Data

General Issues
Human Rights & Civil Rights
Governance & Political Institutions
International Affairs
Specific Topics
Freedom of Speech
Censorship
Citizenship & Role of Citizens
Location
Munich
Bavaria
Germany
Start Date
End Date
Purpose/Goal
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
Approach
Independent action
Protest
Social mobilization
Targeted Demographics
Students
Experts
Youth
General Types of Methods
Informal participation
Community development, organizing, and mobilization
General Types of Tools/Techniques
Facilitate dialogue, discussion, and/or deliberation
Inform, educate and/or raise awareness
Propose and/or develop policies, ideas, and recommendations
Legality
No
Facilitators
Yes
Facilitator Training
Untrained, Nonprofessional Facilitators
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Face-to-Face
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Informal Social Activities
Information & Learning Resources
Written Briefing Materials
Decision Methods
Not Applicable
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Independent Media
Artistic Expression
Protests/Public Demonstrations

CASE

The White Rose Student Movement

12. Dezember 2023 jakobcisco
11. Dezember 2023 jakobcisco
General Issues
Human Rights & Civil Rights
Governance & Political Institutions
International Affairs
Specific Topics
Freedom of Speech
Censorship
Citizenship & Role of Citizens
Location
Munich
Bavaria
Germany
Start Date
End Date
Purpose/Goal
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
Approach
Independent action
Protest
Social mobilization
Targeted Demographics
Students
Experts
Youth
General Types of Methods
Informal participation
Community development, organizing, and mobilization
General Types of Tools/Techniques
Facilitate dialogue, discussion, and/or deliberation
Inform, educate and/or raise awareness
Propose and/or develop policies, ideas, and recommendations
Legality
No
Facilitators
Yes
Facilitator Training
Untrained, Nonprofessional Facilitators
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Face-to-Face
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Informal Social Activities
Information & Learning Resources
Written Briefing Materials
Decision Methods
Not Applicable
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Independent Media
Artistic Expression
Protests/Public Demonstrations

The White Rose secretly distributed six sets of leaflets from June 1942 until their execution in February 1943 [3]. These leaflets called for an end to the Nazi regime, rallies for freedom, and other subversive activity meant to rally the German public against the state [3].

Problems and Purpose

Totalitarian states are often the quintessential model for complete and total repression. Deliberation, participation, direct action, and other forms of democratic involvement are highly restricted or outright banned. Usually, this takes the form of a one-party state which monopolizes thought in a country and reinforces this monopoly through harsh surveillance. This monopoly allows the state to convince large swaths of the population of lies through state-control of the media and other propaganda. The glaring problem with this situation is the lack of effective avenues for democratic developments to deviate from this system of repression.

Despite the severe restriction on democratic activities, citizens in totalitarian states have utilized unique tactics to resist the control of the state. One famous example of this is the White Rose in Nazi Germany [3]. The members of the movement spanned multiple cities and left leaflets wherever possible for the purpose of convincing German citizens to rebel [2]. 

Background History and Context

After the election of Adolf Hitler in 1932, Germany quickly devolved into a one-party state controlled by the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (shortened to the Nazi Party). A significant tool for the fascist German state was the widespread use of secret police, with the Gestapo monitoring most forms of communication for potential subversives [1]. This repressive environment made it very difficult for antifascist activism to flourish. Two University of Munich students, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell, began the White Rose movement as an underground group designed to spread propaganda against the Nazi Party [2]. As the group expanded, they brought in fellow students Willi Graf, Christopher Probst, and Sophie Scholl along with professor Kurt Huber [2]. 

After Hans enrolled in the University of Munich, he joined a group of students and professors that met to talk about social and philosophical topics [2]. Medical students were drafted shortly afterward to train in the war, and Hans began serving in the military as a student medic [2]. Upon his return in 1942, he and Alexander Schmorell began secretly publishing leaflets using the words of popular German philosophers to rally anger toward the Nazi Party [2]. Compounded with the ongoing war in which Germany had suffered heavy losses, the White Rose helped to push back against the Nazi Party’s power. 

