Hans Hirzel, the son of the pastor Ernst Ulmer Hirzel, was born in Untersteinbach, Germany, on 30th October 1924. The family moved to Ulm and he enjoyed visiting the home of Robert Scholl and Magdalena Scholl.
Hans was the same age as Sophie Scholl but idolized her older brother, Hans Scholl. "Hans Hirzel liked to visit the Scholl house to listen to Robert talk about what was going on in the world and to be around Hans Scholl, whom he looked up to and admired. Quick to grasp the implications of what he heard, Hans Hirzel early felt the same rumblings of rebellion that had seized Hans Scholl. In his own way and own time, he came to the same conclusion: Something has got to be done." (1)
During the Second World War Hans and Sophie studied at the University of Munich. In 1942 they established the White Rose group. Other members included Alexander Schmorell, Jürgen Wittenstein, Christoph Probst, Willi Graf, Traute Lafrenz, Lilo Ramdohr, Hans Leipelt and Gisela Schertling.
The group of friends had discovered a professor at the university who shared their dislike of the Nazi regime. Kurt Huber was Sophie's philosophy teacher. However, medical students also attended his lectures, which "were always packed, because he managed to introduce veiled criticism of the regime into them". (2) The 49 year-old professor, also joined in private discussions with what became known as the White Rose group. Hans told his sister, Inge Scholl, "though his hair was turning grey, he was one of them". (3)
Sophie's sister, Inge Scholl, who lived in Ulm, also attended meetings whenever she was in Munich. "There was no set criterion for entry into the group that crystallized around Hans and Sophie Scholl... It was not an organization with rules and a membership list. Yet the group had a distinct identity, a definite personality, and it adhered to standards no less rigid for being undefined and unspoken. These standards involved intelligence, character, and especially political attitude." (4)
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. (5)
According to the historian of the resistance, Joachim Fest, this was a new development in the struggle against Adolf Hitler. "A small group of Munich students were the only protesters who managed to break out of the vicious circle of tactical considerations and other inhibitions. They spoke out vehemently, not only against the regime but also against the moral indolence and numbness of the German people." (6) Peter Hoffmann, the author of The History of German Resistance (1977) claimed they must have been aware that they could do any significant damage to the regime but they "were prepared to sacrifice themselves" in order to register their disapproval of the Nazi government. (7)
Hans Hirzel and his sister Susanne Hirzel agreed to join the conspiracy. In July 1942, Hans Scholl gave him 80 marks to buy a duplicating machine and hide it in their home in Ulm. Scholl was just about to go to the Eastern Front as a medic with the German Army. Hirzel agreed to help print and distribute White Rose leaflets when Scholl returned to Germany. (8)
In January 1943, the White Rose group published a leaflet entitled A Call to All Germans!. It included the following passage: "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."
It ended with the kind of world they wanted after the war finished: "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." (9)
The Gestapo later estimated that the White Rose group distributed around 10,000 copies of this leaflet. Sophie Scholl and Traute Lafrenz purchased the special paper needed, as well as the envelopes and stamps from a large number of shops to avoid suspicion. Each leaflet was turned out one by one, night after night. "In order to stay awake and to function during the day, they took pep pills from the military clinics where the medics worked." (10)
The conspirators had to ensure that the Gestapo could not trace the source to Munich so the group had to post their leaflets from neighbouring towns." (11) Hans Hirzel was responsible for distributing these leaflets in Ulm. He was helped in this by Franz Müller and Heinrich Guter. They selected names and addresses from telephone books, typed the envelopes, and posted them. (12) He also designed a poster that displayed a swastika with the inscription: "Whoever wears this sign is an enemy of the people." (13)
Hans Hirzel attempted to get other high-school students to help him distribute leaflets. One of the students he approached took this information to the Gestapo. On 17th February, 1943, Hirzel was arrested. However, after being interrogated for several hours he was released. He immediately contacted Inge Scholl and asked her to let Hans Scholl know about what had happened to him. She told her boyfriend, Otl Aicher, who was in Munich at this time, but he was unable to find Hans. (14)
On 18th February, 1943, Sophie and Hans Scholl went to the University of Munich with a suitcase packed with leaflets. According to Inge Scholl: "They arrived at the university, and since the lecture rooms were to open in a few minutes, they quickly decided to deposit the leaflets in the corridors. Then they disposed of the remainder by letting the sheets fall from the top level of the staircase down into the entrance hall. Relieved, they were about to go, but a pair of eyes had spotted them. It was as if these eyes (they belonged to the building superintendent) had been detached from the being of their owner and turned into automatic spyglasses of the dictatorship. The doors of the building were immediately locked, and the fate of brother and sister was sealed." (15)
Jakob Schmid, 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. Following interrogation, they were all charged with treason. (16)
Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst were all beheaded by guillotine in Stadelheim Prison on 22nd February, 1943. A prison guard later reported: "They bore themselves with marvelous bravery. The whole prison was impressed by them. That is why we risked bringing the three of them together once more-at the last moment before the execution. If our action had become known, the consequences for us would have been serious. We wanted to let them have a cigarette together before the end. It was just a few minutes that they had, but I believe that it meant a great deal to them." (17)
Other members of the White Rose were arrested, including Hans Hirzel. They were put on trial on 19th April, 1943. This included Alexander Schmorell, Kurt Huber, Willi Graf, Traute Lafrenz, Susanne Hirzel, Falk Harnack, Eugen Grimminger, Heinrich Bollinger, Helmut Bauer, Franz Müller, Heinrich Guter, Gisela Schertling and Katharina Schüddekopf. (18)
Susanne Hirzel told the court that her brother Hans Hirzel, had asked her to post the leaflets. As they were in the envelopes she claimed that she did not know the content of the leaflets. Judge Roland Freisler told the court: "The third group of accused in the present trial are foolish children, who present no serious threat to the security of the Reich. At the head we find here the schoolmates Hans Hirzel and Franz Müller. Hirzel often visited Scholl when the latter was in Ulm on leave. Scholl exercised a strong influence and persuasiveness, particularly on such an immature addle-brain as Hirzel. And this power, as the People's Court knows from firsthand experience, was even heightened by the fact that it consisted of nothing but intellectualistic theorizing."
