Who is White Rose?

With two assistant executioners to Johann Reichhart at her side, she was led forty meters to an unmarked building where the guillotine awaited them. Witness say she did not turn a hair nor flinch before the dull, heavy thud of the guillotine silenced the conscience of Germany. It was 5:00 p.m., February 22, 1943.


White Rose To the left in the photo above is Christoph Probst, in the center Sophie Scholl, and to her right is her brother Hans.

“Whoever today still doubts the real existence of demonic powers has widely misunderstood the metaphysical background to this war. Behind the concrete, behind material perceptions, behind all factual, logical considerations stands the irrational, i.e. the battle against the demon, against the emissaries of the Anti-Christ…”

From a White Rose leaflet, a German anti-Nazi student movement. The students were beheaded for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets.


They were once among the enemy, but they forsook those ranks for truth.

Once   enthusiastic Hitler Youth leaders, Hans and Sophie Scholl would come to see their earlier affiliation with the movement as personal complicity—especially after the senseless brutality of Kristalnacht sank in.  Thereafter they devoted their lives to fighting Nazism “with their bare hands”, because as Sophie told the judge who sentenced her: “someone had to make a start.”

Their shame was inescapable. It was a time when many German cities were filled  the scent of burning human flesh; a smell described by many as akin to  that of “roasting chicken”.  And many times a cloud of human ashes would rain upon many of the cities surrounding more than 300 Nazi death camps…

Friends in the army would come to visit from the Russian front; greatly changed.  Guilt-ridden, they would talk to Hans behind closed doors, describing unbelievable atrocities they had witnessed which Sophie eventually came to overhear.

It was a time when no one could be trusted. In fact, their father, the mayor of their  hometown, was once arrested by the Gestapo after he had made a joke about Hitler in front of a secretary who promptly reported him.

Sophie was in was in her early twenties, an eloquent and pensive girl who dreamt of teaching kindergarten someday.

Hans Scholl

Hans, her brother, was slightly older at twenty-five and since a child, Sophie idolized him.  Hans loved to read and was studying medicine. He had sandy blonde hair, was extremely intelligent and popular with the girls.  He could always be found with a tobacco pipe or guitar in hand.  And Sophie would often draw sketches of him as he played.

At a time when the clergy and practically all  of the masses were unified behind Hitler; Hans found a duplicating machine, and started printing leaflets condemning Hitler, the war and the persecution of the Jews; including some leaflets using a Biblical foundation to illustrate how far their leaders had perverted the truth.  It wasn’t just treason they were accused of, but blasphemy punishable by death.  Children, after all, were taught to pray in public schools to the image of Hitler.

Their anti-Nazi leaflets were secretly distributed in subways, lobbies, waiting rooms, mailed, or placed on windshields, etc. But in a country that prayed to Hitler, and with paid snitches or “block wardens” on every block, they caused an uproar.

Sophie Scholl

In the face of overwhelming public opinion against them, and with their lives literally at stake, they knew quite well that their efforts  might be symbolic at best.

But their message was for later generations.

One school break in 1942 Sophie visited her brother at his Munich University dorm.  An avid reader herself, Sophie started browsing through some books in Hans’ library which the Nazis hadn’t burned yet. Then she saw certain passages highlighted in those books that corresponded with leaflets that were distributed earlier that day on campus which had the SS and the public in an uproar.  There was a bounty on their heads, and their deeds reached the attention of Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Gestapo.

German guillotine documentary excerpt

German guillotine documentary excerpt

Stunned and concerned,  Sophie remembered Hans’ recent purchase of a duplicating machine.  She confronted her brother with the passages. Finally, he confessed. But to his surprise and dismay she demanded to join; well aware it was an offense punishable by death.  She was so insistent Hans eventually caved in.  It was not glory they sought, since the leaflets were anonymous, but redemption.

Sophie’s Last Song The text and the melody of Die Gedanken sind frei (“Thoughts are free”) can be found in Lieder der Brienzer Mädchen, printed in Bern, Switzerland between 1810 and 1820. During the German Revolution (1848/1849) and in Nazi Germany, the song was forbidden. Before her execution, Sophie is said to have sung this last song to her father at Stadleheim prison… The thoughts are free, who can ever guess them? They just fly by like nocturnal shadows. No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them, with powder and lead: The thoughts are free!

Sophie was not one to appeal to lip service.  “Sympathy for others,” she said, “becomes hollow if one feels no pain oneself.”

I think what I want, an what makes me happy,

but always discretely, and as it is suitable.

My wish and desire, no one can deny me

and so it will always be: The thoughts are free!

And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,

all this would be effortless work,

because my thoughts tear all gates

and walls apart. The thoughts are free!

So I will renounce my sorrows forever,

and never again feel guilty for my will.

In one’s heart, one can always laugh and joke

and think at the same time: The thoughts are free!

I love the wine, and my girl even more,

Only I like her best of all.

I’m not alone with my glass of wine,

my girl is with me: The thoughts are free!

They found sympathetic university professors, students, and  soldiers in the underground.  They called themselves White Rose, the name of a Mexican ranch in a novel Hans claimed to have read.

