Munich, Germany February 22, 1943

On this date in 1943 siblings Sophie (age 21) and Hans Scholl (24) and their friend Christoph Probst (24), mem­bers of the under­ground White Rose (Weisse Rose) resis­tance circle, were charged with sedition for writing, printing, and dis­tri­bu­ting anti-Nazi leaf­lets; “tried” by “Hitler’s Hanging Judge,” the noto­rious Nazi jurist Roland Freis­ler; and executed. (A year earlier Freisler, along with the male­volent likes of Rein­hard Hey­drich and Adolf Eich­mann, had attended the Wann­see Con­fer­ence in a Berlin suburb on scoping and imple­menting the “final solu­tion” to the Jewish problem.) The White Rose was a nonviolent/­intel­lec­tual resis­tance group of close-knit Munich uni­ver­sity stu­dents and pro­fessors en­gaged in an anony­mous leaf­let cam­paign, lasting from mid-1942 until Febru­ary 1943, that called for active oppo­si­tion to Hitler’s totali­tarian regime. Indeed, members of the White Rose are alleged to have carried out the earliest overt resistance to the Nazi regime.

The Scholls had originally been enthu­siastic sup­porters of the German renewal pro­mised by National Socialism, and they en­rolled in the Hitler Youth organi­za­tion. At 17 Hans Scholl commanded a company of 150 Hitler Youth; 14-year-old Sophie was a member of the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Maedel). But as the Scholls’ reali­za­tion of Nazi atro­ci­ties directed against Jews on the East­ern Front grew, so did their moral out­rage. Betrayed by a custo­dian, a loyal Nazi Party mem­ber, in the act of dis­tri­bu­ting their flyers in a Uni­ver­sity of Munich building on Febru­ary 18, 1943, the brother and sister were found guilty in Freis­ler’s People’s Court (Volks­gericht­hof) and beheaded on the same day, Febru­ary 22, at Munich’s Stadel­heim Prison. The Scholls were two of almost 16,000 people whom the Nazis guil­lo­tined. After their grue­some deaths, their sixth and last leaf­let was smuggled to the Western Allies, who retitled it “The Mani­festo of the Students of Munich” and air-dropped millions of copies over Germany.

Members of the White Rose, especially the Scholls, became heroes in post­war Germany. One of Germany’s leading literary prizes is called the Scholl Sib­lings Prize (Geschwister-Scholl-Preis). Many local streets and squares in Germany have been named after the brother and sister. Geschwister-Scholl-Schule is the most common school name in Germany. In 2003 Germans were invited by a tele­vision broad­caster to choose the top ten most important Germans of all time. Voters under the age of 40 helped Hans and Sophie Scholl finish in fourth place, above Bach, Goethe, Guten­berg, Bismarck, and Einstein. If the votes of young viewers alone had been counted, the Scholls would have ranked first. Several years earlier, readers of a German women’s magazine voted Sophie Scholl “the greatest woman of the twentieth century.”

German White Rose Resistance Movement, 1942–1943

White Rose Resistance Circle: Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst, 1942Memorial to Scholls on university campus

Left: From left, Hans Scholl (1918–1943), Sophie Scholl (1921–1943), and Chris­toph Probst (1918–1943), Munich train station, July 23, 1942. As medi­cal students, Hans Scholl and Probst were awaiting trans­por­ta­tion to the Eastern Front for required war service as medics (July–Novem­ber). Roland Freisler tried the two Scholls and Probst in his so-called People’s Court (aka Blood Court), which the Nazis set up outside consti­tu­tional authority. This court handled cases of polit­i­cal acts against the Hitler regime by con­ducting a series of show trials. Among the most noto­rious of the show trials was the trial of the July 20, 1944, bomb plotters who attempted to assas­si­nate Hitler in his forward head­quarters, Wolf’s Lair (Wolfs­schanze), near Rasten­burg, East Prussia (now part of Poland). On Febru­ary 3, 1945, Freisler was killed when the Ameri­cans unloaded 2,264 tons of bombs on the Reich capital. The wife of German Gen. Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Opera­tions Staff of the Armed Forces High Com­mand, worked in the hospi­tal that received Freisler’s crushed body. A worker com­mented, “It is God’s verdict.” Luise Jodl recalled their silent agree­ment: “Not one person said a word in reply.”

Right: The plaza in front of the main building of Ludwig Maxi­milian Uni­ver­sity of Munich is named “Geschwister-Scholl-Platz.” Fac­sim­iles of the last White Rose flyer are set in the ground. All the passion expressed in the White Rose call-to-action flyers made little impres­sion on the Scholls’ class­mates at the time. Two hours after the Scholls’ and Probst’s execu­tion, the Munich students staged a pro-Nazi demon­stra­tion in front of the uni­ver­sity. Three days later, at a special assem­bly, hun­dreds of students gave the custo­dian who betrayed the Scholls to the authorities a standing ovation.

White Rose Resistance Circle: Sophie Scholl on West German postage stamp, 1964White Rose Resistance Circle: Scholls on East German stamp, 1961

Left: Sophie Scholl on a 1964 West German postage stamp. According to one account Sophie walked proudly to her death, and is said to have stated: “How can we expect right­eous­ness to pre­vail when there is hardly any­one willing to give him­self up indi­vid­ually to a right­eous cause? . . . [But] what does my death matter if, through us, thou­sands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

Right: Hans and Sophie Scholl on a 1961 East German postage stamp. Reputedly, the last words of Hans Scholl uttered en route to the exe­cu­tion cham­ber were “Long live freedom!” (“Es lebe die Frei­heit”). Several ver­sions of Sophie Scholl’s last words include “. . . your heads will fall as well” and “God, you are my refuge into eternity.”

Scenes from 2005 German Film Sophie Scholl–Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl: The Final Days) and 2005 Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Film

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