The White Rose (German: die Weiβe Rose) was a non-violent, student-based, resistance group in Nazi Germany, initially consisting of students from the University of Munich. They received encouragement and support from their mentor, the philosophy professor Kurt Huber. With time, it expanded into a movement, with members in Stuttgart, Hamburg, Freiburg, Berlin and Vienna. The group was responsible for distributing anonymous leaflets that incited active opposition to the Nazi dictatorship. The six most prominent members of this group were arrested by the Gestapo (the Secret State Police), tried for treason and beheaded in 1943.
Students from the University of Munich comprised the core of the White Rose — Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christopher Probst, Traute Lafrenz, Katerina Schüddekopf, Lieselotte Berndl, Jürgen Wittenstein, Marie-Luise Jahn, Falk Harnack, Hubert Furtwängler, Wilhelm Geyer, Manfred Eickemeyer, Josef Söhngen, Heinrich Guter, Heinrich Bollinger, Helmut Bauer, Harald Dorhn and Rudi Alt. Most of the group were in their early 20s.
Nazi oppression, and the indifference of the majority of the German population to the monstrous crimes perpetrated by the Nazi regime, horrified the idealistic White Rose members. Some of them had learned of the mass murder of Polish Jews, which soldiers on the eastern front, male members of the group including, Hans Scholl and Fritz Hartnagel (Sophie Scholl’s boyfriend) had witnessed at close range. They had also witnessed the abuse and exploitation of Jewish forced labourers, and heard of the deportations of large numbers of Poles and Jews to concentration camps.
At grave risk, White Rose members disseminated leaflets that were critical of the Nazi regime. They sought an end to the German war effort by calling for active opposition to the Nazis and the sabotage of the armaments industry. In the aftermath of the German armies’ defeat at Stalingrad in 1943, the Scholls decided to distribute leaflets inciting students at Munich University to revolt. The leaflets warned the reader that, ‘Hitler was leading Germany into an abyss,’ and also urged them to, ‘support the resistance movement’. They were betrayed by a university cleaner, who saw them with the pamphlets, and informed on them to the Gestapo (German Secret State Police).
They were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death (February 1943). Shortly thereafter, they were executed by guillotine at Stadelheim prison. Members of the Gestapo ultimately arrested and executed their mentor, Kurt Huber, as well as most of the members of the White Rose group.