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Standing up to Hitler

Pat Kinsella tells the story of the homegrown German resistance movement that blossomed in the jaws of the wolf during the Nazis’ reign of terror
There were five core members of the White Rose: Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Christoph Probst (left to right) plus Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf
GEORGE (JÜRGEN) WITTENSTEIN/AKG-IMAGES

Shortly after 5pm on the afternoon of 22 February 1943, hours after being convicted of treason, a German medical student was led towards a guillotine in Munich’s Stadelheim Prison. As the blade fell, 24-year-old Hans Scholl uttered a rebel yell: “Es lebe die Freiheit!” (“Long live freedom!”)

The brother and sister who stood up to Hitler: Hans Scholl (top left) was a founding member of the White Rose, though in time his sister Sophie (left) would become an equal partner

Hans’ younger sister had been beheaded on the same killing machine moments earlier. She was just 21 years old but, according to the accounts of those present, Sophie Scholl met her fate with a degree of composure that haunted them thereafter.

“Such a fine, sunny day and I have to go,” she apparently remarked. “But what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

The Scholls had been caught distributing leaflets criticising Hitler and the Tird Reich, and predicting defeat in the brutal war that was raging around the world, most ferociously on the Eastern Front, where the Axis powers were locked in terrible combat with the Soviet Union.

The Führer inspects the Hitler Youth during the 1936 Nuremberg Rally – watched on, somewhere in the ranks, by Hans
GEORGE (JÜRGEN) WITTENSTEIN/AKG-IMAGES X3, ALAMY X4, GETTY X1, TOPFOTO X1

The siblings were members of a nonviolent movement called the White Rose, which encouraged resistance to the Nazi regime. The group was comprised of around 30 young activists, and its ambitions and reach had been growing following Germany’s defeat during the Battle of Stalingrad.

Sophie’s prophecy that their blood sacrifice would spur thousands into action was wildly optimistic in the light of the prevailing political conditions within Germany at the height of World War II. But the Scholls’ deaths – and those of their comrades – did awaken and stir the consciences of thousands, even millions, albeit not fully until after the war.

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About BBC History Revealed

Egyptologist Chris Naunton takes us on a tour of the greatest discoveries found in Egypt down the centuries. Plus: We look at the German resistance movements that stood up to Hitler, the tragic tale of the nine-day queen – Lady Jane Grey and the fall from grace of one of America’s once most-beloved politicians, Richard Nixon.