Within repressive regimes that do not rule at the behest of the general population, any opposition to the policies and beliefs as espoused by their leaders is necessarily seen as a threat to power. Resistance in such cases is treated with unquestioning brutality, and terror is, by necessity, the tool that is used to retain control.
In spite of the unrestrained application of collective punishment exacted by the Third Reich during the brief but disastrous reign of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, there were still instances of overt resistance by those courageous enough to stand up to the extreme brutality and repression. The story of the White Rose exemplifies astounding courage, integrity and inherent optimism about human nature and humanity.
Before Hitler's rise to power in 1933, the German economy was in a terrible condition in part due to the draconian measures imposed as a result of the Treaty of Versailles following Germany's defeat in World War I. For that reason, communism posed a possible threat to the status quo, for it offered an alternative economic model. It was that threat that contributed to Hitler's rise to power. Fascism and communism lie at opposite poles of the political spectrum. Hitler's appeal was in part due to his declarations of the greatness and the superiority of the German people, and his promise to bring security and economic prosperity to them. So strong was the anti-Bolshevist sentiment that twenty million Soviet citizens died as a result of Hitler's war.
At the university in
The members of the White Rose were not naive; they understood the likely consequences of their actions - concentration camp or death. They were idealistic young university students who saw the abysmal future that lie ahead of them if the policies of the Third Reich should continue to prevail; this prospect so horrified them that they felt compelled to act.
The White Rose was the brainchild of Hans Scholl. In many ways his views were informed by his father's influence who felt that the, "First concern of any German should not be military victory over Bolshevism, but the defeat of National Socialism." National Socialism was the political party that espoused fascism as the substantive basis of its social and political agenda.
Hans and his sister Sophie grew up as normal children when Hitler had taken control of the government. Hans was fifteen and his sister was twelve years old. It was a time when Hitler's mesmerizing oratory about the greatness of the German people and the noble and great future that was ahead under his guiding hand was heard by the vast majority of the German people. This had a remarkable impact on young and receptive minds. Hans and Sophie joined the Hitler Youth. At that time, they did not understand their father's serious reservations concerning National Socialism.
This youthful attraction to patriotic fervor, however, quickly faded. Hans' feelings about the rightness of Germany's "awakening," went through a remarkable transformation. According to his sister Inge, "…At this time he was honored with a very special assignment. He was chosen to be the flag bearer when his troop attended the Party Rally in Nuremberg. His joy was great. But when he returned, we could not believe our eyes. He looked tired and showed signs of a great disappointment. We did not expect any explanation from him, but gradually we found out that the image and model of the Hitler Youth which had been impressed on him there was totally different from his own ideal. The official view demanded discipline and conformity down to the last detail, including personal life, while he would have wanted every boy to follow his own bent and give free play to his talents. The individual should enrich the life of the group with his own contribution of imagination and ideas. In Nuremberg, however, everything was directed according to a set pattern. Rebellion was stirring in Hans' mind."
These revelations planted the beginnings of doubt and mistrust. His feelings rapidly spread to his siblings. Their doubts were substantiated when they got the news of the existence of concentration camps. In a state of profound moral confusion, the Scholl children went to their father, seeking some kind of resolution. When he was asked, "Father, what is a concentration camp?" he answered, "That is war. War in the midst of peace and within our own people. War against human happiness and the freedom of its children. It is a frightful crime."
Feeling discouraged by the attitudes of their contemporaries, Hans and his close friends took consolation in an organization of young people called the Jungenschaft that existed in various German cities. Within this group they could exercise their idealistic and romantic notions. Ultimately, these groups became outlawed by the State, for they did not conform to party principles. The disturbing events that surrounded him provoked Hans into an inquiry into philosophical principles. He read the works of Plato, Pascal, Socrates and other philosophers in an attempt to find meaning amid the chaos that surrounded him.
Eventually the time had come to move on to higher education. Hans had plans to go into medicine; this took him to the university in
Hans and his fellow colleagues had discovered a philosophy professor by the name of Kurt Huber, who had a profound impact on them. According to Huber, the Nazi regime was, "not only trampling on the divine order, but also attempting to annihilate God himself." Professor Huber eventually joined the White Rose and was eventually executed by the State.
Sophie soon joined him at the University. Her parents were growing terribly anxious about not only the political climate but the safety of their children. Their fears were not unjustified, for within six weeks of Sophie's arrival in Munich, the first leaflets were distributed.
The following is a brief excerpt from this first leaflet, "…by means of gradual, treacherous, systemic abuse, the system has put every man into a spiritual prison. Only now, finding himself lying in fetters, has he become aware of his fate…" Three additional leaflets were distributed before those who were responsible for their creation, and distribution were discovered, arrested and eventually tried.
According to the trial documents surrounding the indictments of the members of the White Rose as they called themselves, "In the summer of 1942 the so-called Leaflets of the White Rose were distributed through the mails. These seditious pamphlets contained attacks on National Socialism and on its cultural-political policies in particular; further, they contain statements concerning the alleged murder of the Jews and alleged forced deportation of the Poles. In addition, the leaflets contained the demand to 'obstruct the continued functioning of the atheistic war machine by passive resistance, before it is too late and before the last of the German cities, like Cologne, become heaps of ruins and German youth had bled to death for the hubris of a sub-human.'"
Needless to say, all the members of the White Rose and their "accomplices" who were arrested were given the death sentence. It is a human tragedy of no small proportion, especially since what was described so vividly in the leaflets has been shown to be true. Similarly, the dire predictions regarding the fate of Germany if the policies established by the National Socialists were to continue unobstructed all became reality in a very short time. In spite of the tragic ending, these individuals demonstrated a selfless adherence to what they felt was right and displayed a remarkably courageous and non-violent opposition to what they knew to be terribly wrong; this is truly inspiring. It is the kind of behavior that adds credence to the nobility and dignity of the human species.