Not everyone in Nazi Germany was pleased with Hitler’s ideas. Among the scattered groups that resisted the Reich’s overpowering influence was one small group at Germany’s University of Munich who decided to take a stand in their own way.
In 1941, student Hans Scholl, a former member of Hitler Youth (as was mandatory), read a copy of a sermon produced by Bishop August von Galen, an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime. It cried out against the euthanasia policies and other procedures that were being employed to “protect” the Aryan genes. Hans’ sister Sophie, horrified and disgusted by what she read, got permission to circulate the sermon throughout the University—and thus, the White Rose group produced their first anti-Nazi pamphlet.
The White Rose continued to grow; more of their student friends—Alex Schmorell, Falk Harnack, Jürgen Wittenstein, Katharina Schueddekopf, Lieselotte (Lilo) Berndl, Marie-Luise Jahn, Wilhelm Geyer, Manfred Eickemeyer, Josef Soehngen, Harald Dohrn, Willi Graf, Traute LaFrenz, and Christoph Probst—joined or associated with their intellectual resistance group, as did one of their professors, Kurt Huber. From June of 1942 to February 1943, the group prepared and circulated six leaflets, calling for public opposition to Hitler and the oppression of the Nazis. They dreamed of a Europe that rejected fascism and militarism in favor of tolerance and justice. At first their leaflets were only circulated in the southern cities of Germany, with the hope that their citizens would be more receptive to the anti-militaristic messages. But soon their pamphlets were being spread throughout Germany, in cities like Stuttgart, Cologne, Vienna, Freiburg, Chemnitz, Hamburg, Innsbruck, and Berlin.
Hans Scholl and Huber created the group’s fifth leaflet, “An Appeal to All Germans!”, which was duplicated into between 6,000 and 9,000 copies. Its themes of “freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and protection of the individual citizen from the arbitrary action of criminal dictator-states,” as well as the warnings that Hitler was leading Germany astray, caused a stir throughout the country. The Gestapo began searching for the publishers but were unsuccessful in preventing the group publishing a sixth pamphlet that was copied by the Allies and dropped by aircraft over Germany.
On February 18, 1943, the Scholl siblings brought a suitcase of their most recent leaflets to the University. While the students were in the lecture halls, Hans and Sophie hurriedly dropped stacks of the leaflets throughout the empty corridors. As they started to leave, they noticed a handful of leaflets still in the suitcase. Deciding they couldn’t be wasted, the two returned to the school atrium and climbed to the second floor, where Sophie flung the pages into the air. Unfortunately, this last action was seen by custodian Jakob Schmid. Soon enough, Sophie and Hans were taken into custody by the police.
On Hans they found a leaflet draft written by Christoph Probst, one of the core members of the group. The other active group members were also discovered, rounded up, and interrogated. The Scholls and Probst were first to stand trial. They were found guilty and sentenced to death. Within hours they were marched to the guillotine, where all three were noted for their bravery in the face of their imminent executions. As the blade fell, Hans is quoted as saying “Let freedom live!”
The rest of the group faced sentences of varying severity. Most of the group were given prison sentences, but Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorell, and Professor Kurt Hubner would join Probst and the Scholls in death by beheading. But the White Rose still managed to have the last word; their final leaflet was discovered by the Allies, copied, and widely circulated over Germany. The White Rose members are honored today as heroes who stood up honorably against the Third Reich, even in the face of death.
Read more about the White Rose, its members, and other Nazi resistance groups on this resistance fighters page on Fold3, created by bgill. This page also goes into more depth on the group, how they met, and all they did to fight against the Nazi regime in a non-violent way.