The White Rose
The White Rose (historical background)
The German resistance group around Hans and Sophie Scholl (1942/43)
(For information about Roman Kroke’s project on this topic, please click the menus right from the white arrow)
Sabine Kaufmann and Meike Meyer (source at the bottom):
“The White Rose is probably the most famous German resistance group of the Third Reich. Core members of the group were the siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl, Christoph Probst, Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorell and Professor Kurt Huber. Between 1942 and 1943, the group distributed six leaflets, in which they called for resistance against the Nazi regime. For their courage and determination to stand up against the Nazi dictatorship the six paid with their life.
The emergence of the White Rose
The White Rose was more of a circle of friends than a formal organization. Christoph Probst and Alexander Schmorell were friends since their school days. They met Hans Scholl and Willi Graf during her medical studies 1941/42 at the University of Munich. 1942 Sophie Scholl began her studies in philosophy and biology and got acquainted with her brother’s friends. They met for reading and discussion evenings. Together they visited the lectures of the philosophy professor Kurt Huber, who had already come into conflict with the Nazis and later should also become an active member of the group.
At least in the beginning, the Scholl siblings were actually quite taken with the doctrine of National Socialism. What attracted the young people the most were the joint excursions with the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls, the shared experience of corporate feeling and the notion of a “home country”. But their early enthusiasm soon gave way to fundamental criticism. Their actions were based on Christian and humanist values. They were inspired by the church doctrines of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas as well as the existential philosophy of Kierkegaard. Hans Scholl concern was “to set visible sign of Christian resistance”. He didn’t want to find himself at the end of the war “with empty hands facing the question of what you have done.”
The beginning of the Resistance
In June 1942, after the big air raid on Cologne, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell distributed the first leaflets. In subtle, literary language they called for passive resistance against the Nazi regime and denounced the complicity of most German people with the Nazi crimes. The members of the White Rose intended to enlighten their countrymen about the true nature of the regime. Apart from their spiritual values, it was the increasing radicalization of the Hitler regime as well as the brutality of the war which motivated the group’s rejection of the system.
In the summer of 1942, on the eastern front, the young men of the White Rose witnessed how Jewish women were driven to forced labor. And they heard about mass killings of many innocent people. This encouraged them to continue their resistance after their return to Munich in November 1942, by trying to inform the German population, especially young people, about the true nature of the regime. At home in Munich, Sophie Scholl learned from a friend that mentally handicapped children had been picked up in a sanatorium by SS men and had disappeared since then.
In their following leaflets, the White Rose denounced the hideous and inhumane crimes of the regime, for instance the murder of 300.000 Polish Jews. The group also started to establish contacts with other resistance groups. Their fifth leaflet was published in an edition of 6000-9000 copies and was distributed in several southern German and Austrian cities. Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell wrote with regard to the war situation in January 1943: “Hitler is leading the German people into the abyss with mathematical certainty.” For the first time they called their fellow countrymen to fight the Nazi system actively and asked them: “Germans, do you and your children want to suffer the same fate that befell the Jews (…) shall we forever be the expelled people hated by the entire world?”
“It’s time that someone falls AGAINST the system”
Since February 1943, the group also started to address the public with nightly actions. On house facades in Munich they painted slogans like “Down with Hitler”, “Hitler Mass Murderer” or “Freedom.” The sixth leaflet should be the group’s downfall. Written by her mentor Kurt Huber, a professor of philosophy and musicology, it castigated the war policies of Hitler, which in Stalingrad on the German side alone has caused 300,000 victims. A janitor caught Hans and Sophie Scholl as they were distributing the leaflets in the atrium of the Munich University and transfered them directly to the Gestapo. Four days later, on 22 February, they were sentenced to death by the People’s Court (Volksgerichtshof) and executed the same day by guillotine. Christoph Probst was also among the victims. The only evidence against him was a handwritten draft of a leaflet, which Hans Scholl was carrying while being arrested.
