My grandfather grew up in a socialist, anti-Nazi family at the time of the Third Reich in Germany, and I remember the stories he used to tell me about the resistance. .
One story that I remember vividly was about a young, courageous woman who, at the tender age of 21, was executed by the Nazis for fighting against their tyrannical regime. Her name was Sophie Scholl, and she was a student of biology and philosophy at the University of Munich during the years of Nazi-rule. Together with her brother Hans Scholl and his friends Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf and Christoph Probst, she began to resist the teachings, policies and propaganda of the Nazis. Inspired by students fighting racial discrimination in the United States, the group of friends established passive resistance movement which they named the “White Rose”.
The White Rose produced six leaflets between June 1943 and February 1943 in which they called upon people to resist the Nazi-regime without using violence. They urged the German population to restore democracy and social justice within the country and specifically encouraged students to be critical of the regime and to think for themselves. In their first leaflet the students wrote:
“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes – crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure – reach the light of day?”
In January 1943 the White Rose printed more than 6000 copies and distributed them via courier to a number of large German cities such as Berlin, Stuttgart and Hamburg. These leaflets encouraged the reader to share and disseminate the group’s messages.
After he finished drafting the seventh leaflet, the Gestapo found Hans Scholl in possession of it and began an extensive search for the other members of the White Rose.
In February 1943, Sophie Scholl distributed a full suitcase of leaflets inside the university building of Munich. The custodian called the police and soon after, all the members of the student-resistance movement were located and arrested.
In court, Sophie plead that “somebody after all, had to make a start” however, her arguments did not find favor and she was handed a death sentence. Her execution took place in Munich. Hans was also sentenced to death and during his execution; he famously shouted “Long live freedom”. The White Rose believed that after their deaths, the activism against Hitler would continue. However, only after the war were the efforts of the young students recognized by the German population.
What can we learn from the White Rose and Sophie Scholl’s engagement in the Anti-nazi resistance?
The current right-wing populist trend that threatens such values of the EU as solidarity, social justice and equality, should be a wakeup call for every European citizen. The xenophobic, anti-Muslim, racist and false propaganda that is spread by anti-European parties should teach us to come together and defend the values that we Europeans stand for.
Sophie Scholl and the White Rose is a great example that campaigning to restore democratic values and being active can help to make people conscious about the political systems in which they live. Critical thinking and knowledge are ways to reestablish freedom and justice in a society in order to shape political agendas towards a more just system in which every human being is treated equally regardless of religion, skin color, gender or background. It is necessary that young Europeans spread their knowledge and their ideas in order to bring Europe back on to the right path. As the White Rose wrote in their fourth leaflet:
“Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the protection of individual citizens from the arbitrary will of criminal regimes of violence-these will be the bases of the New Europe.”
This New Europe that the White Rose described it in their writings, has existed since the end of the Second World War. In response to the new trends that threaten these values, we should start to be more in engaged and active in politics and resist populism and extremism by spreading our knowledge and making people aware of the situations we are facing, as well as the risks we are taking if we do not stand up for our European beliefs and values.
“But out of love for coming generations we must make an example after the conclusion of the war, so that no one will ever again have the slightest urge to try a similar action”