UC Santa Barbara > History Department | Courses > Faculty > Prof. Marcuse > Projects > White Rose > George Wittenstein page
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George Wittenstein & his wife Christel Bejenke

George Jürgen Wittenstein (1919-2015)

A Resistant German's Journey
from Beilstein Castle to Santa Barbara

page by Harold Marcuse
(professor of German history at UC Santa Barbara)
Harold Marcuse homepage

created August 18, 2010, updated 9/27/2015

2010 Reunion
Literature and Links
White Rose Links

  • October 11, 2015, 3-5pm: a memorial service will be held at the SB Museum of Natural History (see announcement a few lines below for more information).
  • Sept. 27, 2015: With thanks to Nemone Wittenstein-Helmling I have added some information about Jürgen Wittenstein's first wife Elisabeth Hartert and their children.
  • Dr. Wittenstein passed away on June 14, 2015, at the age of 96. Read his full-page obituary in the July 9, 2015 Santa Barbara Independent [link fixed 9/19/15], written by his wife Christel Bejenke, along with Professor Elisabeth Weber and staff writer Jean Yamamura.
    A memorial service will be held on October 11, 2015, 3-5pm at the SB Museum of Natural History.
    • Christel J. Bejenke and the other Wittenstein family members invite friends, relatives and colleagues to a gathering taking place in Santa Barbara on Sunday, October 11, 2015, from 3 to 5 PM, at the auditorium of the Museum of Natural History. This will be a beautiful occasion for anyone touched by George's many-faceted life in some manner to meet in grief and respect for his memory, but also to share biographical tidbits, anecdotes and stories about the encounters they had with George in the diverse realms of interest of this truly energetic Renaissance Man.
    • Please contact me at marcuse@history.ucsb.edu if you did not receive an invitation but wish to attend.

Introduction (back to top)

  • The year I was hired to teach at UC Santa Barbara, 1992, an exhibition and conference about the anti-Nazi resistance group known as the White Rose was held at UCSB. At that time I made the acquataintence of Dr. George Wittenstein, who as a medical student in early 1940s Munich was friends with several of the protagonists of what was to become the White Rose resistance group. George, before his emigration in 1947 known as Jürgen, was an amateur photographer, who also photographed his friends. Whenever you see photos of the members of the White Rose, they are most likely George's.
  • After meeting with George at various occasions over the years, in August 2010 I created this page to collect links to the various internet sources about George. The occasion for making this page was his August 3, 2010 "reunion" with Esther and Nat Berkowitz, two Jewish-Polish teenagers he helped in 1939. After knowing nothing of each other's fate for over 70 years, sleuthing initiated by George's wife led to the discovery of those "teenagers" (now 83 and 88) living in New York. That event has a separate section, below (2010 reunion section).

Occasional News Items (back to top)

  • June 14, 2015: I was just informed by a family member that Dr. Wittenstein passed away peacefully today. May we all honor a life well lived.
  • Aug. 30, 2014: My article on commemorations of the White Rose, "Remembering the White Rose: German Assessments, 1943-1993," has been translated into French by Natalie Harman, a graduate of the University of Amsterdam: "Se souvenir de la Rose Blanche: Les évaluations allemands, 1943-1993." We had some discussion of the quality of this translation, which is not dissimilar to what google translate produces.
  • June 2012: Student Naomi Hill won second place in the National History Day video competition with her 10 minute film "The Legacy of the White Rose," which contains footage from a skype interview Naomi conducted with George Wittenstein at Vista del Monte in Santa Barbara.
  • Feb. 18, 2013: this is the 70th anniversary of the Scholl siblings last distribution of leaflets at Munich University. Among the commemorative news articles, one in the JTA: "Op-Ed: Lessons today from Sophie Scholl’s anti-Nazi resistance," by Jud Newborn (co-author of the 2006 book Sophie Scholl and the White Rose).
    "In a nationwide TV competition to choose the Top 10 most important Germans of all time, German voters chose Sophie and Hans Scholl for fourth place -- beating out Goethe, Gutenberg, Bach, Bismarck, Willy Brandt and Albert Einstein."

