Sophie Scholl and the White Rose

by | 29 Sep 2020 | Women in war

On February 22, 1943, three German students from Munich University were executed. They were accused of acts of high treason and subversive propaganda for having repeatedly distributed leaflets. Among them was Sophie Scholl, a young woman barely 20 years old, who would become a symbol of resistance and courage in the face of Hitler’s murderous madness.

Sophie Scholl and Hans Scholl

The origins of the “White Rose”

Munich, 1942. In this city, the birthplace of National Socialism and with its unquestionably reactionary past, a small group of German resistance fighters is formed. The “White Rose” was born out of an uncontrollable desire to stand up against totalitarianism.

Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans recruited into the Hitler Youth

Two of the members of the group are siblings. Hans and Sophie Scholl had a relatively ordinary childhood. Like most German children, they joined the Hitler Youth, but quickly became alienated from Nazi ideology. This was due to their deeply religious upbringing, which was opposed in every way to the doctrines advocated by Hitler. While Hans began studying medicine at Munich University, Sophie became a childminder. Between 1940 and 1941, she performed work and auxiliary service, imposed by the regime on all young people in the country. From 1942 onwards, she studied biology and philosophy at Munich University, where she joined her brother.


Two students witness unbearable atrocities

In the early summer of 1942, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell, one of his friends, were sent to the Eastern Front as medical students in the service of the Wehrmacht. The atrocities at the front – they witnessed the treatment of Jews and Soviet prisoners – left a lasting impression on them. Back in Munich, they began to write leaflets and became known as the “White Rose”. They drew up the first four leaflets and mailed them to Munich intellectuals (writers, professors, doctors, etc.). Their task was to reproduce them and circulate them as widely as possible.

And the University of Munich in turmoil

As time went by, various people joined the duo. Kurt Huber, their philosophy professor at university, Sophie Scholl, Hans’s sister, and Willi Graf and Christoph Probst, medical students, soon joined them. Together, they formed the core of the group, around which various contacts and supporters gravitated. Together they drafted the fifth and sixth leaflets.

“Students! Students! The German people are looking to us! They expect us […] to overthrow the Nazi terror. […] The dead of Stalingrad implore us! We rise up against the enslavement of Europe by National Socialism, in a new affirmation of freedom and honour!

Extract from the sixth and last leaflet of the “White Rose”.

The latest “White Rose” leaflet

Hans et sophie scholl-munich- commemorative plaque

The “White Rose” produced a total of six leaflets. The sixth and final leaflet was printed in over 2,000 copies for distribution by post in the winter of 1942-43. It commented on the defeat of the Third Reich army at Stalingrad. More than that, it was a call to collective awareness, inviting the country’s youth to mobilise. More and more major German and Austrian cities are affected by the group’s demands: Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Vienna and even Berlin.

On 18 February 1943, the group still had some leaflets that had not been sent by post. Hans and Sophie Scholl decided to take them to the University to distribute them. Before leaving, Sophie threw a volley of leaflets over the University hall in an uncontrolled burst of energy. The concierge witnessed this and reported them to the Gestapo. They were arrested and imprisoned in Stadelheim prison, where they were interrogated at length.

22 February 1943, a speedy trial

After several stormy interrogations, the People’s Tribunal for Political Crimes convened for a trial on 22 February 1943. Presided over by Roland Freisler, a former Communist who had become one of the most brutal Nazi leaders, the trial lasted just three hours. Freisler himself sentenced the three young students to death for high treason, subversive propaganda, complicity with the enemy and demoralising the military forces.

Weakened by long hours of interrogation, and with a broken leg as a result of one of them, Sophie Scholl faces Roland Freisler with indescribable courage. On the same day, just a few hours after the sentence was announced – despite German law allowing 99 days before the execution of a condemned man – Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst were executed by beheading.

Gestapo mug shots of Sophie and Hans

A few months later, a second trial condemned Kurt Huber, Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf to death. Many other members of the “White Rose” (friends of the Scholls, students who came to their aid, sympathisers, etc.) were sent to the concentration camps for complicity, often losing their lives in the process.

Freya Von Moltke 1932

Freya Von Moltke

Libertas Schulze Boysen
Liberta Schulze-Boysen
Traute Lafrenz
Traute Lafrenz

… In the same category

Push open the doors of history

Visit the Normandy Victory Museum Musée de la Bataille des haies. We are in Normandy, Manche dpt, France.