They dared to challenge Nazi Germany from within, facing death for what they knew was right. Who were Sophie Scholl and the White Rose?
Hans Scholl (left), Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst, three
"inner circle" members the White Rose.
Hitler is the devil
"Every word that comes from Hitler's mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war, and when he blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed.
"True, we must conduct a struggle against the National Socialist terrorist state with rational means; but whoever today still doubts the reality, the existence of demonic powers, has failed by a wide margin to understand the metaphysical background of this war." – From the fourth White Rose leaflet
University custodian Jakob Schmid,
who caught Hans and Sophie Scholl
in the act of distributing anti-Nazi
A scene from Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. Sophie, played by German actror Julia Jentsch, faces Nazi judge Roland Freisler in the White Rose trial.
"It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives? What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted? Among the student body there will certainly be a revolt." – Sophie Scholl before leaving her cell for execution, reported by her cellmate Else Gebel
What was the fate of the other White Rose members?
Almost everyone associated with the White Rose was gradually found out, arrested and interrogated (some of them named names). The second White Rose trial took place on 19 April, 1943 and as a result Willi Graf, Kurt Huber and Alexander Schmorell were later executed. Others escaped with their lives, but faced jail terms.
MORE: White Rose walking tour - follow in the footsteps of Hans and Sophie Scholl
What were the motivations of the White Rose?
Some of the White Rose members had strong religious beliefs which they considered incompatible with the totalitarian rule of Nazi Germany and its persecution of the Jews.
Some members must also have been influenced by their parents. The Scholls’ father, Robert, was openly critical of the Third Reich and even spent four months in jail for calling Hitler the "scourge of God". Christoph Probst’s father also had anti-Nazi leanings.
The members also reacted against how Germany had changed since the Nazis came to power in 1933. Sophie Scholl saw exclusion of the Jews, including some of her friends, from schools and clubs. Hans Scholl disliked the growing cruelty and conformity being drummed into the Hitler Youth while he was a member of that group. Hans, along with other adolescent Scholl siblings Werner and Inge, were arrested and spent a few days in jail for taking part in a banned youth group in 1938.
Prof. Huber saw the Nazi’s gradual degradation of the arts and education system.
Hans Scholl, Will Graf and Alexander Schmorell had all spent time on the Eastern Front as army medics. There they witnessed firsthand the cold-blooded treatment of the Nazis to Russian civilians and prisoners of war, who were often executed and buried in mass graves. The young students also learned of mass killings of Jews, the Third Reich’s "Final Solution to the Jewish Question".
A Call to All Germans!
"Germans! Do you and your children want to suffer the same fate that befell the Jews? Do you want to be judged by the same standards as your corrupters? "Are we to be forever a nation which is hated and rejected by all mankind? No. Dissociate yourselves from National Socialist gangsterism. Prove by your deeds that you think otherwise.
"A new war of liberation is about to begin." – From the fifth White Rose leaflet
Sophie Scholl has become by far the
most famous member of the White Rose.
What is the legacy of the White Rose?
After the war the White Rose members became heroes of the new Germany. Today there are streets, schools and monuments named after the White Rose or the "Geschwister Scholl" – Scholl siblings.
Germans aged under 40 voted Hans and Sophie Scholl fourth in a TV poll of "The Greatest Germans of All Time", ahead of luminaries like Albert Eienstein, Goethe and Willy Brandt.
Alexander Schmorell was even glorified as a "New Martyr" by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in 2012.
Although she was a relatively minor member of the White Rose, Sophie Scholl has become particularly popular. Busts of her are on display in the Munich University atrium where she and her brother were arrested, as well as at Bavaria’s Walhalla temple. Sophie was even voted the "the greatest woman of the twentieth century" in a German women’s magazine poll.
A wax figure of Sophie is on display at Berlin’s Madame Tussauds. Popular books and films including the one mentioned in the introduction to this article have also contributed the cult of Sophie Scholl.
Sophie was undoubtedly very brave, a quality she showed by not only distributing the leaflets but also by trying to take responsibility for the group after their capture.
But more than anything I think the impression of such a small, young woman pitting herself against a huge, formidable enemy in a Joan of Arc kind of way has a certain kind of resonance that little else can match.
"The name of Germany is dishonoured for all time if German youth does not finally rise, take revenge, and atone, smash its tormentors, and set up a new Europe of the spirit." – From the sixth White Rose leaflet
The White Rose’s fourth leaflet finished with the words "We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!"?
This became their unofficial motto and the line "We will not be silent" continues to be a popular anti-oppression slogan today. Iraqi blogger Raed Jarrer was even stopped from boarding an internal US flight for wearing a t-shirt with the slogan written in both English and Arabic. Pic: Wiki
Sophie Scholl, student of biology
(09.05.1921 - 22.02.1943)
"When I saw the leaflets sitting on the balustrade up on the second floor I knew at once they must have been the same leaflets that my brother and I had found on the stairs and in the hall on the first floor.
"As I walked by I gave the leaflets that were on the balustrade a push so that they floated down through the atrium. My brother first saw these leaflets when he saw them floating through the air.
"I can see now that through my behaviour I made a silly mistake, but I can’t change it now". – Sophie Scholl, from the transcript of her interrogation, to Nazi interrogator Robert Mohr
Hans Scholl, student of medicine
(22.09.1918 - 22.02.1943)
Christoph Probst, student of
(06.11.1919 - 22.02.1943)
Willi Graf, student of medicine
(02.01.1918 - 12.10.1943)
Hans Scholl, professor of
psychology and philosophy
(24.10.1893 - 13.07.1943)
"A return to clear principles, to a constitutional state, to the mutual trust between people, that is not illegal, but the contrary, the restoration of the law" – Kurt Huber at his trial, 19 April, 1943
Alexander Schmorell, student of
(16.09.1917 - 13.07.1943)
On the second page of this story I outline a self-guided walking tour you can take in Munich to learn more about the White Rose, and pay tribute to their memory, you can find it here: White Rose Walking Tour .
• You can read about Munich's refurbished White Rose Museum here.
• Discover other parts of Munich's history at Munich Backstory.
• Jump from Sophie Scholl and the White Rose back to Destination Munich Home.
The following books and webs resources were used as references for this article. They are excellent resources for anyone doing their own research into Sophie Scholl and the White Rose.
•"Die weiße Rose" 1943
White Rose History, Volume II (Academic Version), you can read part of this book online here.
• The transcript from Sophie Scholl's interrogation (in German) www.georg-elser-arbeitskreis.de/texts/scholl-protokoll
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