Sophie Scholl (1921–1943) and the German Student Resistance Group against the Third Reich “The White Rose”
““We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. White Rose will not leave you in peace!” – The White Rose, Fourth Leaflet
Sophie Scholl (1921–1943) was a German student and anti-Nazi activist. Sophie, along with her brother Hans (1918–1943) and the friends Christoph Probst (1919-1943), Alexander Schmorell (1817-1943), Willi Graf (1918-1943), and Traute Lafrenz (1919-), were leading members of a small passive resistance group named the White Rose. Through producing leaflets from 1942 through 1943, denouncing the Nazi regime and ongoing war, they hoped to discredit the regime and sabotage the war effort. The group of Munich students were idealistic, religious, young, and deeply committed to their ‘moral duty.’ Sophie, Hans, and Christoph would all pay for their outspoken criticism of the Nazis with their lives.
Sophie Scholl was born in May 1921, one of six children, to war nurse Magdalena Müller and liberal politician Robert Scholl. Growing up, Sophie and Hans always knew emotional and relative economic security. Her mother was a gentle and kind woman, and her father a mayor in several small towns before settling in Ulm, where he opened his own law office as a tax and business consultant. As the political climate became increasingly conservative towards the end of the 1920s, Robert lost his mayoral post for advocating too liberal a position. In 1932, Sophie along with her sisters chose to join the League of German Girls, part of the Hitler Youth Movement. Similarly, Hans joined the movement against the wishes of his father, who opposed the prejudices of the National Socialists. However, initial enthusiasm by Sophie and Hans soon gave way to disillusionment as they became increasingly aware of the dissenting political opinions of their father, friends, and even some teachers. Both enjoyed the social activities likes hiking and camping, but grew a disdain for the conformity of the organization and ban on anything ‘not German. After graduating from secondary school, Sophie became a kindergarten teacher in Ulm in hopes that it would be considered an alternative service to National Labor Service. The National Labor Service was a prerequisite to be admitted to university, which Sophie hoped to complete in order to join Hans at the Hamburg University. However, after this failed she faced compulsory farm work, six months of heavy labor and indoctrination under the thumb of fanatical Nazi women leaders. Additionally, the War Assistance Program required another six months working as an attendant in a kindergarten attached to a munitions factory in Blumberg. The military like regimen in the Labor Service pushed Sophie to become more critical of the political situation, as well as consider methods of passive resistance.
Following the completion of her compulsory service, Sophie joined Hans at university in 1942, where she majored in biology and philosophy. Hans, a student of medicine, introduced her to his tightknit friend group who shared many similar political views, along with a love for art, music, literature, philosophy, and nature. Similar to Hans’ brief arrest by the Gestapo, many of their lives had been effected under the oppressive regime. The first copies of the anti-Nazi leaflets appeared in Munich mailboxes at the end of June 1942. “Is it not true that every honest German today is ashamed of his government?” the leaflet demanded, “Therefore every individual must be aware of his responsibility as a member of western culture and put up as fierce a fight as possible; he must work against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism.” Initially, Hans tried to keep his involvement in the White Rose hidden from Sophie, but after her discovery she became an invaluable member of the group. As a woman, she could more easily evade random stops by the SS and helped copy, distribute, and manage the finances of the resistance group. Over the course of the next year the White Rose produced five more leaflets, with Kurt Huber (1893-1943), professor of philosophy at Munich University, contributing to the final work. The fifth and sixth leaflets were produced in much greater numbers, and circulated to a wider range of German cities. These acts greatly increased the danger of the operation.
On the morning of February 18, 1943 Hans and Sophie were caught by a university janitor while distributing the sixth leaflet on campus. During their interrogations by the Gestapo, a handwritten copy of the seventh leaflet by Christoph Probst was discovered on Hans. The Scholls and Probst were scheduled to stand trial before the Nazi’s People’s Court- which was famous for its unfair political trials which frequently resulted in death sentence. Roland Freisler, head judge of the court, found all three guilty of treason and sentenced them to death. On February 22nd all were executed at Stadelheim Prison by guillotine. Just before Hans was beheaded he called out, “Long live freedom!” Later that spring, members Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf, and Kurt Huber were all sentenced to death. In total, more than 100 suspects were either interrogated or imprisoned by the Gestapo for their connections to the White Rose. Upon liberation in 1945, a few remaining imprisoned members were freed by the Allied forces.
“What we did will make waves,” Sophie Scholl told her parents in their final goodbye. Today, the members of the White Rose are remembered as martyrs of World War II. Books and movies have been produced about them, as well as hundreds of schools, squares, and streets named in their honor. In the face of totalitarian military dominated regime, the White Rose didn’t use bombs or guns to combat their oppressors, but moral and theological arguments in the form of leaflets. In a time when young people are being attacked for their political involvement, the methods of passive resistance by the members of the White Rose serve as a model organization for peaceful political participation.
Chloe Gruesbeck, Political Science and Contemporary European Studies, Class of 2020
Literature and Websites
- Dumbach, Anette. Sophie Scholl and the White Rose. Oxford, England: Oneworld, 1986.
- Freedman, Russell. We Will Not Be Silent. New York: Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.
- Michalczyk, John, “The White Rose Student Movement in Germany: Its History and Relevance Today,“ in Confront! Resistance in Nazi Germany, ed. John J. Michalczyk, 211-220. New York: Lang, 2004.