Within repressive regimes that do not rule at the behest of the general population, any opposition to the policies and beliefs as espoused by their leaders is necessarily seen as a threat to power. Resistance in such cases is treated with unquestioning brutality, and terror is, by necessity, the tool that is used to retain control.
In spite of the brutal application of collective punishment exacted by the Third Reich (National Socialism) during the brief but disastrous reign of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, there were still instances of overt resistance by those courageous enough to stand up to the extreme brutality and repression. The story of the White Rose exemplifies astounding courage, moral integrity and inherent optimism about human nature and humanity.
Before Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, the German economy was in terrible condition due, in part, to the draconian measures imposed as a result of the Treaty of Versailles from defeat of Germany in World War I. For that reason, Communism posed a possible threat to the status quo, for it offered an appealing alternative economic model that held the promise of welcomed change. It was that threat that contributed significantly to Hitler’s rise to power. Fascism and Communism lie at opposite poles of the political spectrum. Hitler’s appeal was in part due to his declarations of the greatness and the superiority of the German people, and his promise to bring security and economic prosperity to all. So strong was the anti-Bolshevist sentiment that twenty million Soviet citizens died as a result of Hitler’s war.
At the university in Munich, Germany between 1942 and 1943, students, who were members of an organization they referred to as the White Rose, had thrown hundreds of leaflets from the balcony into the school’s vast entrance hall. During this time period, they also did direct mailings of these documents to the residences of some of Germany’s major cities. They were subsequently arrested. They were arrested for taking part in what we would regard as an ordinary expression of a democratic right and responsibility i.e. the airing of grievances. The main players in this action were Hans Fritz Scholl (25), Sophia Magdalena Scholl (22) and Christopher Hermann Probst (24). Others who were subsequently arrested were: Willi Graf, Professor Kurt Huber and Alexander Schmorell. Ultimately, they were all executed.
The members of the White Rose were not naive; they understood the likely consequences of their actions: concentration camp or death. They were idealistic young university students who saw the abysmal future that lie ahead of them if the policies of the Third Reich continued to prevail; this prospect so horrified them that they felt compelled to act.
The White Rose was the brainchild of Hans Scholl. Hans and his sister Sophie grew up in a traditional family and led happy young lives. The ineluctable movement of events, however, would soon transform their surroundings. Hans was fifteen and his sister was twelve years old when Hitler had taken power. It was a time when Hitler’s mesmerizing oratory about the greatness of the German people and the noble and great future that was ahead under his guiding principles was everywhere. This had a remarkable impact on young and receptive minds. Hans and Sophie joined the Hitler Youth. At that time, they did not understand their father’s serious reservations concerning National Socialism when he had said that the, “First concern of any German should not be military victory over Bolshevism, but the defeat of National Socialism.”
According to his daughter, Hans feeling about the rightness of Germany’s “awakening,” went through a remarkable transformation. “…At this time he was honored with a very special assignment. He was chosen to be the flag bearer when his troop attended the Party Rally in Nuremberg. His joy was great. But when he returned, we could not believe our eyes. He looked tired and showed signs of a great disappointment. We did not expect any explanation from him, but gradually we found out that the image and model of the Hitler Youth which had been impressed on him there was totally different from his own ideal. The official view demanded discipline and conformity down to the last detail, including personal life, while he would have wanted every boy to follow his own bent and give free play to his talents. The individual should enrich the life of the group with his own contribution of imagination and ideas. In Nuremberg, however, everything was directed according to a set pattern. Rebellion was stirring in Hans’ mind.”
Hans and his close friends took consolation in an organization of young people called the Jungenschaft that existed in various German cities. Within this group they could exercise their idealistic and romantic notions. Ultimately, these groups became outlawed by the State, for they did not conform to Party principles. The disturbing events that surrounded him provoked Hans into an inquiry into philosophical principles. He read Plato, Pascal, Socrates and other philosophers in an attempt to find meaning amid the chaos that surrounded him.
These sobering revelations planted the beginnings of doubt and mistrust in Hans’ mind. His feelings rapidly spread to his siblings. In a state of moral confusion the Scholl children went to their father for some kind of resolution. When he was asked, “Father, what is a concentration camp, he answered, “That is war. War in the midst of peace and within our own people. War against human happiness and the freedom of its children. It is a frightful crime.”
Eventually the time had come to move on to higher education. Hans had plans to go into medicine; this took him to the university in Munich. It was while he was in school that the War broke out. He was inducted into a company of Medics, and soon took part in the French campaign. There he lived the life of a half-soldier and half-student. In this position he witnessed the strangle hold that Nazi doctrine exerted on his countrymen. He found this terribly disquieting.
Hans and his fellow colleagues had discovered a philosophy professor by the name of Kurt Huber who had a profound impact on them. According to Huber, the Nazi regime was, “not only trampling on the divine order, but also attempting to annihilate God himself.” Professor Huber eventually was part of Hans’ group and was eventually executed by the State.
Sophie soon joined him at the University. Her parents were growing uneasy about not only the political climate but the safety of their children. Their fears were not unjustified, for within six weeks of Sophie’s arrival in Munich, the first leaflets were distributed.
The following is an excerpt from this first leaflet, “…by means of gradual, treacherous, systemic abuse, the system has put every man into a spiritual prison. Only now, finding himself lying in fetters, has he become aware of his fate…” Three additional leaflets were distributed before they were all discovered, arrested and eventually tried.
The following is a brief excerpt from the documents surrounding indictments of the members of the White Rose, “In the summer of 1942 the so-called Leaflets of the White Rose were distributed through the mails. These seditious pamphlets contained attacks on National Socialism and on its cultural-political policies in particular; further, they contain statements concerning the alleged murder of the Jews and alleged forced deportation of the Poles. In addition, the leaflets contained the demand to ‘obstruct the continued functioning of the atheistic war machine’ by passive resistance, before it is too late and before the last of the German cities, like Cologne, become heaps of ruins and German youth had bled to death for the “hubris of a sub-human.”
Needless to say, all the members of the White Rose and their “accomplices” who were arrested were given the death sentence. It is a human tragedy of no small proportions, especially since the accusations that what was described so vividly in the leaflets were shown to be true. Similarly, the dire predictions regarding the fate of Germany, if the policies established by the National Socialists were to continue unobstructed, all came to ghastly fruition in a very short time. In spite of the tragic ending, these individuals demonstrated a selfless adherence to what they felt was right and a remarkably courageous non-violent opposition to what they knew to be terribly wrong. This is truly inspiring. It is the kind of behavior that adds credence to the nobility and dignity of the human species.