Exhibition Catalogue

This is an edited version of the catalogue by Alex Lloyd which accompanied the exhibition ‘The White Rose: Reading, Writing, Resistance’, held at the Taylor Institution Library in October and November 2018. There is, of course, a good deal more to be said about the White Rose group than can be presented in a handful of exhibition cabinets. Our intention was to show a snapshot of their lives, their resistance activities, and their enduring legacy, through examples of what they read and wrote. The exhibition displayed items from the world-class holdings of the Taylor Institution Library and the Bodleian Library. Where possible we have exhibited editions comparable or identical to those which the White Rose members read. We also included information and artefacts relating to the Nazi book burnings, older examples of resistance through reading and writing, and the White Rose’s legacy in literature and film.

Cabinet 1 — The White Rose Resistance Group

Sibylle Bassler, Die Weiße Rose: Zeitzeugen erinnern sich (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 2006)

The White Rose Group extended beyond Munich, and many individuals were involved. Sibylle Bassler’s 2006 text Die Weiße Rose: Zeitzeugen erinnern sich (The White Rose: Witnesses Remember) brings together accounts by many of those who knew the Scholls and had assisted in, been aware of, or participated in the group’s activities, including Elisabeth Hartnagel, Traute Lafrenz, Anneliese Knoop-Graf, Jürgen Wittenstein, Lilo Fürst-Ramdohr, Franz J. Müller, Susanne Zeller-Hirzel, and Hildegard Hamm-Brücher.

Kurt Huber, Leibniz (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1951)

Kurt Huber taught philosophy and music at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. His lectures were popular with students, including members of the White Rose. During his sentencing on 19 April 1943, Huber was referred to as ‘a blemish against German scholarship’ (‘ein Schandfleck der deutschen Wissenschaft’).[1] The presiding judge declared: ‘The days when every man can be allowed to profess his own political “beliefs” are past. For us there is but one standard: the National Socialist one. Against this we measure each man!’[2]

Huber was working on a biography of the philosopher Leibniz when he was arrested and continued to do so throughout his imprisonment. He was executed on 13 July 1943. Huber’s manuscript was published posthumously by his wife and his research assistant. After Huber’s death, the government billed his wife for the costs of the execution.

Two students, Hans Leipelt (1921-1945) and Marie-Luise Jahn (1918-2010), made copies of the sixth White Rose pamphlet and distributed them in Hamburg. They also collected money for Huber’s widow, and it was while doing this that they were caught, tried, and sentenced. Jahn received a 12-year prison sentence. Leipelt was sentenced to death and executed at Stadelheim Prison on 29 January 1945.

Inge Scholl, Die Weiße Rose (Frankfurt A.M.: Fischer, 1956)  

One of the most important accounts of the White Rose was written by one of the Scholl siblings, Inge, and first published in West Germany in 1952. Die Weiße Rose (The White Rose) is a document of witness, consisting of a first-person retrospective account by Inge Scholl, as well as copies of the leaflets, documents from the first two White Rose trials, and eye-witness statements. It has been published in several editions since the 1950s.

Cabinet 2 — How reading shaped the path to resistance

We know that Hans and Sophie had been enthusiastic members of the Hitler Youth, so what made their attitudes shift? One answer may lie in the fact that they were voracious readers. Their letters and diaries make frequent mention of the books they and their friends were reading, and they sometimes read communally, reading passages aloud in turn. By looking at what they read, we also get a valuable insight into the character of these young people. The materials here show some examples of the literature that influenced their intellectual and moral development.

Georges Bernanos, Journal d’un curé de campagne (The Diary of a Country Priest) (Paris: Plon, 1936)

In the winter of 1940 Sophie went on a skiing trip in Tyrol with some of her siblings and friends. In the evenings they read aloud from Georges Bernanos’ novel, Journal d’un curé de campagne (The Diary of a Country Priest). Set in Ambricourt (northern France), it tells the story of a new priest struggling with the responsibilities of his parish. Bernanos was a fierce critic of Hitler and German fascism.  The Diary of a Country Priest obviously made a great impression on Sophie who recommended the work to her fiancé Fritz Hartnagel.

