February 18 1943: The White Rose
Leaders of The White Rose: Hans, Sophie, and Christoph.
This is possibly the hardest post I have written to date. In some ineffable way it seems an appropriate story as the world spins into wider madness and war. This is about The White Rose, a little known anti-war group in Hitler’s Germany. Yes, there were an anti-war groups in Germany during World War Two. There were actually as many as 300 of them, all small and fragmented by the monstrous police state Hitler’s regime had become. One example: the Nazis assigned a “block captain” to every block in Germany. How nice, a nationwide neighbourhood watch protecting every German! Of course the block captain’s job was primarily to report dissent and disloyalty to the Nazis. As the war went badly, good people were put to death for uttering the slightest doubt about the wisdom or course of the war.
What could one do if one’s nation was gripped in a madness like that? I pray I never experience a police state first hand, I don’t know what I would do if my nation went mad. I know that people who selflessly stand up for what is right is what makes us more than animals. This is possibly humanity’s greatest trait, that some will sacrifice themselves for others no matter what the cost to themselves. One such group of people called themselves The White Rose. This is their story.
The White Rose formed in World War Two when a handful of students and a philosophy professor realized they were united in their belief that the war was wrong and Hitler was an evil man who was bringing Germany to ruin. They spent the early years of the war writing leaflets and distributing them, mailing them to scholars, medics, and pub owners they selected from telephone books. This baffled the Gestapo to no end, why choose these people? There was a method to their madness so to speak, The White Rose chose these particular people because they figured they were a good bet to have the opportunity to spread their message.
The leaflets urged their fellow Germans to passively resist the Nazis. They were scathing of Germans who stood by and did nothing as the Nazis perpetrated their evil. Printing and distributing the leaflets was a terrible risk, even buying too many stamps at once could arouse suspicion. Later they moved up to painting anti Nazi slogans on public buildings at night, during war time when the streets were constantly patrolled by soldiers and police this was incredibly risky.
Then, sixty four years ago, something extraordinary happened. On February 18th 1943 Hans and Sophie, brother and sister, went to an atrium of the University of Munich where they were students. While class was in session they left piles of leaflets to be found. For some unknown reason they stayed on as the students came out from class, Sophie even showering leaflets down the atrium from the upper floors. A janitor called the Gestapo. By some accounts they had ample opportunity to flee, but chose to stay and continue handing out their antiwar literature.
The Gestapo arrived and took them into custody, they were publicly beheaded the next day. Within weeks most of the group had been rounded up and executed. God rest their souls, may they never be forgotten.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is an historically important image and it is not being used for profit.)