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

The core members of the White Rose all met at the University of Munich and participated in campus discussion about social and philosophical issues [2]. Other supporters offered aid and taught core members skills to enhance their propaganda effort [3]. In this way, the White Rose ran their movement much like a sinking ship: if one goes down, they all go down.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The widespread use of the Gestapo to catch any subversive activity severely restricted the White Rose’s membership selection. The only members involved in writing the contents of the leaflets were the core members [2]. As the readership of the publication grew, the number of supporters grew to number students across Germany. However, it seems that the core members trusted a small amount of female University of Munich students to deliver their leaflets elsewhere [2].

Methods and Tools Used

The main method of participation by the movement was informal resistance. The Nazi regime had implemented such strict rules regarding participation and free expression that any method of participation was necessary to demonstrate their antifascist stance. The main tools used to carry out this demonstration were leaflets and graffiti campaigns. The movement distributed six sets of leaflets around Munich and other parts of Germany that quoted extensively from Western philosophers and called for the fall of the Nazi Party [2]. They would often mail these leaflets to professors and students throughout Munich, in which they would call for the overthrow of the state through citizen unrest [4]. The members also engaged in graffitti campaigns at the University of Munich, writing slogans on the walls of the campus buildings for the same purpose [1].

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

Little to no deliberation existed with the broader public during the White Rose movement. The core members secretly met on campus along with other supporters, but many of their decisions were made by the founding members [2]. Scholl and Schmorell authored the first four leaflets, Kurt Huber wrote the fifth after approval from Scholl, and Scholl wrote the fifth on his own [2]. While Christopher Probst did write a seventh leaflet, the movement never distributed copies due to their capture [2].

The citizens that sympathized with and worked for the movement could not interact in public. The only true public interaction the core members participated in was their public execution, in which they used their last moments to communicate their commitment to freedom [2]. However, the execution was not fully open to the public and state-controlled media did not report on the event until many days after the executions [2]. 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The influence of the White Rose was felt across Germany. By 1943, supporters spread the leaflets to Berlin, Hamburg, and other German cities [2]. Disillusionment in Germany was rife as bombings had plagued cities and many citizens felt comfortable speaking out against the government, enabled in part by these acts of public defiance committed by the White Rose [2].

Unfortunately the Gestapo executed all core members in 1943 and held trials for many supporters. While Hans and Sophia distributed their sixth leaflet at the University of Munich, a maintenance worker noticed their activity and reported them to the Gestapo [2]. Hearings were carried out against Hans, Sophie, and Christopher and resulted in their public execution by guillotine [2]. Today, many memorials exist across Europe to commemorate the actions of the White Rose and to celebrate their memory. Buildings, roads, and awards have been named after members, cementing their legacy in German history as a popular example of resistance [3].

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The significance of the White Rose cannot be overstated. The core members demonstrated the ability to break free of their government’s totalitarian ideology and that free thought can flourish under systems of severe oppression. Many German citizens did not agree with many of the actions of the Nazi Party but often felt isolated due to the fear of state violence. Through their propaganda campaign, the White Rose showed other German citizens that they were not alone in their discontent and sparked various student protests.

A major accomplishment of the White Rose is the extended period with which they operated undetected. By 1942, the Gestapo searched mail, tapped phone lines, and employed other methods of intense surveillance on their citizens [2]. This surveillance meant that the White Rose members had to form a “guerrilla” campaign of disobedience in which small groups quickly dropped leaflets and left before anyone could respond. Additionally, the fact that the core members were able to join and that other supporters could find them relatively easily indicates that the movement’s existence was likely an open secret among the students of Germany. Many leaflets were turned into the Gestapo, but they came no closer to tracking down the authors and the person that turned the group in was an older maintenance worker [2]. These facts demonstrate the strength of solidarity against oppression and the lasting endurance of free thought.

See Also

References

[1] Hornberger, J. G. (n.d.). Holocaust Resistance: The White Rose - A Lesson in Dissent. Jewish Virtual Library. 

[2] Rennebohm, M. (n.d.). White Rose Resistance to Hitler's Regime, 1942-1943 | Global Nonviolent Action Database. Global Nonviolent Action Database. 

[3] Sophie Scholl and the White Rose. (2020, February 22). The National WWII Museum.

[4] The White Rose Opposition Movement | Holocaust Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Holocaust Encyclopedia.

External Links

https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/sophie-scholl-and-white-rose

https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/white-rose-resistance-hitlers-regime-1942-1943

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-white-rose-a-lesson-in-dissent

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/white-rose

Notes