The White Rose was a non-violent/intellectual resistance group in Nazi Germany, consisting of students from the University of Munich and their philosophy professor. The group became known for an anonymous leaflet campaign, lasting from June 1942 until February 1943, that called for active opposition to dictator Adolf Hitler's regime.
The six core members of the group were arrested by the Gestapo (German secret police) and they were executed by decapitation in 1943. The text of their sixth leaflet was smuggled by Helmuth James Graf von Moltke out of Germany through Scandinavia to the United Kingdom, and in July 1943 copies of it were dropped over Germany by Allied planes, retitled "The Manifesto of the Students of Munich."
Today, the members of the White Rose are honored in Germany amongst its greatest heroes, since they opposed the Third Reich in the face of almost certain death.
The core of the White Rose comprised students from the University of Munich — Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, Traute Lafrenz, Katharina Schueddekopf, Lieselotte (Lilo) Berndl, Jurgen Wittenstein, Marie-Luise Jahn and Falk Harnack. Most were in their early twenties. A professor of philosophy and musicology, Kurt Huber, also associated with their cause. Additionally, Wilhelm Geyer, Manfred Eickemeyer, Josef Soehngen, and Harald Dohrn participated in their debates. Geyer taught Alexander Schmorell how to make the tin templates used in the graffiti campaign. Eugen Grimminger of Stuttgart funded their operations. Grimminger's secretary Tilly Hahn contributed her own funds to the cause, and acted as go-between between Grimminger and the group in Munich. She frequently carried supplies such as envelopes, paper, and an additional duplicating machine from Stuttgart to Munich.
Between June 1942 and February 1943, they prepared and distributed six leaflets, in which they called for the active opposition of the German people to Nazi oppression and tyranny. Huber wrote the final leaflet. A draft of a seventh leaflet, designed by Christoph Probst, was found in the possession of Hans Scholl at the time of his arrest by the Gestapo. While Sophie Scholl hid incriminating evidence on her person before being taken into custody, Hans did not do the same with Probst's leaflet draft or cigarette coupons given to him by Geyer, an act that cost Probst his life and nearly undid Geyer.
In 1941 Hans Scholl read a copy of a sermon by an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime, Bishop August von Galen, decrying the euthanasia policies (extended that same year to the concentration camps) which the Nazis maintained would protect the European gene pool. Horrified by the Nazi policies, Sophie obtained permission to reprint the sermon and distribute it at the University of Munich as the group's first leaflet prior to their formal organization.
Quoting extensively from the Bible, Aristotle and Novalis, as well as Goethe and Schiller, they appealed to what they considered the German intelligentsia, believing that they would be intrinsically opposed to Nazism. At first, the leaflets were sent out in mailings from cities in Bavaria and Austria, since the members believed that southern Germany would be more receptive to their anti-militarist message.
Alexander Schmorell, who penned the words the White Rose, has become most famous for having spoken. Most of the more practical material —calls to arms and statistics of murder— came from Alex's pen. Hans Scholl wrote in a characteristically high style, exhorting the German people to action on the grounds of philosophy and reason. At the end of July 1942, some of the male students in the group were deployed to the Eastern Front for military service (acting as medics) during the academic break. In late autumn, the men returned, and the White Rose resumed its resistance activities. In January 1943, using a hand-operated duplicating machine, the group is thought to have produced between 6,000 and 9,000 copies of their fifth leaflet, "Appeal to all Germans!", which was distributed via courier runs to many cities (where they were mailed). Copies appeared in Stuttgart, Cologne, Vienna, Freiburg, Chemnitz, Hamburg, Innsbruck, and Berlin. The fifth leaflet was composed by Hans Scholl with improvements by Huber. These leaflets warned that Hitler was leading Germany into the abyss; with the gathering might of the Allies, defeat was now certain. The reader was urged to "Support the resistance movement!" in the struggle for "Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and protection of the individual citizen from the arbitrary action of criminal dictator-states". These were the principles that would form "the foundations of the new Europe".
The leaflets caused a sensation, and the Gestapo began an intensive search for the publishers.
On the nights of the 3rd, 8th, and 15th of February 1943, the slogans "Freedom" and "Down with Hitler" appeared on the walls of the University and other buildings in Munich. Alexander Schmorell, Hans Scholl and Willi Graf had painted them with tar-based paint (similar graffiti that appeared in the surrounding area at this time was painted by imitators).
The shattering German defeat at Stalingrad at the beginning of February provided the occasion for the group's sixth leaflet, written by Huber. Headed "Fellow students!", it announced that the "day of reckoning" had come for "the most contemptible tyrant our people has ever endured"."The dead of Stalingrad adjure us!"
Leaflet No. 6 was copied by the Allies and dropped from aircraft.
On 18 February 1943, coincidentally the same day that Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels called on the German people to embrace total war in his Sportpalast speech, the Scholls brought a suitcase full of leaflets to the university. They hurriedly dropped stacks of copies in the empty corridors for students to find when they flooded out of lecture rooms. Leaving before the class break, the Scholls noticed that some copies remained in the suitcase and decided it would be a pity not to distribute them. They returned to the atrium and climbed the staircase to the top floor, and Sophie flung the last remaining leaflets into the air. This spontaneous action was observed by the custodian Jakob Schmid. The police were called and Hans and Sophie Scholl were taken into Gestapo custody. Sophie and Hans were interrogated by Gestapo interrogator Robert Mohr, who initially thought Sophie was innocent. However, after Hans confessed, Sophie assumed full responsibility in an attempt to protect other members of the White Rose. Despite this, the other active members were soon arrested, and the group and everyone associated with them were brought in for interrogation.
