Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The White Rose

Growing up in the 1970's and 80's in the USA, as a young liberal, I couldn't help but romanticize the Civil Rights Movement and the young radicals of that era that resisted the war in Vietnam. The protesting and getting arrested to help further a cause, it all seems so noble and brave.  I don't want to minimize what these folks accomplished, but in comparison to the White Rose and what they faced, it seems tame in comparison.

The White Rose was a non-violent resistance group at the University of Munich during the World War II.  From June 1942 to February 1943 a small group of college students produced and handed out pamphlets urging peaceful resistance to the Nazis. They also used graffiti to spread their message. Six of them were eventually caught, tried for treason and executed (via guillotine).  The first three (Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans Scholl and Christof Probst.) were arrested in February 1943 after the Scholl's were caught spreading pamphlets on campus and the printing press was found in Probst's possession days later. Three more were arrested and executed in a couple of months later.

Whenever I see a film or read something about Germany in WW II, I always wonder what the people knew and thought about the situation. How conflicted were they? Or were they conflicted at all? How much did the citizenry know about what was happening to the Jews and what could they do about it if they did know?  How would I react in the same situation? Many people must have felt like these courageous college students, but these few actually did something about it. It not only takes courage, but tremendous foresight and self confidence. Some of these student grew up as members of the Hitler youth. Indoctrination into the Third Reich started at a very young age and their influence was so strong that students spied on their own parent and were urged to report any activity against the cause. It is so impressive that these young people came out of that environment with such strong convictions.

It is difficult to see how much, if any, affect that they had on anything. Members of the The White Rose expected their death to cause a revolt; it did not.  They are considered as heroes in modern Germany appearing on postage stamps and are the subjects of movies. Sofie Scholl has become an icon for what is good about Germany. The text of the sixth pamphlet urged Germany soldiers to lay down their arms and surrender to the allies.  It was smuggled out of Germany into the UK and was air dropped over Germany by allied planes in July 1943 with the title: "The Manifesto of the Students of Munich."  Perhaps they didn't die in vain.

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