No one really knows where they chose the name, however.  We just know what they stood for.  Perhaps the best example of what they stood for comes from a letter by White Rose contributor  Christoph Probst to his stepbrother:

“Love is the power of the world; it engenders all life; it protects us; it leads to blessedness…By contrast, see how far hate is bringing us and has brought us: destruction, blood and death, and nothing either lasting or good.  And what has love engendered? Upon love cultures have been built; cathedrals have risen up. Love is the bond between all men.  Love makes all happiness possible…”

Soon after the fall of the Sixth Army in Stalingrad in February of 1943, the SS would catch up with the leaders of the movement.  A janitor saw them  between classes at Munich University.  They were seen dropping leaflets from upper story walkways.  The custodian recognized the controversial leaflets, and quickly reported them.

Hans and Sophie were promptly arrested.  Within days, a Nazi kangaroo court would sentence them to the guillotine.

Sophie Scholl’s convictions ran deeper than most men could imagine.  In the flower of her youth, she went to the guillotine  without batting an eye, as did her brother Hans; just so they could be heard.  According to some witnesses their unusual   serenity moments before their execution unnerved some of their hardened Nazi guards at Stadleheim prison.

Sophie’s last words were captured by her mother, who brought her daughter some candy in her final visit just before her execution.  It was the only time she saw her courageous young daughter lose her composure after her arrest, but only slightly. Did she have any regrets?

No. “We shall make waves…” she said.  “We shall make waves…”

The siblings and Christoph Probst  smoked their last cigarettes, provided by a guard,  and quietly awaited their fate.  Sophie went first, manacled like a hardened criminal.

With two assistant executioners to Johann Reichhart at her side, she was led forty meters to an unmarked building where the guillotine awaited them.  Witness say she did not turn a hair nor flinch  before the dull, heavy thud of the guillotine  silenced the conscience of Germany.  It was 5:00 p.m., February 22, 1943.

mugThen it was Christoph’s turn.  With a kind of wonder in his voice, he said “I did not know dying could be so easy.”

The last to die that day was Hans.  Their  spilt blood was still warm when his neck went under the blade.

Their parents were billed for the execution, and their bodies buried in a cemetery adjacent to the Stadelheim prison where they lost their heads.

Other members of White Rose would soon be rounded up and executed, as well.  The movement was subjected to the full force of the Nazi internal security apparatus and crushed.

For a time…only for a little while. And like Sophie had predicted, they did make waves, enough to last for generations to come.

The leaflets…

First leaflet


Memorial to the “White Rose” in front of the university, Munich. (Click to enlarge)

Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be “governed” without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes – crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure – reach the light of day?

If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order in history; if they surrender man’s highest principle, that which raises him above all other God’s creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass – then, yes, they deserve their downfall.

Goethe speaks of the Germans as a tragic people, like the Jews and the Greeks, but today it would appear rather that they are a spineless, will-less herd of hangers-on, who now – the marrow sucked out of their bones, robbed of their center of stability – are waiting to be hounded to their destruction. So it seems – but it is not so. Rather, by means of a gradual, treacherous, systematic 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.

Only a few recognized the threat of ruin, and the reward for their heroic warning was death. We will have more to say about the fate of these persons. If everyone waits until the other man makes a start, the messengers of avenging Nemesis will come steadily closer; then even the last victim will have been cast senselessly into the maw of the insatiable demon.

Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism. Offer passive resistance – resistance – wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late, before the last cities, like Cologne, have been reduced to rubble, and before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield for the hubris of a sub-human. Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.

From Friedrich Schiller’s “The Lawgiving of Lycurgus and Solon”:

Viewed in relation to its purposes, the law code of Lycurgus is a masterpiece of political science and knowledge of human nature. He desired a powerful, unassailable state, firmly established on its own principles. Political effectiveness and permanence were the goal towards which he strove, and he attained this goal to the full extent possible under the circumstances. But if one compares the purpose Lycurgus had in view with the purposes of mankind, then a deep abhorrence takes the place of the approbation which we felt at first glance. Anything may be sacrificed to the good of the state except that end for which the State serves as a means. The state is never an end in itself; it is important only as a condition under which the purpose of mankind can be attained, and this purpose is none other than the development of all of man’s powers, his progress and improvement. If a state prevents the development of the capacities which reside in man, if it interferes with the progress of the human spirit, then it is reprehensible and injurious, no matter how excellently devised, how perfect in its own way. Its very permanence in that case amounts more to a reproach than to a basis for fame; it becomes a prolonged evil, and the longer it endures, the more harmful it is…

At the price of all moral feeling a political system was set up, and the resources of the state were mobilized to that end. In Sparta there was no conjugal love, no mother love, no filial devotion, no friendship; all men were citizens only, and all virtue was civic virtue.

A law of the state made it the duty of Spartans to be inhumane to their slaves; in these unhappy victims of war humanity itself was insulted and mistreated. In the Spartan code of law the dangerous principle was promulgated that men are to be looked upon as means and not as ends – and the foundations of natural law and of morality were destroyed by that law…

What an admirable sight is afforded, by contrast, by the rough soldier Gaius Marcius in his camp before Rome, when he renounced vengeance and victory because he could not endure to see a mother’s tears!…

The state [of Lycurgus] could endure only under the one condition: that the spirit of the people remained quiescent. Hence it could be maintained only if it failed to achieve the highest, the sole purpose of a state.

