Traute Lafrenz, the last known survivor of a small band of medical students and others in Nazi-ruled Germany who were part of a resistance known as the White Rose that distributed leaflets carrying some of the earliest warnings of Adolf Hitler’s genocidal plans, died March 6 at her home in Yonges Island, S.C. She was 103.
The death was confirmed by her daughter, Renee Meyer. No cause was given.
The White Rose group — never numbering more than a few dozen — represented one of the first organized protests calling attention to the Holocaust, which eventually claimed the lives of 6 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!”
Many in the White Rose group were executed without trial under Hitler’s orders — beheaded by guillotine in an execution method used by the Nazis in some prisons and other sites.
Ms. Lafrenz was never as well-known in postwar Germany as the White Rose founders and leaders: Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst, Willi Graf and their mentor, philosophy professor Kurt Huber. After the war, they were honored as martyrs with schools, streets and town squares bearing their names.
Ms. Lafrenz (who took the name Traute Lafrenz Page after marriage) was twice arrested by the Gestapo, Hitler’s feared secret police. She was within three days of facing a jailhouse trial in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth, and possible execution, when U.S. forces liberated the prison and the city in April 1945.
“I was a contemporary witness,” she told the German daily Bild Zeitung in 2018. “Given the fates of the others, I am not allowed to complain.”
Ms. Lafrenz, a medical student in Munich, saw the mounting evidence of the Nazi campaign against Jews and anyone else deemed outside of Hitler’s “master race” visions.
Ms. Lafrenz helped provide the equipment for printing leaflets clandestinely at a Munich bookshop, whose owner was gay and feared the Nazi sweeps that also targeted his community. She also carried leaflets to her native Hamburg in northern Germany, where she secretly left the fliers in libraries or tossed them from buildings.
Ms. Lafrenz, who emigrated to the United States in 1947, rarely talked about her wartime experiences. Her daughter said her she opened up to her only in 1970 about her activities during the war.
On May 3, 2019, on Ms. Lafrenz’s 100th birthday, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier awarded her the Order of Merit 1st Class, the nation’s highest honor for civilians.
She “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,” the citation read.
The leaflets were highly literary, often citing writers and philosophers including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Plato and Aristotle, as well as the Bible. The White Rose group also risked their lives by painting anti-Nazi graffiti such as “Down with Hitler!” around Munich in the middle of the night, sometimes carrying pistols to protect themselves.
Another leaflet Ms. Lafrenz distributed said Jews in Germany and its occupied countries were being murdered “in the most bestial manner imaginable … a terrible crime against the dignity of mankind, a crime that cannot be compared with any other in the history of mankind.”
One member of the White Rose group, Hans Scholl, was believed to have been executed not only for his anti-Nazi activity but also because the Gestapo had discovered his gay relationships. Ms. Lafrenz revealed years later that she had been Scholl’s “girlfriend” for a while but that their relationship was based on their mutual passion against discrimination and a shared humanity. It was never sexual, she said.
She said she had been present, in disguise, at the funerals of the Scholl siblings, risking arrest and probably her life.
The name White Rose was believed to have been taken from the title of a 1929 novel about an American oil company seeking to purchase a Mexican ranch. (The author, who went by the nom de plume B. Traven, is better known for his novel “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” which inspired the 1948 movie directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart.)
Traute Lafrenz was born in Hamburg on May 3, 1919, less than a year after the end of World War I. Her father was a civil servant and mother a homemaker. Ms. Lafrenz first studied medicine in Hamburg and later at the University of Munich, where she met her future White Rose comrades.
After reaching the United States, she completed her medical studies in San Francisco, where she met her future husband, Vernon Page. He became an ophthalmologist, and she went into general practice.
They lived in the Chicago suburb of Evanston from 1972 to 1994. She headed the Esperanza School in Chicago, a private school helping students with developmental needs. She also became a leading adherent to anthroposophy, a spiritualist movement built around the idea of being able to gain a perception beyond the physical world.
Her husband died in 1995. In addition to her daughter, survivors include sons Michael, Kim and Thomas; seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
In a 2018 interview in the German magazine Der Spiegel, she said she felt shivers when she saw images of modern far-right rallygoers using Nazi stiff-arm salutes in the German city of Chemnitz.
“Maybe it’s no coincidence,” she told the magazine. “We are dying out and at the same time everything is coming back again.”