The White Rose, was formed by students at the University of Munich in 1941. It is believed that the group was formed after August von Galen, the Archbishop of Munster, spoke out in a sermon against the Nazi practice of euthanasia (the killing of those considered by the Nazis as genetically unsuitable).
Members of this anti-Nazi group included Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Inge Scholl, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf and Jugen Wittenstein. Kurt Huber, a philosophy teacher at the university, was also a member of the group.
The group decided to adopt the strategy of passive resistance that was being used by students fighting against racial discrimination in the United States. This included publishing leaflets calling for the restoration of democracy and social justice. These were distributed throughout central Germany and the Gestapo soon became aware of the group's activities.
Several members had served in the German Army before resuming their studies. This provided them with information about the atrocities being committed by the Schutz Staffeinel (SS). Willi Graf had served as a medical orderly in France and Yugoslavia in 1941 whereas Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell had seen Jews being murdered in Poland and the Soviet Union. When Scholl and Schmorell returned to Munich in November, 1942, they joined up with Graff and began publishing leaflets about what they had seen while in the army.
The leaflets were at first sent anonymously to people all over Germany. Taking the addresses from telephone directories, they tended to concentrate on mailing university lecturers and the owners of bars. In Passive Resistance to National Socialism , published in 1943 the group explained the reasons why they had formed the White Rose group: "We want to try and 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 meaning and goal of passive resistance is to topple National Socialism, and in this struggle we must not recoil from our course, any action, whatever its nature. A victory of fascist Germany in this war would have immeasurable, frightful consequences."
The White Rose group believed that the young people of Germany had the potential to overthrow Adolf Hitler and the Nazi government. In one leaflet, Fellow Fighters in the Resistance, they wrote: "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 traducers? Are we do be forever the 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." The group also began painting anti-Nazi slogans on the sides of houses. This included "Down With Hitler", "Hitler Mass Murderer" and "Freedom". They also painted crossed-out swastikas.
Members also began leaving piles of leaflets in public places. On 18th February, Sophie Scholl and Hans Scholl began distributing the sixth leaflet produced by the White Rose group. It included the following: "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 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."
Jakob Schmidt, a member of the Nazi Party, saw them at the University of Munich, throwing leaflets from a window of the third floor into the courtyard below. He immediately told the Gestapo and they were both arrested. They were searched and the police found a handwritten draft of another leaflet. This they matched to a letter in Scholl's flat that had been signed by Christoph Probst.
The three members of the White Rose group appeared before the People's Court judge, Roland Friesler, on 20th February. Found guilty of sedition they were executed by guillotine a few hours later. Her cell-mate, Else Gebel, said Sophie's last words were: "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." Just before he was executed Hans Scholl shouted out: "Long live freedom!"
Inge Scholl and her parents were also arrested and imprisoned. Over the next few weeks Kurt Huber, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf , Jugen Wittenstein and over eighty others suspected of being members of the White Rose group were taken into custody. Huber, Graff and Schmorell were all found guilty of sedition and were executed.