NONVIOLENCE IN WORLD WAR TWO
WHAT HAPPENED IN GERMANY

 
 
 STUDY AND TEACHING
 RESOURCES
   
     

 
 

INTRODUCTION

GERMANY
- the students
- the christians
- the women

NORWAY
DENMARK


- further reading



Sophie Scholl

 


There have always been people prepared to risk their lives in the struggle to resist war, and there is a too-seldom summoned roll-call of those whose resistance has been, on principle, nonviolent. Here are some of the names from that peace-dedicated and inspiring roll of honour. They are all citizens of Germany’s Third Reich, who looked for and found ways to resist Nazi oppression. ‘Not all my people are like this,’ cried a Quaker German girl physically assaulted by a shopkeeper because she didn’t give the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute.



The students

In Germany, 1933 was a year of hope. ‘It can only get better’, proclaimed the media, now Adolf Hitler was at the helm: the miseries of the previous, post-war, decade would soon be over. Across the country, people’s spirits lifted.

That year, Hans Scholl was 15 and his sister Sophie 12, both eager to join their local branches of the new Hitler Youth and German Girls’ League. Their enthusiasm didn’t last. Sophie was distressed to find that Jewish friends were excluded; already fiercely dedicated to ideals of freedom and tolerance, she left the League. Hans was troubled by the baffling restrictions on the music he played, the books he read, and Hitler Youth’s military discipline was alien to him. Chosen to be his troop’s flagbearer for the 1935 Nazi Party rally, Hans came home a changed and sombre person. So the Scholls turned to the old Youth Movement, now illegal and operating underground. After war began, Hans, as a medical orderly (compulsory during university vacations), observed the brutal treatment of Jews and prisoners-of-war on the eastern front; Sophie, forced into auxiliary war work before she could continue her education, endured postings in bleak camps, barracks and factories, supporting a war she knew was wrong.

‘We grew up in a state in which all free expression of opinion is unscrupulously repressed. The Hitler Youth, the SA, the SS have tried to stupefy us, subvert us, regiment us, in the brightest years of our lives. We want genuine learning, real freedom of opinion.’ – words from a leaflet for students by Kurt Huber, a professor at Munich University. It was the last in a series printed and distributed by the White Rose, a resistance movement founded in 1942 by a group of Munich students, including the Scholls, and Huber. Their call was for ‘passive resistance,’ and in particular nonviolent sabotage, against the Nazi regime.

It was copies of Huber’s leaflet that Hans and Sophie Scholl scattered through the university lecture rooms early in the morning of February 18, 1943. In a final gesture they let the last copies flutter down from an upper landing into the inner courtyard. The Scholls were spotted by the caretaker, who locked the doors and called the Gestapo.

After months of covert leaflet-distribution – through letterboxes at night, through the mail from different towns and cities (using stamps bought a few at a time from scattered post offices, and addresses drawn at random from directories) – this last act seems rash. Perhaps Sophie almost wanted to be caught: she had said, ‘So many people have died for this government, it’s time someone died against it.’ Perhaps, among like-minded students and professors, they felt briefly safe. They were not: they were imprisoned, tried (by Hitler’s notorious ‘hanging judge’, the hostile and unbalanced Roland Freisler), and beheaded on February 22. Hans was 25, Sophie 22.

Despite the Scholls’ repeated assertions that they alone were responsible, their friends were also punished with prison or death. Kurt Huber was executed on July 13. His purpose, he wrote, had been ‘to rouse students not to any act of violence but to insight into the existing evils in political life. A return to clear moral principles, a constitutional state and mutual trust among people: this is not an illegal aim, it means the restoration of legality’.

In 1953 a memorial ceremony was held for the White Rose. The German president said: ‘The courageous death of these young people, who pitted integrity of mind and courage to voice the truth against empty rhetoric and the lie, became a victory at the moment when their life was cut off.’

Outside the university, squares have been named after the Scholls and Kurt Huber. The floor of the university courtyard has been re-tiled, with images of the leaflets that had lain there incorporated into the design. In Hamburg, one of several cities to which the White Rose movement spread, Sophie has a street named after her. Their graves are well-tended, planted with white roses.

Hans’ last words before his execution were ‘Long live freedom’. At her trial Sophie said, ‘What we said and wrote is what many people are thinking. Only they don’t dare to say it’.

 
 

 

 

 

 
         
         
         
     

  

 
         
 

 Fri, May 10, 2002

 

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