Academic journal article History Review

The White Rose and the Definition of 'Resistance: Simon Henderson Explains the Significance of Hans and Sophie Scholl in the History of Nazi Germany

Academic journal article History Review

The White Rose and the Definition of 'Resistance: Simon Henderson Explains the Significance of Hans and Sophie Scholl in the History of Nazi Germany

Article excerpt

On February 18th 1943 Hans and Sophie Scholl threw hundreds of leaflets from the third floor of the main building in the centre of the Munich University campus. The last sentence of them read: 'Our people stand ready to rebel against the National Socialist enslavement of Europe in a fervent breakthrough of freedom and honour'. Brother and sister were executed four days later. Along with other members of the White Rose movement, they dared to struggle against the ideological straitjacket of the Nazi police state. Remarkable and courageous young people, inspirational figures whose example of honour and integrity transcends time and place, the Scholls, alongside Christoph Probst, Willi Graf, Alex Schmorell and their Professor, Kurt Huber, boldly resisted Hitler's regime. The story of the White Rose should be celebrated as the triumph of inquisitive minds and of the indefatigability of the human spirit.

Nevertheless, their motivations and aims remain uncertain, while the precise place of their movement in the orbit of resistance and opposition in Nazi Germany is intriguing. Their story poses important questions and offers great opportunities to historians exploring resistance and conformity among the people of the Third Reich.

The Scholls' Struggle

Hans (born 1918) and Sophie (born 1921) grew up in UIm, a city on the Danube. Their father, a man of significant local stature, warned from an early point in the Nazi regime that Hitler was like the Pied Piper of Hamelin and that he would lead Germany to destruction. However, both Sophie and Hans joined the Hitler Youth and threw themselves vigorously into its communal activities. Although it later became targeted by rebellious young people, Nazism began as a movement which could harness the restlessness of youth. Hans and Sophie's sister, Inge, spoke of a feeling of community in the Hitler Youth, a sense of being taken seriously. She described a 'belonging that carried us safely through the difficulties and loneliness of adolescence'.

For Hans, it was this sense of community and fellowship that became increasingly valued above the banner of Nazism. Hans was to be a flag bearer when the Hitler Youth troop he led attended a Party Rally in Nuremberg. He and his boys had sewn a standard with a mystical beast at the centre of its design. One evening during the rally the cadre leader took the flag from him, insisting that all the Hitler Youth troops had to use the banner prescribed for everyone; this regimentation was compounded by the banning of certain songs and books that Hans enjoyed. The Scholls' father had told his children that they should aspire to live in 'uprightness and freedom of spirit', and Hans increasingly felt that his freedom of thought and expression were restricted in the Hitler Youth. As a result, with like-minded friends, he participated in the Jugenschaft, a rival group of young people which existed in several German cities. Enjoying great camaraderie, they produced diaries, magazines and song books, many of which were critical of the regime both implicitly, and at times, explicitly. Around 1937 the Gestapo temporarily imprisoned many young men of the Jugenschaft, Hans included, and his discontent with the Nazi regime became firmly cemented. These events, added to the shock of Kristallnacht a year later, did much to sow the seeds of discontent with the regime in Sophie's heart and mind.

University of Munich

Hans' sympathetic commanding officer had arranged for his release in late 1937 and three years later, as a soldier and student, Hans was drafted into a company of medics and took part in the campaign in France. In 1942 he was able to continue his medical studies as part of a student company in Munich. Sophie, having endured labour service for over 18 months, joined him at the University as a biology and philosophy student. Hans read poetry, sang songs and speculated on the future of Germany with three close friends, Christoph Probst, Alex Schmorell and Willi Graf. …

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