Saturday, April 18, 2015

The White Rose: Martyrs Against Nazi Tyanny #History #WorldWarII

One of my interests is World War II, and I spend a lot of time watching movies, documentaries and film clips of it on YouTube.  Last week I watched a film about the White Rose, a group of anti-Nazi German youths who worked against Hitler's government.  It is an inspiring tale:  young people risking, and several losing their lives, in the effort.

Founded in 1942, the White Rose wrote and distributed leaflets among the German populace, urging passive resistance to Nazi rule.  Leaflets were typed on a borrowed typewriter, and reproduced on a duplicating machine.  These were mailed at random to addresses taken from public phone books, or distributed by leaving them in public places.  The White Rose had cells in Hamburg, Freiburg, Berlin, and Vienna.

Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst
The film documents the trial and execution of three members of the White Rose:   Hans Scholl, a medical student at the University of Munich, his sister Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst.  All three had been members of the Nazi youth organizations, early supporters of Hitler and the Nazis.  Hans had served in the RAD, the National Labor Force. As a soldier on the Eastern front, Hans had observed first-hand Nazi atrocities against civilians, and became disillusioned with the German war effort.  Christoph Probst had served in the German army at a Luftwaffe (air force) base.  However, they lost their allegiance to Hitler in light of Nazi atrocities, and they were angered by Germany's loss of democracy and freedoms.  Their pamphlets denounced Hitler as a mass murderer and called upon Germans to resist the Nazi regime.

After the German defeat at Stalingrad, Hans and Sophie took a suitcase full of leaflets to the University of Munich, where they left small stacks of them outside the doors of classrooms.  However, they were observed by the janitor, who reported them to the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police.  They were arrested and tried in the so-called People's Court on February 22, 1943.  The trial was presided over by the notorious Roland Freisler, chief justice of the People's Court of the Greater German Reich, who had been sent from Berlin.

Roland Freisler, a dedicated Nazi, held show trials in which the accused were insulted and demeaned. This was no different:
He conducted the trial as if the future of the Reich were indeed at stake. He roared denunciations of the accused as if he were not the judge but the prosecutor. He behaved alternately like an actor ranting through an overwritten role in an implausible melodrama and a Grand Inquisitor calling down eternal damnation on the heads of the three irredeemable heretics before him. . . . No witnesses were called, since the defendants had admitted everything. The proceedings consisted almost entirely of Roland Freisler's denunciation and abuse, punctuated from time to time by half-hearted offerings from the court-appointed defense attorneys, one of whom summed up his case with the observation, “I can only say fiat justitia. Let justice be done.” By which he meant: Let the accused get what they deserve.
Sophie Scholl
Freisler found Hans, Sophie and Christoph guilty of high treason, and sentenced them to death by guillotine. Their executions were carried out on the same day, by executioners strangely attired in top hats.  Sophie went first, followed by Hans, and Christoph died last.  Later, the prison guards would recount the bravery with which the three had met their end, saying that Sophie did not bat an eyelash.  Her last words were "The sun still shines."  Her brother Hans shouted "Long live freedom!" as the blade fell.

Later, other members would follow the three to the guillotine, including a Munich philosophy professor, Kurt Huber, who had overseen the group.

The film about the trial and executions is called Sophie Scholl, the Final Days.  It can be viewed for free at YouTube, at this link.

Roland Freisler was later killed by an American bomb in Berlin.  On February 3, 1945, as he was preparing another trial with a predetermined verdict (death), the building in which he presided came under American bombing.  As he gathered his papers before seeking safety in a shelter, a bomb exploded through the roof and Freisler was crushed by a falling beam.  Good riddance.

After many years, the guillotine, on which the three were executed, was found in the basement of a German museum.  It is considered too grisly to put on display.  See it here.

Today, schools and squares all over Germany have been named in honor of the White Rose.  This small group today is a symbol of freedom and resistance to tyranny.  I know I will never forget their names:  Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst.  As Sophie said to her mother, shortly before her execution:  May we meet in eternity.

Postscript:  the White Rose authored and distributed six leaflets (a seventh was never finished and released).  Their English translations can be read at this link.

According to Wikipedia:
The White Rose had the last word. Their last leaflet was smuggled to the Allies, who edited it and air-dropped millions of copies over Germany.
Graves of Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl

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