Between 1942 and 1943 a group of courageous University of Munich students formed the anti-fascist resistance group called WHITE ROSE. The students wrote and printed from a small hidden press: protest leaflets against Hitler's regime and distributed them across Germany. They were found out, jailed and executed by the Nazis. The siblings who helped found this movement were: Sophie and Hans Scholl.
Hans and Sophie Scholl were two of five children of Robert Scholl, a liberal and independent mayor of tiny Forchtenberg on the River Kocher. The family moved frequently, finally settling in Ulm where Mr. Scholl opened his own consulting firm.
In 1933, to their parent’s disappointment, the Scholl kids joined the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls. There parents cautioned them but the children adored the movement. Hitler wanted to bring them a renewed Germany and he apparently loved the Fatherland as much as they did. Nothing seemed wrong. But soon young Sophie grew cautious when she realized her Jewish school friends were barred from joining the group. And once Hans had the opportunity to see how it all came together at a Nuremberg rally he had second thoughts. The aggressive speeches, crude jokes and senseless drilling worried him. He became involved with the Jugendbewegung (Youth Movements). This group had socially progressive ambitions – one being to read the books Goebbels had ordered be burned. This was around the time his younger sister Sophie was starting to learn about the National Socialist government and the other alternatives. The Scholl family and their closest friends took part in passive resistance against the Nazis, reading banned books and refusing donations to the government.
Sophie found an alternative to National Socialism in books and alternative thinkers. As a budding artist she came into contact with some of the “degenerate” artists of the area. Sophie was also an avid reader of philosophy and theology. When she made her way to Munich for university she was able to expand on these connections.
Hans’s friendships with other alternative thinkers stemmed from the resistance of an increasingly obvious dictatorship. He was drafted as soon as he finished secondary school and had to fill a two year military service with a cavalry unit in Bad Cannstatt. When he returned he was able to study medicine in Munich as a member of the German armed forces. He was on call with a student company. There he met Alex Schmorell.
Together these two friends founded the White Rose based on their similar political views. Members of the White Rose generally came from bourgeoisie families who had been raised in households opposed to Hitler. Most were medical students, except for Sophie who was a biology and philosophy major. Many had Jewish friends or classmates, who had been evicted, deported or had suffered during Krisalnacht.
Alex Schmorell said to me, pointing to the door of our room in the barracks: "Maybe ten years from now there will be a plaque on this door which will read: 'This is where the revolution began'."
- George J. Wittenstein,
The group shared their concerns about a dying German culture and the increasing presence of a dictatorship in their once democratic land. Over the summer of 1940 Hans Scholl went to France with the medical corps and was able to see the war from the side of those who were suffering. The group collected donations of bread and clothes for inmates in concentration camps; they looked over the relatives of those who had been taken away.
One day in 1942, copies of a leaflet entitled “The White Rose” suddenly appeared at the University of Munich. The leaflet contained an essay stating the Nazi government had slowly imprisoned their country, that the regime had turned evil. It was time, the essay said, for Germans to rise up and resist their own government. At the bottom of the essay, there was a request: “Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.”
The leaflet caused a tremendous stir among the student body and in the city of Munich. It was the first time that internal dissent against the Nazi government has appeared in Germany. The essay had been secretly written and distributed by the White Rose.
The White Rose continued to expose the motives and evils of the Nazi government in a series of seven leaflets. Their funding came mostly from members and a few donations. All the various printing materials had to be purchased from all over, as to avoid questioning and suspicion. With other brave friends, they secretly printed and distributed a series of leaflets calling on Germans to engage in passive resistance.
On Feburary 18, 1943 during the distribution of the sixth pamphlet Sophie was arrested by the Gestapo. Hans and their friend Christoph Probst were arrested two days later. The three were taken to the Volksgerichtshof (Peoples Court). The Volksgerichtshof existed outside the German constitution, created solely for the National Socialist Party in 1934. Its sole purpose was to rid Germany of anyone set against Hitler and his motives. The court quickly found the three students guilty and a few hours later – had them executed at the guillotine.
Eventually others from the White Rose were tracked down and executed, jailed or were forced to flee the country. Hans and Sophie were buried in Perlach Cemetery in south Munich on 24 February. In the town, graffiti appeared on walls: ‘Their spirit lives.’ Only two member of the inner circle of the White Rose are still alive.
Today, the main square outside the University of Munich is called Geschwister-Scholl-Platz.
- The White Rose
biographies, leaflets 1-7 in German and English, articles, etc.
- Memories of the White Rose
A lecture given by Dr. Wittenstein, one of only two survivors of the inner circle of the White Rose. He delivered this lecture to a Jewish organization in Los Angeles.