The White Rose movement opposed Hitler, Nazi rule and World War Two. The White Rose movement is probably the most famous of the civilian resistance movements that developed within Nazi Germany but some of its members paid a terrible price for their stand against the system.
The White Rose movement was made up of students who attended Munich University. Its most famous members were Hans and Sophie Scholl. Members of the White Rose movement clandestinely distributed anti-Nazi and anti-war leaflets and it was while they were in the process of doing this that they were caught.
Nazi Germany was a police state. Whether it was true or not, people believed that informants were everywhere. To keep secrecy, membership of the White Rose movement was extremely small. It produced anti-war leaflets that were also deemed to be anti-Nazi. What those in it did was extremely dangerous. If they were captured they would have been charged with treason with the inevitable consequences. That is why the group had to be kept very small – everyone knew each other and each was convinced of the loyalty of everyone in the group.
The White Rose movement was active between June 1942 and February 1943. In that time they made six anti-war/anti-Nazi leaflets, which were distributed in public. Member also engaged in a graffiti campaign within Munich.
One of the leaflets entitled “Passive Resistance to National Socialism” stated:
“Many, perhaps most, of the readers of these leaflets do not see clearly how they can practise an effective opposition. They do not see any avenues open to them. We want to try to show them that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of the system. It can be done only by the cooperation of many convinced, energetic people – people who are agreed as to the means they must use. We have no great number of choices as to the means. The only one available is passive resistance. The meaning and goal of passive resistance is to topple National Socialism, and in this struggle we must not recoil from any course, any action, whatever its nature. A victory of fascist Germany in this war would have immeasurable frightful consequences. We cannot provide each man with the blueprint for his acts, we can only suggest them in general terms. Sabotage in armaments plants and war industries, at all gatherings, rallies and organisations of the National Socialist Party…………….convince all your acquaintances of the hopelessness of this war………………and urge them to passive resistance.”
Another leaflet was called “To the fellow fighters in the resistance”, which was written in February 1943, after the German defeat at Stalingrad.
“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.”
It was while leaflets were being distributed at Munich University that Hans and Sophie Scholl were arrested by the Gestapo. They had already distributed many White Rose leaflets that they were carrying. However, Sophie and Hans realised that they had not distributed all of them. As so much trouble was taken to produce these leaflets, they decided that they would ensure that the rest were also distributed. They were seen throwing the leaflets around the university’s atrium by a caretaker called Jakob Schmid and he contacted the Gestapo. This occurred on February 18th 1943. The Scholl’s were literally carrying all the evidence needed by the Gestapo.
Both Hans and Sophie admitted their full responsibility in an attempt to end any form of interrogation that might result in them revealing other members of the movement. However, the Gestapo refused to believe that only two people were involved and after further interrogation, they gained the names of all those involved who were subsequently arrested.
Sophie, Hans and Christoph Probst were the first to be brought before the People’s Court on February 22nd 1943. The People’s Court had been established on April 24th 1934 to try cases that were deemed to be political offences against the Nazi state. Invariably these trials were nothing more than show trials designed to humiliate those brought before it, presumably in the hope that such a public humiliation would put off anyone else whom might be thinking in the same way as the condemned. All three were found guilty and sentenced to death by beheading. The executions took place the same day.
More trials took place on April 19th and July 13th 1943 when other members of the White Rose movement were brought before the People’s Court. Not all of them were executed. The third trial (July 13th) was not presided over by the infamous Roland Freisler and the main witness – also on trial (Gisela Schertling) – withdrew her evidence that she had given during her interrogation. As a result, the judge acquitted all of those on trial that day with the exception of one, Josef Soehngen, who was given 6 months in prison.
Before World War Two in Europe ended, the final leaflet produced by the White Rose movement was smuggled out of Germany and handed to the advancing Allies. They printed millions of copies of it and dropped them all over the country.