Holocaust Educational Trust Blog

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The White Rose: A 70 year legacy

70 years ago this week, the Nazis executed three young Germans: Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans along with their friend, Christoph Probst. This is their story.

70 years ago this week, three young Germans: Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans along with their friend, Christoph Probst, were tried and executed on the same day by the Nazis in Munich.

The three were all members of the White Rose, a group that actively, yet non-violently resisted the Nazi regime. The White Rose group was formed in the early 1940s and centred around several students from the University of Munich. In 1942 Hans Scholl, who was studying medicine, a number of his fellow students and White Rose members, were sent on a compulsory three-month military tour of the Eastern Front. Here they witnessed firsthand the murder of Jews in Russia.

They returned to Munich horrified by what they had seen and began to produce and circulate anonymously written pamphlets across Germany, encouraging the German people to resist the Nazi regime. Between June 1942 and February 1943 the White Rose wrote and circulated six anonymous pamphlets.

The leaflets were left in public telephone booths, mailed to professors and students and taken by courier to other universities. The group also painted anti-Nazi slogans in the streets. On 18th February 1943, as Sophie and Hans distributed the sixth leaflet of the White Rose at the University of Munich, they were caught and arrested along with a fourth member, Willi Graf. Four days later, after a trial held in the “People’s Court” lasting only a few hours, Sophie, Hans and their friend Christoph Probst were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. They were executed a few hours later by guillotine. They were defiant even in the face of this fate - Hans’ last words were “Long live freedom!”, yet it was his sister’s final words which highlight today the convictions of the group:

“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?"

Shortly after Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst were executed, the sixth leaflet by the White Rose was smuggled out of Germany by Helmuth von Moltke, a member of another resistance group, and printed in the millions by Allied forces. Entitled ‘The Manifesto of the Students of Munich’, it was air dropped over Germany by the Royal Air Force.

Willi Graf, who was arrested on the same day, was not tried until 19th April 1943, when he received the death sentence. He was executed on 12th October 1943 after being subjected to six months of solitary confinement and interrogation. While under interrogation Graf yielded no names, and took on blame for White Rose activities in order to protect others. The legacy of the White Rose remains powerful today. Their bravery in dissenting against the Nazi regime’s brutal oppression has ensured that the members of the White Rose are today remembered as heroes in Germany.

Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst were executed on 22nd February 1943, 70 years ago this week.

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