Munich history: Remembering the White Rose

Munich history: Remembering the White Rose

by Mark Swearengen
Stripes Europe

They were arrested 75 years ago in Munich during the Third Reich era, and Germany remembers them to this day with honor and respect. Hans and Sophie Scholl, were leaders of the nonviolent resistance group, Weiße Rose (White Rose). They were caught on Feb.18, 1943 placing anti-Nazi leaflets in the halls of the University of Munich. They were immediately taken into custody by the Gestapo (the secret Nazi police), were tried by the infamous Nazi judge, Roland Freisler, and executed by guillotine on Feb.22.

Whenever I’m in Munich, I always find myself drawn to the University of Munich at Geschwister-Scholl-Platz. There I find the memory of the Scholl siblings, and the Weiße Rose’s effort to expose the brutality of the Hitler regime, preserved honorably by a memorial and exhibition in the university’s Lichthof (Hall of Light).


Regardless of whether you are a history enthusiast or curious visitor to the city, when in Munich, a self-guided tour of the exhibition can be well worth your time. The name “Weiße Rose” was chosen to symbolize purity in the face of evil and oppression. Most members were university students and members of the military in their twenties. The key leaders were the siblings, Hans and Sophie Scholl. Other leading members were Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst and university professor Kurt Huber. All of these people were tried and executed in 1943.

Their main resistance effort began in mid-1942 with the production of anti-Nazi leaflets that were distributed through the mail to addresses taken from the Munich telephone book. A series of six leaflets were published during the following months that severely criticized Hitler and told of savagely cruel murders of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Citizens were told to resist the murderous Nazi regime. Sabotage of armament plants and Nazi gatherings was encouraged.  

Leaflets were sent eventually to other major cities in Germany and Europe. One of the last leaflets was smuggled to London, reprinted and dropped by allied aircraft over German cities. All leaflets included an appeal to readers to duplicate and further distribution.

The members of the Weiße Rose are regarded today as heroes against Hitler and the Nazi regime.  There are schools, memorials, plazas and institutions throughout Germany named in honor of Hans and Sophie Scholl. A plaza in honor of Professor Huber is across Ludwigsstraße from Geschwister-Scholl-Platz. When visiting the memorial, you can almost feel yourself within the story simply by noticing the leaflets displayed permanently on the sidewalk, and by walking through the exhibition in the Lichthof.  I often observe students in the area and think to myself that Sophie Scholl was probably a young woman much like a student I might see sitting on a nearby bench reading a book.

If you are in Munich in the coming months, consider taking the U-Bahn or other public transport to the university and walk the short distance to Geschwister-Scholl-Platz.  Visit the memorial to the members of the Weiße Rose, and see the story of men and women who had the courage to act, when it could have been so easy just to do nothing. 

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