An annual re-post – Originally posted in February 2010
Core Members of the White Rose – Munich 1942 – (l to r) Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst. Arrested by the Gestapo and guillotined on February 23, 1943.
The notorious Nazi Judge Roland Freisler was practically spitting venom.
“You are a traitor!!”
Sophie quietly replied “Well someone had to be first. What we wrote and said is believed by many others. They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did.”
Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans and good friend Christoph Probst were on trial for their lives in Freisler’s “Peoples Court”. It was February 22, 1943 in Munich, Germany.
Freisler was enraged. “We are at war!! Did you not hear Reich’s Minister Goebbel’s call for total war!! Sophie and the others had been arrested by the S.S. the same day as the speech.
“Everyone in this room knows that your war is lost! None of you is brave enough to say it!”
Sophie was 22 years old; her brother Hans about 3 years older. The three on trial constituted the core members of the anti-Nazi “Society of the White Rose” and were co-authors of six anti-Nazi political resistance leaflets. The leaflets were produced on a manual printing press and distributed surreptitiously, first at the University of Munich where they were students and eventually as far away as Vienna.
Sophie and her friends grew up as the Nazi’s were coming to power; by the time she was an adult they had a strangle hold on the nation. There was only one acceptable world view – the Nazi view.
Sophie was raised a Lutheran and was devoutly religious. It was mandatory to join the Bund Deutsche Madel, the League of German Girls and for her brother Hans to join the Hitler Youth. Both had to perform six months “national service” in order to have any chance of attending university. Sophie did hers at a metal plant.
It was the time during her national service that made Sophie think long and hard about the current political situation. She began practicing passive resistance.
When her long time boy friend Fritz Hartnagel was conscripted into the army and sent to the Eastern front, Sophie gave him two volumes of the sermons of John Cardinal Newman, an indication of how important religion was in her life. The White Rose was founded by Sophie and her anti-Nazi friends after they obtained and read a copy of a stern anti-Nazi sermon given from the pulpit by Cardinal Clemens August Graf von Galen, the Roman Catholic bishop of Munich, a member of one of the most prominent noble families in Germany.
Meanwhile, Sophie’s boyfriend Fritz was writing home to her about the atrocities on the Eastern front. Fritz was assigned to General von Paulus Sixth Army.
Sophie was horrified by his reports of the cold blooded murder of captured Russian soldiers and Jews in every town entered by the Wehrmacht. Her correspondence with Fritz delved deeply into Cardinal Newman’s “theology of conscience” and how an individual must act under a dictatorship.
The leaflets of the White Rose urged the German people to resist. Obviously having anything to do with these leaflets meant almost certain death.
Monument on the floor of the University – stone leaflets
From the very first leaflet –
“Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? 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? “
The core members and half a dozen others left the leaflets around the campus of the university, mailed them anonymously around Munich, carried them by hand as far away as Berlin and Vienna, left them in public places where they would be found by passersby. Meanwhile part of the group, lead by Willi Graf began a graffiti campaign around Munich, spending his nights painting “Freedom!” and “Down with Hitler!” on public buildings. Willi had been forced to “volunteer” and spend his summer in Poland – he was becoming a doctor – and he saw with his own eyes the Warsaw and Lodz ghettos. He came home and told the others.
This small group of German youth, who grew up under the dictatorship had rejected fascism and militarism and supported a belief in a federated Europe of tolerance, justice and peace – the Europe that hopefully would come.
From the second leaflet –
“Since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals. Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty”
The Gestapo was in a frenzy to track down whoever it was printing and distributing the leaflets as they had caused a sensation. No one in Germany had read anything like this in years.
The fifth leaflet was composed by Hans Scholl and warned that Hitler was leading Germany into the abyss; with the gathering might of the Allies, defeat was now certain. The reader was urged to “Support the resistance movement!” in the struggle for ”Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and protection of the individual citizen from the arbitrary action of criminal dictator-states”. These were the principles that would form “the foundations of the new Europe”.
The Scholls were distributing the seventh leaflet of the “White Rose” at the university when they were spotted by a janitor and turned in to the Gestapo. Evidence on their persons implicated Christoph Probst, a married member ofWhite Rose and father of three small kids.
Within days of their arrest the three were brought to trial in Freisler’s Nazi court. Sophie remained firm and very brave at trial. She attempted to take all of the blame trying to save her brother and friends. To no avail.
Immediately after trial, Hans and Sophie had one last meeting with their parents. The parents were in agony, especially her father who had raised his children as tolerant lovers of peace. The guards then allowed Hans, Sophie and Christoph a few moments together before Sophie was led to her death, followed by Christoph and finally Hans. She kissed them goodbye.
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
One observer described Sophie; “She walked to her death without flinching a hair”. The three were guillotined.
At his execution Hans said “Let freedom live!” as the blade fell.
Christoph Probst asked for a priest and was baptized a Catholic before he died.
The White Rose had the last word. Their final leaflet was smuggled to the Allies by Helmut James Graf von Moltke thru Scandinavia to London. Millions of copies entitled “The Manifesto of the Students of Munich” were dropped all over Germany. Von Moltke was the great grandnephew of Von Moltke the Elder, the victorious German commander of the Franco-Prussian and Austro-Prussian Wars, He was a founding member of the Kreisau Circle Resistance Group and he too was executed by the Gestapo on January 23, 1945.
Willi Graf, the graffiti artist was captured by the S.S., “interrogated” for six months and then guillotined. He told them nothing.
The members of the White Rose, especially Sophie, became icons of the new Germany representing selfless opposition to tyranny. They are memorialized and remembered with public monuments, squares and streets named after them across Germany and at their old school.
Black granite memorial to the White Rose in the Hofgarten in Munich next to the Bavarian State Chancellery.
The playwright Lillian Garrett-Groag stated in Newsday on 22 February 1993, that “It is possibly the most spectacular moment of resistance that I can think of in the 20th century. The fact that five little kids, in the mouth of the wolf, where it really counted, had the tremendous courage to do what they did, is spectacular to me.”
In 2003 Germans were invited to participate in “Our Best” – a nationwide competition to list the ten most important Germans of all time. Sophie and Hans came in 4th – ahead of Goethe, Bach, Guttenburg, Bismarck and Albert Einstein. If the votes of young people alone had been counted the brother and sister would have come in first.
Readers of the German magazine for women, Brigitte, named Sophie Scholl the greatest woman of the 20th century.
The Scholle parents had six children, one of whom died in infancy. Sophie and Hans were executed. Sophie’s brother Werner was killed during the war in June 1944. Sophie’s sister Inge would write the story and remained an active participant in the peace movement until her passing in 1998.
Sophie’s boyfriend Fritz Hartnagel was one of the lucky Germans evacuated from Stalingrad but he didn’t return to Germany until after Sophie was already dead.
Years later he would marry Sophie’s younger sister Elizabeth.