White Rose

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Monument to the "Weiße Rose" in front of the Ludwig-Maximilian-University, Munich

The White Rose (German: die Weiße Rose) was a non-violent resistance group in Nazi Germany, consisting of a number of students from the University of Munich and their philosophy professor. The group became known for an anonymous leaflet campaign, lasting from June 1942 until February 1943, that called for active opposition to German dictator Adolf Hitler's regime. [1]

The six core members of the group were arrested by the Gestapo, convicted and executed by beheading in 1943. The text of their sixth leaflet was smuggled out of Germany through Scandinavia to England, and in July 1943 copies of it were dropped over Germany by Allied planes, retitled "The Manifesto of the Students of Munich." [2]

Today, the members of the White Rose are honored in Germany as great heroes who opposed the Third Reich in the face of deadly danger for such resistance.


Members of the White Rose, Munich 1942. From left: Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst. Courtesy of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The core of the White Rose consisted of five students — Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans Scholl, Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf, and Christoph Probst, all in their early twenties — also members were Hans and Sophie's sister Inge Scholl, and a professor of philosophy, Kurt Huber.

Between June 1942 and February 1943, they prepared and distributed six different leaflets, in which they called for the active opposition of the German people to Nazi oppression and tyranny. Huber drafted the final two leaflets. A draft of a seventh leaflet, written by Christoph Probst, was found in the possession of Hans Scholl at the time of his arrest by the Gestapo, who destroyed it.

The White Rose was influenced by the German Youth Movement, of which Christoph Probst was a member. Hans Scholl was a member of the Hitler Youth until 1936 and Sophie was a member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel, membership of both groups was compulsory for young Germans. The ideas of dj 1.11. had strong influence on Hans Scholl and his brothers and sisters. dj.1.11 was a youth group of the German Youth Movement, founded by Eberhard Koebel in 1929. Willi Graf was a member of Neudeutschland and the Grauer Orden. Neudeutschland is a Catholic youth association. The group's members were motivated by their Christian beliefs. They had witnessed the atrocities of the war, both on the battlefield and against the civilian population in the East, and sensed that the reversal of fortune that the Wehrmacht suffered at Stalingrad would eventually lead to Germany's defeat. They rejected fascism and militarism and believed in a federated Europe that adhered to principles of tolerance and justice.


In 1941 Sophie and Hans Scholl attended the sermon of Bishop August von Galen decrying the euthanasia policies which the Nazis maintained would protect the European gene pool. [4] Horified by the Nazi policies, Sophie obtained permission to reprint the sermon and distribute at the University of Munich as the group's first pamphlet prior to their formal organization. [5]

Under Gestapo interrogation, Hans Scholl said that the name had been taken from a Spanish novel he had read. Annette Dumbach and Jud Newborn speculate that this may have been The White Rose, a novel about peasant exploitation in Mexico published in Berlin in 1931, written by B. Traven, the German author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Dumbach and Newborn say there is a chance that Hans Scholl and Alex Schmorell had read this. They write that the symbol of the white rose was intended to represent purity and innocence in the face of evil. [6]


Quoting extensively from the Bible, Aristotle and Novalis, as well as Goethe and Schiller, they appealed to what they considered the German intelligentsia, believing that they would be intrinsically opposed to Nazism. At first, the leaflets were sent out in mailings from cities in Bavaria and Austria, since the members believed that southern Germany would be more receptive to their anti-militarist message.

At the end of July 1942, the male students in the group were deployed to the Eastern Front for military service during the academic break. In late fall the men returned and the White Rose resumed its resistance activities. In January 1943, using a hand-operated duplicating machine, the group is thought to have produced between 6,000 and 9,000 copies of their fifth leaflet, "Appeal to all Germans!", which was distributed via courier runs to many cities (where they were mailed). Copies appeared in Stuttgart, Cologne, Vienna, Freiburg, Chemnitz, Hamburg and Berlin. Composed by Hans Scholl with improvements by Huber, the leaflet warned that Hitler was leading Germany into the abyss; with the gathering might of the Allies, defeat was now certain. The reader was urged to "Support the resistance movement!" in the struggle for "Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and protection of the individual citizen from the arbitrary action of criminal dictator-states". These were the principles that would form "the foundations of the new Europe".

The leaflets caused a sensation, and the Gestapo initiated an intensive search for the publishers.

On the nights of the 3rd, 8th, and 15th of February 1943, the slogans "Freedom" and "Down with Hitler" appeared on the walls of the University and other buildings in Munich. Alexander Schmorell, Hans Scholl and Willi Graf had painted them with tar (similar graffiti that appeared in the surrounding area at this time may have been painted by imitators).

The shattering German defeat at Stalingrad at the beginning of February provided the occasion for the group's sixth leaflet, written by Huber. Headed "Fellow students!", it announced that the "day of reckoning" had come for "the most contemptible tyrant our people has ever endured". As the German people had looked to university students to help break Napoleon in 1813, it now looked to them to break the National Socialist terror. "The dead of Stalingrad adjure us!"

