February 18th 1943 sees the members of the White Rose, including Sophie and Hans Scholl, being arrested by the Gestapo at Munich University for handing out leaflets.
The White Rose were one of a number of anti-Nazi groups who, unlike others, for example the Edelweiss Pirates, engaged in entirely non-violent and largely intellectual resistance towards the Third Reich. The group was formed of students and professors from the University of Munich, a task made incredibly difficult due to the existence of not only the Gestapo but also the National Socialist Teachers League, a Nazi-run organisation with compulsory membership which effectively monitored teaching staff.
Despite all of this, and despite the violent consequences that had been seen when others had stood up to the Nazis, Sophie and Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst stood alongside many others publishing and printing leaflets condemning the Nazis. In total they published six with around 15,000 copies. There second pamphlet is notable for its brave tone in condemning the persecution and mass murder of Jews, the scale of which was still largely hidden from the German people.
As you may know from our other On This Day from February 2nd, this period of the Second World War was one of the most devastating of the entire conflict for the Germans, with them losing over 700,000 soldiers. Although this turn of events had allowed the White Rose to evade the Nazi security forces for a time due to the disruption, when, 74 years to the day, Hans and Sophie began giving out pamphlets at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the Nazis reacted brutally.
Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”
– Sophie Scholl at her trial on February 22nd 1943
Although declared unlawful following the end of the Nazi reign, just four days after their passing of leaflets in Munich, Judge Roland Freisler ordered their execution. They were executed just hours later. Hans and Sophie are remembered today as heroes who stood up against the totalitarian state whilst others coward below it. As many ponder the protests against other world leaders, both democratic and dictatorial, it is worth remembering those who came before and gave their lives in defence of others.