In April, 14 other members of the White Rose were judged by the People’s Court. Alexander Schmorell, Professor Kurt Huber and Willi Graf were also sentenced to death, the others to prison terms. In the following months, the Gestapo arrested further friends and supporters of the White Rose, and the People’s Court pronounced more death and high prison sentences.
Just two days before her arrest, Sophie Scholl said, “There are so many people falling for this regime, it is time that someone falls against it.” During her interrogation by the Gestapo, the official tried to build her bridge to avoid the death penalty – under the condition that she would dissociate herself from her brother’s actions and condemn them as reprehensible. According to the protocol Sophie Scholl answered the following: “I am still of the opinion that what I have done was the best I could do to serve my country. I therefore do not regret my actions and will assume the consequences.”
The legacy of the White Rose
After the innermost circle of the White Rose had been murdered, their resistance was initially continued by some remaining followers: Together with some friends the Munich student Hans Leipelt multiplied and distributed the last leaflet in Hamburg, accompanied by the words “And their spirit still lives on.” He also organized a collection of donations for the widow of professor Kurt Huber. However, these activities were betrayed and Hans Leipelt, his girlfriend Marie-Luise Jahn and other supporters arrested in the fall of 1943. Leipelt was executed on January 29th 1945, Marie-Luise Jahn sentenced to twelve years in prison.
The medical student Traute Laufrenz had already brought leaflets from Munich to Hamburg in November 1942. Her friend Heinz Kucharski, a student of philosophy and Oriental Studies, distributed them with the help of other oppositional students. In late 1944, the Gestapo also tracked down the members of the Hamburg group. On 17 April 1945, shortly before the war ended, they were also condemned by the People’s Court. Heinz Kucharski was able to escape on the way to his execution. The others died during detention.
Thanks to the Hamburg resistance, the last leaflet of the White Rose was brought abroad and, in December 1943, British bombers dropped millions of copies of it over entire Germany. Thomas Mann said in a speech broadcasted to Germany by the BBC about the members of the White Rose as representatives of a better, different Germany, however small their number had been: “You shall not have died in vain, shall not be forgotten.”
(Translation from the following source: Sabine Kaufmann and Meike Meyer in: Planet Wissen/WDR: www.planet-wissen.de/politik_geschichte/drittes_reich/weisse_rose/)
Additional information :
Our idea (2011)
Illustrations by Roman KROKE
In 2011, Roman Kroke created the illustration series Our Idea about “The White Rose” with Hans and Sophie Scholl, a German resistance movement against Hitler in Munich (1942/43). The illustrations were a commissioned artwork for the documentary film Ich bin (2011) by André Bossuroy, sponsored by the European Commission. The series comprises four illustrations in which Roman Kroke interpretates Sophie Scholl’s dream the night before her execution (according to a report of her cell mate Else Gebel):
“One sunny day I was carrying a child
in a long white dress to its baptism.
The way to the church led up a steep hill.
But I was holding it firmly and safely in my arms.
Suddenly a crevasse appeared in front of me.
I had just enough time to place the child safely on the other side,
before I fell into the depths.
The child is our idea
and it will win through despite all obstacles.
We have got to pave the way,
but we must die for it first.”
On the basis of his illustration series about “The White Rose” Roman Kroke realizes in cooperation with schools, universities, museums and foundations
Ich bin (2011)
Documentary film by André BOSSUROY
Roman Kroke’s illustration series Unsere Idee (Our Idea), based on Sophie Scholl’s last dream before her exexution, was a commissioned artwork for the documentary film Ich bin (2011) by André Bossuroy, sponsored by the European Commission.
Ich bin is a historical documentary addressing the memory of the victims of Nazism and of Stalinism. Four young Europeans meet with historians and witnesses of our past. They investigate diverse events of the Second World War in Germany (the student movement of the White Rose in Munich), in France (the Vél’ d’Hiv’ Roundup in Paris as well as the resistance in Vercors) and in Russia (Katyn forest massacre). They examine the impact of these events; curious to how the European peoples are creating their identities today.
(second film from the top – for the episode on the “White Rose” see Part I):
Original version: French
Available Subtitles: English, German, Polish, Russian, Dutch