From Goethe’s “The Awakening of Epimenides, Act II, Scene 4:

SPIRITS: Though he who has boldly risen from the abyss Through an iron will and cunning May conquer half the world, Yet to the abyss he must return. Already a terrible fear has seized him; In vain he will resist! And all who still stand with him Must perish in his fall

HOPE: Now I find my good men Are gathered in the night, To wait in silence, not to sleep. And the glorious word of liberty They whisper and murmur, Till in unaccustomed strangeness, On the steps of our temple Once again in delight they cry: Freedom! Freedom!

Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.

Second Leaflet


It is impossible to engage in intellectual discourse with National Socialism because it is not an intellectually defensible program. It is false to speak of a National Socialist philosophy, for if there were such an entity, one would have to try by means of analysis and discussion either to prove its validity or to combat it. In actuality, however, we face a totally different situation.

At its very inception this movement depended on the deception and betrayal of one’s fellow man; even at that time it was inwardly corrupt and could support itself only by constant lies. After all, Hitler states in an early edition of “his” book (a book written in the worst German I have ever read, in spite of the fact that it has been elevated to the position of the Bible in this nation of poets and thinkers): “It is unbelievable, to what extent one must betray a people in order to rule it.”

If at the start this cancerous growth in the nation was not particularly noticeable, it was only because there were still enough forces at work that operated for the good, so that it was kept under control. As it grew larger, however, and finally in an ultimate spurt of growth attained ruling power, the tumor broke open, as it were, and infected the whole body. The greater part of its former opponents went into hiding. The German intellectuals fled to their cellars, there, like plants struggling in the dark, away from light and sun, gradually to choke to death.

Now the end is at hand. Now it is our task to find one another again, to spread information from person to person, to keep a steady purpose, and to allow ourselves no rest until the last man in persuaded of the urgent need of his struggle against this system. When thus a wave of unrest goes through the land, when “it is in the air”, when many join the cause, then in a great final effort this system can be shaken off. After all, and end in terror is preferable to terror without end.

We are not in a position to draw up a final judgment about the meaning of our history. But if this catastrophe can be used to further the public welfare, it will be only by virtue of the fact that we are cleansed by suffering; that we yearn for the light in the midst of deepest night, summon our strength, and finally help in shaking off the yoke which weighs on our world.

We do not want to discuss here the question of the Jews, nor do we want in this leaflet to compose a defense or apology. No, only by way of example do we want to cite the fact that since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history. For Jews, too, are human beings – no matter what position we take with respect to the Jewish question – and a crime of this dimension has been perpetrated against human beings.

Someone may say that the Jews deserved their fate. This assertion would be a monstrous impertinence; but let us assume that someone said this – what position has he then taken toward the fact that the entire Polish aristocratic youth is being annihilated? (May God grant that this program has not fully achieved its aim as yet!) All male offspring of the houses of the nobility between the ages of fifteen and twenty were transported to concentration camps in Germany and sentenced to forced labor, and the girls of this age group were sent to Norway, into the bordellos of the SS!

Why tell you these things, since you are fully aware of them – or if not of these, then of other equally grave crimes committed by this frightful sub-humanity? Because here we touch on a problem which involves us deeply and forces us all to take thought. Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? Hardly anyone thinks about that. It is accepted as fact and put out of mind. The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so. Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cried out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal unconsciousness from which they will never, never awake?

It seems to be so, and will certainly be so, if the German does not at least start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminals, if he shows no sympathy for these hundreds of thousands of victims. He must evidence not only sympathy; no, much more: a sense of complicity in guilt. For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do; he tolerates this “government” which has taken upon itself such an infinitely great burden of guilt; indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all! Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!

It is not too late, however, to do away with this most reprehensible of all miscarriages of government, so as to avoid being burdened with even greater guilt. Now, when in recent years our eyes have been opened, when we know exactly who our adversary is, it is high time to root out this brown horde. Up until the outbreak of the war the larger part of the German people were blinded; the Nazis did not show themselves in their true aspect. But now, now that we have recognized them for what they are, it must be the sole and first duty, the holiest duty of every German to destroy these beasts.

“If the people are barely aware that the government exists, they are happy. When the government is felt to be oppressive, they are broken. ” “Good fortune, alas! builds itself upon misery. Good fortune, alas! is the mask of misery. What will come of this? We cannot foresee the end. Order is upset and turns to disorder, good becomes evil. The people are confused. Is it not so, day in, day out, from the beginning? ” “The wise man is therefore angular, though he does not injure others: he has sharp corners, though he does not harm; he is upright but not gruff. He is clear-minded, but he does not try to be brilliant.” – Lao Tzu

“Whoever undertakes to rule the kingdom and to shape it according to his whim – I foresee that he will fail to reach his goal. That is all. ” “The kingdom is a living being. It cannot be constructed, in truth! He who tries to manipulate it will spoil it, he who tries to put it under his power will lose it.”

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