed to be one, as everything that stood against him or that he disapproved mentally and lived against was concentrated in politics. So his fight against them was more religious than political.

Later historical research, however, has proved that statement wrong and clearly found ou a great number of political motives.

Hans Scholl started his leaflet actions in the summer of 1942 and soon his friends participated. The leaflets of the White Rose were produced in hiding-places in Munich. For example the friends used a backstreet studio. The leaflets were typed on a type-writer on matrixes and then produced with a duplication machine. Machines, papers, matrixes envelopes and stamps were financed with charity and the own money. Fritz Hartnagel gave 1000 Reichsmark. To avoid suspicion the materials were bought in different shops all over Munich. The leaflets were also published in many big towns in Germany and Austria and in parts of England, Sweden and Norway.

The First leaflet was published in July 1942 with a circulation of 100, which were produced by Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell and Christoph Probst. The text begins like this: „A cultural nation can’t give itself to a group of powerful people without resistance.“ Some people who got these leaflets obeyed the law and took them to the police. Some found the involvement against Hitler good. They followed the request to copy the leaflets and give them to other people. The friends were in great danger because of their work. They kept their actions with the White Rose secret from their families to avoid bringing danger to them.

These leaflets, which were distributed in houses and sent by mail, disquieted the Gestapo very strongly:

„The content of the leaflets is very subversive... the author has not been found yet. The Munich police are informed.“

In July 1942 the student company was ordered to Russia and Sophie had to do auxiliary service in an armaments factory for six months. Until the end of 1942 three other leaflets were published to inform the population about the Wehrmacht (army) and the SS, and demand resistance. The texts of the leaflets elucidated the meaninglessness of the National Socialism and the stupidity of the contemporary German leaders.

In the beginning of 1943 the leaflet with the title ”Appeal to all Germans“ (Aufruf an alle Deutschen) was published by the White Rose. It demanded the abolition of imperialism and militarism as well as the reintroduction of a constitutional state in Germany with the help of the other European countries. 1000 copies of this leaflet were sent around in Germany always with the request to copy them again. Important contents were sentences like "The war will surely come to an end“, "Hitler cannot win the war he can just prolong it“ or "Decide before it is too late“.

The defeat near Stalingrad on 2nd February 1943 made the members of the White Rose publish their sixth leaflet. This leaflet had a circulation of more than 3.000 copies and was sent by mail all around in Germany. In the nights to the 3rd, 5th and 15th February the friends painted slogans like „freedom“ and „away with Hitler“ on the walls of the university. On 18th February the Scholls decided to distribute the leaflets during the lectures at university. This action was not coordinated with the other members and did not agree with their normal way of acting. They took a big suitcase filled with leaflets and put them down in front of the lecture halls and on window sills. Shortly before the end of the lectures they threw a big number of leaflets into the main hall but the caretaker saw them and called the Gestapo so that they were arrested.

Christoph Probst had been  supposed not to be integrated that much in order to avoid bringing danger to his family. But he  very often took part in the meetings in Munich and appealed to himself to act. At a meeting on a summer evening in 1942 he said as Inge Aicher-Scholl remembers:

"We have to do it. We have to show our attitude by devotion that it isn’t the end of freedom for the people. We have to risk this „no“ against a power which raises itself  above all people and which wants to kill all resistance fighters. We have to do it for life’s sake. This responsibility can’t be taken away by anyone else. National Socialism is the name of a mental illness which has infected our people. were must not look at it dying slowly.“

With contributing to the leaflets Christoph played an important role, too,  but he held back from the final activity until the end. The defeat near Stalingrad made him get rid of that reserve and to create an own leaflet:

„Stalingrad
200, 000 brothers have been sacrificed for the prestige of a military impostor. The human conditions of surrender were kept secret from 
the sacrificed soldiers. Now the blood of 200.000 men claims criminal charge against Hitler. And do you want to be lied at like the 200.000 men who defended Stalingrad ?...

Hitler and his political system have to fall that Germany can survive. Decide for Stalingrad and destruction, or for Tripolis and a hopeful future. When you have decided do act. ...“

He sent the leaflet to Hans. After the Scholls had been taken prisoners the Gestapo found it in their flat. Hans wanted to destroy the leaflet and tore it to pieces which he couldn’t destroy anymore. So the Gestapo were able to find out the author very easily.

So it was just a matter of time until Christoph was taken into custody when he wanted to visit his ill wife Herta. He had applied for holiday when he was arrested and transferred to Munich on February 19th 1943.

Lawsuit, judgment and execution

After arresting him the Gestapo questioned him and reconstructed his leaflet.

”Christoph Probst under political arrest asked about the text of his script answered the following: Because of the documents - type writing, photocopy of the original leaflet - given to me I’m able to reconstruct this:

... I managed to reconstruct the text as well as possible. I don’t want to say any other word. Christoph Probst.“

Despite being arrested Christoph was very optimistic and did not even think about being executed which finally was the case. In a letter he wrote to his mother:

"By misfortune I am in a very uncomfortable situation. I don’t lie if I tell you that I’m fine and that I’m very relaxed. The treatment is allright and life in prison is so that I am not afraid of being arrested for a long time ... I’m only worried about you,  my wife and the small children...“

On February 22nd 1943 after the police examinations the lawsuit against Christoph Probst, Hans and Sophie Scholl took place. The judge was the notorious Roland Freisler who came especially for this lawsuit from Berlin which shows the significance the White Rose was given to by the Nazis. In his trial Christoph tried to convince the judges that he had written the leaflet under psychotic depressions to get extenuating circumstances: he said that both the drama of Stalingrad, the political and military situation and his personal problems and family affairs had made him write this leaflet. Because of his family it was important to him to save his head instead of proudly being executed.

Unfortunately his strategy was not successful. Although Hans Scholl had tried to protect him, Probst was sentenced to death like the Scholls.  The reason was as the jugdes said:

"The defendants have appealed for the sabotage of armament and striking down the National Socialistic way of life of our people and insulted our Führer (Hitler) very badly and so helped the enemy of our land and brought damage to our army by publishing leaflets during the war.

Therefore they were sentenced to d e a t h.“

About Christoph Probst they said:

"He is an unpolitical person, so no real man! Neither the solicitude of the National Socialist state for his education nor the fact that only the National Socialist population policy made it possible for him to have a family while being a student obstructed from writing a script for Hans Scholl, which used the heroic fight of  Stalingrad to call the Führer a con man...

Who traits... our inner front and so during the war our army and so helps the enemy... threatens our land. This is also correct for Probst who claims that this script was not supposed to become a leaflet, but that does not conform with the printings on the script...

If actions like those are not punished with the capital punishment, this would be the beginning of the end like in 1918.“

On the same day Christoph Probst and the Scholls were executed under the guillotine in a Munich prison. Before their execution they got the chance to write to their relatives. Those were not allowed to receive the letters, they were only allowed to read them in the presence of the Gestapo. So we are dependent on minutes from memory. Christoph wrote to his mother:

"Thank you for spending life to me. If I think about it it was the only way to God... My only sorrow is the pain I bring to you. Don’t cry because it would bring pain to me forever.

I've just heard that I’ve got only one hour to live. Now I’m going to be baptized and to receive the Holy Communion. If I’m not able to write another letter send greeting to everyone I love and tell them that my death was easy and happy.“

And to his sister Angelika:

"I didn’t know that dieing was so easy. I die without any hatred. Soon I’ll be closer to you than ever before. I’ll wait for you.“

 (c) Benedikt Schubert (2000) und Peter Schubert (2013)