White Rose was a non-violent intellectual resistance group based at the University of Munich. One of its founding members was Hans Scholl and the group was quickly joined by his sister Sophie to support ‘active opposition’ to Hitler and his National Socialist Workers’ Party by widely distributing subversive leaflets throughout Munich, and their resistance activities started on 27 June 1942.
Early during her resistance work Sophie Scholl explained her reason for joining was because: “Somebody … 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 do… Stand up for what you believe in even if you are standing alone. An end in terror is preferable to terror without end,” and after being told her actions could lead to her death Sophie simply replied, “I’m aware of that”.
During late 1942 White Rose began mailing leaflets to people throughout Munich and quickly came to the attention of the authorities after around two-hundred leaflets were handed in to the Gestapo.
The opening paragraph of the first leaflet said: “Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be ‘governed’ without opposition to an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain today that every honest German is ashamed of this government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of the 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 infinitely outdistance every human measure reach the light of day? If the German people are already so corrupt and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order of history; if they surrender man’s highest principles that which raise him above all God’s creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and they subject it to their own national decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass- then, yes, they deserve their downfall”.
According to the historian Joachim Fest, this was a new development in the struggle against Hitler, “A small group of Munich students were the only protesters who managed to break out of the vicious circle of tactical considerations and other inhibitions. They spoke out vehemently, not only against the regime but also against the moral indolence and numbness of the German people…”
Peter Hoffman, author of the History of German Resistance (1977), said they must have been aware they could not do any significant damage to the regime, but they were prepared to sacrifice themselves in order to register their disapproval of Hitler’s government.
Their second leaflet was published in late June 1942 and attacked the ill-treatment of Jews in Germany and eastern Europe and also stated, “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 human history. For Jews too are human beings…”
This leaflet also raised questions about how the German population was responding to the atrocities and said, “Why tell you these things since you are already fully aware of them, or, if not these, then of other equally grave crimes committed by the frightful sub-humanity?… Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race…”
The third leaflet explained the goal of the White Rose was to bring down Hitler and his government and promoted a strategy of passive resistance and, “We want to try and show them that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of the system”.
The fourth leaflet mentioned the number of German soldiers killed in Russia and Hitler feeding lies and ends by saying, “We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace.”
The first draft of the fifth leaflet called for the people to disassociate themselves from National Socialist gangsters and stated a new war of liberation is about to begin.
The Gestapo later estimated that White Rose distributed over 10,000 subversive leaflets.
Gestapo photographs taken after their arrest
Sophie and Hans Scholl were later denounced by a woman who has never been identified and after their arrests were interrogated by the Gestapo. The entire legal system under the Third Reich had been purged and all members including defence lawyers had been replaced by party members loyal to Hitler and the ‘legal system’ was used as a tool of oppression. Prior to trial by kangaroo court Sophie Scholl told her lawyer, “If my brother is sentenced to die, you mustn’t let them give me a lighter sentence, for I am as guilty as him”.
During the trial Sophia Scholl was not concerned with the inevitable death sentence and frequently argued with the judge.
Four days after their arrest Sophia and Hans Scholl were beheaded by guillotine at Stadelheim Prison in Munich.