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The Resistance Boutonnière: The Story of the Reich and the White Rose

Let us dive deeper into the heirloom of the student movement under the appellation of White Rose in the Nazi-Germany; not only did it give a strong opposing wave to the Reich but inspired many others, teaching them the worth of solidarity and scruples.

The recent years have portrayed a series of student uprisings in various parts of our Country, asserting the common demands of freedom and equal recognition of rights; with a zero tolerance to The Despotic Extra- Democratic hegemony. Turning the pages of history, we find a profound movement in the Nazi-Germany era during the 1940s, proactively involving the students, which not only shook the Fuhrer but passed some beautiful lessons of humanistic compassion, altruism and undisputed valour. The White Rose was a German anti-Nazi group formed in 1942, mainly comprising of students from the University of Munich. Unlike other anti-Nazi movements or youth gangs such as the Edelweiss Pirates and the Red Orchestra, the members of the White Rose propagated non-violent resistance methods such as circulating anonymous leaflets or graffiti art to oppose the Germanic Despotism. 

Today, young people standing up against oppressive regimes have faced unrelenting streams of ridicule, abuse, and worse have even lost their precious lives, we need to be reminded of the time when a sarcastic remark could constitute treason, where the paralyzing climate of terror grasped every member of the society, some brave-hearts were denouncing the Tyrannical trends. The founding members of the White Rose, Hans Scholl, Willi Graf and Alexander Schmorell, were medical students at the University of Munich. Their lives were transformed into the resistance nature when the young triad witnessed the massacre of Jewish civilians by the SS troops. Returning to Munich, they decided to form an organization opposing Hitler’s Reich, subsequently, other students joined their cause including Han’s sister Sophie and with continued deliberations combined with youthful romanticism the students published their beliefs in a series of leaflets under the name “the White Rose”. These leaflets portrayed an impressive knowledge of the Real German Literature and Culture opposing the propaganda culture (also referred to as Jumla in modern-day India) of Hitler. The first White Rose essay concluded with the statement, “Do not forget that every nation deserves the government that it endures.”

The Flyers had a lucid yet impactful content series, they contained anonymous essays proclaiming that the Nazi framework was slowly deteriorating the Germanic people and taking shape of something evil. Interestingly at the bottom of the essay, an unusual request popped up; “Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.”

Hans Scholl (left), Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst, leaders of the White Rose; sourced USHMM

Sophie and Hans were children born with a silver spoon; they belonged to an upper-middle-class family. The siblings were excited with the rise of Nazis and happy followers of the National Socialist cult of youth. Indeed, the teenagers were strong believers of the ideas propagated by the Nazis at that time particularly being intrigued by the nature of the propaganda, which was highly communal and identity-based with the truth being covered by a veil of privilege. 

Sophie joined the League of German Girl (BDM-Bund Deutscher Madel). Though their parents, especially their father, did not like the children’s association with the Reich, being a strong critic of the party from the beginning, Robert Scholl viewed the developments in Germany and their children’s interest in Nazism with growing fear and horror. Later, in 1942, he served time in a Nazi prison for telling his secretary, “The war! It is already lost. This Hitler is God’s scourge on mankind, and if the war doesn’t end soon the Russians will be sitting in Berlin.” 

In opposition to Hans’ turn to anti-Nazi sentiments, Sophie was a spectre of any kind of carnage, but her turn to resistance is rather individualistic. During World War 2, Hans was drafted into the war as a soldier, and students like Sophie were required to work for the National Labor Service (RAD- Reichsarbeitsdienst), which destroyed the future academic aspirations of the student community. As per the notable author Kip Wilson, “The military-like regimen and mind-numbing routine caused her to find solace in her spirituality, guided by readings of theologian Augustine of Hippo. She wrote down her thoughts, noting that her soul was hungry—she longed for an autonomous life, an end to the war, and for happiness with her boyfriend Fritz Hartnagel, who was now fighting on the Eastern front. Her doubts about the regime grew.”

Replicas of White Rose leaflets embedded in the pavement outside the University of Munich as a symbol of respect to the young martyrs; cr. Sirithana Tiranardvanich

The leaflets and graffiti art soon caused a tremendous stir among the student body. For the first time, the Reich faced internal dissent surfacing against the Nazi regime, which worried even the Fuhrer. Ultimately on 18th February 1943, Hans and Sophie were caught leaving the flyers at the university premises and were arrested. Subsequently, another search disclosed another member, Christoph Probst’s participation and he was too arrested. The trio was booked under treason and on February 22nd the judge passed their death sentence. 

Hitler was so worried that he sent Judge Roland Freisler from Berlin to Munich; no witnesses were called since the defendants had admitted everything. The circus proceedings consisted almost entirely of Roland Freisler’s denunciation and abuse, but there was one thing that the Puppet Judge could not understand. As noted by the author Richard Hanser, “Freisler and the other accusers could not understand what had happened to these German youths. After all, they all came from nice German families. They all had attended German schools. They had been members of the Hitler Youth. How could they have turned out to be traitors? What had so twisted and warped their minds?”

Copy of the death sentences handed down against White Rose’s members; cr. Johannes Simon

On the 22nd of February, 1943, the brave trio came to an end and they were beheaded by guillotine in Munich’s Stadelheim Prison. The evidence says that the guards were so astonished by their chivalry that they violated regulations by permitting them to meet together one last time. No newspaper in Germany talked about their execution however this incident received an international acme subsequently turning itself into a much more impactful resistance wave.

The White Rose incident happened around 79 years ago, giving us a beautiful allegory of selfless actions against tyranny inspiring millions to take words and art as their weapons against the repressive trends. This incident not only teaches us that privilege can act as an impediment to our perception but also the fact that even Judge Roland could not understand; the truth insight, to rationally judge what is right and what is wrong, to differentiate between the elements of curse and service. It also passed an indirect lesson that the student community is the strongest if it stands united against a common cause and propaganda can only be successfully be dealt using the tool of effective knowledge. 

Read also: https://dubeat.com/2018/04/how-to-spot-a-fascist-regime-is-our-the-one/

Feature Image Credits: Law-SIU

Nirmanyu Chouhan

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Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history.Freedom to Express.