Judge Freisler suggested that Hirzel came from a good family: "The family of young Hirzel had wanted to raise him to be a decent German. Obviously he is not very well, he has had several serious bouts of illness, and he shows a tendency toward an exclusive preoccupation with intellectual matters, which in reality is more a dilettantish interest in phraseology and an urge to experiment. This boy, hardly aware of his own nature, came under the influence of a vile girl, Sophie Scholl, and let himself be misused. His confused attempts to philosophize, to explain his deeds, even though he was not in agreement with the leaflet, appeared not to be lies; they merely bore testimony to his conceit. The Court assumes that he will rid himself of this trait upon experiencing his moral awakening to the manhood of active life, as he will do with his eccentric - but in this connection characteristic - attempts to conduct experiments by injecting himself with chemicals or to have himself locked in a cement mixer so that he can observe the mixing process from the inside! We do not judge him by standards that apply to a university student or instructor." (19)
Alexander Schmorell, Kurt Huber and Willi Graf were all convicted of high treason and were all sentenced to death. Hans Hirzel got five years. Other sentences included Eugen Grimminger, ten years; Heinrich Bollinger and Helmut Bauer, seven years; Franz Müller, five years; Heinrich Guter, eighteen months; Susanne Hirzel, six months; Traute Lafrenz, Gisela Schertling and Katharina Schüddekopf, one year each. (20)
Hans Hirzel was released from prison by Allied forces at the end of the war. Hirzel worked for the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research and as an editor for the Neue Gesellschaft Frankfurter Hefte. He was an active member of the Christian Democratic Union until he resigned in 1993. In 1997 he became a city councilor in Wiesbaden. (21)
Hans Hirzel died on 3rd June 2006.
The house on Cathedral Square, the atmosphere of it and the people who lived in it, attracted kindred souls for whom the place became a kind of retreat and anchorage. Nearby were the Hirzels, the family of the respected pastor of the Martin Luther Protestant Church. Young Hans Hirzel liked to visit the Scholl house to listen to Robert talk about what was going on in the world and to be around Hans Scholl, whom he looked up to and admired. Quick to grasp the implications of what he heard, Hans Hirzel early felt the same rumblings of rebellion that had seized Hans Scholl. In his own way and own time, he came to the same conclusion: "Something has got to be done." It was a decision that one day would bring him, too, before the People's Court.
His sister Susanne, called "Suse", was blonde, pretty, and pert and learning to play the cello. She also spent much of her time in the house on Cathedral Square, being of Sophie's age and her good friend. But not all the visitors were from Ulm. Some came from farther away.
The third group of accused in the present trial are foolish children, who present no serious threat to the security of the Reich. At the head we find here the schoolmates Hans Hirzel and Franz Müller. Hirzel often visited Scholl when the latter was in Ulm on leave. Scholl exercised a strong influence and persuasiveness, particularly on such an immature addle-brain as Hirzel. And this power, as the People's Court knows from firsthand experience, was even heightened by the fact that it consisted of nothing but intellectualistic theorizing. Scholl worked on Hirzel for his purposes. He advised him to inform himself in political matters, so that at Germany's collapse he might work as a public speaker to promote Scholl's federalistic-individualistic multiparty democracy!
Sophie Scholl persuaded Hans Hirzel to distribute leaflets expressing these ideas. On two occasions she notified him in advance of her coming and asked him to meet her at the station. However, he wanted to avoid the meeting and did not show up; as a result she came to him, brought about 500 leaflets, and asked him to prepare them for mailing to addresses in Stuttgart. He copied names out of the city directory and put them in the mails. He agreed to and performed this action though on a later reading of the leaflets he could not declare himself in agreement with their contents! The extent to which his mind was poisoned by the Scholls is shown by the fact that earlier he had accepted from them 80 marks for the purpose of buying a duplicating machine and equipment; that he further tried to make an anti-German poster-a swastika with the caption, "Whoever wears this is an enemy of the people." To be sure, he was unsuccessful in this, and he threw the duplicating machine into the Danube even before Sophie Scholl brought him the leaflets.
It has struck the Court that three pupils from one and the same school class (there was also Heinrich Guter) are involved in this action and that even more names were mentioned! There must be something at the bottom of all this, having to do with the atmosphere in this class and for which the Senate cannot hold these students alone to blame. One has to be ashamed that there is a class of this sort in a German humanistic Gymnasium! But it is not the job of the Court to investigate the underlying reasons in detail. The family of young Hirzel had wanted to raise him to be a decent German. Obviously he is not very well, he has had several serious bouts of illness, and he shows a tendency toward an exclusive preoccupation with intellectual matters, which in reality is more a dilettantish interest in phraseology and an urge to experiment. This boy, hardly aware of his own nature, came under the influence of a vile girl, Sophie Scholl, and let himself be misused. His confused attempts to philosophize, to explain his deeds, even though he was not in agreement with the leaflet, appeared not to be lies; they merely bore testimony to his conceit. The Court assumes that he will rid himself of this trait upon experiencing his moral awakening to the manhood of active life, as he will do with his eccentric-but in this connection characteristic- attempts to conduct experiments by injecting himself with chemicals or to have himself locked in a cement mixer so that he can observe the mixing process from the inside! We do not judge him by standards that apply to a university student or instructor.