The White Rose Anti-Nazi Group (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: The White Rose Anti-Nazi Group

Q1: According to Elisabeth Scholl (source 2), why did Hans Scholl establish the White Rose Group in the spring of 1942.

A1: Elisabeth Scholl claims that her brother established the White Rose group as a result of the "arrest and execution of 10 or 12 Communists". Hans Scholl believed that if communists were resisting the Nazi government, than Christians like himself had a moral duty to take action.

Q2: Read sources 3, 4, 7, 8, 9 and 14. Describe the methods used by the White Rose in an attempt to overthrow the Nazi government.

A2: Using a typewriter (source 14) and a small duplicating machine (sources 8) the White Rose group published clandestine leaflets "condemning Nazi rule and calling for resistance to it" (source 4). The main objective was "to influence people's minds against Nazism and militarism" (source 3) and calling "on the German people to stand up against repression and violence" (source 9). They also "established ties with like-minded students in Berlin, Stuttgart, Hamburg and Vienna" (source 7).

Q3: In their leaflets the White Rose group made it clear that they believed in "passive resistance". What does this mean and why has it been described as the "weapon of the weak"? Can you name other people and groups who have used this strategy? It will help you to read source 13 before answering this question.

A3: According to source 13: "Passive resistance commonly refers to actions of non-violent protest or resistance to authority. The central feature is the conscious choice by the actors to abstain from a violent response even in the face of violent aggression." It has been described as the "weapon of the weak" because it is considered to be the only effective form of resistance against a well-armed and powerful government. However, members of the White Rose group were pacifists and believed that passive resistance is the right moral action against an armed opponent.

The strategy of passive resistance was developed by Henry David Thoreau in his essay, Civil Disobedience (1849). Thoreau's argument that it was morally justified to peacefully resist unjust laws inspired Americans involved in the struggle against slavery, the fight for trade union rights and women's suffrage. It was used by men and women in Britain when fighting for the vote in the 19th and 20th centuries (suffragists but not suffragettes). Gandhi also successfully used the strategy in India against the British government.

In the 1940s figures such as Philip Randolph, George Houser, James Farmer, Abraham Muste and Bayard Rustin advocated nonviolent resistance in the struggle for African American civil rights. This approach was also adopted by Martin Luther King and civil rights groups such as Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Q4: What did the authors of the first leaflet (source 12) mean with the words: "Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure."

A4: The White Rose group claimed that if the German people were unwilling to resist the Nazi government they got what they deserved. It has been argued that this type of argument was one of the reasons that their leaflets did not have the desired response from the German public.

Q5: In the early months of 1942, several of its members of the White Rose group were sent to serve as medical staff working with German troops in the Soviet Union. What did they see on their way to the Soviet Union that encouraged them to produce their second leaflet? It will help you to read sources 10 and 15, before answering this question.

A5: According to Inge Scholl (source 10), her brother Hans Scholl was greatly influenced by his experiences in Poland and the Soviet Union. The White Rose second leaflet (source 15) provides information on the way that the Jews in these countries were being treated by the German Army.

Q6: Read source 15. Is there anything in this source that you do not think is completely accurate? Why did they include this in the leaflet.

A6: When describing the treatment of the Jews by the Nazi government, the leaflet states that "up until the outbreak of the war... the Nazis did not show themselves in their true aspect". Of course, the Jews were treated very badly in Nazi Germany in the six years leading up to the war. The problem for the White Rose group was that the vast majority of the German population did not object to this persecution. The leaflet therefore had to suggest that the "crimes committed by this frightful sub-humanity" had only recently begun.

Q7: Describe the kind of society that the White Rose group wanted to achieve after the defeat of the Nazis. You will need to read source 16 before answering this question.

A7: The White Rose group believed that the Second World War was a struggle between empires. They hoped that the post-war world see an end to imperialism. They wanted Germany to be de-centralized and a federalistic structure adopted. The group advocated "a reasonable form of socialism" to reduce the poverty of the working-class and the return to a society that allowed freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Q8: The historian, Peter Hoffmann, has claimed: "Although they realized that their activities could hardly do any significant damage to the regime, but they were willing to sacrifice themselves. Secretly they may have hoped to produce greater results, but primarily they were ready to stake their lives for the cause." Do the last words of Sophie Scholl (source 19) support Hoffmann's views on the White Rose group.

A8: In 1941 Sophie Scholl told her boyfriend, Fritz Hartnagel, that the best way for Adolf Hitler to be removed was for Germany would lose the war. However, by 1942, that appeared to be a distant prospect. Along with her friends in the White Rose group she decided that it was necessary to take some sort of action. "How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause." As Hoffmann suggests, she expected to be caught and executed. However, she hoped her death would result in a mass revolt by students. This did not happen and the German people had to endure the Nazi government for another two years.