The Scholls, the White Rose, and Resistance to Tyranny

What was it that sustained these freedom fighters during such difficult times?

Hans and Sophie Scholl and the White Rose movement are well known historical figures, and they have often been discussed on this site. For daring to take a stand against the ruthless Nazi regime many of them were caught and executed by the Gestapo. In February of 1943 for example Sophie and Hans were beheaded – she was just 21 years old while her brother was 24.

Those not familiar with their inspiring story can peruse earlier pieces, such as the following:

Having covered many of the particulars of the White Rose movement already, here I want to look at what was the motivating factor behind all this. What drove them on? Obviously a revulsion to what Hitler and the Nazis stood for was a key factor, along with the treatment of the Jews, but related concerns – including Christian concerns – also played a big part in this.

Many of the members of the White Rose movement knew that what was happening in Germany was NOT compatible with what Christianity affirmed. Moreover, this faith led them to not just disapprove, but actively resist, what was happening in Germany and beyond.

Let me begin by looking at how this resistance took shape. As most of us know, they were quite active in the widespread distribution of mimeographed leaflets and pamphlets, denouncing the regime and urging others to resist the Nazi menace.

Part of how the group communicated was through a series of commentaries on what was happening. Articles and essays were circulated, and they became known as the publication Windlicht (‘Storm Lantern’ or ‘Hurricane Lamp’). It followed on from Hochland (Highland’), an underground journal edited by the Catholic professor Carl Muth which had recently been banned. While understandably veiled in content, it was a form of resistance.

Richard Hanser says this about their work:

Hans and Sophie, when they were home, also contributed to Windlicht, which, in a veiled and guarded way, became a form of resistance for the whole Scholl circle. The essays and commentaries were all cultural in tone; there were no political pieces as such and no direct attacks on the regime….


The essays and commentaries were designed to reflect an attitude, a cast of mind. Windlicht was a kind of signal to the like-minded to let them know that they were not totally alone in the totalitarian darkness. The authorities were lulled by the frequency of religious, and even theological, discussions in Windlicht, which made the paper seem more nonpolitical and innocuous than it actually was. But for the Scholl circle, the study and practice of Christianity were themselves forms of protest, since the Christian ideal was at the furthest possible remove from National Socialism. To immerse oneself in Christian doctrine and belief was a way of putting distance between oneself and Nazism, immunizing oneself against the ideological contagion that held so many Germans in its grip.


A source of growing distress for Hans Scholl was that the church, in both its denominations, had accepted Adolf Hitler so readily in the beginning and remained so uncritical of him since. Once in the family circle he expressed his concern about the lack of protest, the general apathy, of the Christian leadership in Germany in the face of the manifest crimes of the Nazi regime. “It is high time that Christians made up their minds to do something”, he said. “What are we going to have to show in the way of resistance—as compared to the Communists, for instance—when this terror is over? We will be standing there empty-handed. We will have no answer when we are asked: ‘What did you do about it?’” (Hanser, pp. 102-103)

Image of A Noble Treason: The Story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Revolt Against Hitler
A Noble Treason: The Story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Revolt Against Hitler by Hanser, Richard (Author) Amazon logo

The White Rose movement was not the only source of resistance to German tyranny of course. In terms of religious opposition, while too many in both the Catholic and Lutheran churches were willing to stay silent, there was a brave minority. This included the Confessing Church of which the Lutheran pastors Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller were a part. Catholic resisters included Dietrich von Hildebrand, and August von Galen, the bishop of Munster (who greatly impacted the Scholls).

But too few spoke out, and too many chose the path of cowardice. Another writer (although borrowing too directly from Hanser above!) puts it this way:

For individuals or families like the Scholls, the study and practice of Christianity were themselves forms of low-level protest against the regime, as well as a means of immunisation against the ideological contagion that was infecting all Germans. But whilst they drew solace from religion, there was a sense in which they felt unsupported by the leaders of the two main Christian denominations – the Catholic Church and the Protestant (Lutheran) Landeskirchen – which, after the initial decision to try to work with the new Chancellor, had maintained a public silence in the face of mounting outrages. In the Concordat of July 1933 between Germany and the Holy See, the Catholic Church had agreed to withdraw from all political activity, and since then had pursued a policy of avoiding confrontation with the regime in the hope of preserving its core institutions. This became increasingly difficult as the state increased its grip and became ever bolder in its actions… (Shrimpton, p. 77)

Another individual worth mentioning here is the writer and cultural critic Theodor Haecker. He had close connections with the Scholls and the White Rose group, and clearly saw the total antithesis between Christianity and Nazism. As he stated:

We, as a nation, apostatized the 30th January, 1933. Since then, as a nation, we have been on the wrong road, on the wrong side. Yet even now there are few among us who suspect what it means: to be on the wrong road and the wrong side. . . . The National Socialist man must always have existed in the world. How otherwise could it be possible that the Bible continually warns against him? (quoted in Hanser, pp. 123-124)

Hanser goes on to say this:

All this was part of the “spiritual resistance” that Hans Scholl was absorbing from minds he admired and respected. (If resistance is too strong a word to apply to unpublished opinion and private speech, then nonacceptance must serve, but even this had its virtue at a time when mental and physical terror enforced conformity and acquiescence everywhere and on all levels.) Hans’ own belief that Germany was on the wrong road and on the wrong side was confirmed and strengthened. His feeling that just men acting together not only could redeem his nation but were obligated as Christians to do so hardened into conviction. All the elements—intellectual, moral, spiritual —that would support and justify the transition from nonacceptance into actual resistance were gathering strength within him. The questioner was ready to become the answerer as well. And a saying of Theodor Haecker’s had sunk into his mind, and burned there: “An idea achieves its full value and significance only when it is converted into reality by action.”

