Friday, April 19, 2013

The White Rose

Sophie and Hans Scholl grew up in an somewhat unorthodox German family. Their family was religious, but had an ardent love
for discussion; they were free growing up to form and express even unpopular opinions. They also grew up with a firm sense of
responsibility for their fellowman, and a deep commitment to a faith that could see them through death. Brilliant young
people, they each headed eventually for the University of Munich, Hans first to Medical School [interrupted by a stint in the
German armed forces] and Sophie, later, still undecided in her major, but having some experience in education, with a love
for philosophy, music and the humanities. Both had a keen sense of politics: not only national politics but also of the
politics of human understanding. Even as young people they wrote extensively, keeping journals and diaries, and they were
exposed to many scholars, artists and musicians of the day, who despite the darkening skies of the Third Reich, held to their
views and art, even when banned or censored.
As Hitler took office and consolidated the power of the presidency and the chancellory, brisk winds blew through the academic
institutions of the time. University of Munich was one of the premier universities of Germany and it was no exception. In
1933 many Jewish scholars and professors were removed from their positions for having what was considered by the Reich to be
'degenerate' ideas, particularly Bolshevism. Bolshevism was the name given to the early formations of the Communist party and
ideals; it was more idealist. While it was a hated philosophy among the National Socialists the term was often misapplied and
became a 'catch-all' phrase to indicate any political or national group that was the object of prejudice. The Jews were among
those who were consistently referred to by Hitler and Goebbels as Bolsheviks, regardless of their stance. It was into this
politically-charged arena that Sophie and Hans Scholl entered their University years.

The Bishop, Euthanasia & a First Pamphlet
As Sophie and Hans went to Church one Sunday, they heard Bishop Galen speak of the emerging Euthanasia polices of the 3rd
Reich. Hitler was with and without parental/familial permission, ending the lives of the mentally retarded and mentally
'infirm' pharmacologically. It was in line with his Eugenics plan: Hitler as most of the Nazi hierarchy felt that the
mentally-ill and developmentally delayed would contribute negatively to the 'bloodlines' of Europe. He also felt they were a
burden on the state and should therefore be 'euthanized'.
Sophie and her family were horrified. She listened attentively to the Bishop's sermon, decrying the cruelty of such action;
and the inhumane attitudes of the regime. Impressed deeply, she got permission to reprint the sermon in pamphlet form. She
and other students handed out the pamphlet at the U of Munich, in opposition to the laws of the time. The Scholls and others
were deeply influence by a faculty member with similar outrage to Hitler's policies. The Scholls, Chris Probst, and Professor
Haber became the core of a non-violent resistance group on campus, comprised entirely of Germans. This Group was called, The
White Rose (weisserose), named after a Spanish novel (Rosa Blanco). The Group coordinated efforts on Campus for Civil Rights
and Opposition to Nazi policies. Among their efforts on campus were weekly discussion groups, painting 'freedom' on brick
walls at the entrance into campus, and distributing leaflets opposing the Reich on moral and political grounds, encouraging
students to think for themselves.
The Jews were also of central concern to the group. Many try to dismiss German domestic responsibility in the Genocide of the
Jews of Europe, claiming they did not know it was happening. Several of the Scholls' pamphlets describe the mass executions
and deportations to Death Camps. It is clear that the information was available, though forbidden by Law. Free Speech was
suspended in the Reich because it was felt to dampen the War Effort. Knowing the cost, (they made it clear in their writings)
they continued their efforts, hoping to influence German opinion and bravery against the Nazi Regime. The reason the
distribution of pamphlets was considered so treasonous is expressed below:

"Since Hitler's Moods were said to be extraordinarily dependent on the sympathy of the masses, a reversal of feeling among
the populace would have been a weapon of considerable force against him, one which would threaten his own self-confidence.
FOR THESE REASONS the leaflets of the White Rose, were held by the highest levels of the party to constitute one of the
greatest politcal "crimes" against the 3rd Reich". p.96 3

Good German Citizens
The Scholls, Probst and the others were not Jewish, Communist or violent dissenters. They were all German citizens, and the
Scholls had been leaders in the Nazi Youth Party (hitlerjugend). He had been a flagbearer at a Party Rally in Nuremberg, and
loved the Great German philosopher. Additionally, Hans had enlisted in the German Army: he fought for Germany. One day,
however, he saw a young Jewish woman, under forced labor, digging a trench. The whole of what the Regime was doing struck his
heart, he realized but for the grace of God, he could have been the one there, or his sister. He reached down to give her a
flower and some food but she resisted, unappreciative of Nazi hospitality. He knew she was destined for one of the Killing
Centers, or Concentration Camps, to an almost certain death. This event so struck his heart, that when he returned to Medical
School, he devoted his life to his views and faith.
Sophie also had been a leader of a Nazi Youth Group. It is important to understand that they loved the Germany that was their
Motherland: they wished only good for their countrymen. They had both received accolades and awards for their efforts as
stellar German Citizens: these were not rebels, or delinquents with a chip on their shoulder, they were fine young people,
pursuing an academic degree; who decided that even if their life was shorter than it might be it was still better to stand
for the truth.

Imprisonment, Martyrdom & Death
On one of their last days before imprisonment, Hans & Sophie mimeographed several hundred more pamphlets. They knew that
distribution was becoming more and more dangerous. In the early morning hours before classes began, the bulk of the leaflets
were passed out, and in a symbolic gesture, Hans dropped many from a balcony, which fell like the petals of the White Rose. A
building superintendent, Jakob Schmied, betrayed them: in that day, every one was an informer. Before 48 hours was over, the
members of the White Rose had been arrested and charged with Treason: punishable by death. They were imprisoned at Stadelheim
Prison and continued in prayer, knowing they were facing their death in their young 20s. On her way to sentencing before the
"Peoples' Court" and a judge known for his intolerance, Sophie's Mother turned to her and said, "You Know, Sophie, Jesus".
Sophie nodded in agreement. Sophie, Chris & Hans were sentenced to death by guillotine. Hitler had brought it back as a means
of execution because he found it threatening and foreboding and felt it would be a crime deterrent. Shortly after sentencing,
in an unjust trial, with a court-appointed Nazi attorney, the young people of the White Rose were executed. The sentencing
was brief, Dr. Freisler, presiding.
"The People's Court has found but one just punishment: Death." The two young people with a few others were executed following
their February 18, 1943 arrest. Their great crime of making the truth known resulted in a cruel and unjust death. Hans once
wrote a significant passage that sums up the motivation and heart of the young Scholls:

I lay no claim to age and experience but above and beyond the flickering blaze of my youthful soul, I sometimes detect the
eternal breath of Something Infinitely Great and Serene. God. Fate. ..."and is most clearly expressed by the quote by Rilke
that Hans kept in his pocket with a rosebud, "He that holds his peace is wise, but he that speaks, speaks not for his own

1 comment:

  1. May we be able to honor them one day by placing a white rose on their memorial!