Capture and trial

Atrium of the University

On February 18, 1943, coincidentally the same day that Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels called on the German people to embrace total war in his Sportpalast speech, the Scholls brought a suitcase full of leaflets to the university. They hurriedly dropped stacks of copies in the empty corridors for students to find when they flooded out of lecture rooms. Leaving before the class break, the Scholls noticed that some copies remained in the suitcase and decided it would be a pity not to distribute them. They returned to the atrium and climbed the staircase to the top floor, and Sophie flung the last remaining leaflets into the air. This spontaneous action was observed by the custodian Jakob Schmid. The police were called and Hans and Sophie were taken into Gestapo custody. The other active members were soon arrested, and the group and everyone associated with them were brought in for interrogation.

The Scholls and Probst were the first to stand trial before the Volksgerichtshof — the People's Court that tried political offenses against the Nazi German state — on February 22, 1943. They were found guilty of treason and Roland Freisler, head judge of the court, sentenced them to death. The three were executed by guillotine the same day. All three were noted for the courage with which they faced their deaths, particularly Sophie, who remained firm despite intense interrogation (however, reports that she arrived at the trial with a broken leg from torture are false), and said to Freisler during the trial, "You know as well as we do that the war is lost. Why are you so cowardly that you won't admit it?" (Hanser, "A Noble Treason").

Alexander Schmorell and Kurt Huber were beheaded on July 13, 1943, and Willi Graf on October 12, 1943. Friends and colleagues of the White Rose, who helped in the preparation and distribution of leaflets and in collecting money for the widow and young children of Probst, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to ten years.

Prior to their deaths, several members of the White Rose believed that their execution would stir university students and other anti-war citizens into a rallying activism against Hitler and the war. Accounts suggest, however, that university students continued their studies as usual, citizens mentioned nothing, many regarding the movement as anti-national. Their actions were mostly dismissed, until after the war when their efforts were eventually praised by the German consciousness.


A black granite memorial to the White Rose Movement in the Hofgarten in Munich with the dome of the Bavarian State Chancellery in the background

The square where the central hall of Munich University is located has been named "Geschwister-Scholl-Platz" after Hans and Sophie Scholl; the square opposite to it, "Professor-Huber-Platz". Many schools, streets, and other places all over Germany are named in memory of the members of the White Rose. The subject of the White Rose has also received many artistic treatments, included an acclaimed opera by composer Udo Zimmermann.

With the fall of Nazi Germany, the White Rose came to represent opposition to tyranny in the German psyche and was lauded for acting without interest in personal power or self-aggrandizement. Their story became so well-known that the composer Carl Orff claimed (though by some accounts [1], falsely) to his Allied interrogators that he was a founding member of the White Rose and was released. While he was personally acquainted with Huber, there is a lack of other evidence that Orff was involved in the movement.

In an extended German national TV competition held in the autumn of 2003 to choose "the ten greatest Germans of all time" (ZDF TV), Germans under the age of 40 catapulted Hans and Sophie Scholl of the White Rose to fourth place, selecting them over Bach, Goethe, Gutenberg, Willy Brandt, Bismarck, and Albert Einstein. Not long before, young women readers of the mass-circulation magazine "Brigitte" had voted Sophie Scholl to be "the greatest woman of the twentieth century".

File:Sophiescholl movie.jpg
Actress Julia Jentsch as Sophie Scholl on trial in Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

In February 2005, a movie about Sophie Scholl's last days, Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl: The Final Days), featuring actress Julia Jentsch as Sophie, was released. Drawing on interviews with survivors and transcripts that had remained hidden in East German archives until 1990, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in January 2006.

Prior to the Oscar-nominated film, there had been three earlier film accounts of the White Rose resistance. The first is a little known film that was financed by the Bavarian state government entitled Das Verspechen (The Promise) and released in the 1970s. The film is not well known outside Germany and, to some extent, even within Germany. The film was particularly notable in that unlike most other films about the White Rose, it showed the White Rose from its inception and how it progressed. In 1982, Percy Adlon's Fünf letzte Tage (The Last Five Days) presented Lena Stolze as Sophie in her last days from the point of view of her cellmate Else Gebel. In the same year, Stolze repeated the role in Michael Verhoeven's Die Weiße Rose (The White Rose).

Simultaneously with the U.S. release of the Oscar-nominated film in February, 2006, the book Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, was published in English, a nonfiction account by Annette Dumbach and Dr. Jud Newborn, a University of Chicago-educated writer and lecturer who served as co-creator and Founding Historian of New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.

Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, the definitive Account of the White Rose by Jud Newborn and Annette Dumbach, published in 2006, telling the full story behind the film, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Earlier, Newborn, working with the Project Director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C., had successfully advocated inclusion of the White Rose in that museum's permanent exhibition.