Gottfried Keller, ‘Die öffentlichen Verleumder’, in Sämtliche Werke, ed. by Jonas Fränkel & Carl Helbling (Bern; Leipzig: Benteli, 1926–1949), pp. 338–39

On 1 May 1942 Sophie arrived in Munich to begin her studies. Eight days later she celebrated her 21st birthday with a party, together with Hans, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, and others. In the course of the festivities the friends played a game: they each had to recite a poem and the others should guess who it was by. Hans came up with a poem which no-one knew, and no-one could guess the author. It turned out to be Gottfried Keller’s ‘Die öffentlichen Verleumder’ (‘The Public Slanderers’), a poem written in response to the public vilification of a Zurich hospital director in 1878. There were obvious parallels with their own political situation, and the friends jokingly suggested that they should duplicate and distribute the poem. The Munich students’ party ended in the Englischer Garten — a large park near the university — where they drank and sang while Hans played the guitar and Alexander played the balalaika.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Двойник (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970)

On a skiing trip taken by Sophie, Hans, and others in the winter of 1941, they took turns reading aloud from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella The Double (1846), in which a government clerk (possibly) encounters his doppelgänger. This was part of a much more profound engagement with Russian literature and culture which would affect Hans deeply. On 23 July 1942, Hans, Willi Graf, and Alexander Schmorell set off for a three-month tour of duty at the Russian front. During this period Hans came firmly to reject Nazi assertions that the Russians were inferior, writing in his diary in August 1942:

We Germans don’t have Dostoyevsky or Gogol. Nor Pushkin nor Turgenev. What about Goethe and Schiller? someone retorts. Who does? A scholar. When did you last read Goethe? I don’t recall — in school or somewhere. I ask a Russian: What writers do you have? Oh, says the Russian, we have them all, all of them. […] What Russian is this? A peasant, a washerwoman, a mailman.[3]

Thomas Mann, Der Zauberberg (Berlin: Fischer, 1925)

Before she was permitted to begin her undergraduate studies, Sophie Scholl had to complete six months of Reichsarbeitsdienst (National Labour Service) at a labour camp 45 miles from Ulm. During this time, she read Augustine’s Confessions, and Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain, 1924), having read and enjoyed Buddenbrooks (1901). She was not supposed to have any books but received special permission from her supervisor. She found it difficult to fit in with the other girls and used her books as a way of distancing herself from them (she commented rather disparagingly on some of the girls who kept with them a copy of Goethe’s Faust to look erudite!).

Thomas Mann, Deutsche Hörer: 55 Radiosendungen nach Deutschland (Göttingen: Wallstein, 1945)

Thomas Mann was in exile in America during the war. He contributed regularly to the BBC German Service and on 27 June 1943 Mann dedicated his broadcast to the White Rose. His addresses were published in German as Deutsche Hörer: 55 Radiosendungen nach Deutschland von Thomas Mann (German Listeners: 55 Radio Messages to Germany by Thomas Mann).

Theodor Haecker, Schöpfer und Schöpfung (Leipzig: J. Hegner, 1934)

An important influence on the group was the writer and translator Theodor Haecker, an authority on Kierkegaard and translator of works by John Henry Cardinal Newman. Under the Nazis, Haecker was banned from speaking publicly or publishing. On 4 February 1943 Haecker met with a group of around thirty-five people; among them were members of the White Rose group. Haecker read from his unpublished journal, and from his 1934 work Schöpfer und Schöpfung (Creator and Creation), in which he discusses man’s place in a fallen world.

Theodor Haecker, Tag- und Nachtbücher (Innsbruck: Haymon, 1989)

Following the execution of Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst in February 1943, Haecker’s apartment was searched by the Gestapo. He realised during the search that the manuscript of his journal — which would become his Tag- und Nachtbücher (published in English as Journal in the Night in 1950) — was lying on the coffee table. This journal, in which he documented his internal resistance against the Nazis, is an important work of inner exile writing. It was only thanks to the quick thinking and bravery of his teenaged daughter that the manuscript was not discovered. She deftly put it in her music bag and, when questioned by the Gestapo agents, told them it contained simply sheet music for her piano lesson. They let her leave without examining the bag’s contents and she got the manuscript to safety.

Cabinet 3 — Banned books and book burnings

‘Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen’ (Heinrich Heine, 1821).

Under the Nazis, a list of banned authors was compiled and published by the Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda (Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda). Authors, living and dead, were banned for being of Jewish descent, or because of their political convictions. Those suspected of Communist or pacifist sympathies were also banned.

