What Student Revolutionaries in Nazi Germany Would Think About the Capital Insurrection
Almost 80 years later, the message of The White Rose could not be more relevant
Last month, I was speeding down a hill in Munich on a dilapidated bike when I hit a curb. I flew forward, hit the ground, and skid onto the gravel in front of about twenty Germans. Embarrassed, I hobbled to a bench in front of the University to nurse my wounds.
That’s when I saw it.
Build into the ground was a bronze replica of the leaflets of The White Rose movement. Drafted and distributed by a group of students, the leaflets were a call to action against the Nazis. I knew who the Scholls were, in fact, I’d written a biopic about them two years prior. Fate had shoved me off that bike, to the very spot of their memorial.
As young soldiers sucked into the German war machine, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell witnessed terrible atrocities on the Russian front, and developed a deepened dislike of the Nazis and the war.
Years later at Munich University, their “radical” thinking was nurtured by Professor Kurt Huber, who provided them with eye-opening literature and philosophy. Eventually, he offered the safe place in which The White Rose pamphlets would be produced.
I stayed in Grafelfing, Germany for the last two months of 2020. Just down the road from our place, I discovered the home of Professor Huber. The White Rose attended dinners at Huber’s house, during which they formed some of their first ideologies. Professor Huber was arrested from that very same house in 1943. He would never return.
The passionate, sensitive, naturalist Sophie Scholl, Hans’s younger sister, soon joined the cause. Together with the handsome young father Christoph Probst, and an old friend and former soldier, Willi Graf, the group denounced the decimating war and the slaughter of Europe’s Jews.
Strong in numbers, The White Rose soon verbalized their resistance and called others to do the same. The leaflets were distributed around campus, but were also smuggled to Stuttgart, Hamburg, and Berlin.
The Gestapo eventually arrested Hans and Sophie while they were throwing flyers from the top floor of the University’s atrium. Three days later, the siblings sat in front of the infamous Roland Freisler — the President of The People’s Court.
As I stared down at the bronze monument to The White Rose, I realized why one clumsy fall brought me back to the monument at that particular moment in time: it was the week of the 2020 United States Presidential election.
The Nazis were a band of violent thugs, most of which were vastly uneducated. They extinguished culture, education, and any resistance to their terror — the poison of their self-declared Aryan supremacy pumping through their veins. They used violence and fear tactics to tear down the government.
So, here we are in 2021.
Emboldened by Trump himself, an armed mob violently stormed into the Capital after Biden’s victory. Five people are dead and the Trump administration called these armed terrorists “patriots”.
These skewed human beings with hate in their hearts may read the words of The White Rose and be once again emboldened by phrases like — make a start and stir to action, so let me clarify something:
The White Rose was a non-violent group urging for peace and the end of genocide. They spoke of holding the basic human rights of others as a priority. They called for the German people to stand up together and resist. This is a very different act than what happened on January 6th, 2021.
This violent crowd of insurrectionists had three things in mind when they invaded the Capital—terror, bigotry, and the destruction of democracy. These are the very pillars of Nazism.
“But our present State is a dictatorship of Evil…If you are aware of this, why do you not stir yourselves? Why do you permit this autocrat to rob you of one sphere of your rights after another, little by little, both overtly and in secret? One day there will be nothing left, nothing at all, except for a mechanized national engine that has been commandeered by criminals and drunks.
— The White Rose, Leaflet 3
I’m reminded of our need for the message of The White Rose when I see an anti-masker or hear someone say, “COVID only kills old people.” I am reminded of the danger of leaders who place personal power over the well-being of their people — “it is what it is.”
“Senselessly and irresponsibly driven three hundred thirty thousand German men to death and destruction. Führer, we thank you!”
— The White Rose, Leaflet 6
Despite the acts of violent Americans on January 6th 2021, we still have hope to hold on to. Two-thirds of eligible voters cast their ballots in 2020, making it a record-breaking election. Even amid a global pandemic.
The American people exerted their democratic right and made their voices heard. Despite fear mongering about mail in-ballots. Despite “fake news”.
As much as I am horrified by the Capital riot, I am inspired by other Americans, marching in the streets to protect Black lives. I am inspired by the front-line workers who sacrifice every day to save the sick. I am inspired by the grocery store workers and school teachers who still show up to work to feed and educate. The spirit of The White Rose runs strong in some of us.
“We will long for the light from the midst of the blackest night, we will summon our energy and finally help shake off the yoke that oppresses the world.”
— The White Rose, Leaflet 2
Sophie Scholl’s trial took place on February 22, 1943. Roland Freisler offered Sophie the chance to escape with her life if she denounced the principals of the leaflets. She refused.
That very day, Hans and Sophie were executed at the ages of 25 and 21. Their families were not notified until after. Sophie’s boyfriend Fritz Hartnagel traveled for days to beg for clemency for her life. He was eleven days too late.
Sophie’s famous last words hold such grace and importance to this day:
“Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
— Sophie Scholl
Han’s Scholl shouted “long live freedom” as the blade of the guillotine approached his neck. The Nazis executed Christoph Probst the same day.
Alexander Schmorell, Kurt Huber, and Willi Graf were captured later. New member Hans Conrad Leipelt, who replicated leaflets via typewriter, was caught trying to collect money for Professor Huber’s wife. They were all executed in the coming months.
However, the leaflets were smuggled to the allies, their message mass produced and dropped by plane over German cities.
Their legacy lives on and can be called upon in moments when freedom is at stake — moments like January 6th. I fear that these moments will continue to present themselves. I hope to God, we never cease fighting for our democracy, our lives, and the lives of others.
As the late journalist Sydney J. Harris once said:
“History repeats itself, but in such cunning disguise that we never detect the resemblance until the damage is done.” — Sydney J. Harris
For more information about The White Rose, please read At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl.