The Nazis, during World War II, had this ideology of a master race which was “Aryan.” According to them, the Aryans were superior to all other races and had their origins in ancient India and Iran. Tall, light-complexioned, blonde, blue-eyed— these were the ideal characteristics of the so-called master race, things that a 19-year-old named Hans Scholl possessed. He was supposed to be the epitome of a Hitler Youth leader, only that he, along with four more students, decided to lead a non-violent resistance group in Nazi Germany in 1937.

Beginning of the Resistance

Scholl was born on September 22, 1918, in Ingersheim, now part of Crailsheim. His father would later become the mayor of Fortchtenberg am Kocher. Raised as a Lutheran, he had thoughts of converting to Catholicism. When Hitler was given power, he enthusiastically joined as a member of the Hilter Youth on April 15, 1933, even when his father disapproved. At first, he even held leadership positions in the Deutsches Jungvolk, but it wasn’t long until he realized the flaws of its principles. And so, in 1935, he joined and became one of three standard-bearers from Ulm who participated in the “Reich Party Rally Freedom” of NSDAP that was held from September 10 to16 in Nuremberg. In 1937, he and some other Hitler Youth members in Ulm joined the Deutsche Jungenschaft, a youth group within the German Youth Movement. It was forbidden, and so he was arrested. During his trial, he was also charged under “Paragraph 175,” which was a law against homosexuality and homosexual behavior. There, he admitted to having had two separate relationships with the same gender. In the end, the judge dismissed his case and decision to join the youth group. He was also allowed to leave with a clean record. Perhaps it didn’t look so good for the regime to prosecute a kid that was the very model that Nazis were holding up as the national ideal.

In 1939, Scholl began to attend medical school at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. The professors, teachers, and students at the university were clear with their Christian-ethical stand and were critical of the regime. He started to question his own ideological position even more. This grew further when he was drafted as a medic for front service during the semester break when he was assigned the rank of medical sergeant during the French campaign. He witnessed with his very own eyes the atrocities that were being committed. Nevertheless, in the spring of 1941, he enlisted in the Wehrmacht.

A photo of Werner and Sophie Scholl, taken by Hans Scholl. (Hans Scholl, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

After his personal experiences at the Eastern Front and learning about the mass murder in Poland and the Soviet Union, Scholl, along with Alexander Schmorell, felt that they needed to do something to stop the brutalities. They started by writing their first four leaflets from the end of June until mid-July 1942. The leaflets contained extensive quotations from the bible, Artistotle, Novalis, Goethe, Schiller, and the German poets. Their aim was to appeal to the German intelligentsia. Scholl and Schmorell believed that they could convince these people with the same reasons that motivated the authors and themselves. They left their leaflets in telephone books in public phone booths, mailed them to professors and students, and took them to nearby universities.

White Rose

Monument to Hans and Sophie Scholl and the “White Rose” resistance movement against the Nazi regime, in front of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Bavaria, Germany. (Gryffindor, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1942, the resistance movement, which they called White Rose, started to grow. It was led by Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christopher Probst, and Sophie Scholl. With less than twenty members, they continued to write controversial texts on their leaflets designed to wake up what they believed were “hoodwinked” citizens. They distributed their leaflets around the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where the majority of their members came from, the University of Hamburg, as well as the city of Ulm. They also mailed their leaflets to doctors, scholars, and pub owners throughout the country. They managed to disperse a total of six series of pamphlets. They printed, transported, and mail mimeographed in an underground network of fellow students. Their pamphlets were delivered by hand through their trusted couriers to make sure that their tracks were covered. All in all, they made a total of 15,000 copies that blatantly denounced the mass murder of the Jews, Poles and now Russians. White Rose also made stencils saying “Down with Hitler,” which was their slogan that they would graffiti on walls across Munich and nearby cities.

A Single Mistake

Things were going well for White Rose Resistance. Despite the dangers of what they were doing, their careful actions kept them off the radar of the Gestapo until February 18, 1943. Hans and Sophie went to Munich University with a briefcase of leaflets. At one point, Sophie showered the remaining leaflets from the atrium of the university. The maintenance man observed what happened and called the Gestapo. In the end, the other members of the White Rose were arrested, too.

Their trial was publicized to humiliate them and warn the others who were planning to go against the Nazi state. Only four days after they were caught, Sophie (21) and Hans (24) were found guilty and sentenced to be executed by guillotine on that same day. As for Hans, his alleged last words were, “Long Live Freedom.”

Gestapo photos of Hans Scholl taken after his capture on February 18, 1943 (Jurgen Wittenstein, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

White Rose’s final leaflets were smuggled out of Germany and fell into the hands of the Allied forces. In the autumn of 1943, they reproduced a million copies of it, re-titled “The Manifesto of the Students of Munich,” and showered on German cities from bombers.