Timeline (back to top)

  • 1918: Jürgen Wittenstein's parents were married. They are:
    • Oskar Jürgen Wittenstein, a test pilot (the first person to fly an airplane in Bavaria). His book about Kantian philosophy, Von der Macht des Verstandes oder von der menschlichen Freiheit, was published posthumously in 1921. He was supposed to take over his father's dyeing company, and studied chemistry, philosophy and music in Munich, as well as taking flying lessons in France. He invented the halbstarres Luftschiff, a cross between a blimp and a zeppelin (dirigible). (Oscar Wittenstein German Wikipedia page)
    • Elisabeth Vollmöller (born 1887), daughter of successful textile entrepreneur Robert Vollmöller (German wikipedia page). She took over the Hohen Beilstein castle (German wikipedia page; today's winery website; panoramic view) upon her father's death, learned winemaking, and carried on and expanded her father's business (Vereinigte Trikotfabriken [R.] Vollmöller AG), later founding the Vollmöller Mode fashion company in Berlin. Her four brothers and two of her four sisters were prominent and accomplished in their own right. Her brother Hans Robert Vollmöller (1889-10 March 1917) was a pilot--the first man to fly a plane in Württemberg (Wikipedia Hans Robert Vollmöller page). He introduced his sister to her future husband Oskar Wittenstein. Another brother was the playwright Karl Vollmöller (1878-1948)(Wikipedia Karl Vollmöller page; the German version is much more detailed), who (among other things) wrote the screenplay for the 1930 film The Blue Angel, starring Marlene Dietrich. On Mathilde Vollmöller see this German wikipedia page; on Martha see p. 5 of this University of Tübingen pdf.
    • More information about their families is contained in these notes about a Jan. 2001 interview.
  • 1918: Jürgen Wittenstein's father died in a plane crash shortly before World War I ended in November, namely on September 3, 1918. He had only been married for four months.
  • 1919, April: Jürgen Wittenstein was born in Tübingen University hospital, which was not far from Beilstein, which is about 40 miles north of Stuttgart
  • ca. 1931-1937: Wittenstein attended the boarding school at Salem near Lake Constance (Bodensee), at first under the headmaster Kurt Hahn (1886-1974), a progressive Jewish educator who was arrested and held March 11-16, 1933 for speaking out against Hitler in the school. In July 1933 Hahn emigrated to Scotland, where he founded Gordonstoun school based on his Salem principles. In 1941 he founded Outward Bound, and in the 1950s he founded the United World Colleges. (wikipedia Hahn page; Outward Bound publication and bio). Hahn's principles and principled stance were a strong influence on Wittenstein.
  • 1937: Wittenstein graduated from high school (Gymnasium), completed 6 months of compulsory Reich Work Service, then two years of compulsory military service.
  • 1938:
    • Wittenstein met Alex Schmorell during their training in a hospital company (medical students were required to do this during the last 6 months of their compulsory military training)
    • Wittenstein met the Munich book seller Josef Söhngen, to whom he later introduced Hans Scholl. (In a third White Rose trial Söhngen was given a prison sentence for hiding leaflets in his cellar.)
  • 1939:
    • April. Wittenstein received a trip to the US as a birthday present from his mother. The trip was delayed until late in the summer, when his mother had to take a business trip to England, as she commonly did.
    • Aug. 23-25: Wittenstein's attempted passage from Hamburg to New York on the Hansa failed when the ship turned around before docking at Southhampton, England, where his mother was waiting to join him. He was taking a car for use on his "vacation" with him, a common practice at the time. However, he did not plan to return to Germany, and chose the most expensive GM car built in Germany because it would have a higher resale value in the US than German makes, since spare parts were readily available.
    • Aug. 26: Wittenstein used that car to drive Esther and Natan Berkowitz to Berlin, where he stayed for several days instead of heading to Belgium to attempt his passage/emigration to the US by another route.
    • Early Sept: By this time the war has broken out, making the passage impossible. His mother has flown to Zurich, and both returned home to Beilstein. In order to be allowed to study at Munich university, all students were required to absolve harvest service
    • October/November: Wittenstein began the study of medicine in Munich, where he became friends with Hellmut Hartert and Hartert's best friend Hans Scholl. They often went hiking from Hartert's home town of Bad Tölz south of Munich. Wittenstein introduced Schmorell to them; Schmorell brought along his friend Christoph Probst. Wittenstein has a 2-seater Ford Eifel Roadster car.
  • 1940: Wittenstein was posted to Prague for his summer military service
  • 1941: In June the popular professor Fritz Joachim von Rintelen "disappeared." Wittenstein and Remigius Nezter demand his whereabouts from the university president, then organize a public protest march of 50-80 students to the president's apartment.
