One day in 1942, copies of a leaflet entitled “The White Rose” suddenly appeared at the University of Munich. The leaflet contained an anonymous essay that said that the Nazi system had slowly imprisoned the German people and was now destroying them. The Nazi regime had turned evil. It was time, the essay said, for Germans to rise up and resist the tyranny of their own government. At the bottom of the essay, the following request appeared: “Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.”
The leaflet caused a tremendous stir among the student body. It was the first time that internal dissent against the Nazi regime had surfaced in Germany. The essay had been secretly written and distributed by Hans Scholl and his friends.
Another leaflet appeared soon afterward. And then another. And another. Ultimately, there were six leaflets published and distributed by Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friends, four under the title “The White Rose” and two under the title “Leaflets of the Resistance.” Their publication took place periodically between 1942 and 1943, interrupted for a few months when Hans and his friends were temporarily sent to the Eastern Front to fight against the Russians.
The members of The White Rose, of course, had to act cautiously. The Nazi regime maintained an iron grip over German society. Internal dissent was quickly and efficiently smashed by the Gestapo. Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friends knew what would happen to them if they were caught.
People began receiving copies of the leaflets in the mail. Students at the University of Hamburg began copying and distributing them. Copies began turning up in different parts of Germany and Austria. Moreover, as Hanser points out, the members of The White Rose did not limit themselves to leaflets. Graffiti began appearing in large letters on streets and buildings all over Munich: “Down with Hitler! . . . Hitler the Mass Murderer!” and “Freiheit! . . . Freiheit! . . . Freedom! . . . Freedom!”
The Gestapo was driven into a frenzy. It knew that the authors were having to procure large quantities of paper, envelopes, and postage. It knew that they were using a duplicating machine. But despite the Gestapo’s best efforts, it was unable to catch the perpetrators.
One day, February 18, 1943, Hans’ and Sophie’s luck ran out. They were caught leaving pamphlets at the University of Munich and were arrested. A search disclosed evidence of Christoph Probst’s participation, and he too was soon arrested. The three of them were indicted for treason…
Hans, his sister Sophie, and their friend Christopher Probst were tried and convicted of treason for daring to educate their fellow Germans about the evils of the Nazi regime. During their trial, they did not waver, admitting their actions proudly. Sentenced to death by beheading, they were allowed to meet together one last time.
Christopher Probst was 22, with a wife who he was unable to say goodbye to, for she was in the hospital giving birth to their third child when he was arrested and executed just a few days later. Hans was 24, and Sophie was just 21. They were beheaded by the Nazis on 22 February 1943, and Sophie walked to the guillotine “without turning a hair, without wavering.” Christopher stated that his death would be “easy and joyful.” Hans, just before the blade came down, yelled out something that echoes today in the hearts of those of us who are willing to give our all to the cause.
—From “The White Rose: A Lesson in Dissent”, by Jacob Hornberger
“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.” — Sophie Scholl
The Order of the White Rose
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