ER,  Germany,  Western Europe

The White Rose Movement

Left to right: White Rose members Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst.
Left to right: White Rose members Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst.

Like the Edelweiss Pirates, not all of the youth of Germany was on board with the Nazi agenda.  Several students at the University of Munich were appalled by the stories that they were hearing and were determined to do something about it.  (Please see this post for more on the Edelweiss Pirates:

In June 1942, a group of students at the University of Munich founded the “White Rose” movement.  The name came from a Spanish novel “Rosa Blanca”.  One member, Hans Scholl, had been a soldier on the eastern front and saw first hand the mistreatment of Jews as well as other Poles, and the forced internment in concentration camps.  Stories were abounding about the mass murder of Polish Jews and the students were horrified.  The core of the group were Hans Scholl, his sisters Sophie and Inge, Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf, and Christoph Probst, and a professor of philosophy, Kurt Huber.  All except Huber were students in their early twenties.

All of the students started out as normal German teens for that time.  Hans Scholl had been a member of the Hitler Youth until 1936 and his sister Sophie was a member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel.  This was not unusual for kids at that time as participation in Nazi organizations were understood to be mandatory.  However, Christoph Probst was a member of the German Youth Movement, founded by Eberhard Koebel in 1929, and had a history of Nazi opposition.  Willi Graf was a member of Neudeutschland and the Grauer Orden, a Catholic youth association.  Influences from these groups coalesced into a rejection of fascism and militarism.  They believed in a federated Europe that adhered to principles of tolerance and justice.

The students created and distributed six anti-Nazi leaflets between June 1942 and February 1943.  These leaflets called for active opposition by the German people to the Nazi regime.  One leaflet read, “We will not be silent.  We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!” Because the students were aware that only military force could end Nazi domination, they limited their aims to achieve “a renewal from within of the severely wounded German spirit.”  This was extremely dangerous as Nazi Germany was a police state.  Informers were everywhere and any opposition to the state could be punishable by being sent to a concentration camp or worse.

Hans and Sophie Scholl
Hans and Sophie Scholl

The leaflets were copied by hand on an old typewriter and sent all across Germany.  They were mailed to professors and students, left in phone booths and taken by couriers to other universities for distribution.  In the first run, 35 of the 100 leaflets made were turned over to the Gestapo.  This significant number is because the Gestapo was not above sending something to people to see if they would turn it in as a type of loyalty test.  Also traveling to other cities, especially for young men of military age, was dangerous as police were on every train checking papers.  If you were caught traveling without papers, then you were taking to prison.  One of the members described their trips to pass out leaflets, “Some of us traveled in civilian clothing, hoping for the best, some with forged travel orders, I myself used false identification papers (my cousin’s with whom I shared a certain resemblance). We left the briefcases which contained the leaflets in a different compartment, for luggage was routinely searched. Mostly, however, leaflets were taken by female students who were not subject to such scrutiny.”

After the January 1943 defeat of the Nazi army at Stalingrad , the White Rose movement put out a leaflet advocating rebellion.  It said, “The day of reckoning has come – the reckoning of German youth with the most abominable tyrant our people have ever been forced to endure. We grew up in a state in which all free expression of opinion is ruthlessly suppressed. The Hitler Youth, the SA, the SS have all tried to drug us, to regiment us in the most promising years of our lives. For us there is but one slogan: fight against the party. The name of Germany is dishonoured for all time if German youth does not finally rise, take revenge, smash its tormentors. Students! The German people look to us.”  They got bolder and in February 1943, Hans, Alex and Willi used tar and paint to write sides of houses on Ludwigstrasse, a main thoroughfare in Munich near the University. They wrote “Down With Hitler”, “Hitler Mass Murderer”, “freedom”, and drew crossed-out swastikas.  All of this while police and SS patrolled the streets.

In that same month, the brave students were caught.  A janitor at the University saw Hans Scholl and his sister Sophie passing out the leaflets and reported him to the Gestapo.  The movement unraveled from there.  They tried to take sole responsibility for the leaflets, but the Gestapo was good at interrogation by fair means or foul, and soon got the rest of the names from them.  The core group of the White Rose was arrested.  Sophie, Hans and Christoph Probst were brought before the People’s Court and quickly tried.  All three were found guilty and guillotined a few hours later.  Hans Scholl’s last words were “Long live freedom!”

Later that year Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, and Kurt Huber were tried and sentenced to death.  At his trial Professor Huber quoted the words of Kant saying:

And thou shalt act as if

On thee and on thy deed

Depended the fate of all Germany,

And thou alone must answer for it.

Although the White Rose movement died, the final leaflet they created was smuggled out before World War II ended and came into the hands of the Allies.  Millions of them were printed and distributed throughout Germany by the incoming Allies.


Sources available on request