  • 1942
    • Hubert Furtwängler and later Wolfgang Jaeger joined the group of medical student friends
    • June: resistance activities under the name "White Rose" begun by Alexander Schmorell and Hans Scholl, who wrote, duplicated and distributed 4 leaflets in a 16-day period
      • June 27: Leaflet 1 distributed (about 100 copies; 35 were turned in to the Gestapo)
      • Wittenstein looked over the third and fourth leaflets
      • July 12: Leaflet 4 distributed
    • July: Willi Graf (who met the 5 original medical student friends on the way to the Russian front), Christoph Probst (who was in the air force and at the University of Innsbruck), and Hans's younger sister Sophie Scholl learn about the leafleting activities
    • July 23: Graf, Scholl and Schmorell served as medics on the eastern front
    • Sept.: long train ride through the Soviet Union, during which Alex develops diphtheria
    • Nov. 6: they arrived back in Munich
    • Dec: Professor Kurt Huber told about the group's activities
      • Traute Lafrenz made contacts with a student group in Hamburg
      • Wittenstein has contacts in Berlin, whence he wanted bring leaflets
  • 1943
    • Jan. 13: Munich students disrupted a speech by Nazi Gauleiter at a lecture hall in the German Museum
    • Jan. 25-28-Feb: leaflet 5 distributed
    • Feb. 4, 8, 15: anti-Nazi slogans painted on 29, 2 and 4 public places in Munich [Moll 1994, 187f]; heightened activity after German 6th army surrendered at Stalingrad Feb. 4
      • Wittenstein painted slogans in the university's toilets with India ink
    • Feb. 18: Hans and Sophie arrested while distributing a 6th anti-Nazi leaflet
      • Based on the handwriting of a draft leaflet found in Hans' pocket, Christoph Probst is identified and arrested soon afterwards in Innsbruck.
      • Alex Schmorell, on his way to the university in a streetcar, learned that there is a lockdown there and fled.
    • Feb. 19: Wittenstein, who received the order that all medical students are to report to their barracks, learned that two students were arrested for resistance activities. He figures that they are Hans and Sophie Scholl. He convinces his commander that Schmorell didn't receive the order to report to the barracks and is allowed out to fetch him. He visits Alex's father in his office and leaves a message for Alex that he should use the prearranged escape route to Switzerland. (Instead, Alex tried to escape via a different route and had to turn back because of deep snow. He was turned in by someone in Munich who recognized him trying to enter an air-raid shelter.)
    • Feb. 21: Wittenstein, who had coincidentally learned that Hans and Sophie were on trial, called their parents and told them that their children have been arrested and are on trial for high treason.
    • Feb. 22, Monday:
      • The Scholl siblings and Christoph Probst are tried in the "People's Court" (Volksgerichtshof), which was brought from Berlin to conduct this trial. This takes place in the Munich Palace of Justice
      • The trial is over around noon. At 4pm the convicted students are informed that they will not receive clemency. By 5pm Hans (24), Sophie (22), and Christoph Probst (24) are beheaded by guillotine.
      • Wittenstein himself is never put on trial because he was protected by his army commander (he learned this after the war). He was, however, interrogated by the Gestapo in November. Later he was brought before a court martial, accused of helping the Jewish mother of Hans Leipelt. To escape the jurisdiction of the Gestapo, he volunteered for service on the Italian front [Axelrod 2001, 25, 97; Wittenstein in Michalczek 2004, 207]
    • Feb. 24: Alex Schmorell returns to Munich and is arrested
    • Feb. 26: Prof. Kurt Huber is arrested
    • April 19: Second White Rose trial. 3 more death sentences (Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Kurt Huber) and 9 prison terms for other White Rose members:
      • Hans Hirzel, Susanne Hirzel, Franz Joseph Müller, Heinrich Guter, Eugen Grimminger, Heinrich Bollinger, Helmut Bauer, Falk Harnack, Gisela Schertling, Katharina Schüddekopf, Traute Lafrenz.
    • July 13: Alexander Schmorell (age 25) and Kurt Huber (age 49) are executed
      • A third White Rose trial takes place, against Wilhelm Geyer, Harald Dohrn, Josef Soehngen, and Manfred Eickemeyer. Gisela Schertling recanted her incriminating testimony, and only Soehngen received a sentence (6 months).
    • Oct. 12: Willi Graf (age 25) is executed
  • 1944
    • Oct. 13: Hans Leipelt, a "half-Jewish" chemistry student, is tried and sentenced to death. He was turned in for distributing copies of the 6th leaflet after the first trial, and collecting money to support the widow of Prof. Kurt Huber. He was executed on Jan. 29, 1945.
  • 1945
    • Cover, August 1947 Die LupeJürgen Wittenstein is wounded in Italy. He collects weapons from wounded soldiers and smuggles them to the Freedom Action Bavaria resistance group.
    • April 27: Freedom Action Bavaria uprising in Munich, the only successful military putsch against the Nazi regime
