“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did”
– Sophie Scholl’s statement to the Volksgerichtshof [People’s Court] of Judge Roland Freisler, 21 February 1943
On February 22 1943, Sophie Scholl died. She was beheaded by the Nazis for being part of the anti-Nazi passive resistance group The White Rose (Die Weisse Rose). Also killed by guillotine that day were Sophie’s brother Hans Scholl, 24, and their best friend Christoph Probst, 22.
In June 1942 the trio together with Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf and Jurgen Wittgenstein had formed ‘The White Rose’, a movement for peace. They were joined later by many other supporters, including their Munich University philosophy professor Kurt Huber.
The founders’ mood of rebellion had been set in 1939. As Dr Jurgen Wittgenstein recalled in 1997:
It all began, if you will, in the winter of 1938/39: Those who served their compulsory two year army service and planned to enter medical school were consigned to a Sanitätskompanie, a training school for medics, for their final six months. This is where I met Alexander Schmorell: he was multi-talented, a gifted sculptor, deeply interested in literature and music; he was born in Russia, to a German father, a physician, and a Russian mother. We soon discovered our similar political leanings, and became close friends. Some of you may have read in one of the books about the White Rose, what Alex Schmorell said to me, pointing to the door of our room in the barracks: “Maybe ten years from now there will be a plaque on this door which will read: ‘This is where the revolution began’.”
By the following spring (1939) most of us enrolled at the University of Munich.
After a two-year tour of duty on the Eastern front, the young medics returned to college. Wittgenstein recalled some of what they had witnessed in Poland:
The experiences of the long journey and the months in Russia left a deep impression on all of us. On the way to the front we spent a few days in Warsaw. Warsaw had been declared an open city by the Polish government in order to save it from destruction, but in total disregard of the Geneva Convention it was partially destroyed by bombing and artillery fire. I will never forget visiting the Warsaw Ghetto which consisted of several walled off city blocks guarded by Ukrainian soldiers. I was horrified to discover that, for a pack of cigarettes, these Ukrainians would shoot for pleasure anyone looking out of a window, to whom one pointed. The inmates of the Ghetto were permitted to work outside the enclosure, and upon returning to the ghetto their burlap sacks were searched. I witnessed SS officers horse-whipping and kicking many Jews without provocation, and managed to take pictures of that.
Thanks to Alex Schmorell, who spoke Russian fluently, we made direct contact with Russian peasants. Alex reprimanded a guard, who beat a Russian worker bloody, and was almost court-martialed for this. Hans Scholl gave his entire tobacco ration, an extremely valuable commodity, to a Jew in a forced labor column. We felt a profound compassion for and outrage on behalf of those suffering under this ruthless oppression. In Russia, our conviction grew that more had to be done, and we came to realize the terrible truth, that Germany could only be saved by losing the war: a difficult and painful realization for someone who loves his country, his fatherland, which we most certainly did.
Alex Schmorell and Hans Scholl wrote four leaflets, each headed “Leaves of the White Rose”. These appeals to the people of Germany were left in telephone books and public phone booths, mailed to professors and students and taken by courier to other universities for distribution.
The first leaflet, of which 100 copies were made (35 were handed to the Gestapo), began:
“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be ‘governed’ without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. 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?
“If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order in history; if they surrender man’s highest principle, that which raises him above all other God’s creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass – then, yes, they deserve their downfall.”
Other appeals followed:
“Sabotage in armament plants, newspapers, public ceremonies, and of the National Socialist Party…Convince the lower classes of the senselessness of continuing the war; where we face spiritual enslavement at the hands of National Socialists.”
“Hitler is leading the German people into the abyss. Blindly they follow their seducers into ruin… Are we to be forever a nation which is hated and rejected by all mankind?”
“Many, perhaps most, of the readers of these leaflets do not see clearly how they can practice an effective opposition. They do not see any avenues open to them.”
“The state should exist as a parallel to the divine order, and the highest of all utopias . . .But our present ‘state’ is the dictatorship of evil… Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right — or rather, your moral duty — to eliminate this system.”
