Born in Hamburg, Germany, her parents were Carl, an accountant in the civil service, and Hermine, a homemaker. She was the youngest of three girls.
She went to a mixed school until the Nazis banned co-education in 1937. After that, she went to a convent school. She was a member of the Hitler Youth but later admitted she had little active involvement.
Then she went to Hamburg University to study medicine. It was there that she met fellow student Alexander Schmorell, when out on an afternoon bike ride. The two became great friends. He introduced her to the White Rose movement.
They were a group of students who resisted the Nazis through non-violent methods such as leafletting and pamphlets. They were founded after three medical students (Hans Scholl, Willi Graf and Schmorell himself) had been conscripted into the Medical Corps and had been sent to the Eastern Front. There, they witnessed atrocities against both Jews and Slavs – and founded White Rose upon their return to Germany. Their motto was “Something must be done”.
Schmorell transferred to Munich University, and Traute followed him. There she met the leaders of the White Rose movement, Christoph Probst and the siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl. Traute became romantically involved with Hans (who was the writer of the pamphlets). It was her job to supply the envelopes, paper and ink for the printing.
The movement spread their pamphlets around many different university campuses. Traute used to take them back to Hamburg University for distribution.
Traute’s job was more complex than it sounds. The Gestapo were increasingly concerned about the White Rose movement. “The leaflets are creating the greatest disturbance at the highest levels of the Party and the State.” Therefore, the Gestapo set up a special unit to catch the White Rose members.
In turn they responded “We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace.”
The Gestapo had worked out the leaflets were being printed in Munich. They contacted every stationery shop in the city and demanded they be informed if somebody was buying large amounts of paper. Traute outwitted them by buying small amounts from each shop – so it took her and Sophie days to go around collecting enough stationery.
The first leaflet said, “No one could imagine the degree of shame that would befall every honest German when the awful crimes of the Nazis were eventually brought to light.”
The second condemned the genocide of 300,000 Jews, “in the most bestial manner imaginable…an undeniably terrible crime against the dignity of mankind, a crime that cannot be compared with any other in the history of mankind.” The Nazis went on to murder 6 million Jews.
They published 6 different pamphlets. Traute had acquired an old-fashioned hand printing press that they worked on through the night, taking turns to crank the handle. As medical students they had access to pep pills to keep them awake. It is estimated they produced 10,000 leaflets in total.
The White Rose movement hoped their pamphlets would stoke rebellion, especially after the German defeat at Stalingrad in 1942-43. But they didn’t.
Then, a janitor at Munich University, Jakob Schmid, saw Sophie and Hans dropping leaflets from an upstairs window. He reported the White Rose Movement to the Gestapo and the leaders were arrested on the 18th February 1943. Sophie was caught red-handed with a suitcase full of the leaflets. Traute was in Hamburg at the time, so she avoided arrest.
The Scholls and Probst were executed by guillotine 4 days later, in Stadelheim Prison in Bavaria. It was Traute who informed their families of their deaths.
She went to visit their graves with the Scholl’s sister Elisabeth – and was promptly arrested herself by the Gestapo.
Under interrogation from the Gestapo, Traute managed to conceal her true involvement in the movement. She was sentenced to one year in prison for ‘complicity’.
Alexander Schmorell was executed in April 1943.
Upon her release, Traute was immediately re-arrested by the Gestapo who had uncovered further evidence against her. She was initially put in Fuhlsbuttel Gestapo prison in Hamburg but was then transferred around the country, ending up in Bayreuth. Her trial was set for April 1945.
Her job in prison was to wrap up parcels to be sent to soldiers at the front. She made sure she sabotaged the parcels, figuring nobody would ever work out where it came from.
Three days before her trial, the Allies liberated her prison. It was freed by General Patten himself. All the prisoners were free to leave – but they literally found a war zone on the outside, with no food or shelter. Traute went back to the prison, which was now controlled by American soldiers. An officer asked her (because she spoke English), “Ma’am, how do I tell the difference between a political prisoner and a genuine criminal?”
She replied, “Officer – by now all the real criminals will have run away as fast as they can.”
Traute immediately emigrated to the USA and finished her medical training at St Joseph’s Hospital in San Francisco. There she met Vernon Page, an ophthalmologist from Texas.
They were married and had 4 children, Michael, Thomas, Renee and Kim. Together they set up a medical practice at Hayfork in California.
Then the family moved to Evanston, Illinois. Traute became Head of the Esperanza Therapeutic Day School, Chicago – for disadvantaged children between 5-21, who had developmental difficulties. She did this from 1972 to 1994.
She loved art, poetry and philosophy and believed in the goodness of the human spirit.
Vernon died in 1995, so Traute moved to Meggett in South Carolina.
On her 100th birthday, 3rd May 2019, she was awarded the Order of Merit (Germany’s highest civilian honour) by the President of Germany, Frank Walter Steinmeier. He said Traute, “belonged to the few who, in the face of the crimes of national socialism, had the courage to listen to the voice of her conscience and rebel against the dictatorship and the genocide of the Jews. She is a heroine of freedom and humanity.”
Traute responded, saying that the fight against evil must go on.
She reflected about her lost friends. “In the long months of my imprisonment, I had to think again and again why I was left.”
On the very day she died she received a hand-written letter from the German president, thanking her once again for all she had done.
Traute died at her home aged 103. She was the last survivor of the White Rose Movement.
RIP – Roses Inspiring Pamphleteers