The morality of every person dictates the innate wrongness of genocide, and yet the world stood by as the Nazis sent millions to the gas chambers during the Holocaust. Historians and social scientists often attribute this moral failure to the blissfully feigned ignorance of the German people, enveloped in a blanket of fear propagated by the Nazi regime, and the indifference and prejudice of other nations. Yet a few brave college students in Munich proved to the world that conscientiousness still existed in the Fatherland. It is for their willingness to die to end the silence that The White Rose Movement has since become legendary.
The White Rose Movement was an informal group made up of students who attended Munich University and their professor who sought to oppose the war, Hitler and the fascist Nazi regime with non-violent resistance. It was founded in early 1942 by Hans Scholl, Willia Graf and Christoph Probst after the mass deportation of jews had begun, who were fully aware of the atrocities that were being committed against certain non-Aryan minorities. They had seen clearly the loss of liberty, the shredding of human rights, and the disturbing reality that the war was probably already lost. By the summer of 1942, knowing that resisting Hitler in any form was a capital crime, and who were fully aware of the existence of Nazi concentration camps and that hundreds of thousands of Jews had already been murdered in them, to keep secrecy under these extremely dangerous circumstances kept membership of their group very small.They took their name, The White Rose, from the book La Rosa Blanca, about struggling campesinos rising up against capitalist landowners in Mexico.
Between June 1942 and February 1943, they prepared, wrote and distributed six different leaflets, in which they called for the active opposition of the German people to Nazi oppression and tyranny and clandestinely distributed them across Munich.
The leaflets of the White Rose contained messages, such as :- ”Nothing is so unworthy of a nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition by a clique that has yielded to base instinct…Western civilization must defend itself against fascism and offer passive resistance, before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield.”
However, this was Nazi Germany which kept a high degree of surveillance on any resistance activity and there were informants everywhere. After leaflets were found in the University of Munich, the local Gestapo stepped up its efforts to catch the resistors. Hans, Willi and Alex also began a grafitti campaign painting anti-Nazi slogans like "Freedom" and "Down with Hitler," and drew crossed-out swastikas on buildings in Munich.
On February 18, 1943, members of the group including Hans sister, Sophie Scholl were arrested distributing anti-fascist leaflets at Munich University. Sophie and Hans were interrogated by Nazi officials and despite trying to protect each other, on February 22, 1943 were bought before the Peoples Court which had been set up try people accused of political offences against the Nazi state. The trial was presided over by Roland Freisler, chief justice of the People’s Court of the Greater German Reich. Freisler was an ardent Nazi and with great vigour and a manic intensity, frequently roared denunciations at the accused.
Despite the hostility, and appearing in court with a broken leg after her interrogation. Sophie replied to the court,“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”
She also said:“You know the war is lost. Why don’t you have the courage to face it?”
No defence witnesses were called and, after what amounted to a short show trial, the judge passed a guilty verdict, with a sentence of death. The sentence was to be carried out early the next morning by guillotine.
Walter Roemer, the chief of the Munich district court, supervised the execution, he later described Sophie’s courage in facing her execution. He reports that Sophie’s last words were:-
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
Gestapo photographs of Sophie Scholl (18th February, 1943)
The guards were impressed with the courage of the resistors, and relaxed the rules to allow Hans, Christoph and Sophie to meet before their execution. After the execution of Sophie, Hans and Christoph, the Gestapo continued their relentless investigation.
Gestapo photographs of Christope Probst (20th February, 1943)
Later that same year other members of the White Rose, Alexander Scmorell, Willi Graf and Kurt Huber were also tried and executed. Most of the other students convicted for their part in the group's activities received prison sentences.
Before their deaths members had believed that their executions would stir other university students and other anti-war citizens into a rallying call against Hitler and the war, but accounts clearly suggest sadly that most university students continued their studies as usual, the public said nothing, many actually seeing the movement as treacherous and as anti-national such was the grip of madness in Nazi Germany at the time.
Yet reports of mass killings of Jews, were widely shared by members of the White Rose. This features in the second White Rose pamphlet :- "Since the conquest of Poland 300,000 Jews have been murdered, a crime against human dignity…Germans encourage fascist criminals if no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds. An end in terror is preferable to terror without end.”
The members of the White Rose remain heroes who sacrificed their lives for the basic principles of freedom and the preservation of human dignity, and a potent symbol of how people can take a courageous action to resist,speak out ,even against the most brutal totalitarian regimes. Today again those with conscious must defend itself against the dark forces of fascism and offer resistance.
This is an archive of their leaflets: