Under Hitler's rule, various groups practiced different methods of resistance toward the military dictatorship of the Third Reich. Since active resistance was virtually impossible, many organizations and even individuals themselves took it upon themselves to passively resist Hitler and the Nazi government. Such was the case with Helmut Huebener, who was sentenced to death and executed at the age of seventeen for listening to BBC broadcasts and producing and distributing anti-Nazi leaflets in Hamburg (Prittie, 1964). Huebener was tried as an adult on the grounds that he had a much more mature mind than the average 17-year-old. Another individual that refused to conform to Hitler's views was Johnathan Stark. He and his family were Jehovah's Witnesses; this alone marked them liable for persecution for not conforming to Nazi views. Stark refused to take the oath to Hitler and to carry out his military service, resulting in his deportation to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp where he was hanged in 1944 for 'continuing to speak his mind about the evils of the war and the dictatorship" (Prittie, 1964, p. 159). An organization called the Edelweiss, which was made up of German youth, formed in Bavaria to meet secretly to discuss events, share information, and reaffirm their religious objections toward Nazism. Another group of students, these from Berlin, were involved with the circulation of anti-Nazi literature. They were eventually infiltrated and ten members were executed on 18 August 1942. The groups and individuals that concentrated on passive resistance were great in number and none possessed any greater ideals in their purposes and goals than another. However, one group had more of a national and long-lasting effect than the others and that group was known as the White Rose.
The White Rose consisted of a group of students from the University of Munich. Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, and Jurgen Wittenstein were the founding members of the White Rose (The White Rose, 1998). They were later joined by Christl Probst, Willi Graf, Professor Kurt Huber, and Hans's sister, Sophie. Hans began attending the University of Munich in 1939 to study medicine. There Wittenstein introduced him to Schmorell and several other students that shared his views. All of these students were studying medicine as well. They all shared the belief that it would be the career least likely to be subjected to Nazi influence (Balfour, 1988). The group soon became close friends and began to hold small, informal discussion meetings. The meetings were initially apolitical and consisted mainly of intellectual discussions about literature and philosophy (Thomsett, 1997). The group was soon joined by the popular philosophy professor, Kurt Huber. He shared many of the same views as the students and soon became a regular member of the group (The White Rose, 1998).
As the group continued to hold meetings, Hans one day received a packet in the mail that contained an 800-word criticism of the Third Reich. This event 'lit the fire" for Hans. He found it extremely refreshing to know that someone possessed and expressed the courage to speak out against the evils of Nazism (Thomsett, 1997). This significant event led to the creation of the White Rose.
The name 'White Rose" was claimed to be an arbitrary title, but, in fact, it could very well have been borrowed from a novel, about a Mexican farm which had escaped the corruption of civilization, that was written by a German (Balfour, 1988). The group was very small primarily because of the huge risk of being caught. The members of the White Rose shared the same hatred and disgust for all aspects of the Third Reich. They were aware that any form of active, violent resistance would be unthinkable due to the omnipotence of the Gestapo. They were also aware that Hitler's mood seemed dependent on the sympathy of the masses. Any reversal of feeling among the people would have been a weapon of great force used against him to threaten his own self-confidence. They all agreed that their part would come in the form of passive resistance. The White Rose encouraged passive resistance with the intent of giving 'an invisible sense of solidarity to the individuals of the opposition, to strengthen them and increase their numbers, to win over the hesitant, to move the uncommitted to a decision, to cast doubt in the minds of Nazi followers, and to induce questioning in the minds of Nazi enthusiasts" (Scholl, 1970, p. 95). They wanted the truth to be known and to inform the German youth that they were being misused by the Nazi government (Prittie, 1964). As their meetings initially held philosophical and intellectual purpose, they now took on a political basis with utter resentment for the Nazi regime. This gave the group intense momentum and Professor Huber, the group's mentor of sorts, began to strongly encourage resistance (Balfour, 1988). Finally, the group decided it was time to take action.
The decision of exactly what action would be taken was made by Hans, Schmorell, and Wittenstein. While the group continued to meet to discuss and denounce the Nazi regime, the three came up with a method of publicly, yet anonymously, declaring their opposition of the Third Reich. The students began to practice passive resistance by producing and distributing a leaflet that denounced the Nazis, yet concerned itself more with encouraging freedom of thought for its readers rather than with preaching active resistance toward Hitler (Prittie, 1964). Hans performed the duty of the primary author while Schmorell and Wittenstein took the task of editing and did most of the distributing. The first leaflet, distributed in May of 1942, while encouraging passive resistance, also attacked the morality of the Nazi government and also the gullability of Germans (Prittie, 1964). This point was emphasized with the quote, 'Do not forget that every people deserves the government that it is willing to endure" (The White Rose, 1998).
