Wittenstein Lecture Series

Named in honor of Dr. George Jürgen Wittenstein, our series will sponsor several lectures each year to preserve and continue his legacy of civic courage and commitment. Jürgen Wittenstein was a participant in two resistance groups against Hitler's National-Socialist regime. He was actively involved in the Weisse Rose (White Rose) and the Freiheitsaktion Bayern (Freedom Action Bavaria).  

Please read on for information about past lectures, history of the White Rose, and Dr. Wittenstein's personal history.


Thursday, January 6th, 4:00 PM
Location: HSSB (Humanities and Social Sciences Building), 6020.
Lecture by Christian Petry, MA
"The White Rose, or: German Students against Hitler"

Christian Petry's lecture explores the question whether remembering past acts of resistance against tyranny can provide inspiration to face today's political challenges.

Christian Petry is the author of Studenten aufs Schafott: Die Weisse Rose und ihr Scheitern, 1968 (Students onto the scaffold: The Defeat of the White Rose). He has published books, articles and films on student resistance in Nazi-Germany, on intercultural education and communication, and on curriculum development and educational reform. After studying history and sociology at the Free University of Berlin, Petry first worked as a teacher and sociologist at different German schools before starting a project for vocational and social integration of foreign youth in Weinheim, Germany. He has served as director of a project-network to support ethnic minorities ("Regionale Arbeitsstellen zur Förderung ausländischer Kinder und Jugendlicher") in eight cities of the Ruhr area, as director of a European Community model project to overcome youth unemployment in the city of Duisburg, and as Executive director of the Freudenberg Foundation whose objectives include the integration of immigrant children and adolescents in German civil society and the defense and promotion of democratic culture. Petry also has served as Chair at the European Foundation Centre, Interest Group Youth and Education. Since 2010, he has been executive director of the Stiftungs- und Fördergemeinschaft Modellprojekte GmbH, Weinheim.

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Tuesday, February 23rd, 5:00 PM
Location: Flying A Studios Room, University Center (UCen)
Lecture by Professor Emerita Ursula Mahlendorf
"Hauntings: Ghosts from a Nazi Childhood"

Professor Mahlendorf will discuss some unexpected reader responses to her recently published memoir, The Shame of Survival: Working through a Nazi Childhood, and the ghosts they raised up for some readers and for herself.

Ursula Mahlendorf was a member of the faculty of the departments of Germanic, Slavic and Semitic Studies and of Women's Studies from 1957 to 1992. She studied, taught and wrote on 19th and 20th Century literature from a feminist, psychoanalytic perspective. Reader responses to her recently published memoir, The Shame of Survival: Working through a Nazi Childhood, will form the basis of her lecture/reading. Professor Mahlendorf is presently Dickson Emeriti Professor at UCSB. 

Thursday, April 15th, 5:00 PM
Location: Lobero Room, University Center (UCen)
Lecture by Professor Jakob Lothe, University of Oslo
"Time's Witnesses: Narratives from Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen"

Referring to and proceeding from his book with the above title (co-edited with Anette Storeide and published in 2006), Professor Lothe will focus on both the possibilities and challenges of narrating about the historical event of the Holocaust. He will also refer to Holocaust research in Norway, including the projects pursued at the Center for Holocaust Studies where he serves as a board member.

Jakob Lothe is Professor of English Literature at the University of Oslo. His books include Conrad's Narrative Method (Oxford, 1989) and Narrative in Fiction and Film (Oxford, 2000). He is the author of numerous essays and has edited or co-edited several volumes including, Franz Kafka: Zur ethischen und aesthetischen Rechtfertigung (co-edited with Beatrice Sandberg, Rombach Verlag, 2002), The Art of Brevity (University of South Carolina Press, 2004), Literary Landscapes (Palgrave, 2008), and Joseph Conrad: Voice, Sequence, History, Genre (co-edited with Jeremy Hawthorne and James Phelan, Ohio State University Press, 2008). In 2005-2006 he was the leader of the research project "Narrative Theory and Analysis" at the Centre for Advanced Study, Oslo.   

Past Lectures:


March 3, 2009, 5:00 p.m.
Multicultural Center Theater
Staged Reading of Ida Fink's "The Table", directed by William Smithers

April 28, 2009, 5:00 p.m.
Location: McCune Conference Room, HSSB 6020
Lecture by Sara R. Horowitz, York University, Toronto
"Sarah Kofman and the Ambiguity of Mothers"

In memoirs by hidden children (those who survived the Holocaust as children under false identities or in hiding)  mothers are most frequently depicted as thoroughly devoted to their children, risking their lives to ensure their children's safety.  When these memoirs recollect a mother who did not survive the Nazi genocide, the remembrance of her devotion extends backwards into the pre-war era, and the relationship between child and mother is presented idyllically.  When both the mother and the child both survive the war, their relationship continues to evolve, powerfully influenced by the experience of atrocity, loss, and trauma.  The memoirs of the French philosopher, Sarah Kofman, Rue Ordener Rue Labat, is a belated return to the events of Kofman's childhood in occupied Paris.  In seemingly naive and simple terms it depicts the complexity of Kofman's relationship to her mother, to the surrogate French Catholic “mother” who protects both from genocide, and to Jewish and French culture.

