05 July 2023
Remembering Die Weisse Rose
On 13 July 2023 the British Library will host the 5th Annual Graham Nattrass Lecture, co-organised with the German Studies Library Group. The theme of this year’s lecture, to be given by Dr Alexandra Lloyd of Oxford University, is the anti-Nazi resistance group Die Weisse Rose (The White Rose); 2023 marks the 80th anniversary of the arrest and execution of key members of the group.
Alexandra Lloyd, Defying Hitler: the White Rose Pamphlets (Oxford, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark. The cover photograph shows (l.-r.) Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst
Die Weisse Rose was formed in the summer of 1942 by four medical students at the University of Munich – Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst and Willi Graf. Later in 1942 Hans Scholl’s sister Sophie became part of this core group after arriving in Munich to study biology and philosophy. They were also joined by one of the University’s professors, Kurt Huber.
The members of Die Weisse Rose were all disillusioned with the Nazi regime. The four medical students had been required to spend time away from their studies serving on the Eastern Front where their experience of the horrors of war and the brutality of the Nazi forces towards Russians and Jews further influenced their desire to resist. Helped by a number of supporters in Munich and other cities, the core group produced and distributed leaflets criticising the regime, exposing the murder of Jews in the east, and exhorting readers to face the truth that Germany was losing the war. They also stencilled anti-Nazi graffiti around the centre of Munich.
One of the pamphlets issued by Die Weisse Rose. Reproduced in Günther Kirchberger, Die “Weisse Rose”: studentischer Widerstand gegen Hitler in München (Munich, ) X.809/63410
All this was done, of course, at great risk both to the core group members and their supporters. Their luck held until 18 February 1943 when Hans and Sophie Scholl took copies of the group’s sixth leaflet, an appeal specifically addressed to students, to distribute at the University of Munich. After leaving piles of leaflets near lecture rooms they found they had some left over, which Sophie threw from a balcony into the building’s atrium. She was spotted by a university caretaker who was a Gestapo informant, and the Scholls were quickly cornered and arrested. Probst was arrested two days later, having been identified as the author of an unpublished leaflet found in Hans’s possession. All three were hastily tried on 22 February and executed the same day.
Arrests of other group members followed. 14 were tried in April 1943, of whom Huber, Schmorell and Graf were sentenced to death and the others to prison. Huber and Schmorell were executed on 13 July 1943; Graf was kept in prison for a further three months, and interrogated under torture, but refused to give up the names of fellow resistance members. He was executed on 12 October 1943.
Cover of the screenplay for Michael Verhoeven’s film Die Weisse Rose (Karlsruhe, 1982) X.955/2653
Although the activities of Die Weisse Rose had little immediate impact in 1942-3, in the years after the Second World War the group came to be seen as a symbol of conscientious resistance and of a Germany that refused to follow Nazism. They are admired today both for their courage in criticising the regime and for the courage with which the core members – all but Huber still in their early 20s – met their deaths. Many streets, squares and schools in Germany are named after group members, especially Hans and Sophie Scholl. There have been biographies and academic studies written, and the group has also featured in fictional retellings and in films such as Michael Verhoeven’s Die Weisse Rose (1982) and Marc Rothemund’s Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl – the Final Days; 2005).
Haydn Kaye, The Girl who Said No to the Nazis (London, 2020) YKL.2022.a.9518
Die Weisse Rose and its members are less well known outside Germany, but have featured in the British history curriculum, and have been the focus of English-language fiction such as V.S. Alexander’s The Traitor (London, 2020; ELD.DS.493979) or Haydn Kaye’s young adult novel, The Girl who Said No to the Nazis. Alexandra Lloyd, our lecturer on the 13th, has also helped raise awareness of the group through Oxford University’s White Rose Project which “aims to bring the story of the White Rose resistance group … to English-speaking audiences through research, performance, and creative translation”. We hope that the Graham Nattrass Lecture will be a part of this work.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
The Graham Nattrass Lecture takes place on Thursday 13 July at 6pm in the Foyle Suite at the British Library, with a drinks reception from 5.30pm. Attendance is free and open to all, but if you wish to attend, please let the GSLG Chair Dorothea Miehe know by email.