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old photo of white rose members

What Was the White Rose?

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  • Stacey Ake

    Sophie Scholl has been a hero of mine for a long time. There is a 2004 movie called "Downfall" about the last days in Hitler's bunker. One of the sources of the film is Hitler's secretary is Traudi Junge, who was about 20 at the time. At the end of the movie, she says: "All these horrors I've heard of during the Nurnberg process, these six million Jews, other thinking people or people of another race, who perished. That shocked me deeply. But I hadn't made the connection with my past. I assured myself with the thought of not being personally guilty. And that I didn't know anything about the enormous scale of it. But one day I walked by a memorial plate of Sophie Scholl in the Franz-Joseph-Strasse. I saw that she was about my age and she was executed in the same year I came to Hitler. And at that moment I actually realised that a young age isn't an excuse. And that it might have been possible to get to know things."

In summer 1942, German university students Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell began secretly writing and distributing leaflets signed by “the White Rose,” calling themselves Germany’s “bad conscience.” Although by this time the Nazis’ crimes were widely known even in Germany, shamefully few people had the courage to protest. The members of the White Rose were among the few exceptions.

Scholl and Schmorell were eventually joined by others including their philosophy professor Kurt Huber, fellow students Christoph Probst and Willi Graf, and Hans Scholl’s younger sister, Sophie. Through their underground publishing, they urged the German people to “support the Resistance” by resisting Nazi commands, sabotaging the war effort, and duplicating and distributing White Rose leaflets. The last leaflet, drafted by Christoph Probst and targeted at Munich’s university students, concluded: “Our people stand ready to rebel against the Nationals Socialist enslavement of Europe in a fervent new breakthrough of freedom and honor.”

Hans and Sophie Scholl were arrested on February 18, 1943; they, together with Christoph Probst, were tried and executed four days later. Kurt Huber and Alexander Schmorell followed them to the guillotine in July, and Willi Graf in October.

The White Rose members were prompted in their lonely and dangerous stand by common decency, but sustained in it by their profound faith. In the words of their fourth leaflet:

Everywhere and at all times demons lurk in the dark, waiting for the moment when man is weak; when of his own volition he leaves his place in the order of creation as founded for him by God.…When he yields to the force of evil, he separates himself from the powers of a higher order; and after voluntarily taking the first step, he is driven on to the next and the next at a furiously accelerating rate. Man is free, to be sure, but without the true God he is defenseless against evil.

To find out more about the White Rose, see Inge Scholl’s classic account The White Rose (Wesleyan, 1970).

–The Editors

members of the white rose Members of the White Rose. George (Jürgen) Wittenstein / AKG-Images
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