White Rose : Nazi Germany

The White Rose, was formed by students at the University of Munich in 1941. It is believed that the group was formed after August von Galen, the Archbishop of Munster, spoke out in a sermon against the Nazi practice of euthanasia (the killing of those considered by the Nazis as genetically unsuitable).

Members of this anti-Nazi group included Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Inge Scholl, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf and Jugen Wittenstein. Kurt Huber, a philosophy teacher at the university, was also a member of the group.

The group decided to adopt the strategy of passive resistance that was being used by students fighting against racial discrimination in the United States. This included publishing leaflets calling for the restoration of democracy and social justice. These were distributed throughout central Germany and the Gestapo soon became aware of the group's activities.

Several members had served in the German Army before resuming their studies. This provided them with information about the atrocities being committed by the Schutz Staffeinel (SS). Willi Graf had served as a medical orderly in France and Yugoslavia in 1941 whereas Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell had seen Jews being murdered in Poland and the Soviet Union. When Scholl and Schmorell returned to Munich in November, 1942, they joined up with Graff and began publishing leaflets about what they had seen while in the army.

The leaflets were at first sent anonymously to people all over Germany. Taking the addresses from telephone directories, they tended to concentrate on mailing university lecturers and the owners of bars. In Passive Resistance to National Socialism , published in 1943 the group explained the reasons why they had formed the White Rose group: "We want to try and show them that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of the system. It can be done only by the cooperation of many convinced, energetic people - people who are agreed as to the means they must use. We have no great number of choices as to the means. The meaning and goal of passive resistance is to topple National Socialism, and in this struggle we must not recoil from our course, any action, whatever its nature. A victory of fascist Germany in this war would have immeasurable, frightful consequences."

The White Rose group believed that the young people of Germany had the potential to overthrow Adolf Hitler and the Nazi government. In one leaflet, Fellow Fighters in the Resistance, they wrote: "Germans! Do you and your children want to suffer the same fate that befell the Jews? Do you want to be judged by the same standards as your traducers? Are we do be forever the nation which is hated and rejected by all mankind? No. Dissociate yourselves from National Socialist gangsterism. Prove by your deeds that you think otherwise. A new war of liberation is about to begin." The group also began painting anti-Nazi slogans on the sides of houses. This included "Down With Hitler", "Hitler Mass Murderer" and "Freedom". They also painted crossed-out swastikas.

Members also began leaving piles of leaflets in public places. On 18th February, Sophie Scholl and Hans Scholl began distributing the sixth leaflet produced by the White Rose group. It included the following: "The day of reckoning has come - the reckoning of German youth with the most abominable tyrant our people have ever been forced to endure. We grew up in a state in which all free expression of opinion is ruthlessly suppressed. The Hitler Youth, the SA, the SS, have tried to drug us, to regiment us in the most promising years of our lives. For us there is but one slogan: fight against the party! The name of Germany is dishonoured for all time if German youth does not finally rise, take revenge, smash its tormentors."

Jakob Schmidt, a member of the Nazi Party, saw them at the University of Munich, throwing leaflets from a window of the third floor into the courtyard below. He immediately told the Gestapo and they were both arrested. They were searched and the police found a handwritten draft of another leaflet. This they matched to a letter in Scholl's flat that had been signed by Christoph Probst.

The three members of the White Rose group appeared before the People's Court judge, Roland Friesler, on 20th February. Found guilty of sedition they were executed by guillotine a few hours later. Her cell-mate, Else Gebel, said Sophie's last words were: "It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives. What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted." Just before he was executed Hans Scholl shouted out: "Long live freedom!"

Inge Scholl and her parents were also arrested and imprisoned. Over the next few weeks Kurt Huber, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf , Jugen Wittenstein and over eighty others suspected of being members of the White Rose group were taken into custody. Huber, Graff and Schmorell were all found guilty of sedition and were executed.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Indictment against Hans Scholl drawn up by the Reich Attorney General (21st February, 1943)

The accused Hans Scholl occupied his thoughts for a long time with the political situation. He arrived at the conclusion that just as in 1918, so also after the seizure of power by the National Socialists in 1933, it was not the majority of the German masses but the intellectuals in particular who had failed politically.

