The White Rose group were a small and very unrepresentative group of German students who have assumed enormous symbolic importance in modern Germany, particularly for young people, as examples of “good Germans” who resisted the Nazis at the risk, and the cost, of their lives. Their graves in a Munich cemetery are heaped with flowers. The final White Rose leaflet was smuggled out of Germany and intercepted by Allied forces, with the result that, in the autumn of 1943, millions of copies were dropped over Germany by Allied aircraft. It is believed that the group was formed after August von Galen, the Archbishop of Munster, spoke out in a sermon against the Nazi practice of euthanasia (the killing of those considered by the Nazis as genetically unsuitable).
Well-known in Germany, Sophie Scholl is a figure of remarkable courage and intellect. The events in Munich are portrayed in a powerful movie released in 2005 “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days “ or in German “Die letzten Tage.” Directed by Marc Rothemund and written by Fred Breinersdorfer it was released the same time as “Downfall” and probably didn’t get the exposure it deserved as a result but did receive an Oscar nomination. The film deals with just six days of this young woman’s life—the final six days. Key members of a passive resistance anti-Nazi group known as The White Rose, Sophie (Julia Jentsch) and her brother Hans (Fabian Hinrichs) risk their lives by writing, printing, and distributing pamphlets that condemn National Socialism and a bloody war that Germany could not win.
On the morning of Feb. 18, 1943, Sophie and Hans walk into a lecture hall at the University of Munich to secretly distribute the group’s sixth pamphlet before the building was flooded with students. This dangerous mission does not end well as Sophie is spotted by a porter who denounces her to the Gestapo.
The film concerns itself with the short but intense period between Sophie’s capture and execution. After she is jailed, Sophie faces off against Gestapo interrogator Robert Mohr (the steely Gerald Alexander Held), a Nazi true believer and atheist committed to breaking Sophie’s spirit in order both to convict her and to search out her collaborators. While one might initially be frustrated at the lack of context for Sophie and her strongly held beliefs, the force of these interrogation scenes erases all misgivings.
“Many people think of our times as being the last before the end of the world. The evidence of horror all around us makes this seem possible. But isn’t that an idea of only minor importance? Doesn’t every human being, no matter which era he lives in, always have to reckon with being accountable to God at any moment? Can I know whether I’ll be alive tomorrow morning? A bomb could destroy all of us tonight. And then my guilt would not be one bit less than if I perished together with the earth and the stars.”
The Scholl siblings were arrested and tried in front of an emergency session of the People’s Court. They were found guilty and executed by guillotine, along with their friend and collaborator Christoph Probst, on 22 February 1943. Hans Scholl’s last words before he was executed were:“Long live freedom!”
Alexander Schmorell was sentenced to death on 19 April 1943 at the Volksgerichtshof (People’s Court) in the second trial against the White Rose. On July 13, 1943, at the age of 25, Schmorell was put to death by guillotine along with Kurt Huber at the Munich-Stadelheim Prison.
The one surviving member of the group Liselotte Furst-Ramdohr who is aged 99 has poured cold water on the way their memory is commemorated as “Good Germans” – “At the time, they’d have had us all executed,” she says of the majority of her compatriots.