The History Place - Points of View

Memories of the White Rose
by George J. Wittenstein, M. D.

Trial and Aftermath

Section Four of Four

Hitler's reaction was swift - the "People's Court" was called into session only four days later; and, in a trial lasting barely four hours, the two Scholls and Christoph Probst were sentenced to death by beheading. Fortunately, I had managed to call the Scholl parents, who lived in Ulm, urging them to come to Munich immediately. I met them at the railroad station and took them directly to the Palace of Justice, where the trial was already in progress. (I don't need to mention that this was a very dangerous thing for me to do). But otherwise they would not have seen their children alive. For the three were executed the same afternoon. According to historical reports, during their last few steps to the guillotine Christoph Probst said: "We shall see each other again in a few minutes," and Hans Scholl shouted loudly: "Long live freedom!"

So fast and brutal was the action of the Nazi officials, so great their haste to erase this danger to themselves, so seriously did they take this threat, that no news of the incident were released until after the executions.

Alex Schmorell was still at large. Under a ruse I managed to leave the barracks to which we had been confined since the arrests, and meet his father in his office, to apprise him that my family could hide Alex on our country estate and perhaps smuggle him into Switzerland. Only much later did I learn that Alex had tried to escape to Switzerland, but had to turn back because of deep snow. He was arrested during an air raid in Munich, betrayed by a former girlfriend.

A second trial took place on April 19, at which Schmorell, Graf and Huber were sentenced to death, others to forced labor. Professor Huber gave an impassioned speech in his defense before the People's Court. To quote just a few sentences: ".....I demand the return of freedom to the German people…" and, quoting the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte "......and you must act as though the fate of Germany depended entirely upon you and your actions, and all responsibility were yours alone….."

These three had to wait a long time for the guillotine. All appeals were in vain. Schmorell and Huber were finally executed on July 13, 1944, and Willi Graf on October 12. Kurt Huber had completed his major opus on Leibniz while in prison.

To illustrate how Huber saw his anti-Nazi activity, let me quote a brief excerpt from a poem which he wrote from prison to his four year old son explaining to him that his father did not die a traitor:

"....I died for Germany's FREEDOM, for TRUTH and HONOR. Faithfully, I served these three until my very last heartbeat…."

The brutality of the Nazi regime is illustrated by the bill for 600 Marks which Mrs. Huber received for "wear of the guillotine." When she told the official that there was no way she could get such a sum, which amounted to twice her husband's erstwhile monthly salary, he replied: "Maybe we can give you a (quantity) discount, after all, we have so many of them these days…"

There were other groups, more arrests and executions of people loosely connected with the White Rose.

I should like to mention the only successful military putsch against the Nazi Regime, called the 'Freiheitsaktion Bayern' (Bavarian Action For Freedom), with which I was also connected. The commander of a training unit for interpreters, Dr. Rupprecht Gerngross, had secretly armed his officially unarmed company, and arranged that virtually all members were opponents of the regime. As the American army approached Bavaria, his troops occupied Radio Munich, appealing to the citizenry to arrest Nazi functionaries, and to display white sheets (which was punishable by death). They arrested the Reichsstatthalter, the Nazi appointed governor of Bavaria. In the ensuing battle there were many casualties. Unfortunately, this important action which saved numerous civilian lives, and saved Munich from the total destruction which Hitler had ordered, is rarely mentioned.

I am often asked how I happened to survive:

Only after the war did I find out details: The Gestapo had suspected me right from the beginning, was hot on my trail, and continued surveillance and to investigate me. My company commander told me after the war that the Gestapo had looked for me and questioned him about me on numerous occasions. He himself suspected by then, that I had been involved in the White Rose activities because he, of course, knew of my close friendship with the ones arrested and executed. He took it upon himself to deliberately lead the Gestapo astray. To this day I am not sure what his reasons or motivations had been: whether it was on humanitarian grounds, whether he himself was against Hitler, or simply because he was so irate that the authority of the military was subjugated to the whims of the party; for the political arm of the government (the Party) had illegally interfered with the authority of the military by arresting, trying, and executing his men without as much as consulting him. (In fact, after the arrests he gave me explicit permission to use my weapon if the Gestapo tried to arrest me). This, of course, would have been senseless, but it does reflect his indignation. I have often wondered about how intelligent or circumspect he himself had been, for to use my weapon against the Gestapo would have been suicide. This makes me think that this statement was a spontaneous, emotional reaction. Whatever it had been, I was obviously protected while in the barracks under his command. He may well have saved my life.

During interrogations by the Gestapo and later by a military court (for offering help to a Jewish woman whose son had been executed, offering her refuge and to help smuggle her out of Germany) I was able to deny any involvement. However, when I learned via my connections to the Freiheitsaktion Bayern, that the Gestapo once again were on my trail I realized that I might not have another chance. Since I could not flee Germany, my only possibility to escape the Gestapo was to request transfer to the front, something one usually did not volunteer for. But the front was the only place where the Gestapo did NOT have jurisdiction, thus the ONLY "safe" place for someone like myself. I was wounded at the Italian front.

Let me close by reading the sixth and last leaflet. It was written by Kurt Huber after the fall of Stalingrad and distributed by Hans and Sophie Scholl in the main building of the University on that fateful 18th of February, 1943:

"Fellow Students,

Deeply shaken, our people behold the loss of the men of Stalingrad. 330,000 German men have been senselessly and irresponsibly driven to their deaths and destruction by the ingenious strategy of the WWI private. Führer, we thank you!" ("Führer, wir danken Dir" was the slogan used over and over at all mass rallies and appeared elsewhere on huge banners. The text continues:)

"The German people are in ferment. Do we wish to continue entrusting the fate of our armies to this dilettante? Do we want to sacrifice the remainder of our German youth to the base ambitions of a Party clique? No, never! The day of reckoning has come, the reckoning of our German youth with the most abominable tyranny our people has ever endured. In the name of the entire German people we demand of Adolf Hitler's state the return of personal freedom, the most precious treasure of the Germans which he cunningly has cheated us out of."

"We have grown up under a government which deprived us ruthlessly of free speech. Hitler Youth, SA, SS have done their utmost to force us into uniforms, revolutionize and anesthetize us during the most promising years of our lives, normally devoted to acquiring education. "Ideological training" they termed this despicable method of stifling in a fog of empty phrases, our budding ability to think and judge for ourselves. Demonic and narrow minded at once, they train future party bigwigs in "castles of the knightly order" to become godless, insolent and unscrupulous exploiters and murderers, to blindly and stupidly follow their Führer. They think us intellectuals appropriate stooges to fashion bludgeons for them so that they may rule."

"Experienced soldiers are disciplined like school boys by political aspirants, Gauleiters lewdly insult the honor of female students. German female students at the University of Munich gave a dignified response to the besmirching of their honor, and male students defended and stood firm on behalf of those women. That is a beginning of our struggle for self-determination without which intellectual and spiritual values cannot be created. We owe our thanks to the brave comrades, both men and women, who have given us this brilliant example."

He goes on to say that there is only one option: "battle against the Party, leave the Party. Let us boycott lectures given by political stooges. We seek true science and genuine intellectual freedom. None of your threats can mortify us, not even closure of our universities. Every one of us must struggle for our future, freedom, and for a regime conscious of its moral responsibility."

"FREEDOM AND HONOR. For ten Years Hitler and his accomplices have abused, distorted, debased these noble German words ad nauseam, as dilettantes do who cast the most precious values of a nation to the swine. During this ten year destruction of all material and spiritual values they have shown the German people what freedom and honor mean to them. This horrible blood bath which they have caused throughout Europe has opened the eyes of even the most naive and simpleminded German.....The name of Germany will be dishonored forever, lest German youth finally rise to simultaneously avenge and atone, to smash its tormentors and invoke a new intellectual and spiritual Europe."

He then reminds students that the people are looking to them for action to rescue the nation from National Socialism, as an earlier generation of Germans had saved the nation from Napoleon and calls out to them:

"Stalingrad's dead implore us" - "Frischauf, mein Volk, die Flammenzeichen rauchen!"

(Rise up, my people, the fiery beacons beckon!)

Copyright © 1997 by Dr. George Wittenstein All Rights Reserved

Partial transcript of the Sentence of Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst, February 22, 1943.

In the Name of the German People
In the action against

1. Hans Fritz Scholl, Munich, born at Ingersheim, September 22, 1918,

2. Sophia Magdalena Scholl, Munich, born at Forchtenberg, May 9, 1921, and

3. Christoph Hermann Probst, of Aldrans bei Innsbruck, born at Murnau, November 6, 1919,

now in investigative custody regarding treasonous assistance to the enemy, preparing to commit high treason, and weakening of the nation's armed security, the People's Court, first Senate, pursuant to the trial held on February 22, 1943, in which the officers were:

President of the People's Court Dr. Freisler, Presiding, Director of the Regional (Bavarian) Judiciary Stier, SS Group Leader Breithaupt, SA Group Leader Bunge, State Secretary and SA Group Leader Köglmaier, and, representing the Attorney General to the Supreme Court of the Reich, Reich Attorney Weyersberg,


That the accused have in time of war by means of leaflets called for the sabotage of the war effort and armaments and for the overthrow of the National Socialist way of life of our people, have propagated defeatist ideas, and have most vulgarly defamed the Führer, thereby giving aid to the enemy of the Reich and weakening the armed security of the nation.