Newborn's co-authored book, an extensively expanded and updated version of the original 1986 English edition, tells the full story behind the film, treating the White Rose in its entirety while setting the group's resistance in the broader context of German culture and politics and other forms of resistance during the Nazi era. Former German president Richard von Weizsäcker had contributed a special introduction to the book's earlier, German-language edition, which remains in print as of 2006. Studs Terkel contributed a brief but moving foreword to the new English version, which also contains historical photographs, a chart indicating where White Rose leaflets were distributed, and a picture of the original duplicating machine used by the White Rose, as well as an introduction that discusses how contradictory attitudes about the White Rose evolved in Germany from 1945 to the present. Much of this material had never been published before in book form. Among the book's appendices are all of the White Rose leaflets, including the pieced-together text of the planned seventh leaflet, drafted by Christoph Probst and discovered among the trove of previously lost Gestapo interrogation transcripts. The book went into a second edition with a completely redesigned front and back cover in 2007[2].

The book's introductory material also contains excerpts from a New York Times editorial eulogizing the White Rose in August, 1943. In addition there are historic excerpts of statements made by Nobel Laureate Thomas Mann, Ursula von Kardorff and other famous contemporaries describing their emotions when learning about the resistance of the White Rose, who represented the best of what Germans in exile had termed, gratefully, "the other Germany."

"Speaking Truth to Power," a multimedia lecture program created by Newborn on the White Rose, uses historical musical segues, historic photographs, documents and elements of dramatic performance and has been presented worldwide. Consistent with the mounting awareness of the relevance of the White Rose for confronting issues of free speech, human rights and other compelling issues of the day, Newborn's purpose has been not only to recount the story of the White Rose, but to present "White Rosers" around the world today who risk themselves in the struggle to assert and defend our shared humanity [3].

Lillian Garrett-Groag's play, The White Rose, premiered at the Old Globe Theatre in 1991.

In Fatherland, an alternate history novel by Robert Harris, there is passing reference to the White Rose's still remaining active in Nazi-ruled Germany in 1964.

A Danish band is called "Die Weisse Rose".

The English band White Rose Movement takes its name from the group.

Hawaiian hardcore punk band (Order Of The) White Rose also take their name from the group.

In 2003, a group of college students at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas established The White Rose Society dedicated to Holocaust remembrance and genocide awareness. Every April, the White Rose Society hands out 10,000 white roses on campus, representing the approximate number of people killed in a single day at Auschwitz. The date corresponds with Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. The group organizes performances of The Rose of Treason, a play about the White Rose, and has rights to show the movie Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl: The Final Days). The White Rose Society is affiliated with Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League.

A children's picture book published in 1985, illustrated by Roberto Innocenti with text by Ian McEwan, is called Rose Blanche. It tells the story of a German girl who secretly takes food to a nearby concentration camp before her town is overrun by allied forces.

In October 2007, the The Los Angeles National Impeachment Center used the label Operation White Rose in their effort to impeach United States President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. The White Rose Coalition claims that constitutional rights in the United States have been abrogated in the aftermath of the terrorist strikes of September 11, 2001.

The White flower appeal is an annual appeal made by a United Kingdom Pro-life group, SPUC, in commemoration of Sophie Scholl's resistance. Leaflets are handed out asking for support and white flower lapel stickers are sold. [4]

The UK-based Genocide prevention student network, Aegis Students, use a white rose as their symbol in commemoration of the white rose movement.


  • Last words of Sophie Scholl: "…your heads will fall as well". There is, however, some dispute over whether Sophie or Hans actually said this; other sources claim that Sophie's final words were "God, you are my refuge into eternity." The film "Sofie Scholl, The Last Days" shows her last words as being "The sun still shines".
  • Last words of Hans Scholl: "Es lebe die Freiheit!" (Long live freedom!).
  • "We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!" (Leaflet 4's concluding phrase, which became the motto of the White Rose resistance).
  • "We will not be silent" has been put on t-shirts in many languages (among them Arabic, Spanish, French, Hebrew, and Persian) in protest of the U.S. war in Iraq. This shirt, in the English-Arabic version, led, in 2006, to the Iraqi blogger Raed Jarrar's being prevented from boarding a Jet Blue airplane from New York to his home in San Francisco, until he changed his shirt. [5] has background information.


  1. ^ The leaflets of the White Rose
  2. ^ "G.39, Ein deutsches Flugblatt", Aerial Propaganda Leaflet Database, Second World War, Psywar.org.
  3. ^ First leaflet, Leaflets of the White Rose.
  4. ^ The White Rose Shoah Education Project Web
  5. ^ The White Rose Shoah Education Project Web
  6. ^ Dumbach, Annette & Newborn, Jud. Sophie Scholl & The White Rose. Oneworld Publications, 2006, p. 58.
  7. ^ Second leaflet, Leaflets of the White Rose.

Further reading

  • DeVita, James "The Silenced" HarperCollins, 2006. YA novel inspired by Sophie Scholl and The White Rose.