An interesting fact at this point is that Hans's sister, Sophie, although one of the key figures of the White Rose, was not even familiar with the group until after the first leaflet was distributed. In fact, she was completely unaware that any such action was taking place. She was first introduced to the concept of the leaflet while in class at the University of Munich when she spotted one on the floor beside her seat (Scholl, 1970). She eagerly read over the leaflet with great excitement that someone else shared her same views and opinions of the Nazis. However, when she discovered that the leaflet was produced by her own brother, she was utterly shocked and angry that he was part of a resistance group and that he would risk his life to openly oppose Hitler. But, she realized that her only options were to denounce Hans or stand by his side, support his views which were also her own, and encourage resistance of the Third Reich, thus placing her own life in jeopardy. She chose the latter.
Also joining the White Rose after the completion of the first leaflet, was Christl Probst, at age 21, a husband and father of three children, and Willi Graf, also a medical student at the university who refused to acknowledge anyone that supported the Third Reich. Probst was an integral part of the White Rose. Many ideas were run across him for his opinion of their worthiness and value (The White Rose, 1998). He also kept the easily excitable Hans and Alexander grounded, while assuring them that their mission would have the greatest possible impact.
The group, now seven strong, set at the task of creating other leaflets. Over the course of the next three months, the group published and distributed three more leaflets, making approximately one hundred copies of each. (Balfour, 1988) The second leaflet, published in June of 1942, again urged passive resistance and called for the sabotage of arms production and war propaganda. It urged opponents to refuse to contribute to collections of clothes, money, and metals, essentially anything that could aid the Nazi cause in the war. In July, the third leaflet was printed. It heavily stressed the fact that the German military advances in Russia and Africa were not victories at all, but a senseless loss of countless German lives (Prittie, 1964). The fourth leaflet was published in August, criticizing Hitler for means other than and including the physical destruction of Germany that resulted from the war. They urged the attack of 'evil where it is strongest, and it is strongest in the power of Hitler" (The White Rose, 1998).
The members of the White Rose worked day and night with a hand-operated duplicating machine to produce literally thousands of copies of their leaflets to distribute throughout Germany. The distribution of the leaflets was perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the group's existence. Leaflets were stuffed into envelopes and mailed from various locations throughout Germany, thus avoiding being traced from one location, should they be discovered (The White Rose, 1998). Recipients of the leaflets were selected at random from telephone directories. However, the group seemed to target scholars, medics, and pub-owners, since these people were either intelligent enough to think for themselves, or could easily spread the group's message. In another method of distribution, all members traveled to various locations in Germany to hand-deliver the leaflets. This was incredibly risky due to the fact that they traveled by train, which, along with the train stations, were swarming with members of the Gestapo and the SS, who frequently would check pieces of luggage in search of exactly what the members of the White Rose were carrying, pieces of evidence of opposition toward the Third Reich (Thomsett, 1997). The group also left hundreds of leaflets on the campus of the University of Munich, carefully hand-delivered in the middle of the night (The White Rose, 1998).
The publication of the leaflets was briefly interrupted during the fall of 1942 when Hans, Schmorell, and Probst were sent with their Student Company to the southern front in Russia to serve as medical orderlies in the war (Balfour, 1988). However, on the way to the front, and, again, taking great risk, the trio would, at every possible opportunity, stop to provide hope and support for those that were being oppressed by the Nazis. For example, Hans left his train at a stop to go to give part of his ration and a daisy to a small Jewish girl that was being forced to perform excruciatingly difficult manual labor. On another occasion, he stopped to offer his tobacco to an old man in a labor camp (Scholl, 1970).
When the trio arrived on the front, they were able to make several contacts through Schmorell, who was Russian (Balfour, 1988). Writers and critics in eastern Germany would later write that these contacts gave the group a favorable impression of Communism and that their goal upon their return to Germany was to start a violent revolution. However, Schmorell's impression of the contacts that he met was that they despised the Russian Communist system. This positive experience with the Russian people, their landscape, and their culture, led them to become even more anxious to bring an end to the war which was being fought against a people that they so greatly admired (Balfour, 1988).
Upon their return from the war, a close friend of the White Rose lent them the use of his house and studio for a meeting place (Scholl, 1970). The group, now reunited, borrowed a large sum of money to develop a new leaflet campaign. Beginning in December of 1942, the White Rose launched a new resistance campaign the likes of nothing ever before seen under Nazi rule (Prittie, 1964).
