“My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.” – Anna Sewell, Black Beauty.
Do you dare to stand up for your own beliefs and ideals in the face of injustice? Even if the path ahead was mired in danger and trepidation, would you still continue pushing forward, or would you relent and conform? These are all challenging, moral conundrums with no seemingly “correct” answers, and for most, they exist solely as mere imaginations that bear no weight in the real world. However, for a particular group of students living in The Third Reich, this was anything but phantasy. In a society where despotism, hate, and lies had become the normal state of affairs, a group of German students would rise from the shadows to revolt against the Nazi regime — The White Rose.
What is The White Rose?
The White Rose or Weiße Rose was a German student resistance group founded in 1942 in Munich, Germany. This was during the height of National Socialism, where everything was controlled and monitored by the megalomaniac, Adolf Hitler. Seemingly harmless actions such as telling jokes about the Nazi regime or listening to radio broadcasts from the Allied forces regarding their respective campaigns in World War 2 would have garnered you a one-way ticket to the chopping block. German citizens were also obliged to be deathly loyal to the Third Reich and were even encouraged to snitch on anyone who disagreed with the regime — be it your friends, relatives, or even parents — to the Gestapo, the German secret police. Such total and suffocating control in all facets of life was established by the Nazi regime while one of humanity’s greatest failures was happening in the background — the Holocaust.
The group was primarily founded by four founding members — Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, Christopher Probst, and Willi Graf. The quartet had met as medical students at the University of Munich. Their disillusionment and mutual contempt against the increasing atrocities of the Nazi regime only grew more pronounced through the passage of time until it finally culminated in the birth of The White Rose during one fateful evening when the trio were huddled together in Hans’ room.
Another prominent individual that would later join The White Rose was the younger sister of Hans Scholl — Sophie Scholl, whose story has now been adapted into an Oscar-nominated film, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.
Sprouting – Sowing the seeds of rebellion
“What I want most of all is that you live in uprightness and freedom of spirit, no matter how difficult that proves to be,” – Robert Scholl, father of Hans & Sophie.
Sophie and Hans Scholl did not start out as fervent opposers to the Nazi regime but were initially loyal followers to Hitler’s regime. Back in 1933, both siblings had been part of The Hitler Youth, a youth organisation established by the Nazis. Under the organisation’s banner, they felt welcomed in an organisational body that seemingly embraced everyone, from young to old, and formed close ties with like-minded young Germans. There, a sense of purpose had been ingrained in each and every one of them — that there was a role for them in the historical process to unify all the Germans together as one volk (people).
Hans excelled in the Hitler Youth party and was even promoted to Fähnleinführer (troop leader). He would often relish singing folk songs and sharing stories of various countries and people with the rest of his comrades. However, when the party leaders started to forbid the aforementioned activities from being practised, Hans found himself second-guessing his loyalty to the party. Soon, he too grew to become disillusioned with the principles of the regime against his own ideals.
Once during a flag-raising event, the troop had sewn together a majestic banner bearing the figure of a great mythical beast. The flag itself was not only supposed to represent their loyalty to the Führer but also to themselves; the beast depicted the physical manifestation of the camaraderie of the troops. So, imagine the anger Hans felt when a cadre leader had threatened a young flag-bearer from Hans’ troop to hand over their flag — their symbol of friendship — only to ruthlessly dispose of it without any second thought. There was no need for such an ambitious banner, proclaimed the official as he demanded the trembling flag-bearer to use the prescribed flag instead. But for Hans, to relinquish one’s banner would be the same as to forfeit the friendship forged between his troops; and to invalidate its hopes and expectations. In retaliation, Hans lost control — in a bout of anger, he slapped the cadre leader. To no one’s surprise, Hans was promptly expelled from The Hitler Youth party.
But instead of instilling fear in the heart of Hans, the experience only served to kindle the rebellious spark within him, and soon it had spread to the rest of the Scholl family.
Germination- Awaken the flames of resistance
“But isn’t it preposterous, that we sit in our rooms and study how to heal mankind when on the outside the state every day sends countless young people to their death? What in the world are we waiting for? Until one day the war is over and all nations point to us and say that we accepted this government without resisting?” – The White Rose.
The next impetus would come many years later when Hans was studying medicine at the University of Munich. There, he would meet many like-minded individuals who shared similar political opinions and intellectual interests in philosophy and theology. All four medical students — Christopher Probst, Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorell, and Hans Scholl — would eventually establish a deep friendship and solidarity with one another. Above all, they held similar sentiments regarding the inhumane actions of the regime and heavily condemned it. Through their respective experiences as both a soldier and a medic, Hans and his fellow companions bore first-hand witness to the atrocities and foolishness of war which only served to rouse the flames of rebellion within them. Unable to turn the other cheek any longer, the four resolved to challenge the status quo for the sake of their ideals. And thus, The White Rose was officially formed in Hans’ bedroom. At first, Christopher Probst was initially kept out of any dangerous political activities to protect him and his newly formed family — his wife and their two young sons.