The group could not fathom why educated Germans were not decrying Nazi policies? “We will not be silent,” they wrote to their fellow students in Berlin, Hamburg, Freiburg and Vienna. “We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!” They exhorted the educated to join the struggle:
“We must soon bring this monster of a state to an end. A victory of fascist Germany in this war would have immeasurable, frightful consequences.”
“Try to convince all your acquaintances, including those in the lower social classes, of the senselessness of continuing, of the hopelessness of this war; of our spiritual and economic enslavement at the hands of the National Socialists; of the destruction of all moral and religious values; and urge them to passive resistance!”
Lest anyone think the White Rose was financed by Germany’s enemies, the fourth leaflet noted:
“…We emphatically point out that the White Rose is not in the pay of any foreign power. Although we know that the National Socialist power must be broken by military means, we seek the revival of the deeply wounded German spirit. For the sake of future generations, an example must be set after the war, so that no one will ever have the slightest desire to try anything like this ever again. Do not forget the minor scoundrels of this system; note their names, so that no one may escape…We shall not be silent – we are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace…”
A total of six leaflets were produced. In addition, The White Rose scrawled graffiti on walls throughout Munich – “Freedom”; “Down with Hitler”. They crossed out Swastikas with black tar.
On February 18, 1943, the Gestapo, acting on a tip-off from the University’s janitor, caught Hans and Sophie leaving pamphlets at the school. They were arrested. Evidence linked them to Probst.
This is the text of the group’s sixth and final leaflet:
Fellow Fighters in the Resistance!
Shaken and broken, our people behold the loss of the men of Stalingrad. Three hundred and thirty thousand German men have been senselessly and irresponsibly driven to death and destruction by the inspired strategy of our World War I Private First Class. Fuhrer, we thank you!
The German people are in ferment. Will we continue to entrust the fate of our armies to a dilettante? Do we want to sacrifice the rest of German youth to the base ambitions of a Party clique? No, never! The day of reckoning has come — the reckoning of German youth with the most abominable tyrant our people have ever been forced to endure. In the name of German youth we demand restitution by Adolf Hitler’s state of our personal freedom, the most precious treasure we have, out of which he has swindled us in the most miserable way.
We grew up in a state in which all free expression of opinion is unscrupulously suppressed. The Hitler Youth, the SA, the SS have tried to drug us, to revolutionize us, to regiment us in the most promising young years of our lives. “Philosophical training” is the name given to the despicable method by which our budding intellectual development is muffled in a fog of empty phrases.
A system of selection of leaders at once unimaginably devilish and narrow-minded trains up its future party bigwigs in the “Castles of the Knightly Order” to become Godless, impudent, and conscienceless exploiters and executioners — blind, stupid hangers-on of the Fuhrer.
We “Intellectual Workers” are the ones who should put obstacles in the path of this caste of overlords. Soldiers at the front are regimented like schoolboys by student leaders and trainees for the post of Gauleiter, and the lewd jokes of the Gauleiters insult the honor of the women students.
German women students at the university in Munich have given a dignified reply to the besmirching of their honor, and German students have defended the women in the universities and have stood firm…. That is a beginning of the struggle for our free self-determination — without which intellectual and spiritual values cannot be created. We thank the brave comrades, both men and women, who have set us brilliant examples.
For us there is but one slogan: fight against the party! Get out of the party organization, which are used to keep our mouths sealed and hold us in political bondage! Get out of the lecture rooms of the SS corporals and sergeants and the party bootlickers! We want genuine learning and real freedom of opinion. No threat can terrorize us, not even the shutting down of the institutions of higher learning. This is the struggle of each and every one of us for our future, our freedom, and our honor under a regime conscious of its moral responsibility.
Freedom and honor! For ten long years Hitler and his coadjutor have manhandled, squeezed, twisted, and debased these two splendid German words to the point of nausea, as only dilettantes can, casting the highest values of a nation before swine. They have sufficiently demonstrated in the ten years of destruction of all material and intellectual freedom, of all moral substance among the German people, what they understand by freedom and honor. The frightful bloodbath has opened the eyes of even the stupidest German – it is a slaughter which they arranged in the name of freedom and honor of the German nation” throughout Europe, and which they daily start anew.