The Scholls and Probst were the first to stand trial before the Volksgerichtshof—the People's Court that tried political offenses against the Nazi German state—on 22 February 1943. They were found guilty of treason and Roland Freisler, head judge of the court, sentenced them to death. The three were executed the same day by guillotine. All three were noted for the courage with which they faced their deaths, particularly Sophie, who remained firm despite intense interrogation (however, reports that she arrived at the trial with a broken leg from torture are false). She said to Freisler during the trial, "You know as well as we do that the war is lost. Why are you so cowardly that you won't admit it?" When Hans was executed, he said "Let freedom live" as the blade fell.
The second White Rose trial took place on 19 April 1943. Only eleven had been indicted before this trial. At the last minute, the prosecutor added Traute Lafrenz (who was considered so dangerous that she was to have had a trial all to herself), Gisela Schertling, and Katharina Schueddekopf. None had an attorney. One was assigned after the women appeared in court with their friends.
Professor Huber had counted on the good services of his friend, Attorney Justizrat Roder, a high-ranking Nazi. Roder had not bothered to visit Huber before the trial and had not read Huber's leaflet. Another attorney had carried out all the pre-trial paperwork. When Roder realized how damning the evidence was against Huber, he resigned. The junior attorney took over.
Grimminger initially was to receive the death sentence for funding their operations. His attorney successfully used the female wiles of Tilly Hahn to convince Freisler that Grimminger had not known what the money was really being used for. Grimminger therefore escaped with a sentence of ten years in a penitentiary.
The third White Rose trial was to have taken place on 20 April 1943 (Hitler's birthday), because Freisler anticipated death sentences for Wilhelm Geyer, Harald Dohrn, Josef Soehngen, and Manfred Eickemeyer. He did not want too many death sentences at a single trial, and had scheduled those four for the next day. However, the evidence against them was lost, and the trial was postponed until 13 July 1943.
At that trial, Gisela Schertling —who had betrayed most of the friends, even fringe members like Gerhard Feuerle— redeemed herself by recanting her testimony against all of them. Since Freisler did not preside over the third trial, the judge acquitted all but Soehngen (who got only six months in prison) for lack of evidence.
Alexander Schmorell and Kurt Huber were beheaded on 13 July 1943, and Willi Graf on 12 October 1943. Friends and colleagues of the White Rose, who had helped in the preparation and distribution of leaflets and in collecting money for the widow and young children of Probst, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to ten years.
Prior to their deaths, several members of the White Rose believed that their execution would stir university students and other anti-war citizens into activism against Hitler and the war.
After her release for the sentence handed down on April 19, Traute Lafrenz was rearrested. She spent the last year of the war in prison. Trials kept being postponed and moved to different locations because of Allied air raids. Her trial was finally set for April 1945, after which she probably would have been executed. Three days before the trial, however, the Allies liberated the town where she was held prisoner, thereby saving her life.
The White Rose had the last word. Their last leaflet was smuggled to the Allies, who edited it, and air-dropped millions of copies over Germany. The members of the White Rose, especially Sophie, became icons of the new post-war Germany.
The square where the central hall of Munich University is located has been named "Geschwister-Scholl-Platz" after Hans and Sophie Scholl; the square opposite to it is "Professor-Huber-Platz". Two large fountains are in front of the university, one on either side of Ludwigstraße. The fountain in front of the university is dedicated to Hans and Sophie Scholl. The other, across the street, is dedicated to Professor Huber. Many schools, streets, and other places across Germany are named in memory of the members of the White Rose.
One of Germany's leading literary prizes is called the "Geschwister Scholl" prize (the "Scholl Siblings" prize.)
The White Rose has also received artistic treatments, including the acclaimed opera Weiße Rose by Udo Zimmermann and In memoriam: die weisse Rose by Hans Werner Henze.
With the fall of Nazi Germany, the White Rose came to represent opposition to tyranny in the German psyche and was lauded for acting without interest in personal power or self-aggrandizement. Their story became so well-known that the composer Carl Orff claimed (though by some accounts, falsely) to his Allied interrogators that he was a founding member of the White Rose and was released. In fact, he was personally acquainted with Huber, but there is a lack of any evidence that Orff was involved in the movement.
Around seven or eight years ago, I read Sophie and Hans' entries on Findagrave. I saw identical comments on their memorials, in German, that for some reason gave me a bad feeling. I don't speak German, but my partner does, and he translated them for me. A neo-Nazi had written that the Scholls were traitors to the Reich, and would burn in Hell for what they did. I emailed Findagrave with a translation of the comments, and they were immediately removed. It proved two things to me. One, that the people at the website really do seem to care about policing it, and two, that there are assholes out there, whether you like it or not.
I never heard of the White Rose but thanks for the great post. Its interesting that in the end they got the last laugh with the allies dropping their leaflets all over the place. It amazes me how brave some people can be even when they know it might get them killed.
I would love to start this forum back up and discuss the White Rose with others who are just as inspired and interested as I am! I have been researching about the White Rose for three years now, and I still can't get enough new information about the group as well as the individuals.