The White Rose Anti-Nazi Group was established at the University of Munich in 1942. The group included Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Traute Lafrenz, Willi Graf, and Jugen Wittenstein. Most of the men were in the German Army but were at the university being trained as doctors.
In June 1942 the White Rose group began producing leaflets. They were typed single-spaced on both sides of a sheet of paper, duplicated, folded into envelopes with neatly typed names and addresses, and mailed as printed matter to people all over Munich. At least a couple of hundred were handed into the Gestapo. It soon became clear that most of the leaflets were received by academics, civil servants, restaurateurs and publicans. A small number were scattered around the University of Munich campus. As a result the authorities immediately suspected that students had produced the leaflets.
We learned in the spring of 1942 of the arrest and execution of 10 or 12 Communists. And my brother (Hans Scholl) said, "In the name of civic and Christian courage something must be done." Sophie knew the risks. Fritz Hartnagel told me about a conversation in May 1942. Sophie asked him for a thousand marks but didn’t want to tell him why. He warned her that resistance could cost both her head and her neck. She told him, "I’m aware of that". Sophie wanted the money to buy a printing press to publish the anti-Nazi leaflets.
The choice of the name "White Rose" is not easily explained. The rose as a symbol of secrecy might have occurred to them, and "white" might have reflected the fact that their leaflets were not inspired by any colour of political thought, but by broad humanism... The group had no wish to throw bombs, or to cause any injury to human life. They wanted to influence people's minds against Nazism and militarism.
The White Rose, whose leaders were Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans, students at the University of Munich, who printed a series of clandestine pamphlets condemning Nazi rule and calling for resistance to it. Together with several like-minded students, all of whom were inspired by their Christian faith and commitment to humanistic ideals, they distributed these pamphlets throughout Germany and Austria.
One of the many groups resembling each other both in spirit and in action was that of the Scholls (brother and sister) and their friends; in 1942 and 1943 they prepared and distributed leaflets in Munich calling for resistance to the government and the war. 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.
A small group of Munich students... spoke out vehemently, not only against the regime but also against the moral indolence and numbness of the German people. Under the name White Rose they issued appeals and painted slogans on walls calling for an uprising against Hitler. They also established ties with like-minded students in Berlin, Stuttgart, Hamburg and Vienna... Their motives were amongst the simplest and, sadly, the rarest of all: a sense of right and wrong and a determination to take action.
Using small duplicating machines, the students defied an enormously powerful state apparatus. The password White Rose was designed to symbolize a Christian spirit which loved every thing that was noble and beautiful and opposed the "dictatorship of evil" in National Socialist Germany. In mid-February 1943, the Scholls, helped by other students, took part in a demonstration on the streets of Munich, the first protest of its kind in the Third Reich.
All the members of the White Rose shared a deep love of German philosophy and used ideas from the heritage to vent their loathing of the Nazis... The White Rose were brave and non-violent, and resisted in the only way they could: with words. They distributed idealistic, romantic leaflets, calling on the German people to stand up against repression and violence.
During the transport to the front their train had stopped for a few minutes at a Polish station. Along the embankment he saw women and girls bent over and doing heavy men's work with picks. They wore the yellow Star of David on their blouses. Hans slipped through the window of his car and approached. The first one in the group was a young, emaciated girl with small, delicate hands and a beautiful, intelligent face that bore an expression of unspeakable sorrow. Did he have anything that he might give to her? He remembered his Iron Ration - a bar of chocolate, raisins, and nuts - and slipped it into her pocket. The girl threw it on the ground at his feet with a harassed but infinitely proud gesture. He picked it up, smiled, and said, "I wanted to do something to please you". Then he bent down, picked a daisy, and placed it and the package at her feet. The train was starting to move, and Hans had to take a couple of long leaps to get back on. From the window he could see that the girl was standing still, watching the departing train, the white flower in her hair.
Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be "governed" without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes-crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure-reach the light of day? If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order in history; if they surrender man's highest principle, that which raises him above all other God's creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass - then, yes, they deserve their downfall.... Offer passive resistance-resistance - wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late, before the last cities, like Cologne, have been reduced to rubble, and before the nation's last young man has given his blood on some battlefield for the hubris of a sub-human. Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.
