LOS ANGELES — When Jennifer Rosenfeld began researching her graduation thesis, little did she know she was about to stumble upon a story that would change the course of her life.
What do you want to know
- The White Rose is Jennifer Rosenfeld’s first music podcast
- It is based on the story of a student resistance group in Nazi Germany
- Rosenfeld found an unpublished essay by Josephine Pasternack in the Stanford University archives
- To stream the music or podcast, go here
She was studying the novel “Dr. Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak at Stanford University and had access to her family’s archives, an extensive collection of which is kept there.
Among the documents, Rosenfeld discovered an essay written by Pasternak’s sister, Josephine, about the White Rose, a small resistance group in Nazi Germany led by five students and their teacher.
Josephine knew some of the people involved and wrote the essay 10 years after their execution but could not find a publisher. A stack of boxed rejection letters with the essay itself.
“It represents a woman’s sincere desire and wish to bring the story to the world and she was unable to do so in her time,” Rosenfeld said, explaining her reaction to the material’s discovery. “I just felt like no one else would come across this. So I have to do something with it.
The idea won’t let her go until she finally returns to her piano. Rosenfeld had studied music in her youth and “was just obsessed with musical theatre.”
She even has an old diary full of posters and ticket stubs from shows she’s seen. In a way, an archive of her own.
“And I would write these very detailed reviews,” she said, flipping through pages covered in ink and multicolored stickers.
Although she had long since given up on her dreams of becoming a professional musician, she began composing what would become “The White Rose”, a musical about the resistance band. It’s an appropriate format, she said, because the music was important to the members.
“I was just thinking, you know, you can’t tell the story without music,” Rosenfeld explained. “It’s such a huge dimension of what mattered to them.”
During the pandemic, she recorded a concept album featuring four musicians and several singers, including Randal Keith, whom she had seen playing Jean Valjean in her favorite musical, “Les Miserables.”
“Randal Keith signed my Playbill when I was 14,” she laughed, pointing to the cover that’s stuck inside her diary. “He’s so amazing.”
For Rosenfeld, this project had many looping moments. Her family is Jewish, and she says her grandmother left Poland on the last ship of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe that was accepted into the United States. So for her, the story of the White Rose is very personal.
“They didn’t need to do what they did,” she said, “But part of it was to stand up for people like me or my loved ones and I have so much gratitude for that. “
The resistance story is also incredibly timely, she says, given what is happening in Ukraine. “You know, a big theme in the musical is about courage,” Rosenfeld explained. “I think it’s time for everyone to really think about what matters to me, how I want to use my life and what do I want to say.”
Besides the album, she has also released a podcast, a companion piece that follows her writing journey. She hopes to one day do a staged version of her musical, but mostly she just wants to do justice to Josephine and the story she wanted to tell.
“I can’t control what happens next,” she says, “but I think I did my part. And I did my best to honor Josephine and her words.
As she sings in the room, “That’s what I was supposed to do.”
To stream the music or podcast, go here.