May 03, 2018

We Need a White Rose: Keeping a Legacy of Bravery and Freedom Alive

Written by: Eliza Racine


In moments of widespread political dissent, quotes and symbolism of the White Rose — a student group that resisted the Third Reich —  start appearing with regularity across social media.  Despite a total membership of just 10 students and a professor, the White Rose made an indelible mark on history.

We honor that history.

In June, 1942, a group of students and a philosophy professor at the University of Munich formed the White Rose (die Weiße Rose in German) to voice opposition against the Nazi regime. The guerilla organization included siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, their classmates Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, professor Kurt Huber, and others.

Hans and Sophie were previously members of Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel) respectively, and like many Germans at the time, they were illusioned into thinking Adolf Hitler would make Germany great again.

Their father Robert Scholl, however, openly criticized Hitler, knowing fully well that Germany was being led to devastation. He was arrested and imprisoned in 1942 after telling his secretary, “The war! It is already lost. This Hitler is God's scourge on mankind, and if the war doesn't end soon the Russians will be sitting in Berlin.”

Following their father’s arrest, the Scholl siblings abandoned Nazism to pursue a fight for freedom and justice in Germany.

The White Rose conducted a leaflet campaign from June 1942 to Feb. 1943, publishing six pamphlets to be scattered across Germany denouncing militarism and mass genocide in the concentration camps. They also spread graffiti across Munich’s buildings and streets with messages like “Down with Hitler” and “Hitler the Mass Murderer” painted in large letters. Due to the Gestapo’s — Nazi secret police — strict surveillance and the scarcity of paper, the White Rose was limited in how many materials they could buy and their means of distribution.

Sophie Scholl was in charge of buying stamps, paper and envelopes, and she was careful to not buy too many from one place. Pamphlets were left in public phone books, mailed to professors and students, and dropped in stairwells throughout campus. Women, being able to move more freely than men, acted as distributors to spread pamphlets across the country.

"We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!"

– Fourth Pamphlet

Against all the odds, the group gained traction outside of Munich, from Hamburg, to Frieberg, Berlin, and Vienna. The Gestapo spent months hunting for the pamphlets’ authors as the language became more critical of Hitler and Nazism.

The White Rose’s sixth pamphlet would be their last.

On Feb. 18, 1943, the Scholl siblings quickly spread thousands of pamphlets through the hallways of the University of Munich, with Sophie even throwing some from the top of the atrium. They were seen by a custodian who promptly called the Gestapo to arrest them and most of the White Rose members. Hans was found with a draft of a seventh pamphlet, written by Probst, which was destroyed.

White Rose activists

After four days of interrogation, the Scholl siblings and Probst were put on a show trial. The presiding judge, Roland Freisler, found them guilty of treason and sentenced them to death by guillotine that afternoon.

Sophie was first to be executed. Observers noted that she did not so much as flinch as she faced her death. Her final words eloquently conveyed her knowledge that rebellion sometimes requires the ultimate sacrifice:  “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?”

She was followed by Probst and Hans. Right before he was beheaded, Hans shouted his final words: “Long live freedom!”

Many other White Rose members were tried and executed later that year, and some involved students received prison sentences or were sent to the concentration camps.

Meanwhile, the Nazis threw a party for the janitor who turned in the White Rose for following his duty to them.

The efforts of the White Rose quickly disappeared from the German public eye until after the war. Now, the White Rose is remembered across Germany and the world at large. Celebrated as great dissenters who faced adversity with heads held high, speaking out against creeping fascism, the Scholls and their peers continue to inspire political activists today. Monuments across Munich commemorate their resistance, and in 1989, Asteroid 7571 Weisse Rose was named after the group. They are depicted in several books and movies as well, such as the popular 1982 film The White Rose, directed by Michael Verhoeven.

The sacrifices made by the White Rose do not cease to be important in an era where it seems history is indeed repeating itself.

Here at the Romero Institute, we stand up against and confront corruption and injustice wherever we see it. We never stop fighting for freedom and truth for all the public to know. We continue following the same bravery as these students and their professor did, and we encourage our readers to do the same.

In a world of encroaching fascism, we need a white rose.