  • 1946: Jürgen married his first wife, Elisabeth Sophie Hartert, on his birthday (April 26th) in Heidelberg.
  • 1947: Wittenstein emigrates from Germany, via England. His wife was unable to obtain a visa until two years later.
    • He publishes an article about the White Rose, titled "Die Münchener Studentenbewegung" (The Munich Student Movement), in the newspaper Blick in die Welt (Hamburg). It is reprinted in the August 1948 issue of a digest of articles from other occupation zones in the US zone's monthly journal Die Lupe, pp. 33-41 (5 page pdf). For forty years, Wittenstein does not publish or speak about the White Rose--there is little public interest. He finally begins to speak again when the families of his other friends bring to his attention that there is an almost exclusive focus on the Scholl siblings.
  • 1948: Wittenstein immigrates to the US, where he attends Harvard medical school
  • 1953: Wittenstein co-writes an article, "Nebenniereninsuffizienz: Diagnose und Behandlung," which he translates into German for publication in a Swiss medical journal [hm: I searched the WorldCat database for GJW's publications, which yielded this one and his 1956 thesis]
    • In Denver, Colorado Wittenstein and his wife Elisabeth, now an anesthesiologist, have four children: Eva Deirdre, Nemone Elisabeth, William Andreas and Catharina Joyce
  • 1956: Wittenstein completes his thesis for his M.Sc. in surgery at the University of Colorado, Denver: The Dermatome Test: An Aid in the Diagnosis of the Acute Abdomen.
  • 1956: Wittenstein receives an academic appointment at the University of Colorado Medical Center
  • 1960: Dr. Wittenstein takes a position at the UCLA medical center. The Wittensteins purchase a property in Santa Barbara, where he helps to build the house in which he lived until the last years of his life. (He had enjoyed and practiced carpentry during his school years in Salem, Germany.)
  • 1964: Wittenstein corresponds with Hellmuth Auerbach of the Munich Institut für Zeitgeschichte about a transfer of documents.
  • 1966: Dr. Wittenstein's first wife Elisabeth dies of cancer on January 15.
    • Dr. Wittenstein marries Dr. Christel Bejenke, an anesthesiologist at UCLA medical center.
  • 1992: Wittenstein gives a short presentation at a White Rose symposion at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 1994 it is published as "The White Rose: Questions and Reflections," in Soundings, a journal published by the UC Santa Barbara library. (pdf)
  • 1993: Wittenstein presents a lecture "The White Rose" at a World War II conference at Siena College near Albany, New York in June.
  • 1994: Nat Berkowitz records interview with the Shoah Visual History Foundation, in which he mentions the man who helped him and his sister get from Hamburg to Berlin in August 1939
  • 1997: Dr. Wittenstein delivers lecture to the LA Jewish Federation, later published online as "Memories of the White Rose." (in 4 parts at historyplace.com)
  • 2000, March: interview with Andrea Übelhack, Eva Ehrlich and David Gall of haGalil online, published in July 2001 as "A Conversation with Jürgen Wittenstein: 'Someone Had to Do It'"
  • 2001:
    • Dr. Christel Bejenke, Wittenstein's second wife, begins research to find the teenagers George helped in 1939. She obtained the schedule of the Hansa in 1939, and then the passenger list for the August 1939 trip from Hamburg to New York.
  • 2002: Oral history of Dr. Wittenstein begun by UCSB oral historian David Russell (UCSB library page)
  • 2004: Wittenstein publishes an essay, "The White Rose: A Commitment," in: Confront! Resistance in Nazi Germany, edited by John J. Michalczyk (New York : P. Lang, 2004), 191-210. UCSB: DD256.3.C65 2004 (google books) (pdf)
  • 2007: Wittenstein Lecture Series inaugurated at UCSB (press release; homepage; SB Independent article)
  • 2009
    • Feb: interview with channel 17 hosts Lorrie and Bill Hull Smithers (Part I: 28 min. flash video; part II: 30 mins.)
    • April: Dr. Wittenstein delivers Oregon State University Holocaust Memorial Lecture, "A Personal Account of the White Rose" (link updated 12/31/13)
    • May: Dr. Wittenstein speaks at the UCSB Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, "Who Determines What Becomes History? A Witness's Reflections." (DVD available for puchase for $20 from UCTV [$26.05 with tax & shipping])
    • September: Dr. Wittenstein reviews his 1939-42 photo albums with UCSB Prof. emerita Ursula Mahlendorf. Their dialog is recorded on 8 hour-long digital videotapes.
  • 2010
    • April 26: on Dr. Wittenstein's 91st birthday he finds out that the 2 teenagers he helped in 1939 are living in New York.
    • August 3-5: reunion of Dr. Wittenstein and Esther and Nat Berkowitz, the Jewish teenagers whom he helped return to their parents in Berlin in August 1939
      (article in Santa Barbara News-Press, as scan; page with photos of Aug. 5 panel discussion)
  • 2011: A three-volume oral history of Dr. Wittenstein by UCSB oral historian David Russell is completed.
  • 2015, June 14: Dr. Wittenstein died in Santa Barbara, California, at age 96. A detailed obituary was published in the local Santa Barbara Independent.