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. The term came into common use during the independence struggle in India between the 1920s and 1948. It has been used widely by groups who lack formal authority or position and has sometimes been called the weapon of the weak... Passive resistance has a long and varied history... Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) famously articulated his call for civil disobedience with his act of tax refusal during the Mexican War in the 1840s. Suffragists held demonstrations in major cities in the United States and Great Britain in the early years of the twentieth century; a few participated in hunger strikes.
Passive resistance gained a broad public recognition in the United States as the civil rights movement exploded in the 1950s and 1960s. Throughout the movement years, techniques of passive resistance were used both to assert a moral position about rights and equality and to apply economic and political pressure. Martin Luther King Jr. drew on Gandhi and his own Christian tradition to formulate a strategy of nonviolence. Like Gandhi’s satyagrahis, civil rights activists marched peacefully and publicly in Birmingham, Alabama, in Selma, Alabama, and elsewhere. They also accepted upon themselves the costs of their actions, including discomfort, arrest, beatings, and even death.
The accused Hans Scholl occupied his thoughts for a long time with the political situation. He arrived at the conclusion that just as in 1918, so also after the seizure of power by the National Socialists in 1933, it was not the majority of the German masses but the intellectuals in particular who had failed politically.
He therefore decided to prepare and distribute leaflets intended to carry his ideas to the broad masses of the people. He bought a duplicating machine, and with the help of a friend, Alexander Schmorell, with whom he had often discussed his political views, he acquired a typewriter. He then drafted the first leaflet of the White Rose and claims single handedly to have prepared about a hundred copies and to have mailed them to addresses chosen from the Munich telephone directory. In doing so, he selected people in academic circles particularly, but also restaurant owners, who, he hoped, would spread the contents of the leaflets by word of mouth.
These seditious pamphlets contain attacks on National Socialism and on its cultural-political parties in particular; further, they contain statements concerning the alleged atrocities of National Socialism, namely the alleged murder of the Jews and the alleged forced deportation of the Poles.
Since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history... All male offspring of the houses of the nobility between the ages of fifteen and twenty were transported to concentration camps in Germany and sentenced to forced labor, and all girls of this age group were sent to Norway, into the bordellos of the SS! Why tell you these things, since you are fully aware of them - or if not of these, then of other equally grave crimes committed by this frightful sub-humanity? Because here we touch on a problem which involves us deeply and forces us all to take thought. Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? Hardly anyone thinks about that. It is accepted as fact and put out of mind. The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so... Up until the outbreak of the war the larger part of the German people was blinded; the Nazis did not show themselves in their true aspect. But now, now that we have recognized them for what they are, it must be the sole and first duty, the holiest duty of every German to destroy these beasts.
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 better part of the nation will fight on our side. Cast off the cloak of indifference you have wrapped around you. Make the decision before it is too late! Do not believe the National Socialist propaganda which has driven the fear of Bolshevism into your bones. Do not believe that Germany's welfare is linked to the victory of National Socialism for good or ill. A criminal regime cannot achieve a victory. Separate yourself in time from everything connected with National Socialism. In the aftermath a terrible but just judgment will be meted out to those who stayed in hiding, who were cowardly and hesitant.... Imperialistic designs for power, regardless from which side they come, must be neutralized for all time... All centralized power, like that exercised by the Prussian state in Germany and in Europe, must be eliminated... The coming Germany must be federalistic. The working class must be liberated from its degraded conditions of slavery by a reasonable form of socialism... Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the protection of individual citizens from the arbitrary will of criminal regimes of violence - these will be the bases of the New Europe.
The accused, Sophie Scholl, as early as the summer of 1942 took part in political discussions, in which she and her brother, Hans Scholl, came to the conclusion that Germany had lost the war. She admits to having taken part in preparing and distributing the leaflets in 1943. Together, with her brother she drafted the text of the seditious Leaflets of the Resistance in Germany. In addition, she had a part in the purchasing of paper, envelopes and stencils, and together with her brother she actually prepared the duplicated copies of the leaflet. She put the prepared letters into various mailboxes, and she took part in the distribution of leaflets in Munich. She accompanied her brother to the university, was observed there in the act of scattering the leaflets.
How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause.... 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.
Questions for Students
Question 2: 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.
Question 3: 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 groups who have used this strategy? It will help you to read source 13 before answering this question.
Question 4: 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."
Question 5: 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.
Question 6: 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.
Question 7: 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.
Question 8: 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.
A commentary on these questions can be found here.