The members of the White Rose realized that their new operation was to take on an appeal to all of Germany and even beyond. As a result, they changed the title of the leaflets from 'Leaflets of the White Rose" to 'Leaflets of the Resistance" (Thomsett, 1997). The group began to seek contacts by word of mouth throughout Germany in cities such as Hamburg, Stuttgart, Freiburg, and Saarbrucken (Balfour, 1988). The fifth leaflet that was published in January of 1943 began as, 'A Call to All Germans!" They were distributed by hand or post in Munich and Augsburg, but were delivered by hand to Ulm, Stuttgart, Linz, Salzburg, Vienna, Frankfurt, Bonn, Freiburg, and Berlin, to create the impression that the movement had no single location (Balfour, 1988).
On 13 January 1943, an event occurred that showed the White Rose that its movement was becoming contagious among the students in Munich. On the campus of the university, the Munich District Party Leader, Paul Geisler, gave a highly provocative and offensive speech that called for female students to spend their time presenting sons to the Fuhrer rather than 'hanging around" as students (Balfour, 1988). This enraged many in the crowd and prompted several to walk out in protest. But Geisler wouldn't permit this, as he called for the arrest of anyone who did so. On the other hand, when the rest of the student body found this out, over 1000 students lined up outside Geisler's lecture hall to prevent the arrests from being carried out.
This event greatly invigorated the members of the White Rose. The student protest, coupled with the German surrender at Stalingrad, caused the White Rose to gain confidence in their belief that the war would soon be over and the downfall of the Nazi regime would soon become a reality. The White Rose continued to gain momentum as a result of this chain of events and on the night of 3 February 1943, Hans, Schmorell, and Graf participated in, perhaps, the most dangerous activity that the White Rose had been associated with up to that point. The trio carefully strolled the streets of Munich, carrying with them a large amount of 'peace paint," a paint that was very difficult to remove once it had dried (Scholl, 1970). They used this paint to decorate over seventy buildings in central Munich and the university with slogans such as, 'Down with Hitler!" and 'Freedom!" (Balfour, 1988).
A month before this act, the White Rose produced the sixth and last of their regular leaflets. It was addressed specifically to the students and called for the liberation of Europe from the National Socialism under which it was enslaved (Balfour, 1988). The sixth leaflet also touched on several long-term goals, such as the establishment of democratic freedom, the restoration of social justice, and the decentralization of the government into a federation with characteristics of the Swiss confederation (Prittie, 1964). Over 3000 copies were made of the final leaflet (Balfour, 1988).
The White Rose produced one final product, a broadsheet, which contained the slogan, 'There can only be one cry; fight the party!" (Prittie, 1964). On 18 February 1943, Hans and Sophie set out for the university to distribute the broadsheets. They carried them in a suitcase and planned to distribute them in the deserted corridors of the university just as the students were to leave their classes. Just as the students were to be released, the Scholls hurried outside, only to realize that a few broadsheets still remained in the suitcase. Sophie rushed to the top of a nearby staircase and flung the remaining broadsheets high into the air, letting them fall three stories into the courtyard below (The White Rose, 1998). Everything had gone as planned, except for the fact that they had been spotted on top of the staircase by Jakob Schmidt, the University handyman and Nazi party member, who immediately locked the doors to the school and notified the Gestapo. By some accounts, the Scholls had plenty of time to escape, and they put up little resistance to the Gestapo when they were arrested. Hans and Sophie were taken to the Gestapo headquarters in Munich at the Wittelsbach Palace where they were interrogated for several days (Prittie, 1964).
During interrogations, the Gestapo were notorious for using torture tactics to get the information that they wanted out of the prisoners (Prittie, 1964). They did not, however, torture the Scholls simply because they openly admitted their guilt. Hans and Sophie tried to no avail to place the entire blame for all activities of the White Rose on themselves and strived especially hard to protect Probst because of his wife and children. However, when he was arrested, Hans was found with a draft of a seventh leaflet that was written by Probst. The Gestapo identified it as being written in Probst's handwriting and arrested him the following day in Innsbruck when he was attempting to receive his leave papers from the Army to go visit his family (The White Rose, 1998).
Throughout the entire interrogation process, Hans, Sophie, and Probst remained incredibly calm and courageous, which impressed the members of the Gestapo (Prittie, 1964). During one particular interrogation, Sophie was asked if she knew before she acted what would happen to her, would she still have carried out the missions of the White Rose. She said, 'I would have acted in exactly the same manner. It is you, not I, who have the wrong outlook". She also demanded to have exactly the same sentence as her brother, claiming that she was just as guilty as he was. Hans wrote several phrases on the wall of his cell, phrases such as, 'Hold out in defiance of all despotism," (Scholl, 1970) and 'Uphold yourself in the face of every pressure" (Prittie, 1964).
