In their school days Hans and Sophie Scholl had been fascinated by the Nazi movement. Hans had had a high rank in the Hitler Youth organisation and Sophie a similar position in the League of German Girls. Yet as they grew older and witnessed the progress of the war they became highly critical of the Nazi regime, realising that it ran counter to their most deeply held values.
As a medical student Hans found himself posted to Russia on military service and witnessed the conduct of the German armed forces and the actions against the Jews. On returning to Munich University in 1942 he and a group of fellow students formed the ‘White Rose Resistance Movement’. When Sophie joined the University in 1942 she also joined the group.
Between June 1942 and February 1943 the group distributed six different leaflets denouncing Hitler and the Nazi regime. Readers were urged to”Support the resistance movement!” in the struggle for “Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and protection of the individual citizen from the arbitrary action of criminal dictator-states”. These were the principles that would form “the foundations of the new Europe”. Thousands of leaflets were produced using a hand cranked printing machine and they reached most of the major cities in Germany.
On the 18th February Hans and Sophie were distributing a suitcase full of leaflets in the University. They were intended to found by students attending lectures the following day. But they were caught in the act by University staff and handed over to the Gestapo.
When the came up before the Nazi ‘People’s Court’ chaired by the notorious Roland Freisler on the 22nd February there was not much hope for them. He acted as prosecutor, judge and jury in his own conception of ‘Nazi justice’ and had a record of convicting over 90% of the people appearing in his court and sentencing them to death. Hans and Sophie were treated no differently. They remained defiant to the end, Sophie then aged 22, is recorded as saying “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just do not dare express themselves as we did.”
Within hours of their conviction they were beheaded by guillotine at Munich’s Stadelheim Prison. Prison officials emphasized the courage with which Sophie walked to her execution. Her last words were “Die Sonne scheint noch”—”The sun still shines.”
See DW article about modern legacy of the White Rose movement in Germany