He therefore decided to prepare and distribute leaflets intended to carry his ideas to the broad masses of the people. He therefore decided to prepare and distribute leaflets intended to carry his ideas to the broad masses of people. He bought a duplicating machine, and with the help of a friend, Alexander Schmorell, with whom he had often discussed his political views, he acquired a typewriter. He then drafted the first leaflet of the White Rose and claims singlehandedly to have prepared about a hundred copies and to have mailed them to addresses chosen from the Munich telephone directory. In doing so, he selected people in academic circles particularly, but also restaurant owners, who, he hoped, would spread the contents of the leaflets by word of mouth.

These seditious pamphlets contain attacks on National Socialism and on its cultural-political parties in particular; further, they contain statements concerning the alleged atrocities of National Socialism, namely the alleged murder of the Jews and the alleged forced deportation of the Poles.

(2) Extract from the first leaflet published by White Rose (1942)

Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be "governed" without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest is ashamed of his government. Who among us have any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes - crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure - reach the light of day?

(3) Extract from the second leaflet published by White Rose (1942)

It is impossible to engage in intellectual discourse with National Socialism because it is not an intellectually defensible program. It is false to speak of a National Socialist philosophy, for if there were such an entity, one would have to try by means of analysis and discussion either to prove its validity or to combat it. In actuality, however, we face a totally different situation. At its very inception this movement depended on the deception and betrayal of one's fellow man; even at that time it was inwardly corrupt and could support itself only by constant lies. After all, Hitler states in an early edition of "his" book (a book written in the worst German I have ever read, in spite of the fact that it has been elevated to the position of the Bible in this nation of poets and thinkers); "It is unbelievable, to what extent one must betray a people in order to rule."

We do not want to discuss here the question of the Jews, no do we want in this leaflet to compose a defence or apology. No, only by way of example do we want to cite the fact that since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history.

(4) Extract from the third leaflet published by White Rose (1942)

Many, perhaps most, of the readers of these leaflets do not see clearly how they can practise an effective opposition. They do not see any avenues open to them. We want to try and show them that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of the system. It can be done only by the cooperation of many convinced, energetic people -people who are agreed as to the means they must use. We have no great number of choices as to the means. The only one available is passive resistance. The meaning and goal of passive resistance is to topple National Socialism, and in this struggle we must not recoil from our course, any action, whatever its nature. A victory of fascist Germany in this war would have immeasurable, frightful consequences. We cannot provide each man with the blueprint for his acts, we can only suggest them in general terms.

(5) Extract from the fourth leaflet published by White Rose (1942)

Neither Hitler nor Goebbels can have counted the dead. In Russia thousands are lost daily. It is the time of the harvest, and the reaper cuts into the ripe grain with wide strokes. Mourning takes up her abode in the country cottages, and there is no one to dry the tears of the mothers. Yet Hitler feeds with lies those people whose most precious belongings he has stolen and whom he has driven to a meaningless death.

Every word that comes from Hitler's mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war, and when he blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan.

(6) The fifth White Rose leaflet was entitled, Leaflet of the Resistance (February, 1943)

Germans! Do you and your children want to suffer the same fate that befell the Jews? Do you want to be judged by the same standards as your traducers? Are we do be forever the nation which is hated and rejected by all mankind? No. Dissociate yourselves from National Socialist gangsterism. Prove by your deeds that you think otherwise. A new war of liberation is about to begin. The better part of the nation will fight on our side. Cast off the cloak of indifference you have wrapped around you. Make the decision before it is too late! Do not believe the National Socialist propaganda which has driven the fear of Bolshevism into your bones. Do not believe that Germany's welfare is linked to the victory of National Socialism for good or ill. A criminal regime cannot achieve a victory. Separate yourself in time from everything connected with National Socialism. In the aftermath a terrible but just judgment will be meted out to those who stayed in hiding, who were cowardly and hesitant.

(7) The sixth White Rose leaflet was entitled, Fellow Fighters in the Resistance (February, 1943)

The day of reckoning has come - the reckoning of German youth with the most abominable tyrant our people have ever been forced to endure. We grew up in a state in which all free expression of opinion is ruthlessly suppressed. The Hitler Youth, the SA, the SS, have tried to drug us, to regiment us in the most promising years of our lives. For us there is but one slogan: fight against the party!

