On 22 February 1943, three students of Munich University were executed for their opposition to the Nazi government — Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst, prominent members of die Weiße Rose. They were all in their early twenties, and the material of their ‘treason’ consisted of small student debates, some graffiti and, most prominently, a series of hard-hitting pamphlets. Motivated by their Christian faith, these members of the little White Rose student group felt compelled to take a stand and make the voice of opposition heard.
In a period of eight months, these students wrote and distributed six pamphlets that tore into the words and actions of the Nazi state, and proclaimed that they spoke for those who, from fear or apathy, will not speak up.
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?
Although the Scholls were Lutheran, they were profoundly influenced by the anti-Nazi stance of some prominent Catholics, especially Cardinal August von Galen, Bishop of Münster. The White Rose was founded after Hans Scholl had read on of von Galen’s anti-Nazi sermons to Sophie, and she had it printed and distributed at university. From letters between Sophie Scholl and her boyfriend, Fritz Hartnagel, who served with the army on the Eastern Front, we know that she had given him a copy of the sermons of Cardinal John Henry Newman, and that he told her about the atrocities he had witnessed — the shooting of Soviet prisoners of war into a pit, and the mass murder of Jews. This news found its way into the group’s second pamphlet
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, guilty, guilty!
By their fifth pamphlet, the group were cranking out several thousand copies on a hand-operated duplicator. On 18 February 1943, to counter Joseph Goebbels’s ‘total war’ speech, the Scholls dumped copies of their sixth pamphlet around the university corridors so that the students would find them when they come out of classes. They were spotted by the caretaker, who called the police, and were eventually handed over to the Gestapo. Being found guilty of treason, they were guillotined along with fellow White Rose member, Christoph Probst, on 22 February. Later that year, the philosophy professor who was the only non-student member of the group, Karl Huber, was also executed along with fellow White Rose activists, Alex Schmorell, who had written much in the pamphlets, and Willi Graf.
In vindication of their deaths, the Allied air forces dropped thousands of copies of that final pamphlet over Germany, after Helmuth James von Moltke had a copy smuggled out of the country.
We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!