"We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!"
-closing lines of the fourth leaflet
The White Rose Society stands for a moment in human history that makes your heart hurt a little, your breath jump, and your faith in the courage of women and men, against the darkest odds, stir toward hope.
Nonviolent and rooted in intellectualism, the organization was comprised of a handful of men and women, most in their early twenties, who met as students at the University of Munich in the early 1940s. They were inspired and supported by a professor of philosophy and musicology at the University, Kurt Huber. Many of the students had been members of organizations like The Hitler Youth and The German Youth Organization early in the war years and even admitted to believing in Hitler's promises to revitalize and rebuild Germany.
(from left) Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst, founding members of the WRS
Eventually though, through exposure to the horrors of battle and the reality of the genocidal exterminations, these students turned instead to an underground resistance movement. Members of the White Rose Society came together to print a total of six leaflets using secreted printing presses and as much newsprint as they could lay hands on. Their writing called for active resistance to Hitler's governments and its actions, and included references to the Bible and Aristotle, as well as respected German thinkers and writers like Novalis, Goethe and Schiller. Members felt that their primary source of support and protection would come from the German intelligentsia, who they believed must be as attuned to, and disgusted with, the State's actions as they were.
The text of these leaflets survives, though the conspirators did not.
In 1943, Society members were distributing their fifth leaflet around the University, intending for the stacks to be discovered and picked up by students upon exiting their classrooms. Hans and Sophie Scholl, brother and sister and founding members of the group, discovered an undistributed stack of flyers in their bag as they were preparing to leave the building. Not wanting to waste the time and effort that had gone into creating them, Hans and Sophie went to the second floor and threw the stack over the side of the railing, intending for the papers to scatter over the courtyard and be even more noticeable to students leaving their classrooms. However, a custodian, Jakob Schmid, saw what they did and recognized them. He called the Gestapo and within hours the two were in police custody. Other members of the group were quickly arrested as well.
Four days after their arrest, Hans Scholl, Sophie School, and Christoph Probst were sentenced to die for crimes of treason. They were beheaded later that day. Tales of the grace and dignity with which the young revolutionaries faced their death have become the stuff of legend today--inspiring books, films and plays, including one German-language film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Later that same year, in July 1943, Alexander Schmorell and Professor Huber, would also be tried and executed.
A bright spot though, among such sad news: That same July, a sixth leaflet, the text of which which had been smuggled out of Germany by Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, was widely distributed against the odds. The leaflet was edited, printed and retitled, "The Manifesto of the Students of Munich" (you may need to translate the page) in the United Kingdom, and almost five and a half million copies were then dropped out of Allied planes over several cities in Germany.
"Every individual human being has a claim to a useful and just state, a state which secures the freedom of the individual as well as the good of the whole." -excerpt from the third leaflet.