During the year 1942, when Sophie had just turned 21, she also began her studies at the University of Munich and became briefly acquainted with members of the White Rose. The next member to join the group would be an adult — professor Kurt Huber, Sophie’s philosophy professor. Professor Huber taught theodicy — the vindication of the justice of God in the face of evil — and firmly believed that the actions of the Third Reich were trampling on the divine order and even defied God himself. Soon, they would start collaborating in getting hold of a duplicating machine — a daunting task to perform while evading the hawkish surveillance of the Gestapo.
Things were about to change, but Sophie was still in the dark about his brother’s activities.
Anthesis – The ephemeral bloom
“Do not forget that every person deserves the government it is willing to endure!” – The first leaflet of The White Rose.
Six weeks into Sophie’s studies, a momentous event occurred. Leaflets were distributed all over the campus. The heading? “The Leaflets of the White Rose”. The leaflet urged the students, as responsible humans, to fight against totalitarianism and fascism and to defy the barbarous Nazi regime. Instead of active rebellion, the White Rose encouraged a more pacifist approach of passive resistance.
Having overheard her brother’s plans of a duplicating machine, Sophie scampered towards her brother’s room, aroused with suspicion. Lo and behold, there she would find excerpts of the leaflet etched onto the margin of a book on the table. All her suspicions and fears were later confirmed when she confronted Hans about her findings. By this point, her brother had already crossed the boundary, past the point of no return. Fearing for her brother’s safety and future, Sophie would make the arduous decision to join the White Rose to look out for him.
From this point onwards, the activities of the group took off. Graffiti of the words “Down with Hitler” and “Freedom” would be plastered all over German streets. And soon, several leaflets would be distributed all over Berlin, Freiburg, and Hamburg.
Eventually, the Gestapo got wind of their activities and started tracking them down. But instead of fleeing with their tails between their legs, The White Rose redoubled their efforts with increased vigour. Between the span of a year (1942-1943), four additional leaflets would be written and sent to the mailboxes of prominent academics and civil servants amongst the masses. The group would begin to attract more supporters, and the circle of members started expanding; the spark of resistance had begun igniting in the hearts of the people.
However, just as everything was going smoothly for the group, a single blunder would ultimately alter the course of the group forever.
Wilting – The cost of freedom
“Es lebe die Freiheit!” (“Long live freedom!”)- Hans Scholl.
On 18th February 1943, the sun radiated brilliantly over the University of Munich as two figures quickly made their way to the campus. With a suitcase stuffed full of leaflets, the pair would hastily unload the bag’s content throughout the corridor and then on the staircase over the entrance. The leaflets waltzed in the air as students began shuffling in for their early lectures. Satisfied, the siblings stealthily made their retreat… or so they had hoped. Out of nowhere, the building doors were immediately locked, and Sophie and Hans Scholl were promptly ambushed by the Gestapo. A pair of eyes belonging to a custodian had caught the fleeting duo in the act and reported them.
The siblings were thrown into the slammer and underwent horrendous interrogations. Christopher Probst was also detained soon after. However, even in the face of danger, the trio remained loyal to the group and refused to rat out any of the other members. They were even resolved to take on the full brunt of the “blame” so long as it eased the burden on the others. But a verdict was soon decided for the trio — death; they were charged guilty of treason and condemned to execution via guillotine.
On 22nd February 1943, the lives of the three paragons of virtue would, unfortunately, be lost in Munich’s Stadelheim Prison. Both Hans and Sophie Scholl were fortunate enough to meet their family for the last time before their execution. However, Probst could not meet with his family as his wife was occupied with the birth of their third child at the time.
The rest of the prominent members of The White Rose — Kurt Huber, Willi Graf, and Alexander Schmorell — were soon caught and dealt with in a similar manner. The Gestapo had succeeded in plucking all the petals from the Weiße Rose. The White Rose was totally decimated.
But not long after, the Allied forces would turn their sixth (and last) leaflet into propaganda titled “The Manifesto of the Students of Munich” and spread millions of them all over Germany.
Even if the material body of the rose itself had perished, the spirit of The White Rose continued to radiate brightly throughout the war, in the hearts of millions. Though one may dismiss the group as being young and naive, none can take away from them their resolve to forge a better future for their country and Volk; their attempt to do so is proof of their valour and existence.
“Such a fine, sunny day—and I have to go. But how many are dying on the battlefield in these days, how many young promising lives…. What does my death matter if through us thousands of people will be stirred to action and awakened?” – The last words of Sophie Scholl.
By: Yun Jing