The name of Germany is dishonored for all time if German youth does not finally rise, take revenge, and atone, smash its tormentors, and set up a new Europe of the spirit. Students! The German people look to us. As in 1813 the people expected us to shake off the Napoleonic yoke, so in 1943 they look to us to break the National Socialist terror through the power of the spirit. Beresina and Stalingrad are burning in the East. The dead of Stalingrad implore us to take action. “Up, up, my people, let smoke and flame be our sign!”
Our people stand ready to rebel against the Nationals Socialist enslavement of Europe in a fervent new breakthrough of freedom and honor.
And so to court for German justice. Hereunder is the transcript of the death sentence handed down to the three:
On behalf of the German people
In the trial
1. Hans Fritz Scholl, Munich, born in Ingersheim, the September 22, 1918,
2. Sophia Magdalena Scholl from Munich, born in Forchtenberg, on May 9, 1921 and
3. March. Christoph Hermann Probst from Aldrans bei Innsbruck, born in Murnau, on November 6, 1919,
In custody for investigation for treason in support of the enemy, preparing to commit high treason and weakening the armed security of the nation, the People’s Court, First Senate, according to the judgment held on February 22, 1943, consisting of the following officials:
Dr. Freisler, President of the People’s Court, who presides,
Stier, Director of the Regional Judiciary (Bavaria),
Breithaupt, SS Group Leader,
Bunge, SA Group Leader,
Koglmaier, Secretary of State and Leader of the SA Group and
Weyersberg , Reich Attorney, representing the Attorney General
of the Supreme Court of the Reich,
That the defendants, in wartime and in pamphlets, have prompted the sabotage of the war effort and armaments and the overthrow of the National Socialist way of life of our people, who have spread defeatist ideas and have defamed in the most vulgar way to Fuhrer; thus collaborating with the enemy of the Reich and weakening the armed security of the nation.
Therefore, under this charge is the death sentence.
They have lost their honor and rights as citizens forever.
The accused Hans Scholl has been a student of medicine since the spring of 1939 and, thanks to the concern of the National Socialist government, has begun his eighth semester in the race. Meanwhile he fulfilled temporary services in a field hospital in the campaign in France and again from July to November 1942 on the eastern front as a medical assistant.
As a student his duty compels him to provide exemplary service to the common cause. In his role as a soldier, assigned to study medicine, it has a special obligation of loyalty to the Fuhrer. This and the help that was expressly granted to him by the Reich did not prevent him, in the first half of the summer of 1942, write, duplicate and distribute pamphlets of “White Rose”. These defeatist leaflets predict the defeat of Germany and call for passive resistance in the form of sabotage of the war industry and sabotage in general, so that the German people be deprived of the National Socialist way of life and therefore their government.
All this because he imagined that only in this way the German people survive the end of the war!
Returning from Russia in November 1942, Scholl requested his friend, the accused Probst, to provide him with a manuscript that opened the eyes of the German people! Probst actually provided him with a draft of a pamphlet as he requested, in late January 1943.
After talks with his sister, Sophia, the two decided to conduct a propaganda pamphlets in the form of campaign against war and in favor of collaboration with the plutocratic enemies of National Socialism. Brother and sister, who lived in the same pension, collaborated in drafting a pamphlet, “To All Germans.” It predicted the defeat of Germany and exhorted a war of liberation against the “National Socialist criminal actions” and demanded the establishment of a liberal democracy. In addition, they drafted a leaflet, “German Students!” (In previous versions, “Fellow fighters!”), Which incited a fight against the Party. They wrote that it was the day of reckoning and had the audacity to compare his battle against the Fuhrer and the National Socialist way of life with the War of Liberation against Napoleon (1813). In reference to your project, they used the military song, “Up, up, my people !, the smoke and flame be our sign!”
The Scholl accused, partly with the help of the accused Schmorell, duplicated the leaflets and by common agreement distributed them as follows:
Schmorell traveled to Salzburg, Linz and Vienna and sent 200, 200 and 1,200 pamphlets mailed to different places in those cities; Vienna another 400 were sent to Frankfurt am Main.
Sophia Scholl sent 200 mail in Augsburg and on another occasion 600 in Stuttgart.
Hans Scholl with the help of Schmorell distributed thousands of leaflets in the streets of Munich overnight.