start of SBNP article

2010 Wittenstein-Berkowitz Reunion Esther, Nat and George(back to top)

  • April 26, 2010: on Dr. Wittenstein's 91st birthday he finds out that the 2 teenagers he helped in 1939 are living in New York.
  • August: reunion of Dr. Wittenstein and Esther and Nat Berkowitz
  • This article, while accurately conveying the sentiment of the meeting, is incorrect in a few particulars (none of them very crucial, but just for the historical record).
    Here are some corrections:
    1. Wittenstein's family (mother) was from Württemberg, not Berlin. She later founded two businesses in Berlin.
    2. The war did not break out during the Hansa's Aug. 1939 trip; the ship was ordered back because hostilities were expected to break out, and the Nazis did not want to risk the ship being confiscated by the British
    3. There was no talk of a "train" leaving Hamburg; it was merely unclear what the would-be Jewish emigres would do, where they would stay, and how they could leave the city upon return to the port of embarkation.
    4. The Berkowitz's mother did not wait for their father in Germany, but rather in Belgium and France. She did not travel "throughout Europe."
    5. Wittenstein hasn't been practicing medicine in Santa Barbara for most of the time since the 1940s, rather in Colorado and at UCLA since 1956. He moved to Santa Barbara in 1966.
    6. Stan Ostern did not solicit the help of Elizabeth Wolfson to contact USHMM intern Jordan Sommers. Stan's wife Idie contacted Sommers herself.

Lesser Known Literature and Links (back to top)

  • Kyra Stromberg, 75 Jahre Vollmoeller. Von den "Unaussprechlichen" zum Petticoat. Vom Trikot zur Sportswear (Darmstadt, 1956), 57 pages.
    • This book is about the company Wittenstein's mother inherited and led, and about her family. It is vailable at the University of Tübingen library, and Frankfurt & Stuttgart.
  • Christian Petry, Studenten aufs Schafott: Die Weisse Rose und ihr Scheitern (München: R. Piper, 1968), 258 pages. [UCLA & UCB]
    • Originally an MA thesis, Petry was one of the first people in West Germany to do a scholarly study (as opposed to portrayals by family members such as Inge Aicher-Scholl) of the White Rose. He conducted a number of interviews, creating new source material for the first time.
  • German Wikipedia Jürgen Wittenstein page

Links about the White Rose Group (back to top)

Visitor statistics:
  • Aug-Dec. 2010:  172 total visits; 117 entry, 122 exit
  • April 2011:            82 total visits;   52 entry, 55 exit
  • October 2011:     126 total visits;   87 entry, 88 exit
  • November 2011: 123 total visits;     88 entry,    90 exit
  • Year 2011:       1315 total visits;   855 entry,   864 exit
  • Year 2012:       1433 total visits; 1073 entry, 1053 exit
  • Year 2013:       1556 total visits; 1243 entry, 1139 exit
  • Year 2014:       1018 total visits;   727 entry,   655 exit
    • June 2015:           171 total visits;   151 entry,  147 exit
    • Sept. 2015:           87 visits from Sept. 3 to 27 (stats down July 24-Sept 3)

page created by Harold Marcuse on August 18, 2010; last update: see page header
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