Anne Frank
Learning About the Holocaust

The White Rose Movement


Did all Germans support Hitler during his reign as Führer?

Was there any resistance to his power?

This page has some resources for studying one aspect of resistance to Nazi tyranny.

It also gives a brief account of the Weiße Rose movement.

This is summarized from Inge Scholl's definitive account.

If you wish to study the movement in more depth, you should look at the available historical records, starting perhaps with Inge Scholl's book.

As an eye-witness and as a relative or friend of the founders of the movement, she may be trusted to give a detailed version of events.

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Did All Germans Support Hitler?

Not all Germans supported Hitler, but there is a lot of evidence to show that most did, and that the exceptions were few.

The question of how much the German people knew about such things as the mass murder of Jews and other groups is still hotly-debated.

But there are many Germans who have been honest enough to say that they knew what was happening and thought it normal at the time.

Because they had the support or agreement of most Germans, the Nazis worked very much in public.

They displayed notices about the laws controlling Jewish people, created ghettos in large cities, and conducted punishments in public.

If the German people did not know about this, then it is hard to see how some brave individuals opposed it.

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The Weiße Rose Movement

The Leaders of the Movement

One group which stood up against the Nazi régime was the Weiße Rose ("White Rose") movement.

This was the name taken by a group of young men and one young woman from Munich.

They were Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie, Christoph Probst, Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorell, and the university philosophy teacher, Professor Kurt Huber.

Another of the family, Inge Scholl, wrote an account of their resistance, entitled simply Die Weiße Rose.

Inge Scholl's book makes clear how people in Germany came to support Hitler.

When Hitler came to power, he was very successful in encouraging young people to work for the Nazi Party.

He created the movement called the Hitlerjugend ("Hitler Youth").

Young adults became leaders, while teenagers and children were organized and given uniforms and flags.

They were taught to be loyal to the Vaterland ("Fatherland") and Heimat ("home" or "homeland").

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The Origins of Resistance

Hans Scholl became a Fähnleinführer ("little flag leader") in the Hitler Youth.

His troop, like many others, made its own flag to go with the official Nazi flag of the movement.

One day, the twelve year old who carried the flag was ordered by a superior to surrender this unofficial flag, and use only the flag officially designed for the whole Hitler Youth.

When the boy refused, Hans supported him, and struck the superior commander.

For this, he was demoted.

Later Hans Scholl joined a group called the Jungenschaft.

The name just means a youth movement, but this was a group very different from the Hitlerjugend.

It was made up of groups of friends, mostly young men, who would camp and walk in the country at wekends and in holiday times.

But they would also sing, paint, take photographs or compose songs and poems.

The Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei or secret police) soon banned the movement.

When the members defied the ban, many were arrested in a wave of persecution in 1938.

Most of these were sent to prison, among them Hans Scholl.

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The Weiße Rose Group Forms

As war drew nearer, Hans Scholl completed his studies at school, and went to university in Munich as a medical student.

Here he formed a firm friendship, which would last for the rest of his short life, with three other medical students: Alex Schmorell, Christoph (Christl) Probst and Willi Graf.

Willi, like Hans, had been arrested in 1938 for belonging to the Jungenschaft.

With the outbreak of war, the students were compelled to serve in the army, while continuing their medical studies.

In 1942 Sophie Scholl, now twenty-one, joined her brother at university.

As their unease about the Nazi régime grew, so they learned more about its actions.

From a young priest they learned of a Nazi plan to change the fundamental principles of the Christian religion in Germany.

And from a nurse in a hospital for mentally ill children, they learned that the SS (Schutz Staffeln, meaning "team of guardians" - a special political wing of the German Army) had taken away the young patients and killed them.

With the help of a university lecturer, Kurt Huber, the young men began to print pamphlets and distribute them secretly.

These bore the name Flügblätter der Weißen Rose ("White Rose Pamphlets") and challenged the German people to resist the fascism, atheism and war-mongering of the Nazis.

No-one but their secret authors knew where they came from, but the pamphlets passed quickly from hand to hand.

Sophie Scholl was convinced that her brother was behind the resistance movement, but so far he had not told her about it.

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Down With Hitler!

All of the young men were sent to Russia in the autumn of 1942, to take part in the advance which would come to a halt at Stalingrad.

Before they went, they made a pact.

Life on the Russian front was precarious, and they might be killed there. If they survived the campaign, then they would step up their campaign of resistance.

When they did return safely, they continued to print the White Rose pamphlets.

One night, they went around Munich painting the slogans Nieder mit Hitler ("down with Hitler") and Freiheit ("freedom") in large letters.

By now those in the group knew that they were only one step ahead of the Gestapo.

And now Sophie joined Hans and the others in distributing the pamphlets.

Early in 1943 the group planned a bold and dangerous move.

Just before the other students arrived at the university one morning, Hans and Sophie would drop pamphlets out of a suitcase, into the lobby of the university entrance hall.

But they were seen by a caretaker, loyal to the Nazis, who locked the doors, and called the authorities.

They were arrested, and a few hours later, Christoph Probst was arrested, too.

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The Trial of Hans, Sophie and Christoph

At their trial, all of the Weiße Rose group spoke openly of what they had done.

None tried to minimize the nature of their resistance.

The trial of Hans and Sophie Scholl, with Christl Probst, followed quickly on their arrest.

They were found guilty of offences against the state, and sentenced to death, the sentence being carried out on the same day, late in the afternoon.

