History Detective

Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Nazi Resistance

Episode Summary

Meet Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans Scholl, 2 university students who were members of the White Rose resistance group during the Nazi Regime.

Episode Notes

Meet Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans Scholl, 2 university students who were members of the White Rose resistance group during the Nazi Regime.

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Episode Transcription

Hi, this is Kelly Chase and you are listening to History Detective, a podcast where I delve into the past to uncover the mysteries of history. Before I get started, I wanted to let you know that I have just released a book called History, Her Story, Our Story, Inspirational Women Who Shaped Our World. You can find a link to the Kindle or paperback in the show notes. Today, I would like to introduce you to a young woman who defied Hitler and the Nazi Party during the Third Reich, Sophie Scholl.


Sophie Scholl was born into a Lutheran family in Germany in 1921, which meant that she was 12 years old when Hitler came into power in 1933. Her father was the mayor of his town and was not a fan of Hitler at all. In fact, he disapproved of the fact that Sophie and her siblings, including her older brother Hans, embraced the Hitler Youth by attending gatherings, listening to pro-Nazi readings, singing, going on hikes, playing games and doing handicrafts. Their father said to them, “Don’t believe them- they are wolves and deceivers, and they are misusing the German people shamefully.” He would later be imprisoned for openly speaking out against Hitler at his workplace. 


The Hitler Youth, or the League of German Girls in Sophie’s case, created a sense of belonging for young people. The Scholl children initially believed the rhetoric that Hitler would help Germany become great again and that the population would no longer be hungry and unemployed. But this blind faith did not last for long in the Scholl children. Hans started to rise up the ranks of the Hitler Youth and become a leader, but he was disillusioned when he was threatened with punishment for playing songs other than approved German folk music on his guitar. He was further turned off when he was forbidden from reading his favourite authors who wrote about peace and philosophy.


Another incident that occurred that helped the Scholl children to become aware of the evils that the Nazi regime were committing, was when a friend of their mother’s came to visit. She worked as a nurse at a hospital for children who were mentally ill. The nurse came to the Scholl’s house one day very distraught because the SS, Hitler’s elite police force, began taking away children from the hospital to murder them in the gas chambers. The Nazi regime believed that people with disabilities were a financial burden on the state and ended up killing about 200 000 people with disabilities between the years 1940-1945.


Another friend of their father’s knew a prison chaplain who suffered from a nervous breakdown because every day he was forced to escort at least seven people to be executed for minimal crimes. In some corners of Nazi society, death was a constant companion and many people were beginning to crumble under the horror of it all. But they also had a deep fear that if they spoke out, they would be the next target of this cruel regime.


This is where the extraordinarily brave deeds of the Scholl siblings came into play. Hans, being a young man, was conscripted into the army, but he was also a medical student at the University of Munich. Hans, along with two of his medical student friends, who were also army conscripts, fundamentally disagreed with Nazi ideology and decided to start an underground peaceful resistance group which they named the White Rose. The White Rose would go out in the cover of night and graffiti the slogan “Down with Hitler” about 70 times around the streets of Munich. The other thing that they did was to create a pamphlet or newsletter that they would copy with a machine they secretly brought and send these pamphlets out to people in the community. 


The first leaflet said that the German people were becoming a “cowardly mass” who were losing their individuality and urged people to “offer passive resistance”. The second leaflet insults Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, saying that it was written in incredibly poor German. It also brought attention to the fact that 300 000 Jewish people had been murdered by the Nazi Party and called their actions a “crime against human dignity.” Additionally, it points out the atrocities being done in the Polish concentration camps.


The third pamphlet calls the Nazi state a “dictatorship of evil” and calls for sabotage of war industries, rallies, universities who were supporting the regime, and sabotage of newspapers who were spreading Nazi propaganda.


And at the end of all of the pamphlets, readers were urged to duplicate and distribute the pamphlets as far and wide as possible.


When Han’s younger sister Sophie was 21, after she had done some compulsory war service working in a munitions factory, she was finally able to achieve her dream of going to university to study biology and philosophy. She moved into her older brother’s flat. Sophie, who did not know her brother was a founding member of the White Rose resistance group, found one of the pamphlets around campus and the message of the pamphlets resonated with her. When she was at home, she saw some literature laying around that was underlined on certain passages that had been quoted in the pamphlets. Sophie put two and two together and realised that it was her brother who was responsible for the White Rose pamphlets and she wanted in.


Because she was a girl, she was able to help with the distribution of the pamphlets, without arousing too much suspicion. Although, they were only a small group of about 6 members in Munich, they wanted to give the impression to the Nazi government that they were a much bigger organisation than they actually were. They would travel by train to different cities all over Germany and post out leaflets so the postage stamps showed that the leaflets were being posted from many different cities. When they carried the leaflets on the train, they would leave the leaflets in suitcases in one train carriage and ride in another train carriage, so if someone found the cases, they would not suspect them. They also recruited other people to help distribute them in different cities.


On the 18th February 1943, tragedy struck. Hans and Sophie were distributing copies of the 6th White Rose pamphlet around the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. They were almost done and the campus halls were quite empty because the students were in classes. Sophie had a pile of leaflets left over and was at the top of the stairs and pushed a pile of the leaflets over the balustrade making them rain down into the empty entrance below. Unfortunately, they were not alone and the university caretaker, Jakob Schmidt, who was a staunch Nazi Party supporter, called for the building to be locked. It was a Thursday morning and Sophie, 22, and Hans, 25, were immediately arrested. By Monday they were both dead. Executed by guillotine for treason against the Nazi state. But in reality, they were two young students, who disagreed with the mass murders being committed by the Nazi Government. They printed some newsletters to let people know about it and became murder victims of an unjust system themselves. 


In her final days in prison, Sophie was resigned to the fact that she was going to die and was bolstered by the thought that her death could make a difference and awaken the German people and stir them into action. All six core members of the Munich White Rose group were tried and executed, but that was not the end for the pamphlets. Two students kept distributing the sixth pamphlet in the city of Hamburg, with the added phrase “May their spirit live on.” More copies were distributed in Munich in the summer of 1944. Then copies of the pamphlet were smuggled out of Germany and made their way around Norway, Sweden, Russia and to England. The British Royal Air Force, then reprinted millions of copies of the pamphlet and dropped copies of it in northern and central Germany. 


Although, many people in English speaking countries have not heard of the Scholl sibling and the White Rose, in Germany there is much memorialisation of this peaceful resistance group. There are monuments and memorials that have been erected in their name, as well as countless streets, squares, and schools that have been renamed in their honour. Their faces have appeared on German postage stamps, and their older sister Inge Scholl published a book about Sophie and Hans called The White Rose, which included copies of the pamphlets. I was able to borrow an eBook from my local library and it was an incredibly useful source when researching this episode. In 2005, there was a film released called Sophie Scholl, the Final Days, and the film makers were able to use transcripts of the Gestapo interviews to help write their script. Although, I do question the reliability of the information in the Gestapo transcripts, because we do not know how much stress and duress Hans and Sophie were experiencing in these interviews and if they were withholding the truth to try and protect the other members of the White Rose.


In any case, these brave students, saw that there were grave injustices in the brutal system that they were forced to live in and dared to speak out and make a difference.

This Kelly Chase, on the Case.


Don’t forget to grab your copy of my new book History, Her Story, Our Story: Inspirational Women Who shaped Our World, there is a link in the show notes. Also, I now have a History Detective YouTube Channel, and there are more than 20 history detective videos now available, so make sure you head over there to subscribe.

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I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which this podcast is being recorded today. I pay my respects to the elders and knowledge holders past present and emerging.