On this account they are to be punished by Death.

Their honor and rights as citizens are forfeited for all time.

Partial transcript of the Sentence of Alexander Schmorell, Kurt Huber, Wilhelm Graf, and others associated with the White Rose, pursuant to the Trial held on April 19, 1943.

In the Name of the German People
In the action against

1. Alexander Schmorell, Munich, born on September 16, 1917, in Orenburg (Russia);

2. Kurt Huber, Munich, born October 24, 1893, in Chur (Switzerland);

3. Wilhelm Graf, Munich, born January 2, 1918, in Kuchenheim;

4. Hans Hirzel, Ulm, born on October 30, 1924, in Untersteinbach (Stuttgart);

5. Susanne Hirzel, Stuttgart, born on August 7, 1921, in Untersteinbach;

6. Franz Joseph Müller, Ulm, born on September 8, 1924, in Ulm;

7. Heinrich Guter, Ulm, born on January 11, 1925, in Ulm;

8. Eugen Grimminger, Stuttgart, born on July 29, 1892, in Crailsheim;

9. Dr. Heinrich Philipp Bollinger, Freiburg, born on April 23, 1916, in Saarbrücken;

10. Helmut Karl Theodore August Bauer, Freiburg, born on June 19, 1919, in Saarbrücken;

11. Dr. Falk Erich Walter Harnack, Chemnitz, born on March 2, 1913, in Stuttgart;

12. Gisela Scheriling, Munich, born on February 9, 1922, in Pössneck (Thüringen);

13. Katharina Schüddekopf, Munich, born on February 8, 1916, in Magdeburg;

14. Traute Lafrenz, Munich, born on May 3, 1919, in Hamburg;

at present in investigative custody, regarding rendering aid to the enemy, inter alia, the People's Court, first Senate, pursuant to the trial held on April 19, 1943, in which the officers were:

President of the People's Court Dr. Freisler, Presiding, Director of the Regional (Bavarian) Judiciary Stier, SS Group Leader and Lt. Gen. of the Waffen-SS Breithaupt, SA Group Leader Bunge, SA Group Leader and State Secretary Köglmaier, and, representing the Reich Attorney General, First State's Attorney Bischoff,


That Alexander Schmorell, Kurt Huber, and Wilhelm Graf in time of war have promulgated leaflets calling for sabotage of the war effort and for the overthrow of the National Socialist way of life of our people; have propagated defeatist ideas, and have most vulgarly defamed the Führer, thereby giving aid to the enemy of the Reich and weakening the armed security of the nation.

On this account they are to be punished by Death.

Their honor and rights as citizens are forfeited for all time.

Eugen Grimminger gave money to a person guilty of high treason in aid of the enemy. To be sure, he was not aware that by so doing he was aiding the enemy of the Reich. However, he was aware that this person might use the money for the purpose of robbing our people of their National Socialist way of life. Because he gave support to high treason, he is sentenced to jail for a ten-year term, together with loss of honorable estate for ten years.

Heinrich Bollinger and Helmut Bauer had knowledge of treasonable conspiracy but failed to report it. In addition, the two listened to foreign radio newscasts dealing with the war and with events inside Germany. For this they are sentenced to jail for a term of seven years and loss of citizen's honor for seven years.

Hans Hirzel and Franz Müller - both immature boys misled by enemies of the state - gave support to the spread of treasonous propaganda against National Socialism. For this action they are sentenced to five years' imprisonment.

Heinrich Guter had knowledge of propagandistic intentions of this sort but failed to report them. For this he is sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment.

Gisela Schertling, Katharina Schüddekopf, and Traute Lafrenz committed the same crimes. As girls, they are sentenced to one year's imprisonment.

Susanne Hirzel assisted in the distribution of treasonous leaflets. To be sure, she was not aware of their treasonous nature, but she was guilty in that in her inexcusable credulousness and good faith she did not seek certainty concerning the matter. She is sentenced to six months' imprisonment.

In the case of all the accused who have been sentenced to jail or imprisonment, the People's Court will accept as part of the punishment the time already spent in police and investigative custody.

Falk Harnack likewise failed to report his knowledge of treasonous activity. But such unique and special circumstances surround his case that we find ourselves unable to punish his deed of omission. He is accordingly set free.

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