From the Hitler Youth to Nazi-Resistors: the Story of the “White Rose”

Mitchell Rolling

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Doctor Jud Newborn, the author of the book “Sophie Scholl and the White Rose,” came to the University of Minnesota Campus Thursday the 26th to give an overview of the Nazi-resistor group called the “White Rose” and to discuss other “White Roser’s” who have stuck up for human rights since. 

During the speech, “Speaking Truth to Power,” Doctor Newborn detailed how two of the original White Rose members, Hans and Sophie Scholl, were at one-time prominent leaders of the Hitler Youth, or boy-scouts for the Nazi Party. Other group leaders included Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, and Professor Kurt Huber. 

The White Rose resistance group was notable for using words in the fight against the Nazi government, a regime highly involved in state censorship and concealing opposition information. The group wrote leaflets asserting criticisms of the Nazi regime and Hitler himself. They then distributed as many as they could create using a hand-crank copying press to as many places they could smuggle them, especially to universities.

Altogether, the group produced seven leaflets and were able to funnel them into at least sixteen major German cities, occasionally falling into the hands of the Allied forces. The sixth leaflet, produced by Professor Huber, asserted that “[t]he brilliant strategy of a Lance Corporal from the World War” led to the deaths of thousands at Stalingrad. Also, in Professor Huber’s attempt to appeal to the morality of fellow Germans, he explained how he should not need to detail the Nazi atrocities taking place, for they were already known by everyone. This contradicts early claims that most Germans were unaware of the ongoing Jewish genocide.

So how did two Hitler Youth leaders go on to create one of the most important Nazi-resistance groups in Germany? Hans Scholl, as Newborn explains, was not only a Hitler Youth leader but was very well-liked by his superiors. 

The answer lies at the fault of the Nazis themselves. Hans, an almost-perfect human model of what the Hitler Youth was designed to create, was arrested and convicted of a homosexual act committed while he was sixteen, three years earlier. During this ordeal Hans was imprisoned and threatened with concentration camp interment. As a result of this traumatic experience, Hans and Sophie realized the horrors of the Nazi Party and spent the rest of their lives fighting to end it.

All six of the members listed above would later be taken into custody and executed for their participation in White Rose activities. They were identified a day after Goebbels “total war” speech when Hans and Sophie were spotted distributing leaflets by the custodian at the University of Munich. The Nazis held a rally in the custodian’s honor a week later.

During their trials, it was reported that when asked about her activities in the White Rose, Sophie simply replied that “somebody had to make a start.” When Hans spoke, he laid out a warning for the Nazis present, that “soon, you will stand where we are.” On his way to the guillotine he shouted loud enough for the whole prison to hear him, “long live freedom!” 

Hans was just twenty-five, and Sophie twenty-one.

The White Rose influence continued after the executions of these members. The Allies were able to obtain the last leaflet, reproduced it three million times and dropped them over German cities in an effort to sabotage the regimes support.

Doctor Newborn continued his discussion with relating the White Rose story to modern-day champions of human rights. Included in this group was Malala Yousufzai, a Pakistani woman who has come to the verge of death in her fight against the Taliban and for women’s right to education. Another was Joseph Darby, responsible for exposing the abuse of Iraqi soldiers in the war in Iraq. Nelson Mandela and Congressman John Lewis were also included.

The most recent person on the list was Heather Heyer, the woman ran-over by a motorist at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.  Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist and influenced by Heather Heyer to change, also made the list. 

To conclude his speech, Doctor Newborn read aloud two quotes that have reverberated throughout history in the fight for human rights. 

The first from a well-known rabbi, Hillel:

“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” 

And finally, from St. James:

“Be ye doers of the Word, not only hearers.”