Sara R. Horowitz is the Director of the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University in Toronto, and the President of the Association for Jewish Studies, the international learned society representing research and university teaching of Jewish studies.  As Professor of Comparative Literature, she teaches contemporary Jewish literature, and literature and film of the Holocaust, in the Division of Humanities. She is the author of Voicing the Void:  Muteness and Memory in Holocaust Fiction, which received the Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Book, and is the editor of the Azrieli Series of Holocaust Memoirs (Canada), which received the Gold Award from the Independent Publishers Association, and the editor of Bits and Pieces, a memoir by Henia Reinhartz, which received the Canadian Jewish Book Awards Yad Vashem Prize. In addition, Professor Horowitz is founding co-editor of the journal KEREM:  A Journal of Creative Explorations in Judaism.   She served as co-editor of  Encounter with Appelfeld , and of Jewish American Women Writers:  A Bio-Bibliographical and Critical Sourcebook which was awarded the Association of Jewish Libraries Award for the Outstanding Judaica Reference Book.  She has published extensively on contemporary Holocaust literature, women survivors, and Jewish North American fiction. She sits on the Academic Board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.  Prior to moving to Toronto, she helped establish the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Delaware, and served as its first Director.  Currently, she is completing a book called “Gender, Genocide, and Jewish Memory.”  

May 12, 2009, 5:00 p.m.
Location: McCune Conference Room, HSSB 6020
Lecture by Dr. George J. Wittenstein, Santa Barbara
"Who Determines What Becomes History? A Witness' Reflections."


"History as a Gift: Postwar German Literature and the Quest for the Past "
Amir Eshel, Stanford University

The lecture explored prevalent approaches to the literary and cultural engagement with National Socialism in Germany from the 1950s to the present while arguing for the need to develop new paradigms. Referring to the work of such eminent writers as Günter Grass and Alexander Kluge, the lecture also introduced the innovative prose of younger writers such as Hans Ulrich Treichel, Norbert Gstrein and Katharina Hacker.

"Hitler's Assault on the Golden Rule"
Claudia Koonz, Duke University

"To resist," from the Latin resistere, means to stand fast, to uphold principles against pressure to abandon them. In her lecture, Claudia Koonz discussed the appeal of the Nazis´ mandate to "Love only they neighbor who is like thyself." Using examples from visual and print media from the 1930s, Koonz explored the moral culture that normalized state-sanctioned persecution, theft, and murder. When we appreciate the force of this culture of impunity, we appreciate afresh the moral courage of the very few who resisted it.

"'Weak Messianism': Recovery and Prefiguration in Benjamin's Arcades Project"
Alexander Gelley, University of California Irvine

Walter Benjamin, the German-Jewish thinker of the Weimar period, left his Arcades Project unfinished when he died in 1940. This work was to be a contribution to the philosophy of history rather than a work of documentation. Its aim was to awaken a collective subject, heir of the Marxist proletariat, a collective not yet actual and still under the spell of the "phantasmagoria" of the nineteenth-century. Benjamin's "weak messianism" is best conceived as a form of writing designed to incite a readership by means of image, example, anecdote, citation. He hoped, in this way, to recover a past, not for the sake of a transcendent eschatology but rather as a practice of disinterment and extraction guided by a present need.

History of the White Rose and Dr. Wittenstein's personal history
The Munich-based White Rose consisted of a small group of friends, predominantly medical students, who appealed to the German people to defy both Hitler’s dictatorship and the apathy of their fellow citizens. They were later joined by Kurt Huber, professor of philosophy and music, who was Jürgen Wittenstein’s Ph.D. advisor. Well aware of the impossibility for such a small group to carry out an armed revolt, the members of the White Rose wrote, printed, and disseminated six leaflets that denounced the National-Socialist regime’s criminal deeds and goals. The White Rose was the only German group specifically to condemn the extermination of the European Jews. They also drafted concrete plans for Germany’s postwar government, its constitution and its role in post-war Europe. Invoking writers and thinkers from Aristotle to Schiller, from Lao Tsu to Goethe and Novalis, the White Rose initially addressed their leaflets to the intellectual elite, calling for passive resistance against what Huber, in the sixth leaflet, termed “the most abominable tyranny our people has ever endured.” By Fall 1942, and after their experiences at the Russian Front, the members of the White Rose called on the general population to engage in active resistance, including acts of sabotage.

The battle over Stalingrad proved a turning point for Germany and the White Rose. On January 8, 1943, Hitler refused the Soviet offer of an honorable capitulation that would have ended one of the bloodiest battles in human history. By the time of the final defeat on February 2, 1943, Hitler had recklessly sent over 150,000 German men to their deaths, and another 150,000 into a captivity whose harshness only few would survive. This catastrophe led Huber to compose the sixth leaflet and impelled three members of the group to undertake an extremely dangerous action.

