There is an Iron Maiden song that has the line, “Only the good die young, all the evil seem to live forever.” There was a time when I thought this to be true, but luckily this is not the case. Sometimes the good ones live a long time.
Traute Lafrenz Page died ten days ago at age 103. She was a German resistance fighter and a White Rose member of the White Rose during World War II. Many people will have heard the names of Sophie and Hans Scholl but may not be familiar with Traute Lafrenz (now Page). She was in her early 20s when she joined the White Rose and ultimately to survive the war, even though many White Rose members were executed.
The White Rose never numbered more than a few dozen persons representing one of the first organized protests calling attention to the Holocaust, which eventually claimed the lives of six million Jews, and additionally, Roma, disabled people and others. “We will not be silent,” said one of the leaflets, and “We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”
Lafrenz was born on 3 May 1919 in Hamburg to Carl and Hermine Lafrenz, a civil servant and a homemaker; she was the youngest of three sisters. Together with Heinz Kucharski, Lafrenz studied under Erna Stahl at the Lichtwarkschule, a liberal arts school in Hamburg. When coeducation was abolished in 1937, Lafrenz moved to a convent school, from which she and classmate Margaretha Rothe graduated in 1938. Together with Rothe, Lafrenz began to study medicine at the University of Hamburg in the summer semester of 1939. After the semester she worked in Pomerania, where she met Alexander Schmorell who had begun studying in the summer of 1939 at the Hamburg University Medical School but continued his studies from 1939 to 1940 in Munich.
In May 1941, she went to Munich, where she soon met Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst. She took part in many of the White Rose group’s conversations and discussions, including with Kurt Huber.
The White Rose never numbered more than a few dozen persons and represented one of the first organized protests calling attention to the Holocaust, which eventually claimed the lives of six million Jews in addition to Roma, disabled people and others. “We will not be silent,” said one of the leaflets. “We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”
In November 1942, Traute Lafrenz brought the third White Rose leaflet to Hamburg. That Christmas, she tried to get hold of a duplicating machine in Vienna. Along with Sophie Scholl, Traute Lafrenz obtained paper and envelopes for dispatching more leaflets in January 1943. She was first interrogated by the Gestapo on 5 March 1943, and then arrested a few days later on 15 March.
After her release, the Gestapo arrested her again at the end of March 1944 and put her into Fuhlsbüttel Gestapo prison in Hamburg with other female prisoners from the Hamburg White Rose group. Traute Lafrenz was then transferred via prisons in Cottbus and Leipzig to Bayreuth. On 15 April 1945 she was liberated by American troops.
After Germany’s defeat, Page emigrated to the United States. There, she met her husband and had four children, and largely stayed quiet about her activities during World War II. According to The New York Times, her children didn’t learn about what she’d done during the conflict until 1970.
Even then, Page largely stayed out of the public eye. It wasn’t until 2019, on her 100th birthday, that she was awarded Germany’s Order of Merit for rebelling “against the dictatorship and the genocide of the Jews.”
“Traute Lafrenz was not at the centre of the White Rose,” Peter Normann Waage, a Norwegian author and journalist who interviewed Page, said according to The New York Times. “She did not physically write any of the leaflets—but she did just about everything else.”
Waage added, “She helped lay the foundation for the revitalization of cultural heritage as a weapon against brutality; she helped make the distribution of the leaflets as practical as possible and helped to spread them.”
She emigrated to San Francisco and worked as a medical resident at St. Joseph’s hospital. In 1948, she married fellow resident physician Vernon Page of Texas. Together they formed a medical practice in tiny Hayfork, California. Vernon Page received further training in ophthalmology, and the growing family settled in Evanston, Illinois. A strong conviction in the reality of the spiritual world inspired Traute’s adult life. She joined the Anthroposophical Society and was an early practitioner of the anthroposophical-inspired holistic medical approach. Like many women in the post-WWII years, Traute was at home with her young family. She liked to say “in those days you met PhDs at the park.” In the 1960s, Traute organized Waldorf summer school programs in Evanston. Waldorf schools work to awaken and enliven recognition of the human spirit through art, poetry, and appreciation of great human advances. Her son, Michael and granddaughter, Emily are Waldorf teachers. In later years, Traute became director of the Esperanza school in Chicago for developmentally delayed children, with a focus on these same principles. Traute always travelled extensively with her family including trips to Italy, Austria, France, Spain, Norway, Ireland, Scotland, Egypt, Mexico, and South America into her 80s and 90s. In 1993, Traute and Vernon moved to Charleston, SC.
On 6 March 2023, Lafrenz died on Yonges Island, South Carolina, at age 103, as the last living member of the White Rose group.