The name of Germany is dishonoured for all time if German youth does not finally rise, take revenge, smash its tormentors. Students! The German people look to us.

(8) Roland Friesler, of the People's Court, describing the charges against Sophie Scholl (21st February, 1943)

The accused, Sophie Scholl, as early as the summer of 1942 took part in political discussions, in which she and her brother, Hans School, came to the conclusion that Germany had lost the war. She admits to having taken part in preparing and distributing the leaflets in 1943. Together, with her brother she drafted the text of the seditious Leaflets of the Resistance in Germany. In addition, she had a part in the purchasing of paper, envelopes and stencils, and together with her brother she actually prepared the duplicated copies of the leaflet. She put the prepared letters into various mailboxes, and she took part in the distribution of leaflets in Munich. She accompanied her brother to the university, was observed there in the act of scattering the leaflets.

(9) Sophie Scholl, speech in court (21st February, 1943)

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.

(10) Else Gebel shared Sophie Scholl's cell and recorded her last words before being taken away to be executed.

It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives. What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted. Among the student body there will certainly be a revolt.

(11) Munchener Neuete Nachrichten (22nd February, 1943)

On February 22, 1943, the People's Court, convened in the Court of Assizes Chamber of the Palace of Justice, sentenced to death the following persons: Hans Scholl, aged 24, and Sophia Scholl, aged 21, both of Munich, and Chrstoph Probst, aged 23, of Innsbruck, for their preparations to commit treason and their aid to the enemy. The sentence was carried out on the same day.

Typical outsiders, the condemned persons shamelessly committed offences against the armed security of the nation and the will to fight of the German people by defacing houses with slogans attacking the state and by distributing treasonous leaflets. At this time of heroic struggle on the part of the German people, these despicable criminals deserve a speedy and dishonorable death.

(12) Kurt Huber, final speech in court (20th February, 1943)

As a German citizen, as a German professor, and as a political person, I hold it to be not only my right but also my moral duty to take part in the shaping of our German destiny, to expose and oppose obvious wrongs.

What I intended to accomplish was to rouse the student body, not by means of an organization, but solely by my simple words; to urge them, not to violence, but to moral insight into the existing serious deficiencies of our political system. To urge the return to clear moral principles, to the constitutional state, to mutual trust between men.

A state which suppresses free expression of opinion and which subjects to terrible punishment - yes, any and all - morally justified criticism and all proposals for improvement by characterizing them as "Preparation for High Treason" breaks an unwritten law, a law which has always lived in the sound instincts of the people and which may always have to remain.

You have stripped from me the rank and privileges of the professorship and the doctoral degree which I earned, and you have set me at the level of the lowest criminal. The inner dignity of the university teacher, of the frank, courageous protestor of his philosophical and political views - no trial for treason can rob me of that. My actions and my intentions will be justified in the inevitable course of history; such is my firm faith. I hope to God that the inner strength that will vindicate my deeds will in good time spring forth from my own people. I have done as I had to on the prompting of my inner voice.

(13) Volkischer Beobachter (21st April, 1943)

The People's Court of the German Reich, in session in Munich, dealt with a number of accused persons who were involved in the high treason of the brother and sister School sentenced on February 22, 1943.

At the time of the arduous struggle of our people in the years 1942-43, Alexander Schmorell, Kurt Huber, and William Graf of Munich collaborated with the Scholls in calling for sabotage of our war plants and spreading defeatist ideas. They aided the enemy of the Reich and attempted to weaken our armed security. These accused, having through their violent attacks against the community of the German people voluntarily excluded themselves from that community, were punished by death. They have forfeited their rights as citizens forever.

(14) Inge Scholl was one of the members of the White Rose who was not executed. She wrote about the group in her book, Students Against Tyranny (1952)

What the circle of the White Rose strove for was increasing public consciousness of the real nature and actual situation of National Socialism. They wanted to encourage passive resistance among wide circles of the populace. In the circumstances, a tight, closely knit organization would not have succeeded. The panicked fear of the people in the face of the constant threat of Gestapo intervention and the ubiquity and thoroughness of the surveillance system were the strongest obstacles. On the other hand, it still seemed possible, by means of anonymous dissemination of information, to create the impression that the Führer no longer enjoyed solid support and that there was general ferment.