“we will not be silent. We are your bad conscience” White Rose Leaflet
“Even the most dull-witted German has had his eyes opened by the terrible bloodbath, which, in the name of the freedom and honour of the German nation, they have unleashed upon Europe and unleash a new each day. The German name will remain forever tarnished unless finally the German youth stands up, pursues both revenge and atonement, smites our tormentors, and founds a new intellectual Europe. Students! The German people look to us! The responsibility is ours: just as the power of the spirit broke the Napoleonic terror in 1813, so too will it break the terror of the National Socialists in 1943.”
White Rose Pamphlet
“To say to the Social Democratic workers: “Cast your leaders aside and join our ‘non-party united front” means to add just one more hollow phrase to a thousand others. We must understand how to tear the workers away from their leaders in reality. But the reality today is the struggle against fascism. … The overwhelming majority of the Social Democratic workers will fight against the fascists, but – for the present at least – only together with their organizations. This stage cannot be skipped”.
Leon Trotsky-For a Workers’ United Front Against Fascism (December 1931)
This book provides the reader with a very thorough and accessible introduction to the life of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose movement. The struggle of the Scholl family belies the common myth that there was no opposition to the Nazi’s during the Second World War.
The book fails to address the reason why this opposition was so small and disparate. The fact that Hitler was able to rise to power and smash the worker’s movement and the most progressive sections of the middle class was due to the betrayals of Stalinism and Social Democracy who allowed him to come to power without a shot being fired.
This history was to shape the character of the opposition to Hitler. After all, the White Rose movement was a non-violent resistance group comprised of five middle-class students at Munich University. At its heart, brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl, their fellow students Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, and their professor Kurt Huber.
Despite knowing full well that if caught, they faced instant death, they began distributing leaflets and graffiti. They were caught in 1943 by the Gestapo and, after a brief trial, executed. Sophie Magdalena Scholl was just 21 at the time of her state murder.
It is clear from the history of Scholl and the White Rose movement that it did not have a fully worked-out political agenda that drove its activities, and some of its activities against the fascist regime were dominated by their religious leanings. Scholl was heavily influenced by the theologian Augustine of Hippo. She described that her “soul was hungry”.
Not everything was guided by their religious beliefs. As this statement from a White rose Pamphlet states, “Our current ‘state’ is the dictatorship of evil. We know that already, I hear you object, and we do not need you to reproach us for it yet again. But, I ask you, if you know that, then why don’t you act? Why do you tolerate these rulers gradually robbing you, in public and in private, of one right after another, until one day nothing, absolutely nothing, remains but the machinery of the state, under the command of criminals and drunkards?”They had substantial political opposition to the Nazi dictatorship.
As Tanja B. Spitzer writes, “The White Rose was a small endeavour with large consequences. Together they published and distributed six pamphlets, first typed on a typewriter, then multiplied via mimeograph. At first, they only distributed them via mail, sending them to professors, booksellers, authors, friends and others—going through phone books for addresses and hand-writing each envelope. In the end, they distributed thousands, reaching households all over Germany. Acquiring such large amounts of paper, envelopes, and stamps at a time of strict rationing without raising suspicion was problematic, but the students managed by engaging a wide-ranging network of supporters in cities and towns as far north as Hamburg and as far south as Vienna. These networks were also activated to distribute the pamphlets, attempting to trick the Gestapo into believing the White Rose had locations all across the country”.
They did provide a clear tactic to anyone who wanted to oppose the fascists saying “in their fifth pamphlet. “And now every convinced opponent of National Socialism must ask himself how he can fight against the present ‘state’ in the most effective way….We cannot provide each man with the blueprint for his acts, we can only suggest them in general terms, and he alone will find the way of achieving this end: Sabotage in armament plants and war industries, sabotage at all gatherings, rallies, public ceremonies, and organizations of the National Socialist Party. Obstruction of the smooth functioning of the war machine….Try to convince all your acquaintances. Of the senselessness of continuing, of the hopelessness of this war; of our spiritual and economic enslavement at the hands of the National Socialists; of the destruction of all moral and religious values; and urge them to passive resistance!”
While it was very difficult for the group to act amid war and being hounded by the Nazi’s secret police, a major weakness of the group is that it did not appeal to the one class that could bring down the hated Nazi dictatorship, and that was the German and international working class. The defeat of the German revolution because of the betrayal of Stalinism and Social Democracy had meant the class consciousness working class in Germany had been thrown back for decades.
It is doubtful that any of the White Rose movement had read any of the great Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky works, which is a shame because even a cursory read of his work would have given the group an entirely different political outlook. As Trotsky writes “When a state turns fascist, it doesn’t only mean that the forms and methods of government are changed in accordance with the patterns set by Mussolini – the changes in this sphere ultimately play a minor role – but it means, primarily and above all, that the workers’ organizations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism. This was precisely the situation facing the White Rose group.
To conclude, this 75th-anniversary edition deserves a wide readership. The story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose movement contains an important lesson for the international working class and will inspire anyone who has a burning hatred of fascism and all forms of racism. As Sophie Scholl said, “I am, now as before, of the opinion that I did the best I could do for my nation. I, therefore, do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences that result from my conduct.”