Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.
– Sophie Scholl, leader of the White Rose
They were known as the White Rose Movement, and they were the courageous yet often forgotten resistors of one of history’s most evil regimes: Nazi Germany. They were a collection of university students and their professor who were disgusted by the rise of fascism in Germany and the apparent complacency of their people. They were determined to sacrifice their lives in the name of justice and morality, and to do so nonviolently and intellectually.
They began as an academic movement comprised centrally of siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl, Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, their professor Kurt Huber, and still others. They sought to appeal to the reason and goodness of their fellow Germans through the spreading of leaflets (and later graffiti) exhorting virtue and ethics and urging action and nonviolent resistance against Hitler’s evil. They were among the few in Germany not swept in the madness of war and the fewer still that were willing to give their lives not only to stop Nazism, but for the sake of good and justice as a whole.
They were all caught, brutally interrogated, and executed by guillotine 66 years ago yesterday, half-way through the course of World War II. They are today rightly celebrated in Germany as heroes, though their uniquely heroic and tragic efforts are largely unknown to the rest of the world. Below is a list of some of the leaflets they risked their lives to diseemenate, hoping to urge their fellow citizens’ conscience.
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?
Up until the outbreak of the war the larger part of the German people was blinded; the Nazis did not show themselves in their true aspect. But now, now that we have recognised them for what they are, it must be the sole and first duty, the holiest duty of every German to destroy these beasts. It is impossible to engage in intellectual discourse with 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.
Many, perhaps most, of the readers of these leaflets do not see clearly how they can practice an effective opposition. They do not see any avenues open to them. We want to try to show them that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of this system.
Every word that comes from Hitler’s mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war, and when he blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed. True, we must conduct a struggle against the National Socialist terrorist state with rational means; but whoever today still doubts the reality, the existence of demonic powers, has failed by a wide margin to understand the metaphysical background of this war.
Though we know that National Socialist power must be broken by military means, we are trying to achieve a renewal from within of the severely wounded German spirit. This rebirth must be preceded, however, by the clear recognition of all the guilt with which the German people have burdened themselves, and by an uncompromising battle against Hitler and his all too many minions, party members, Quislings, and the like. With total brutality the chasm that separates the better portion of the nation from everything that is opened wide. For Hitler and his followers there is no punishment on this Earth commensurate with their crimes. But out of love for coming generations we must make an example after the conclusion of the war, so that no one will ever again have the slightest urge to try a similar action.
We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!
The imperialist ideology of force, from whatever side it comes, must be shattered for all time.
Freedom and honour! For ten long years Hitler and his coadjutor have manhandled, squeezed, twisted, and debased these two splendid German words to the point of nausea, as only dilettantes can, casting the highest values of a nation before swine. They have sufficiently demonstrated in the ten years of destruction of all material and intellectual freedom, of all moral substance among the German people, what they understand by freedom and honour. The frightful bloodbath has opened the eyes of even the stupidest German — it is a slaughter which they arranged in the name of “freedom and honour of the German nation” throughout Europe, and which they daily start anew.
Shaken and broken, our people behold the loss of the men of Stalingrad. Three hundred and thirty thousand German men have been senselessly and irresponsibly driven to death and destruction by the inspired strategy of our World War I Private First Class. Führer, we thank you!
That was the last of them.
I always think of the context of it all, how a bunch of kids got an old printer and some school supplies and conspired, under the nose of a vicious secret police, to spread messages to bring down an evil superpower infinitely more capable than themselves. What went through their heads from the moment they did this to the moment they stood under their guillotine? Would I or any of my peers be willing to apply the ethics and philosophy we study for the sake of certain good, even if it meant certain death? Thanks to people like Sophie Scholl and her ilk, I think such a decision is so far mercifully elusive.