The White Rose

The White Rose is a shining example of resistance to Hitler, but also of the ruthlessness which the Nazis authorities showed when faced with any opposition. In early 1943, the fortunes of war were clearly turning against the Germans. The battle of Stalingrad had been a complete disaster, resulting in the surrender of the Sixth Army on January 31, 1943. Around this time, a small group of students, mostly centered in the University of Munich, began openly to agitate against the Nazi regime. They saw the war as lost, the good things they had thought would result from the Nazis in the 1930s as having been thrown away, and were horrified at the mistreatment of the Jews. The leaders of the student revolt were Hans Scholl (25), a medical student and his sister Sophie (21), a biology student. Hans Scholl had been an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth in 1933, but he quickly became disillusioned with Nazism as its inhumanity and barbarism became more and more clear with the passage of time.

People who have never lived under a totalitarian government have difficulty understanding how difficult it was - and how dangerous - to organize opposition to the government. The Nazis in particular were organized right down to the street level and people were encouraged to inform on their parents, relatives, and friends to the Gestapo; in short, anyone who manifested disagreement with the Nazis could be in serious trouble. Under the law of the Third Reich, over 5,000 people were executed for such trivial offenses as making jokes about Hitler or listening to radio broadcasts from Britain.

Most of the White Rose members were medical students, except for Sophie Scholl, who majored in biology and philosophy, and many had Jewish friends or classmates, who had been persecuted under the Nazis, Their disillusionment became most pronounced as the brutality of the regime became more apparent and especially when the mass deportations of the Jews began.

The White Rose began distributing anti-government leaflets in mid 1942. The main authors were Hans Scholl, Alex Schmorell, and George
 Sophie Scholl.

Sophie Scholl

Wittenstein (see below) who wrote four leaflets and distributed about 100 copies of them. Of the 100, 35 fell into the hands of the Gestapo. At about this time, Sophie Scholl joined the group. It is known that Hans Scholl coined the expression "leaflets of the White Rose", but the origin of the expression is unclear. The leaflets protested against the brutality and evil of the government, and against the extermination of the Jews, which was beginning to become known to more and more people at this time.

In summer 1942, many of the male medical students at the University of Munich were obliged to serve a three-month stint on the Russian front. Several of the White Rose members were among them. There they saw with their own eyes the horrors of war, and there they also saw the unbelievable cruelty the Germans displayed to the Jews. They personally witnessed beatings and other mistreatment and heard reliable stories of the persecution of the Jews then in full swing. They returned in November 1942.

In February 1943, the Gauleiter (District Leader) of Bavaria, Paul Giesler, addressed the students at the University of Munich. By then, he was already aware of some of the White Rose activities. He sneeringly said that the female students should be producing children for the Reich rather than wasting time studying and added: "If some of the girls lack sufficient charm to find a mate, I will assign each of them one of my adjutants." Female students who attempted to leave the session were arrested by the Gestapo, which led to a general riot and the eventual freedom of the women.

Several more activist leaflets soon followed, more and more revolutionary in nature, with the last ones calling openly for the overthrow of the government. By a stroke of bad luck, Sophie and Hans Scholl were observed dumping some of these leaflets out of a window at the university, were betrayed to the Gestapo and arrested. More than 80 arrests throughout Germany soon followed.

The Scholls and another collaborator were almost immediately (February 22, 1943) brought before the People's Court (Volksgerichtshof), a creation of the Nazi Party and feared for its denial of justice and cruelty. They were convicted of treason in a trial lasting only about 4 hours and sentenced to death by guillotine. Sophie Scholl had been mistreated so much in her "questioning" by the Gestapo that she arrived in court with a broken leg. But in a display of great courage, she stood up to the President of the Court, Roland Freisler (known for his perversion of justice), saying: "You know as well as we do that the war is lost. Why are you so cowardly that you won't admit it?"

The Scholls were executed the same day. A few days later, several of their colleagues were executed. The White Rose was finished.

Although they actually accomplished little (obviously they had no realistic chance of accomplishing very much from the outset), the White Rose students serve as an example that not all Germans blindly went along with Hitler. Their activities are important to include in any assessment of the reaction of Germans to Hitler, and what is striking is that the persecution of the Jews played a major role in galvanizing them into more open and radical opposition to the Hitler government. In spite of the difficulties they faced, they were imbued with a willingness to risk it all for their country and for the victims of its terrible practices. That they failed was perhaps preordained; that they dared to try is a testament to their humanity.

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