For three nights they painted anti-Nazi slogans such as “Down with Hitler” and “Hitler Mass-Murderer” onto Munich’s most important buildings, including the university. A few days later, on February 18, Hans and Sophie Scholl placed stacks of the sixth leaflet in the main university building, and dropped some from the top balcony into the atrium. They were arrested and beheaded four days later, only hours after their trial. Christoph Probst, whose draft for another leaflet was found in Hans Scholl’s pocket at his arrest, was executed with them.

That same day, all members of the medical student company to which the White Rose friends belonged were ordered to report to the barracks without delay. They were forbidden to leave, because two students, one a member of their company, had been arrested at the university for high treason. Wittenstein realized that the two had to be Hans and Sophie Scholl. Noticing that Alexander Schmorell was missing at roll call, Wittenstein knew that his friend too was in mortal danger. Under a ruse, he convinced his commander to allow him to leave the barracks and bicycled to the medical office of Alexander’s father, where a Gestapo agent was already posted. Once alone with Dr. Schmorell, Wittenstein asked him to remind his son, should he contact his family, to flee to Beilstein, the Wittenstein home in the Suabian country side. On February 21, when he found out that the Scholls’ trial was likely to take place the following day, Wittenstein called their parents urging them to come to Munich immediately. The next morning, he met them at the Munich train station and escorted them to the Palace of Justice, even though he had to assume that their phone and their movements were under surveillance by the Gestapo. They would not have seen their children alive otherwise.

Following these White Rose executions, Wittenstein at first escaped being linked to the resistance group. He had already been threatened by the Gestapo as early as 1939 and, in 1942 and 43, had undertaken dangerous actions on behalf of the White Rose, including carrying leaflets to their friend Hellmut Hartert in Berlin. He was also entrusted by Hans Scholl to convince Hartert to start a cell at Berlin University. After Professor Huber’s execution in 1943 (Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf were executed the same year), Wittenstein, at great risk to his life, supported Professor Huber’s destitute widow and children until after the war. In 1944, after his interrogation by the Gestapo and a court martial, Wittenstein learned that the Gestapo was likely to apprehend him. Since he could not flee Germany, the only way to escape the Gestapo was to volunteer for the front, the only place where the Gestapo had no jurisdiction over members of the armed forces. Assigned as a physician to the Italian Front, he collected the wounded soldiers’ weapons for the secret arsenal of the Freedom Action Bavaria, a resistance group of military officers led by Captain Rupprecht Gerngross based in Munich. (An attorney in private life, Gerngross had attempted to assassinate Hitler on two occasions.) In April 1945, the Freedom Action Bavaria conducted the only successful military putsch against the Hitler regime and, by this action, saved Munich, which Hitler had ordered to be “defended to the last man,” from complete destruction.

Wittenstein was wounded at the Italian Front in 1945. He emigrated to the United States in 1948. Continuing his surgical training at Harvard and the universities of Rochester and Colorado, he specialized in general, cardiovascular, and thoracic surgery and later taught and performed the latest complex heart operations at numerous European medical schools. Since 1960, Wittenstein has been residing in Santa Barbara, where he was in private practice until his appointment as professor of surgery at the University of California at Los Angeles, and as chair of the Department of Surgery at UCLA/LAC Olive View Medical Center. He retired from UCLA in 1991 and continued to practice in Santa Barbara. Over these thirty-five years, Wittenstein served in various capacities at four Santa Barbara hospitals, the UCSB’s Affiliates, the Friends of the UCSB Library, and on the board of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

In recognition of his active  involvement in the resistance against Hitler, for his contributions to German cardiac surgery, and for promoting scientific exchange between the United States and Germany, Wittenstein was awarded the “Commander’s Cross Of The Federal Republic Of Germany”  (Grosses Verdienstkreuz des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland)  and the “Bayerischer Verdienstorden”, the State of Bavaria’s highest honor. 

George J. Wittenstein Lecture Series sponsors
The Department of Germanic, Slavic, and Semitic Studies gratefully acknowledges generous co-sponsorship from the following UC Santa Barbara departments and agencies:  Office of the Chancellor; College of Letters and Science, Humanities and Fine Arts Dean’s Fund for Jewish  Studies from a gift in memory of Martha Heyman Franck; Comparative Literature; Film and Media Studies; French and Italian; Global and International Studies; History; The Hull Chair in Women and Social Justice; The Interdisciplinary Humanities Center; Law and Society; The Orfalea Center for Global and International  Studies; Religious Studies; Sociology; Women’s Studies.  Our heartfelt gratitude also goes to photographer Debra Myrent,  Adine Maron (UC Santa Barbara, Office of Public Affairs), Professor Julie Carlson, and Prof. Em. Ursula Mahlendorf.  We are deeply indebted to Dr. George J. Wittenstein and his wife Dr. Christel Bejenke for sharing their testimony and photographs.