MUNICH: White Rose

Time to read:

4 minutes

It has been 80 years since Munich university students Sophie and Hans Scholl were sent to the guillotine for fighting the Nazis with pamphlets.

But the story of the White Rose peaceful-resistance group they led will live on as long as people anywhere ask how to resist a dictatorship effectively without violence.

In February 1943, Sophie was seen throwing anti-Nazi pamphlets from the second-floor balcony of the main building of the Ludwig-Maximilian University.

She was turned in to the Gestapo. Her brother, Hans, was arrested shortly afterward; he was carrying a draft of a future pamphlet.

Four days after their arrest, the Scholls and a colleague, Christoph Probst, were tried and convicted at the Palace of Justice.

The Palace of Justice carefully preserves courtroom 253, where the verdicts were handed down by a notorious Nazi judge.

A permanent exhibition commemorates the White Rose trials.

Aimed at new young judges, the inscriptions on the door to the exhibition ask fundamental questions about how law should relate to life.

The three were sentenced to death by guillotine at Stadelheim Prison. There was no appeal. The sentences were carried out four hours later. Sophie was 21, Hans 24.

The guillotine used to execute the White Rose members is in the depot of the Bavarian National Museum. Historians and family of White Rose members decided not to display it out of respect for family feelings and for the dead. That decision was upheld last fall by the Bavarian parliament. I’m not showing it either.

The main monuments to the Scholls today are at the university. The one above is in the Hofgarten of the Residenz. The stones on top are from people who paid their respects.

The square in front of the main university buildings is named after the sister and brother.

Bronze replicas of White Rose pamphlets are anchored in stone in front of the main entrance to the main university building. On inside walls, plaques, reliefs and a bust memorialize Sophie and the other resisters.

In 1961, an organ dedicated to the White Rose was installed in the Lichthof, the main atrium where Sophie dropped the leaflets.

In 2014, I visited the university room that held memorabilia and pictures in honor of the resisters. It was on the second floor of the main building, right down the hall from the balcony where Sophie pitched the anti-Nazi flyers. The exhibition has been moved downstairs, but it achieves the same impact.

Photo: George Wittenstein, Wikimedia Commons

One of the most famous photos of the White Rose group hangs just north of the Ostbahnhof (East Train Station). In the photo, Hans (2d from left, facing) and colleagues are ready to depart to the East for training and war, and Sophie waves goodbye across a fence. In her hand is a white flower. 

The photo can be seen today on a plaque on a house across the street (Orleansstrasse 61) from the fence. The fence is of historical importance because it is the only known place where these key members of the White Rose group were photographed together.

From June, 1942, when Nazi troops fought their way into Stalingrad, to February, 1943, when the German Sixth Army surrendered there en masse, the White Rose turned out six flyers, despite rigorous wartime controls on paper, ink and printing.

Pamphlets on display at the university

After the White Rose men returned from the deployment to the East, the band created thousands (instead of the usual hundreds) of the fifth leaflet, addressed for the first time to all Germans. They placed 1,500 at the university on the day Sophie was caught.

One pamphlet simply said: “On behalf of the entire German people, we demand personal freedom, the most precious asset of the Germans, from Adolf Hitler’s state.”

The Scholls are buried in Perlacher Forst cemetery next to the prison, a 10-minute walk from the huge former American base, McGraw Kaserne.

A winding path takes you to the gravesite. But a plaque at the gate, with directions, memorializes the executed who were buried there, testimony that interest in the group never has died.

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6 responses to “MUNICH: White Rose”

  1. Cheryl Avatar

    White Rose—Such historical truths and commitments of dedicated beliefs and passions to stand Strong. So young! I smiled when I saw the replicas of the pamphlets engraved in the middle of the stoned floor. Their fight carries on in the hearts of so many. Execution cannot erase their passion. What happens to History today? Are children even taught history in schools today? Your current Mission and writings should be posted to share in libraries all over the World! And on historical internet resources. Kids live on their iPads! History teachers should take your wealth of insight to the classrooms! ❤️

  2. Clint Swift Avatar

    I’ve been fascinated by the White Rose since I first learned of it a couple of decades ago. Then over the years, I got to watch as the memorials cropped up. I’m just relaying impressions on visiting some. Historians and academics have produced really thoughtful accounts. The White Rose wasn’t the only one in Germany. I’ve read of similar resistance groups in three other German cities, if not necessarily with the sacrifice of the young people. Thanks for the note.

  3. R Avatar

    Too painful. I’ve heard this story before.

    1. Clint Swift Avatar

      Agree completely. Borders on the unimaginable.

  4. Ken Avatar

    Thanks for posting this story, Clint. It’s one we all need to read and reflect on.

  5. Clint Swift Avatar

    The university and the big local paper did retrospectives on the group about five years ago, the 75th anniversary. The university appears committed to permanently devoting some significant real estate to memory of the group.

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