Erich Maria Remarque, Im Westen nichts Neues (Berlin: Propyläen Verlag, 1929)

On 10 May 1933 tens of thousands of people gathered in the pouring rain at Opernplatz in Berlin as books were burned. The event was part of a campaign organised by the German Student Union who called on students and citizens to ‘cleanse’ their libraries and throw anything ‘un-German’ onto the fire. Erich Maria Remarque’s anti-war novel Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front) was one of those to be burned. In his speech at the event, the Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels declared: ‘Against literary betrayal of the soldiers of the World War, for educating the people in the spirit of truth! I commit to the flames the writings of Erich Maria Remarque.’[4]

Judith Kerr, When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit (London: Collins, 1971)

Among the many authors publically condemned by Goebbels at the book burning in May 1933 was the journalist Alfred Kerr. His daughter, Judith Kerr, would go on to write about their escape from Germany in her internationally acclaimed autobiographical novel, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (1971).

Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis (Leipzig: Wolff, 1917)

In 1933 works by Jewish authors were banned. Only Schocken Books was permitted to publish works by Jewish writers, on the condition that they only be sold to Jews. Schocken had been given the publication rights to Franz Kafka’s collected works in 1931, and in 1935 they published his unfinished novel, Der Prozess (The Trial). When Kafka’s works were banned, Schocken moved some of its production to Prague, and in 1939 the publishing house rellocated to Palestine where Kafka’s works were first published in Hebrew. Schocken also set up a publishing house in New York where the philosopher and Holocaust survivor Hannah Arendt worked as an editor. Writing in 1944, Arendt commented: ‘The reader of Kafka’s stories is very likely to pass through a stage during which he will be inclined to think of Kafka’s nightmare world as a trivial though, perhaps, psychologically interesting forecast of a world to come. But this world actually has come to pass.’[5]

Stefan Zweig, Sternstunden der Menschheit: Fünf historische Miniaturen (Leipzig: Insel, 1927) 

Inge Scholl recounts an episode from Hans’s days in the Hitler Youth. He was reading a volume by his then favourite author, Stefan Zweig, an Austrian Jew who left Austria following Hitler’s rise to power. Hans’s Hitler Youth leader saw what Hans was reading — a collection of historical miniatures about events that changed history — and reacted as follows: ‘One of the leaders snatched out of his hands a book by his favourite author, Sternstunden der Menschheit by Stefan Zweig. It was banned, he was told. But why? There was no answer.’[6] The content of the text was unimportant. Only the identity of its author mattered.

Heinrich Heine, Buch der Lieder (Longmans: Green & co, 1920) 

A story is told about Sophie and one of her favourite writers, Heinrich Heine. In 1936, when Sophie was active in the Hitler Youth, an important leader of the Bund deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls) visited the local group in Ulm where the Scholls lived. At this meeting, Sophie reportedly suggested that they read and discuss poems by Heine. The leader, obviously appalled at the idea, declared that Heine was a Jewish writer whose works had been banned and burned. Sophie replied: ‘Anyone who doesn’t know Heine, doesn’t know German literature’ (‘Wer Heinrich Heine nicht kennt, kennt die deutsche Literatur nicht’).[7]

Ernst Wiechert, Der Dichter und die Zeit: Rede, gehalten am 16. April 1935 im Auditorium Maximum der Universität München (Zurich: Artemis, 1945)

Ernst Wiechert was a teacher and writer strongly opposed to Nazism. A speech he gave to students at the Ludwig Maximilian University in April 1935, in which he criticised Nazi policies, was smuggled out of Germany in a loaf of bread so that it could be published abroad. The Scholls had a copy. When in 1938 Wiechert spoke out against the internment of the theologian and pastor Martin Niemöller, he himself was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp for three months.

Erich Kästner, Emil und die Detektive (Zurich: Atrium, 1958) 

Erich Kästner’s books were among those burned on the Opernplatz on 10 May 1933, and Kästner in fact was there to see it happen. His 1929 novel for children, Emil und die Detektive (Emil and the Detectives), was the only one of his works to escape the flames, as it was deemed sufficiently apolitical and popular to be spared, though in 1936 the decision was taken to ban it. Despite being viewed by the Nazis as an ‘undesirable author’ (‘unerwünschter Autor’), he was permitted to write screenplays, and under two pseudonyms worked on films for UFA (Universum Film AG), the principal film company in the Third Reich. Many have subsequently criticised Kästner’s decision to remain in the Third Reich.

