Resistance to Hitler’s regime came in all shapes and sizes over the Third Reich’s lifetime. The White Rose may not have achieved much, but it is nevertheless fondly remembered as an inspired and daring retort to the wave of National Socialism in Germany at the time.
Just a Forchtenberg girl
In 1933, Sophie Scholl was just another youth of society inducted and brainwashed in the Hitler Youth. At first she enthusiastically went along with the National Socialist mantra, but the cracks in her belief soon began to appear. Motivated by her father, Robert, who was an outspoken liberal critic of Hitler, Sophie knew she had to make a stand. In May 1942, she enrolled at the University of Munich and along with her brother Hans, formed the White Rose Movement. Hans was three years older than Sophie and had already spent a term in prison in 1937 for activities against the regime. In other words, he was the ideal sibling to help Sophie (and her elder sister Inge) spread her anti-Nazi propaganda. The start of the group was motivated further by Robert’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment after he claimed “this Hitler is god’s scourge on mankind, and if this war doesn’t end soon, the Russians will be sitting in Berlin.”
The Scholl siblings were joined by a number of associates who despised the Nazi regime. They were:
• Christoph Probst
• Alexander Schmorell
• Willi Graf
• Kurt Huber
The group immediately got to work distributing leaflets (the original texts can be seen here) calling for the return of democracy and social justice. The pamphlets were sent anonymously to as many places as possible with the focus on university lecturers and bar owners. Willi Graf had served in the army so knew the atrocities being carried out first hand. The group believed from the beginning that a Nazi victory in the war would ruin Europe and were convinced they could galvanise the nation into standing up against Hitler. As well as leaflets, the organisation painted anti-Nazi slogans and crossed out swastikas. As their anti-regime efforts became popular, it wasn’t long until Nazi authorities became aware of their activities.
While distributing leaflets at the university, on 18 February 1943, the group was noticed by caretaker Jakob Schmidt. A member of the Nazi Party, Schmidt reported them to the Gestapo. The secret state police arrested Sophie and Hans and searched their house. They found a letter signed by Probst, proving their links to the White Rose. Appearing in a show trial in court, they were found guilty of sedition against the established order and executed by guillotine. Huber, Grad, Schmorell and more than 80 other alleged conspirators died. Sophie, on her last night, was in high spirits and even in death was upbeat at how here message had been adhered to by many. A martyr for the anti-Nazi cause.
Aftermath: Die Weisse Rose
The White Rose was probably the most famous of all the civilian resistance movements in Nazi Germany. The police state of the Third Reich dealt with them harshly but it demonstrated that Germans were willing to risk their lives to stand up to the regime. The leaflets distributed by Sophie and her companions didn’t just have an effect on Germans, they were also smuggled out of Germany and given to the Allies who dropped them from the air all over Europe to spread the message.
To view the original documents that the White Rose Movement handed out at the University of Munich, head on over to here.