Rebellion in the Second World War

The White Rose Group & Other Rebels


A few weeks ago, I visited Munich and decided to go again to the memorial (“Denkmal”) for the White Rose group at the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich.  I decided to go on the basis that the last survivor of the group (Trante Lafrenz) died in March of this year aged 107.  I also recently met the German ambassador in London who is attending the Liberation Day celebrations in Jersey as a gesture of peace and reconciliation.    Thus there was an element of reciprocating.


The White Rose Group was a non-violent, intellectual resistance group in Nazi Germany which was led mainly by five students and one professor at the University of Munich by others, Willi Graf, Kurt Huber, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl, although there were many more in their group, reference to which will be made below.  The group conducted an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign that called for active opposition to the Nazi regime.  Indeed, Sophie Scholl (the most famous) threw leaflets from the top of the atrium at the University and there is a memorial outside on the pavement to where some of the leaflets landed.  Their activities started in Munich on 27 June 1942; and ended with the arrest of the core group by the Gestapo on 18 February 1943.  In terms of the mood at the time this was unfortunate as Germany had just capitulated to the Russian army at Stalingrad.  They, as well as other members and supporters of the group who carried on distributing the pamphlets, faced show trials by the Nazi People’s Court.  As a result, many of them were imprisoned and executed.  Hans and Sophie Scholl, as well as Christoph Probst were executed by guillotine four days after their arrest, on 22 February 1943.  It seems that during her trial Sophie interrupted the judge multiple times!  No defendants were given any opportunity to speak.


They were supported by a number of other people, who are listed in Wikipedia including, Traute Lafrenz, who died in California recently.  Obviously, most of the participants were in their early twenties.  Wilhelm Geyer taught Alexander Schmorell how to make the ten templates used in the graffiti campaign.  Eugen Grimminger of Stuttgart funded their operations.  Grimminger was arrested on 2 March 1943 and sentenced to ten years in a penal institution for high treason by the “People’s Court” on 19 April 1943, and imprisoned in Ludwigsburg penal institution until April 1945.  Grimminger’s secretary Tilly Hahn contributed her own funds to the cause and acted as the go-between for Grimminger and the group.  She frequently carried important items such as envelopes, paper and an additional duplicating machine from Stuttgart to Munich.  In addition, a group of students in the city of Ulm (near Munich) distributed a number of the group’s leaflets and were arrested and tried with the group from Munich.  Among this group were Sophie Scholl’s childhood friend Susanne Hirzel and her teenage brother Hans Hirzel and Franz Josef Müller.  In Hamburg, a group of students including Reinhold Meyer and a number of others formed the White Rose Hamburg resistance group and distributed the group’s leaflets.  


The above analysis has shown that there were a number of very brave people who opposed Hitler and are to be highly commended.  In addition, there were a number of other resistance groups.  One such group was ‘Red Orchestra’ a loose network of individual groups connected by prominent people such as Harvo Schultze-Boysen.  There was also a group known as Kreisan Circle, a group of 25 dissidents led by Helmutn Van Molke from Silesia, and the Bishop of Munster who was a strident critic of Nazism and was beautified by Pope Benedict XV1 in 2005.  Last but no means least was the legendary Dietrich Bohoeffer.


The group wrote, printed and initially distributed their pamphlets in the greater Munich region.  Later on, secret carriers brought copies to other cities, mostly in the southern parts of Germany.  In July 1943, Allied planes dropped their sixth and final leaflet over Germany with the headline The Manifesto of the Students of Munich.  In total the White Rose group were the authors of six leaflets, which were multiplied and spread, and in a total of about 15,000 copies were published.  They denounced the Nazi regime’s crimes and oppression, and called for resistance.  In their second leaflet, they openly denounced the persecution and mass murder of the very unfortunate Jews.  By the time of their arrest, the members of the White Rose were just about to establish contacts with other German resistance groups like the Kreisau Circle or the Schulze-Boysen/Harnack group of the Red Orchestra.  Today, the White Rose is well known both within Germany and worldwide.


Given that this group operated in Hitler’s ‘back garden’ they demonstrated formidable bravery to say the least.  As testimony to them there is a special room in the University devoted to them and their activities. There is also a peace garden I recommend a visit to, for anyone visiting Munich and the room which is tastefully decorated with memorabilia.  At the moment there is building work but the pavement outside shows a photograph of where the leaflets landed.  It is hoped this short paper about the events during the Second World War highlights the heroic efforts of the very diverse groups in Germany.  It should be taken into account that these groups faced constant pressure (not to say hostility) from the Gestapo and other informers which shows their degree of bravery.  It is why in the intellectual literature the dissident groups are venerated.