On 22 February 1943 at 9 AM, the Scholls and Probst were taken to the Munich Law Courts. They were to be tried by the Nazi People's Court, whose only purpose was to sentence Hitler's enemies (Prittie, 1964). The three were being tried for treason, which was definable as distributing any publication of dissent toward the Third Reich, and was punishable by death (Thomsett, 1997). The trials were presided over by Roland Freisler, the notoriously harsh and unforgiving President of the People's Court (Scholl, 1970). Freisler ordered the group to receive summary proceedings to make the trial and the executions as quick as possible to serve as a warning to other opponents of the regime.
During trials in front of the People'' Court, many of the convicted would attempt to conceal their true beliefs and opinions and concede to the judge's views in order to protect their lives (Scholl, 1970). The Scholls and Probst, however, were extremely dignified during the trial, always remaining faithful to their own views as well as the opinions of the White Rose itself. Sophie stated during the trial, that, 'What we said and wrote is what many people are thinking. Only they don't dare say it". At one point, Hans pleaded for clemency for Probst on the basis that he had a wife and three children to return to. However, Hans did not succeed. The court convicted the three for 'foretelling Germany's defeat" and 'depicting their opposition to Hitler as a struggle for freedom" (Prittie, 1964, p. 172) and sentenced them to death by the guillotine.
After the trial, the group was sent to the large execution jail at Munich-Stadelheim (Thomsett, 1997). There they were given their last requests and received the highly unusual permission to visit their parents one final time (Scholl, 1970). Probst, however, did not get the opportunity to visit his family, because his wife was still in the hospital after bearing their third child. Probst never saw his third child and his family didn't find out his fate until several days after the execution.
At approximately 5 PM on the same day that they were tried, the Scholls and Probst were led to the guillotine blocks, calm and fearless. As Hans approached the block, he shouted, "Long live freedom!" so that it rang out through the prison (Scholl, 1970). Shortly, all three were executed.
The other three key members of the White Rose, Professor Huber, Willi Graf, and Alexander Schmorell, were arrested only a few weeks after the Scholls and Probst were executed. They were tried on 19 April 1943. Huber defended himself during the trial and seemed to make a point with those in the audience by stating, "History will charge Hitler with full responsibility for the tragedies at Stalingrad" (Prittie, 1964). Huber and Schmorell were executed on 13 July while Graf was executed on 12 October. Approximately eighty others that were associated with the White Rose were later apprehended, including kinship, in order to eliminate any impulses against further uprisings (Scholl, 1970). Of these eighty, 37 years of imprisonment and seven life imprisonments were handed out (Prittie, 1964).
The White Rose was not just restricted to the group of students in Munich. Through their contacts throughout Germany, a branch was created in Hamburg, as well. The two groups communicated through Traute Lafrenz of Hamburg, who was close friends with Schmorell and the Scholls (Scholl, 1970). After the Munich group was infiltrated and broken up, another Munich student, Hans Leipelt, continued to duplicate and distribute the leaflets and also organized a collection for the widow and child of Professor Huber. Lafrenz was captured soon after the Scholls and Probst were executed, thus deeming Leipelt the only significant contact with the Hamburg branch. However, both groups were soon infiltrated by the Gestapo and Leipelt was apprehended on 13 October 1943. Over thirty people were arrested and imprisoned, some receiving extraordinarily long sentences. Leipelt was sentenced to death and was executed on 29 January 1945. A majority of the members of the Hamburg branch were executed in April of 1945. However, those that were imprisoned, were liberated by the U.S. forces at the end of the war.
After the infiltration and breakup of the White Rose of Munich, Germany was never again fought for by a group of resistance such as it was by the White Rose. As the end of the war grew near, the risks of opposition became all the more acute, for as the German rulers became aware of their downfall, their punishments became much more severe. This was their idea of revenge; to pull as many resistors down to death with them as they possibly could. Despite this, those that were inspired by the White Rose continued to openly resist and oppose the Nazi government and to spread their message just as the original members had done.
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Prittie, T. (1964). Germans Against Hitler. London: Hutchinson & Co.
Scholl, I. (1970). The White Rose: Munich 1942-43. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Thomsett, M. C. (1997). The German Opposition to Hitler: The Resistance, the
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