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"We must do it for the sake of life itself" - the inspirational story of the White Rose

Posted by Alithea Williams on 22 February 2019


Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst in Munich in 1942. 

“Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes - crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure - reach the light of day?” – The first White Rose Leaflet

Today, Friday 22 February, marks 76 years since three German students were executed by the Nazis for leading a resistance movement against Hitler. On 18 February 1943, brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl, two of the group's core active members, were caught distributing leaflets at Munich University and arrested. They were soon joined in detention by their friend Christoph Probst, who was married with three young children. All three were given a perfunctory trial under the notorious Nazi judge Roland Freisler, sentenced to death and beheaded at Stadelheim Prison on 22 February 1943.

For decades, SPUC has taken inspiration from these brave students, taking the white rose as the symbol for our annual White Flower funding appeal.

The White Rose’s example of what can be achieved by standing up for what is right peacefully but with determination, even in the face of hostility and oppression, makes them an obvious model for pro-lifers. However, when I put on my historian’s hat and looked more deeply into their story and writings, I found much more to inspire pro-lifers today.

Speaking out against euthanasia

The Munich students were inspired to form the White Rose group after reading one of the famous sermons of Bishop (later Cardinal) Clemens von Galen. This sermon was the latest in a serious of denunciations of the evils of the Nazi regime, in which he revealed a horror equal to any of the better known crimes committed by the Third Reich - the forced euthanasia of the disabled and mentally ill. Hans Scholl said: "Finally someone has the courage to speak."

The white flower therefore links SPUC to a historic campaign of resistance to attacks against the right to life, including euthanasia. The whiteness of the rose symbolises innocent human life and the delicacy of a flower symbolises its vulnerability.

The importance of speaking out against evil

Many in Germany must have known of the evil being committed by the Nazis, but chose not to see it. Today, there remains a temptation to ignore the many evils that happen around us – to shield ourselves from the suffering of the unborn, of mothers, and of the vulnerable.

Hans Scholl knew this temptation well, writing to a friend: "Where does the truth lie? Should one go off and build a little house with flowers outside the windows and a garden outside the door and extol and thank God and turn one’s back on the world and its filth?"

But he knew that this was no option.

"Isn’t seclusion a form of treachery—of desertion?" he continued. "I’m weak and puny, but I want to do what is right."

Everybody can help to fight injustice

"Many, perhaps most, of the readers of these leaflets do not see clearly how they can practice an effective opposition," a White Rose pamphlet stated. "They do not see any avenues open to them."

When the "pro-choice" position is so prevalent, when abortion is promoted as healthcare by politicians and the media, and any dissent leads to accusations of bigotry and hatred, it can be very hard to see how to fight it.

The courageous White Rose members understood that these daunting odds were no excuse: “We want to try to show them that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of this system."

The White Rose used what abilities and resources they had to produce pamphlets and then distributed them to their closest audience: university students. They didn’t win the war, but they did what they could to stand for the truth, and are celebrated today for their willingness to do so, regardless of the consequences. We can all do our part, in whatever way we can, to stand for life.

Being young is no excuse

Being still (relatively!) young myself, and a founder of the Alliance of Pro-Life Students, the importance of students and young people in the pro-life movement is something very close to my heart.

Hans and Sophie Scholl were 24 and 21 when they died. The White Rose was made up of university students. As such, they are a particular inspiration to pro-life students, and indeed, the excellent film about the White Rose, The Last Days of Sophie Scholl has been shown at SPUC Youth Conferences (cheeky link to the upcoming one!).

After the war, when the full horrors of the Nazi regime were being laid bare in the Nuremburg trails, Traudl Junge, who had been Hitler’s personal secretary, told herself: "I wasn’t personally to blame and that I hadn’t known about those things. I wasn’t aware of the extent.

"But one day I went past the memorial plaque which had been put up for Sophie Scholl…, and I saw that she was born the same year as me, and she was executed the same year I started working for Hitler. And at that moment I actually sensed that it was no excuse to be young, and that it would have been possible to find things out."

"We must do it for the sake of life itself"

I’ll conclude with this quote from Christoph Probst:

"Then it is our duty by our behaviour and by our dedication to demonstrate that man’s freedom still exists.  Sooner or later the cause of humanity must be upheld, and then one day it will again prevail.  We must gamble our ‘No’ against this power which has arrogantly placed itself above the essential human values and which is determined to root out all protest.  We must do it for the sake of life itself—no one can absolve us of this responsibility."

A rallying cry for the pro-life movement if ever there was one.

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