As a soldier, Hans had asked if he might be shot, but all were guillotined.

Not long after the trial, Professor Huber, Alex Schmorell and Willi Graf were also arrested, tried, sentenced and executed, while others who had joined the movement or carried it to other parts of Germany suffered the same fate.

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Studying This Subject


What sources can you find to learn more about the Weiße Rose movement?

  • As well as Inge Scholl's book, look for personal testimonies or official records from Munich and other parts of Germany.
  • Is there any other kind of evidence which may help you establish what happened?
  • For example, there is in Munich a public memorial to the group, which depicts them as martyrs, like the martyrs killed by Roman emperors for their Christian faith.
  • Can you find any reporting of their story in newspapers either during the war, or after it ended?
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Interpreting the Evidence

  • How important is the idea of individual resistance to tyranny? Does it matter if it fails to change things at the time or ever?
  • Inge Scholl writes of the Weiße Rose group: "Sie haben etwas Einfaches verteidigt." This means that they stood up for (literally, “defended”) something simple or basic. What do you think was the basic thing which they defended? If you look at Inge Scholl's account, you may discover what the writer thinks this is. You must decide whether you agree.
  • Does the resistance of a few good people make a difference to how we should judge the conduct of Germany during the war? Can we find evidence to suggest whether many people sympathised with the Weiße Rose group but were too frightened to act, or whether most Germans were glad to see them go to the scaffold.
  • Many of the Germans who opposed Hitler are united in having a strong religious belief. This may make them incline to do what they think is right, and may also make them less afraid of punishment, and even of death. The Weiße Rose group certainly fit this description. What does this tell you about why they acted as they did?
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Making Comparisons

  • Can we understand the Weiße Rose group by comparing them to other people who have resisted tyrants? These could be other opponents of Nazism or opponents of other powerful governments, like that in Stalin's Soviet state or more recent examples. Alternatively, you could look at such resistance in the more distant past or ancient history.
  • On the surface, Inge Scholl's Die Weiße Rose and Anne Frank's Diary have little in common - one is a story of active resistance, the other a story of trying to survive. But both show how the individual can retain dignity in the face of evil. Both are true stories of people who were put to death by an evil régime, but whose example has outlived the tyranny which crushed them. Is there a reason (other than chance and good publicity) why one book has been read so widely and the other is now much less famous?
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Responding to the History

If you have studied the Weiße Rose movement you can show what you have learned in many different kinds of format. Here are some suggestions:

Speaking and Listening Tasks
  • Imagine that you are Hans or Sophie Scholl. Using any notes you find helpful, make your speech for the conclusion of the trial. Under German law (even in the Nazi period) a condemned criminal had a right to make a final speech. What will you say? Will you try to justify your own actions or persuade the other people in court to resist the Nazis either openly or in their own hearts and minds?
  • Suppose that it is 1942, and you are Hans or Christoph. You know that Sophie suspects you are printing the Weiße Rose pamplets and distributing them. Should you tell her or keep her in ignorance? Try to improvise a conversation, giving reasons for your preferred course of action. Does it make a difference that Sophie is a young woman?
  • Pretend that you are a radio journalist working for the Nazi authorities in Munich. You have to make a short item for a news bulletin, in which you will report on the arrest and trial of the Scholls and Christoph Probst. How much can you say, and what attitude will you take. First, in groups, discuss what the content of the broadcast should be. Then make the report either as a live speech or recorded onto audio tape, for playing back later.
  • In a small group, try to enact the interrogation of Hans, Sophie or Christoph. If you are playing the part of an interrogator, you will try to get as much information as possible from your subject. If you are being interrogated, you will try to tell the truth and speak out against Hitler, but without betraying your friends.
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Writing Tasks
  • Using a combination of evidence and your own imagination (so long as you know which you are using at each point) create a script for a dramatization of any part of this story. This could be done for performance on stage, on radio, on television or in a feature film.
  • Write a script for a documentary programme (for radio or TV) about the Weiße Rose group. This could be aimed at an adult audience or for younger listeners and viewers. Whichever you choose, make the style suitable for them.
  • Write an official report for the Nazi authorities of the trial of the Weiße Rose group. Be aware that, after the war, if Germany is defeated, you may be in trouble for any crime against humanity. So you may wish to bias your report against those on trial.
  • Are there things today about which you would like to protest. You may enjoy free speech (though some visitors to this site may live in countries where this is not possible) but suppose that you, too, had to do things in secret pamphlets. Write a page for such a protest, on any subject about which you have strong feelings.
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Other Responses
  • Use computer software to create mixed-media responses to the story.
  • You may wish to contact other people who are interested in the Weiße Rose group, to share ideas, using e-mail, chat servers or bulletin boards.
  • Nazism may be dead but in some ways it lives on among racists, neo-Nazis and other fascist groups. What can you do to educate your friends about (and against) this? Today, there are White Rose groups online and in the real world, and you may wish to join them. These are young people who campaign against intolerance, bigotry and persecution of minorities.
  • Create your own tribute or memorial to the Weiße Rose group or some other group which has resisted evil from governments, armies or other powerful groups - nowadays, this might include big businesses. This tribute can be artwork (in various media); songs, poems and stories or anything which you want to do.
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Websites for The Study of the Weiße Rose Movement

Please use the hyperlinks below to find resources online for learning more about the history of the White Rose movement.

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