Telling the Stories of the White Rose: Bearing Witness and Building Empathy Through Oral Storytelling

In this revised submission for the White Rose Digital Symposium, Sarah Brady explores the possibilities oral performance storytelling holds for communicating the stories of the White Rose in a way that shares and honors their faith and courage while encouraging empathy, understanding, and even a basis for action.

In his seminal work Walden (1854), Henry David Thoreau asks the question, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” He goes on to say, “I know of no reading of another’s experience so startling and informing as this would be.” My research for the White Rose Symposium focuses on the idea that oral performance storytelling gives audiences the chance to do just that: the opportunity to “look through each other’s eyes for an instant” via the experiences of the stories of members of the White Rose.

Though styles, philosophies, and approaches to oral performance storytelling are numerous and diverse, at a fundamental level the art form builds upon the practice of taking the best of public speaking, theatre, and folk traditions and combining them into a dynamic, unique craft that invites an audience to participate with the teller in the creation of a story in a way that is different than the experience the audience has when they read a book, watch a movie, or even see a play at a theatre. In a very real sense, the story takes place in the minds of the audience members. As the teller paints the picture of the story with words, vocal variety, characterization, physicality, and more, the audience has the opportunity both mentally and emotionally to walk where the characters walk, hear what they hear, feel what they feel, and even witness what they witness. While this stepping into another’s footsteps works powerfully with any type of story (which can include traditional, literary, and personal tales), perhaps its most powerful manifestation occurs in the telling of historical stories.

During my time as a storyteller, I have found few stories as compelling as those of people in history who made the choice to see what those around them refused to perceive and to empathize with the plights of those whom society told them were too different from them to merit their care. The members of the White Rose truly fall into that category. Time after time, throughout the major and minor moments of their lives, they made the choice to be witnesses to what many would continue to claim for decades was impossible to know. Yet Hans and Sophie Scholl, Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst, Kurt Huber, Traute Lafrenz, and the rest of those who decided that resistance was worth more than safety saw, knew, felt in through, and acted on that knowledge. The story clips contained here, both part of a longer story about Hans and Sophie Scholl, demonstrate aspects of how oral performance storytelling can invite audience members to experience stories of the White Rose, thereby increasing their own empathy via bearing witness to the past.

Hans Scholl 

 

Sophie Scholl

 

These recordings are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). 

Sarah Brady is a storyteller and teaching artist. She holds undergraduate and masters degrees from Bob Jones University. Prior to becoming a professional storyteller, she taught communication and theatre at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, in the United States. Sarah tells stories in the United Kingdom and the United States, working with such entities as Arts for Learning (Virginia); Epic Tales; and the Suffolk Archives. Find out more about her work at www.sarahosburnbrady.com

Download Sarah’s bibliography here: Bibliography – Sarah Brady