Five students from Munich University and one of their professors challenged the Nazi regime by forming the White Rose group and beginning a secret campaign. They asked the German people to react to the violence and oppression which were all around them by standing up and fighting for freedom. In June 1942 four leaflets, published in quick succession, with the title Leaflets of the White Rose appeared all over the city of Munich.
They were anti Nazi messages which had been typed on both sides of a piece of paper and duplicated on a hand cranked machine. They were delivered through the post to people all over the city. The Nazi authorities had no idea who had written these messages nor who had posted them. At the end of the first three leaflets was a message to the reader. ‘Please make copies of this leaflet and pass them on.’ At the end of the fourth was a statement. ‘We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!’
In January 1943 a second series Leaflets of the Resistance appeared. These were printed in secret, at night, and thousands of copies were made. The leaflets declared that Hitler was a liar and drew attention to the suffering of the Jews. The Nazis knew that they had to stop people reading these messages. They did not want anyone to hear the truth about their activities. The Gestapo were instructed to seek out the writers, printers and distributors of the leaflets and put an end to their campaign.
The students worked hard to get their message to as many people as possible. They stuffed hundreds of leaflets into rucksacks, bags and cases. Each student caught a train out of Munich to post them in another town. Bags of leaflets were left in one part of the train and the student sat in another carriage. The students secretly posted the leaflets in the quietest parts of each town.
The White Rose group had other ways to pass their message to the German people. In February 1943 they crept out at night and painted statements about freedom and the words ‘Down with Hitler’ on city walls for everyone to see the following morning. On 18 February a brother and sister walked together towards Munich University. They were Hans and Sophie Scholl, members of the White Rose. Hans was carrying a large suitcase. They entered the building whilst most of the students were attending lectures. They took a large number of leaflets from the suitcase and put them in prominent positions. They climbed to the top floor and threw the remaining leaflets into the hall. Their task over, the suitcase was empty and they were ready to go home. However, just as the doors of the lecture theatre opened and large groups of students began to leave their lectures, a voice echoed around the building. ‘You are under arrest!’ Hans and Sophie had been spotted by Jakob Schmid, a building caretaker.
He was a loyal member of the Nazi party and this was his chance to prove it. Hans and Sophie had no chance to escape. Hans had a draft copy of the next White Rose leaflet in his pocket. The Gestapo were called. By 22 February they had been interrogated, imprisoned, put on trial and beheaded for treason. Other arrests, trials and executions followed. The Nazis wanted to make an example of anyone who had helped the students in order to discourage others from taking part in resistance activities. However they were too late to contain the message of the White Rose. By April 1943 news of the students’ fate and their call for the German people to Stand up to Hatred had reached the New York Times and it was reported that on the walls of the city of Munich new messages had appeared. They read ‘Scholl lives! You can break the body but not the spirit.’
The efforts of the White Rose are featured in the film ‘Sophie Scholl: The Last Days’