Cabinet 4 — Writing and Resistance in the German Context

The White Rose used the written word to call the German people to resist Nazism and to contribute to an end to the Second World War. They distributed pamphlets — Flugblätter — to spread their ideas and to reach as many individuals as possible. The ‘Flugblatt’ was the first medium of mass communication, and in the history of the German-speaking lands we find pamphlets and flyers used to disseminate ideas and information, for the purposes of propaganda and control, as well as provocation and resistance. Initially flyers were sold rather than distributed free of charge. It is estimated that in the 1520s a four-page pamphlet would have cost a ‘pfennig’ (‘penny’) — the equivalent of a mug of beer.

Martin Luther, An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation (Augsburg: Hans von Erfurt, 1520) and Von der Freyheit eines Christenmenschen (Vuittenbergae: Melchior Lotter the Younger, 1521)

The development of the printing press and movable type meant that texts could be reproduced rapidly and in significant numbers. Indeed, without the printing press, Martin Luther’s ideas would not have spread as quickly as they did. The first of Luther’s three Reformation treatises, An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation (To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation), appeared in August 1520. Here, he mounted an attack on what he viewed as the ‘three walls of the Romanists’, three points of Church and Papal authority with which he disagreed. This pamphlet was followed by Von der Freyheit eines Christenmenschen (A Treatise on Christian Liberty) in November 1520 in which Luther further explored the idea of justification by faith.

Georg Büchner, Der Hessische Landbote (Gütersloh: S. Mohn, 1965)

In 1834 the writer Georg Büchner was involved in a secret society dedicated to revolution and overthrowing the ruling powers. He produced an eight-page political text in collaboration with Friedrich Ludwig Weidig, a school teacher and theologian, and around 1200 copies were distributed. The pamphlet, Der Hessische Landbote (The Hessian Messenger) was highly controversial: using emotive and Biblical language, it exposed the corruption of the authorities in the Grand Duchy of Hessen-Darmstadt and called on the rural population to revolt. The main text was preceded by instructions on what to do with the pamphlet, including that it should be kept hidden from police. It begins with a slogan coined in 1792 and borrowed from the French Revolution: ‘Peace to the peasants! War on the palaces!’ (‘Friede den Hütten! Krieg den Palästen!’).[8] Two of Büchner’s co-conspirators were arrested and Büchner, for whose arrest a warrant was issued, managed to flee across the French border to Strasbourg. Weidig was later arrested and died in 1837 in mysterious circumstances while incarcerated.

Cabinet 5 — The White Rose Pamphlets

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Des Epimenides Erwachen (Berlin: Duncker und Humboldt, 1817)

The first pamphlet quoted from works by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, both of whom had been co-opted by the Nazis for their nationalist cause. Goethe’s play Des Epimenides Erwachen (Epimenides Awakes) was written for the celebrations in Berlin of Napoleon’s defeat in 1815. It is significant that the final word of the excerpt quoted in the leaflet is ‘Freiheit!’ (‘freedom’). When Sophie was taken to the court from her cell on the morning of 22 February 1943, her cell mate noted that she had left behind the court’s indictment on which she had written a single word: ‘Freiheit!’. Sophie was executed that same day at 5pm. Minutes later, it was her brother’s turn. As he was led to the guillotine Hans cried out ‘Es lebe die Freiheit!’ (‘Long live freedom!’).

Friedrich Schiller, ‘Die Gesetzgebung des Lykurgus und Solon’, Schillers Sämtliche Werke, ed. by Richard Fester (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1904-1905), vol. 13: Historische Schriften I, pp. 67–105

The first leaflet quotes from Schiller’s 1789 essay ‘Die Gesetzgebung des Lykurgus und Solon’ (The Lawgiving of Lycurgus and Solon), in which he contrasts the oligarchic and republican forms of government. Sophie had been at university for about six weeks, when she caught sight of a leaflet calling for resistance. This was the first of the White Rose’s pamphlets. By chance, when waiting for Hans in his room not long after, she happened to flick through his books, and found a passage of Schiller’s text that had been marked. It was the same passage that had struck her in the White Rose pamphlet. She is reported to have confronted her brother and at this point became involved in the White Rose activities.[9]

Cabinet 6 — The White Rose’s Legacy in Literature and Film

The legacy of the White Rose can be found all over Germany today. Many places have streets, squares, and schools named after the Scholl siblings. You can even see a waxwork of Sophie Scholl at the Madame Tussauds in Berlin. In 2003, a series broadcast on the German television channel ZDF had a competition to find the nation’s favourite German: Our Best — The Greatest Germans (Unsere Besten — Die größten Deutschen). In the final vote, Konrad Adenauer (first chancellor of West Germany, 19491963) achieved the top spot, followed by Martin Luther and Karl Marx, and then in fourth position by Hans and Sophie Scholl. Sophie was the only woman to make the top ten which also included Bach, Goethe, and Bismarck.

