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 and “tried” by “Hitler’s Hanging Judge,” the noto­rious Nazi jurist Roland Freis­ler. (A year earlier Freis­ler, along with the male­volent likes of Rein­hard Hey­drich and Adolf Eich­mann, had attended the Wann­see Con­fer­ence on scoping and im­ple­menting the “Final Solu­tion” to the Jewish pro­blem.) The White Rose was a non­violent/­intel­lec­tual resis­tance group of 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.

The Scholls had orig­i­nally been enthu­siastic sup­porters of the Ger­man renewal pro­mised by National Socialism, and they en­rolled in the Hitler Youth organi­za­tion. But as their reali­za­tion of Nazi atro­ci­ties directed against Jews on the East­ern Front grew, so did their moral out­rage. Betrayed by a custo­dian in the act of dis­tri­bu­ting their flyers, the Scholls were found guilty in Freis­ler’s People’s Court (Volks­gericht­hof) and beheaded on the same day at Munich’s Stadel­heim Prison. After their deaths, their sixth and last leaflet was smuggled to the 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

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, 1942. Roland Freisler tried the trio in his so-called People’s 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 in Rastenburg, East Prussia. On Febru­ary 3, 1945, Freisler was killed in an American bombing raid on Berlin. 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.

Sophie Scholl on West German postage stamp, 1964Scholls on East German postage stamp, 1961

Left: Sophie Scholl on a 1964 West German postage stamp.

Right: Hans and Sophie Scholl on a 1961 East German postage stamp. Reputedly, the last words of Hans Scholl 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), a 2005 Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Film