Freiheit!: The White Rose Graphic Novel

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.

Title:

Freiheit!: The White Rose Graphic Novel

Author: 

Andrea Grosso Ciponte


Publisher:

Plough Publishing House

https://www.plough.com/en

Publication Date:

February 16, 2021

Format:

Hardcover

Length:

112 pages

OVERVIEW

Near the end of Word War II, a group of five young Germans began printing anti-Nazi leaflets. Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf called themselves “The White Rose” and would produce six leaflets before the Gestapo caught them in 1943. This book dramatizes the last nine months of their lives, capturing the society they lived in and the complex choices they navigated as they chose to fight for one thing: freedom.

In reviewing the previous graphic novel that Cipone worked on for Plough Publishing, Renegade: Martin Luther, The Graphic Biography, an ECLA reviewer noted that the book covered too much material in too few pages. Here, Cipone tells a much shorter story, covering nine months in 112 pages, which proves to be much more manageable. He also uses a media res approach, starting with the day in 1943 when Sophie Scholl and her brother dropped leaflets in the University of Munich. Then Ciponte backtracks to nine months prior, when Sophie discovered her brother and his friends were hoarding banned books, goes through the period where Sophie joined the White Rose and returns to that day in Munich, ending with the group’s execution four days later. Since the five members weren’t always in the same city during that nine months, the book hops around a bit. Several pages alternate between Sophie at university while Hans, Willi and Alexander are serving as soldiers on the Eastern Front while Christoph is at home planning the next leaflets. This makes the book a bit confusing the first time around; it would be interesting to see a version that used twice as many pages, perhaps showing how Hans and his team got together. However, as a story told in media res format, it works well.

Plot-wise, Ciponte structures much of the book around the written word. Sophie asks Alexander why they’re hoarding banned books and he sarcastically quotes a speech by Joseph Goebbels about burning “the evil spirits of the past,” to which Sophie responds with a Heinrich Heine quote about “where they will have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” Later in the book Ciponte quotes excerpts from the White Rose leaflets, bits of Nazi propaganda, quotes from classic German writers who discussed oppression, and even a 1943 letter Thomas Mann wrote praising young martyrs who found the Nazis. The book’s appendix reprints all six White Rose leaflets, translated into English.

This emphasis on words highlights the essential fight taking place in the narrative: this isn’t merely about dictatorships and lack of freedom. It’s about a war of words, which is to say a war of ideas. In the sections where Cipone quotes Nazi propaganda (such as the Goebbels scene already mentioned), he stages things so readers don’t realize what they’re reading until halfway in and then he ends the scenes with something that captures the hypocrisy of Nazi ideas. In doing so, he’s careful not to promote Nazi ideas, but he shows how easy it is to slip into listening to propaganda and go along with the crowd. Thus, Ciponte creates a sense of complexity and suspense which captures why the White Rose’s work was so important.

The book’s last scene takes a complex approach as well, and avoids a problem that many WWII historical fiction stories run into. For the ending scene, Ciponte shows how five months after the White Rose members were executed, British planes dropped leaflets quoting White Rose material over Germany. The scene, which looks like a bomb raid until the last panel shows the plane dropping papers instead of explosives, includes quotes from Thomas Mann’s letter. This clever use of real events and written material from the period makes the ending inspirational, but historically-grounded. Some scholars have argued the problem with some WWII dramatizations is they become overly sentimental, too sweet for such a harsh subject. This is particularly true when it comes to stories about martyrdom or the Holocaust (Richard Kearney devotes a chapter in his book On Stories to discussing whether dramatizing Holocaust stories is inherently irreverent). By ending with a plane dropping leaflets like messages from heaven, Ciponte could have created a sort of “martyrdom kitsch.” Instead, by building the scene from real events and sources, he gives the inspirational ending a sense of substance. What could have been kitschy becomes historical.

A cunningly-told dramatization of a gripping story.

ASSESSMENT

Rating (1 to 5 stars)

4 stars

Suggested Audience

Readers interested in adaptations of WWII history, particularly German resistance movements.

Christian Impact

The story presents a gripping story of people choosing to live for truth rather than lies, and fight enemies of truth in a difficult time.

Note:

Readers who like this style and author may also enjoy Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography, which Ciponte co-illustrated. To read ECLA’s review of that book, go to:

Freiheit!: The White Rose Graphic Novel


No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: