The Holy Martyr Alexander Schmorell (now also St. Alexander of Munich) was a medical student during World War II and one of the founding members of the anti-Nazi group, the White Rose. Along with the other members of the White Rose, he tried to rally popular support amongst Germans to try to resist Hitler and the Nazi regime. He was arrested in February 1943, and was executed on July 13, 1943, at Stadelheim Prison in Munich. On 5 February 2012, he was glorified at the Cathedral of the Holy New-Martyrs and Confessors of Russia in Munich, Germany. He is commemorated by the Church on July 13.
Alexander Schmorell was born in Orenburg, Russia, on September 16, 1917 (September 3 on the Julian Calendar), and was baptised in the Russian Orthodox Church. His father, Hugo Schmorell, was a doctor of German heritage and held German citizenship, although he had been born in Orenburg as well. Hugo Schmorell left Orenburg to study medicine in Germany, and then returned to Russia to practice medicine, though he settled in Moscow. It was in Moscow that he met, Nataliya Vvedenskaya, a Russian woman, who some sources say was the daughter of a Russian Orthodox priest. As a result of anti-German sentiment resulting from World War I, Dr. Schmorell had been forced to stop practicing medicine there. In theory, he should have not been able to practice medicine anywhere in the country, but due to the incredible need for doctors in Russia at this time, he was allowed to return to Orenburg to practice medicine there. With him came his new bride. Soon thereafter, in September 1917, a son, Alexander, was born to the couple. Although Hugo Schmorell was by confession Lutheran, he allowed his son to be baptized in the Orthodox Church. When Alexander was around a year old, his mother died of typhoid during an epidemic. Dr. Schmorell then hired a Russian woman to be a nanny for his son, a woman by the name of Feodosiya Lapschina. Besides taking care of Alexander, she also was an Orthodox Christian, and took the boy to church and taught him about the Faith. Dr. Schmorell remarried in 1920. The woman whom he married, a nurse by the name of Elisabeth Hoffmann, was also German, but, like Hugo Schmorell, she had grown up in Russia.
By 1921, the situation in Russia had deteriorated to the point that nearly all of Elisabeth Schmorell's many siblings and their families decided to move to Germany, where they held citizenship, though most of them had never lived there. Hugo and Elisabeth Schmorell decided to move to Germany as well. Along with Alexander, Alexander's nanny, Feodosiya Lapschina, accompanied them. As a Russian citizen, she should not have been allowed to leave, but she was allowed out under the pretense that she was the widow of Hugo Schmorell's brother. (For this reason, her original gravestone bore the name Franziska Schmorell.) The family settled in Munich, welcoming a son, Erich, within weeks of their arrival, and later, in 1924, a daughter, Natalia.
Although the family was now in Germany, the language of the house remained Russian. In fact, even with the many years she stayed in Germany, Feodosiya Lapschina never learned very much German. Elisabeth Schmorell was Roman Catholic, as were Alexander's siblings, but in large part due to Feodosiya Lapschina's influence, Alexander remained Orthodox, and his stepmother made it possible for him to attend Orthodox religion classes in Munich. Not only did both Alexander's father and stepmother have a great love of all things Russian, but in the case of Alexander, in particular, they wanted to honor and respect the memory of his mother. Furthermore, according to Erich Schmorell in 2004, during her work as a nurse during WWI, his mother (the future Elisabeth Schmorell) had met Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna of Russia, which made quite an impression on her.
Once the Schmorells were more established in Munich, their home, large enough to rightly be called a villa, was a meeting place among well-to-do Russian expatriates. Among the friends that they entertained there were members of the Pasternak family; Leonid Pasternak being a well-known painter in his own right, but was also the father to author Boris Pasternak. (Leonid Pasternak had lived in Germany, along with his daughters, since 1921, but both of his sons remained in the Soviet Union.)
Young Alexander was a decent student, though in the beginning, he had to acclimate himself to German. At one point in his early school years, he was held back a year, but his stepmother seemed to believe this had more to do with anti-Russian sentiment than her stepson's academic ability, and so he switched schools and never had a problem after that. One early anecdote from his life comes from the compulsory religion classes in the Bavarian schools. Because the Bavarian schools only offered Catholic and Protestant religion classes, Alexander was placed in the religion class with the Catholic children. One teacher took exception to the way Alexander crossed himself (right to left, rather than left to right) and was adamant that Alexander, as "guest" in the class, should conform to the way they did things. Alexander refused.
Third Reich days
The Nazis came to power in Germany when Alexander was a teenager. In the Nazi mindset, the Slavs belonged to the great horde of untermenschen, that is, people who supposedly were barely human. This was a mindset that Alexander could never accept, and he was unwilling to downplay his "Russianness" or love for the land in which he was born. At one point, he had been part of the Scharnhorst Youth, mainly because it consisted of a lot of horseback riding, but once it became absorbed into the Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugend), he eventually stopped attending.
In his teen years, he also became fast friends with a young man two years his junior, Christoph Probst. He also fell in love with Christoph's older sister, Angelica, although she would eventually choose to marry someone else. His friendship with Christoph would endure to the end of both of their short lives; although Christoph would not be baptized into any confession until just before his execution, at which point he was baptized Roman Catholic, like his wife and her family, Alexander became godfather to Christoph's second son, Vincent.
Alexander began his university studies at the University in Hamburg in 1939. Although he was a young man of many interests and talents, he reluctantly chose medicine as his course of study, in part because of his father, but also because young men were forced to intersperse their university studies with military service fighting in World War II. Those studying medicine generally got better placements, acting as medics behind the front lines rather than being sent up front as cannon fodder. When he was to be sworn in to military service, he nearly had a breakdown, and told his commanding officer that he could not do it; he could not swear absolute loyalty to Adolf Hitler. He asked to be released from military duty. He was not released, yet amazingly, there were also no repercussions for his refusal to take the oath. Before getting involved with the White Rose, he served in Czechoslovakia and in France.
By the fall of 1940, Alexander was studying closer to home at Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität in Munich. It is around this time that he met Hans Scholl, with whom Alexander would 'found' the White Rose.
The White Rose
By 1942, Nazi control of Germany was nearly total. World War II was raging around Germany on all sides. German forces had taken over most of Europe, and German troops were far into Russia and as far as the north of Africa. By this time Hitler's plans for the "cleansing" of Europe were well underway, and Nazi death camps were up and running. It was no secret that any perceived enemy of Hitler's was also liable to be arrested and sent to one of these prisons. Not only that, but the practice of Sippenhaft was also widespread, that is, the family and friends of anyone suspected of opposing Hitler would also be arrested.
The events surrounding White Rose were one of the few contexts in German history during the Third Reich where people took the chance to speak out against what Hitler was doing. In the summer of 1942, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell obtained a duplicating machine and composed four leaflets under the name The White Rose which called on Germany's people to rise up and resist Hitler. The distribution of these four leaflets was fairly limited and was centered around Munich. This was not the first time that leaflets had been distributed in Germany—for example, some of the homilies of the Roman Catholic Bishop Clements von Galen which had denounced Hitler's euthanasia program had been written down, typed out, and sent around Germany anonymously. However, the leaflets of the White Rose went further, calling for Germans to realise what was happening, and to resist by any means possible. Contained in the second leaflet, in a passage written by Alexander Schmorell, is the only known public outcry by any German resistance group against the Holocaust.
During the summer of 1942, Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, and another friend, Willi Graf, were sent to Russia as medics. For Alexander, it was a homecoming of sorts—this was the first time in his life that he could remember experiencing Russia for himself. He told others that there was no way that he could shoot at a Russian, though he added that he couldn't kill Germans either. In Russia, he provided a link for his friends to the Russian people. He sought contact with regular people, doctors, and Orthodox priests; he, Hans, and Willi attended Orthodox liturgies together (wearing Nazi uniforms, no less!).
When they returned to Munich in October of 1942, the activities of the White Rose were redoubled. This time, more people were directly involved, including Hans' sister Sophie, Professor Kurt Huber from the Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität, and Traute Lafrenz. Through Alexander's friend, Lilo Ramdohr, contact was established with Falk Harnack, younger brother of Arvid Harnack, who had been arrested in connection with the Red Orchestra (and was also associated with the Bonhoeffers).
In January of 1943, the publication of the fifth leaflet was ready. This time, the members of the White Rose risked their lives to distribute the thousands of leaflets all over greater Germany. Alexander's journey brought him to Linz, Vienna, and Salzburg.
The end of the White Rose
After the fall of Stalingrad, a sixth leaflet was produced. On February 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie Scholl were caught distributing this leaflet at the University in Munich. They were arrested, and a search commenced for Alexander Schmorell. With the help of Lilo Ramdohr and Nikolai Hamazaspian, he tried escaping to Switzerland with a forged passport, but the way was too difficult, and he turned back to Munich. On February 24, 1943, he was arrested when a friend of his recognised him in an air-raid shelter.
Hans and Sophie Scholl, along with Christoph Probst, were sentenced to death on February 22, 1943, and were executed the same day. Alexander Schmorell, Professor Kurt Huber, and Willi Graf were sentenced to death on April 19, 1943, and Alexander and Professor Huber were executed by guillotine on July 13, 1943. Father Alexander (Andrij) Lowtschy (later Archbishop Alexander), the priest at St. Nicholas Church (later renamed the Cathedral of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia), where Alexander was a parishioner, was allowed to visit Alexander at Stadelheim prison to administer communion to him shortly before the execution took place. Willi Graf was executed on October 12, 1943.
Religion in the White Rose
Although the White Rose was not a religious group per se, it is undeniable that the faith in God that these young people had was one of the primary reasons that they acted with the bravery they did. Alexander Schmorell was the only one of the group who was Orthodox, but the faith they all showed to act in the manner they did is exemplary. Although Alexander's connection to Orthodoxy has, in various books, been played off as merely a way for him to stay more connected with his Russian heritage, or a fascination with ritual rather than with real faith, he attended Orthodox services regularly, and as his friend Lilo Ramdohr said he was somebody who always had a Bible with him and demonstrated a lifelong love of Orthodoxy. In his letters to his family from prison, he writes about the deepening of his faith, that although he is condemned to die, he is at peace, knowing he served the truth. In his last letter, written just before his execution, he wrote his family, "Never forget God!!"
The End of This Life, and the Beginning of Another
Alexander Schmorell was buried behind Stadelheim Prison, in the cemetery at Perlacher Forst. In his last letter to his family, he writes the following:
- "Now it shall be none other than this, and by the will of God, today I shall have my earthly life come to a close in order to go into another, which will never end and in which all of us will again meet. Let this future meeting be your comfort and your hope. Unfortunately, this blow will be harder for you than for me, because I go in the certainty, that in my deep conviction, I have served the truth..."
For years, St. Nicholas parish remembered their young parishioner executed by the forces of evil by visiting and performing services by the grave. Also honored was Alexander's nanny, who was instrumental in keeping him in the faith.
After World War II, the American forces came in and built McGraw Kaserne in the Giesing area of Munich, stretching from the area near Stadelheim prison, where Alexander and the others were executed, and wrapping around Perlacher Forst cemetery. A military church for non-denominational use was constructed just south of the cemetery, on the southeast corner of Lincolnstrasse and Leifstrasse. When US forces left the base in 1992, they had to sell off the buildings and property, including the church.
For decades, Alexander's parish had desperately been searching for a permanent home. The city of Munich, which was leasing the space that they were in wanted them out, and time after time plans for building a new church or moving into an existing one fell through. For years, Archbishop Mark had been holding regular intercessory Liturgies asking the Blessed Mother and the New Martyrs of Russia for their intercession in this matter.
In the 1980s, a Roman Catholic "contract priest" by the name of Fr. John Marsh was serving the Roman Catholic community at McGraw Kaserne. Fr. Marsh had a particular love for icons, and at times had arranged for well-known icons to come to the church on post. He then would invite parishes that he thought would be interested to come, and in so doing, had forged very good relations with some of the local Orthodox Churches. The St. Nicholas parish had even been allowed to hold multiple intercessory Liturgies at the church on post. When it became clear that the American forces would be leaving, the parish was certainly interested in buying it, but because the sale was being handled by the Germans rather than the Americans, they didn't feel that they had a chance.