On February 18 the Scholls deposited between 1500 and 1800 copies in packs at the University of Munich, and Sophia Scholl threw a lot of them from the third floor, through the skylight of the building.
Hans Scholl and Schmorell the night of August 8, 1942 and February 14, 1943 painted the walls in many places in Munich, and particularly the university, with the words “Down with Hitler”, “Hitler, mass murderer” and “Freedom”. After the first incident Sophia Scholl learned of this action, he agreed with it and asked, unsuccessfully, to be allowed to help in the future!
The costs were covered by the accused themselves (in total, about 1,000 frames).
Probst also began his medical studies in the spring of 1939 and now in his eighth semester; He is a soldier assigned to Task student. He is married and has three children: a two and a half years, one-year and four months and one in four weeks. It is a “non-political man,” so it is not a man! Neither the concern of the National Socialist Reich for his professional training nor the fact that only through the National Socialist population policy was possible that he had a family prevented him from writing at the behest of Scholl, in a cowardly defeatism a “manuscript” which takes the heroic battle of Stalingrad as the occasion for defaming the Fuhrer and claims that this was a military swindler, and then in a tone of exhortation encourages opposition to National Socialism as an action that would, as he claims, an honorable capitulation. He supports the promises of this pamphlet quotes … Roosevelt! and he gained knowledge of these matters to hear British broadcasts!
All the defendants have recognized the above facts. Probst offers as excuse his “psychotic depression” at the time who wrote the pamphlet, which he claims arises from Stalingrad and the childbed illness of his wife. But these explanations do not excuse a reaction of this scope.
Whoever has, like the three accused, acts of high treason, weakening the home front and thereby, in wartime, the security of the nation, and thereby helping the enemy (Para. 5 of the Special Decree of War and para. 91 b of the Criminal Code), raises the dagger to stab the front in the back! This also applies to Probst, though he argues that his manuscript was not to be used as a pamphlet, as the tone and style of the manuscript prove otherwise. Who acts in this way (particularly at a time when we must close ranks) tries to lead the first division in the unity of the front. And are German students, whose honor has traditionally been known for personal sacrifice for Volk and fatherland, who acted in this way!
If the punishment for an event of this nature was not death, we would be forging the first links in a chain whose end (above) was 1918. Therefore, in order to protect the Volk and the Reich at war, the People’s Court has found only one punishment: death. The People’s Court knows that there is unanimity with soldiers on this decision.
Through treason to our Volk, the accused have lost their citizenship forever.
As criminals who have been convicted, the defendants paid court costs.
Alexander Schmorell was executed at Munich Stadelheim on July 13, 1943. Kurt Huber, who was executed that same day, wrote to his young son from prison:
“….I died for Germany’s FREEDOM, for TRUTH and HONOR. Faithfully, I served these three until my very last heartbeat….”
Jurgen Wittgenstein was interrogated by the Gestapo, but they couldn’t prove his involvement. He survived the war. Years later, the Government of West Germany rewarded him for his bravery.
In the 1990s he wrote of his reasons for resisting:
1. We were students, and students, throughout history, have been idealistic, rebellious, and willing to take chances: rebellious against existing order, against old and empty conventions (the United States and Europe experienced their share of it in the Sixties). Most of our group had been members of the “Bündische Jugend.” These were youth organizations (somewhat similar to the Boy Scouts,) which had come into being around 1908 in Europe and were particularly strong in Germany. In essence they grew out of a disillusionment of young people with the old established order, and with schools, which had failed them badly, as well as rebellion against overbearing parents. They were infused with typically German romanticism. Their ideals and stated goals were: personal freedom, self-imposed discipline, and strict adherence to highest moral and ethical principles.
2. These students came from bourgeois families. Their parents were opposed to Hitler, which must have influenced them to a large degree.
3. Most of us were medical students, except for Sophie Scholl, who majored in biology and philosophy. We shared a common interest in and a deep love for the arts, music, literature, and philosophy. Most of us had Jewish friends or classmates, who were evicted or deported or who had suffered in the “Crystal Night” pogrom.
Further reading: The White Rose (1970) by Inge Scholl, A Noble Treason (1979) by Richard Hanser, and An Honourable Defeat (1994) by Anton Gill.
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