It is clear that religious convictions provided the main underpinning of the movement. Although there was a variety of political and social views, religious persuasions were predominant. Some, like Willi Graf and Katharina Schüddekopf were committed Catholics. One or two were religious but not Christian.

But just as most Germans back then were Christian (during the time the German population had around 20 million Catholics and 40 million Protestants), so most of those in the White Rose movement were Christians as well, and it was their faith that sustained them through it all.

Various closing quotes can be offered here. Let me offer just two. Hans had said this for example: “If Christ hadn’t lived and hadn’t died, there would truly be no way out at all. Then all the weeping would be horribly meaningless. Then one would have to run against a wall and smash one’s scull. But as it is, no.”

And one quote from Sophie as she awaits the fate of her father who was arrested in 1942 by the Gestapo:

My God, I can only address you falteringly. I can only offer you my heart, which is wrested away from you by a thousand desires. Being so weak that I cannot remain facing you of my own free will, I destroy what distracts me from you and force myself to turn to you, for I know that I’m happy with you alone. Oh, how far I am from you, and the best thing about me is the pain I feel on that account. But I’m often so torpid and apathetic. Help me to be singlehearted and remain with me. If I could only once call you Father, but I can hardly address you as “YOU.” I do so [as one that speaks] to a great Unknown. I know that you’ll accept me if I’m sincere, and that you’ll hear me if I cling to you. Teach me to pray. Better to suffer intolerable pain than to vegetate insensibly. Better to be parched with thirst, better to pray for pain, pain, and more pain, than to feel empty, and to feel so without truly feeling at all. That I mean to resist.

It took a faith in something far greater and far more noble than the Nazi mindset to withstand its terror and lies. The Christian worldview offered a faith that could stand above Hitler and his ideology and judge it from eternal standards and a heavenly perspective.

We need the same thing today as we assess all ideologies, all political movements, and all statist ambitions – even to the place of active resistance of some sort.

For further reading

Axelrod, Toby, Hans and Sophie Scholl. Rosen Publishing, 2001.
Dumbach, Annette and Jud Newborn, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose. Oneworld Publications, 1986, 2018.
Hanser, Richard, A Noble Treason: The Story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Revolt Against Hitler. Ignatius, 1979, 2012.
McDonough, Frank, Sophie Scholl: The Real Story of the Woman Who Defied Hitler. History Press, 2009, 2010.
Scholl, Hans and Sophie Scholl, Inge Jens, ed., At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl. Plough Publishing, 2017.
Scholl, Inge, The White Rose: Munich, 1942–1943, 2d ed. Wesleyan, 1952, 1983.
Shrimpton, Paul, Conscience Before Conformity: Hans and Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Student Revolt in Nazi Germany. Gracewing Pub., 2018.

Also, the 2005 German film, Sophie Scholl – The Final Days is another resource worth watching:

And see this brief video on the White Rose movement:

[1734 words]

7 Replies to “The Scholls, the White Rose, and Resistance to Tyranny”

  1. Thanks Bill but I cannot get those last two videos – it may be my DuckDuckGo browser saying they are unavailable.

  2. I bought the DVD Sophie Scholl the Final Days in 2006. I marveled then and still do now on how our nation is so close to doing to its people like Germany did to its people back then.

  3. Sophies words really spoke to me….I could hear her German accent…Amen to all she said.

    Videos are no longer available unfortunately….I worked with the current White Rose movement..(during lock down esp.).regarding standing against medical tyranny etc.

  4. Here is a stirring protest video which also happens to feature a clip from the film “Sophie Scholls – The Final Days” at around 4:10.

    But please watch the whole video which reports on the rampant advance of Islam. In this video, the Islamic call to prayer is performed inside the Memorial church to Martin Luther in the Rhineland city of Speyer, when a brave German lady launches her spirited protest in 2013.

    Since then, the Islamic call to prayer has been boldly sounded in many strategic locations in “Christian” countries – inside and outside – including Downing Street in the UK recently, where the sinister words “from the river to the sea” were also chanted with impunity.

  5. Thank you so much for this excellent article, Bill. The White Rose group have always been a shining example of speaking truth to power, and murderous totalitarian power at that- and the costs and consequences of doing so, but they chose to continue their courageous witness, even at the cost of their lives. Sadly, though, as you have so rightly observed above, the German Catholic and Lutheran Churches were indeed poisoned by their own history of condoning and facilitating antisemitism over the centuries. There was a Nazi antisemitic “German Christian” movement which exploited this and excused and condoned the atrocities, cruelty and brutality of Hitler’s genocidal dictatorship in particular.

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