In 1993, a German researcher found Alexander Schmorell's police files while doing research in Moscow. On account of Schmorell's birth in Russia, his file had been sent there, rather than being left in Germany like the files of the other members of the White Rose, and the archive was closed to research until the fall of the Soviet Union. The researcher sent a copy of Schmorell's file to the church, knowing it had been his parish. Since it was almost the 50th anniversary of St. Alexander's execution, an article including some of this new information was written for the Orthodox magazine "Der Bote", which helped garner wider interest.
Because of this added interest surrounding Alexander Schmorell, new life was breathed into discussions of the purchase of the American church on Lincolnstrasse with the German authorities. At least two offers for the church had previously been made by other religious groups who could offer significantly more money, but all had fallen through. Finally, in December 1993 the sale of this church and piece of land was finalized. The church itself lies within sight of the grave of Alexander Schmorell, in the Perlacher Forst cemetery, which is also the location of a mass grave of some 500 Soviet people of that era, both prisoners of war, and forced laborers imported in during the war.
In recognition of what the parish believed to be St. Alexander's involvement in finally finding a church, coupled with its "coincidental" location just across the street from where his earthly remains lie, and in anticipation of eventual glorification as a saint, Alexander Schmorell was included on the iconostasis - sans nimbus - among the New Martyrs of Russia when the icons on the iconostasis were written in the mid 1990s.
Troparion (Tone 4)
- Today a light adorns our glorious city,
- having within it your holy relics, O Holy Martyr Alexander;
- for which sake pray to Christ God,
- that He deliver us from all tribulations,
- for gathered together in love we celebrate your radiant memory,
- imitating your bravery,
- standing against the godless powers and enemies.
Kontakion (Tone 4)
- From your mother you did inherit the love of Christ,
- and through the love of your care-giver you were nourished in the fear of God, O all-glorious one,
- to Whom you did give thyself, O all-honorable Alexander,
- and you diligently pray with the angels.
- Entreat on behalf of all who honor your memory a forgiveness of their sins.
- Bald, Detlaf. Die Weiße Rose: Von der Front in den Widerstand. Aufbau-Verlag, 2003 (ISBN 3351025467)
- Breinersdorfer, Fred. Sophie Scholl - Die Letzten Tage, Fischer Tb. Vlg., 2005. (ISBN 3596166098)
- Dumbach, Annette, and Jud Newborn. Shattering the German Night, Little, Brown, & Co., 1986. (ISBN 0316604135)
- Fernbach, Gregor (ed.). "Vergesst Gott nicht!" Leben und Werk des heiligen Märtyrers von München, Alexander (Schmorell), Edition Hagia Sophia, 2013 (ISBN 9783937129853)
- Fürst-Ramdohr, Lilo. Freundschaften in der 'Weißen Rose', Verlag Geschichtswerkstatt Neuhausen, 1995. (ISBN 3931231003)
- Hanser, Richard. A Noble Treason: The Revolt of the Munich Students Against Hitler. Putnam Pub Group, 1979, reprint 2012 (ISBN 978-1586175573)
- Kulturinitiative E.V. Freiburg (Hrg). Die Weiße Rose: Gesichter einer Freundschaft, 2004
- Moll, Christiane. Alexander Schmorell - Christoph Probst Gesammelte Briefe, Lukas Verlag, 2011 (ISBN 978-3867320658)
- Храмов, Игор. Русская душа «Белой розы», Оренбургская книга 2001. (ISBN 5945290033)
- Храмов, Игор, Alexander Schmorell Gestapo-Verhörprotokolle Februar-März 1943 RGWA I36IK-I-8808, Печатный дом "Димур", 2005 (ISBN 5768901256)
- Letters from Prison (English translation)
- St. Alexander of Munich: A Modern Confessor in the Face of Tyranny A presentation on St. Alexander given by Matushka Elena Perekrestov for the 9th Annual St. Herman West Youth Conference (ROCOR) at St. Martin Orthodox Church in Corvallis, Oregon, January 2016
- Jim Forest: A Canonization in Munich: Saint Alexander Schmorell
- Archbishop +Mark's trip to Orenburg on the 90th anniversary of Alexander Schmorell's birth
- Church Slavonic troparions and kontakions
- The Russian Orthodox Cathedral Church in Munich (in German)
- Die Kapelle des hl. Nikolaus an der Kathedrale (in German)
- Wikipedia: White_Rose