Michael Verhoeven, Die Weiße Rose (Kinowelt Home Entertainment, 2006)

In 1982 two film adaptations of the history of the White Rose appeared in West Germany: Percy Adlon’s Fünf letzte Tage (Five Last Days) which was broadcast on West German television, and Michael Verhoeven’s feature film Die Weiße Rose (The White Rose) which was an unmitigated box office hit. The same actress, Lena Stolze, plays Sophie Scholl in both productions. Verhoeven’s film was significant in exposing a bizarre legal situation: a closing title declared that the sentences against the White Rose were still considered legal by the Federal Court: the Nazi court’s decisions had never been formally rescinded. There was a public outcry and in 1985 the German Parliament passed a resolution negating the verdicts.

Marc Rothemund, Sophie Scholl — Die letzten Tage (Drakes Avenue Pictures, 2005)

Marc Rothemund’s 2005 film Sophie Scholl — Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl — The Final Days) is a painstakingly researched and deeply moving portrayal of Sophie and the White Rose group. The film received multiple awards and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Heiner Lünstedt und Ingrid Sabisch, Sophie Scholl: Die Comic-Biografie (Munich: Knesebeck, 2015)

Comics and graphic novels provide a singular way to explore and portray historical events and narratives. This 2015 graphic novel, Sophie Scholl: The Comic-Biography presents Sophie’s life and legacy, from her first encounter with Fritz Hartnagel (to whom she would later become engaged), to the mass distribution of the sixth leaflet by the Allies in July 1943.

Rolf Hochhuth, Eine Liebe in Deutschland (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1978)

Christa Wolf, Störfall: Nachrichten eines Tages (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1987)

One of Germany’s leading literary awards, the Geschwister-Scholl-Preis (Scholl Siblings Prize), is awarded annually by the State Association of Bavaria. Its first recipient was Rolf Hochhuth in 1980 for his novel Eine Liebe in Deutschland (A Love in Germany). The plot centres on a German woman who falls in love with a Polish prisoner of war in the early 1940s, for which he is executed, and she is sent to a concentration camp. In 1987 Christa Wolf received the prize for her text Störfall: Nachrichten eines Tages (Accident: A Day’s News) in which the narrator reflects on the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, when one of four reactors at the nuclear power station overheated and exploded.

Die weiße Rose: Der Widerstand von Studenten gegen Hitler, München 1942/43 (Munich: Weiße Rose Stiftung, 1994)

The Weiße Rose Stiftung (White Rose Foundation) in Munich works to ‘uphold the memory and legacy of the resistance group’. It was founded in 1987 by members and relatives of the White Rose and other supporters. They have a permanent exhibition at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, the DenkStätte Weiße Rose, and offer a range of events including educational workshops and a travelling exhibition. This publication, The White Rose: Students’ Resistance Against Hitler, Munich 1942/1943, outlines the foundation’s activities.


[1] Cited in Klaus Drobisch, Wir schweigen nicht: Eine Dokumentation über den antifaschistischen Kampf Münchner Studenten 1942/43 (Berlin: Union-Verlag VOB, 1968), p. 134.

[2] Cited in Inge Scholl, The White Rose: Munich 1942–1943, trans. by Arthur R. Schultz (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1983), p. 127.  ‘Die Zeiten, wo jeder mit einem eigenen politischen “Glauben” herumlaufen konnte, sind vorbei! Für uns gibt es nur noch ein Maß, das nationalsozialistische. Danach messen wir alle!’, cited in Drobisch, Wir schweigen nicht, p. 134.

[3] Hans Scholl, diary entry, 22 August 1942, in At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl, ed. by Inge Jens, trans. by J. Maxwell Brownjohn (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2017), pp. 254–55. ‘Wir Deutschen haben weder Dostojewsky noch Gogol. Weder Puschkin noch Turgenjew. Aber Goethe, Schiller, antwortet jemand. Wer sagt dies? Ein Gebildeter. Wann hast du zuletzt Goethe gelesen? Ich weiß es nicht mehr, auf der Schule oder ich weiß nicht wo. Ich frage einen Russen. Welchen Dichter habt ihr? O, antwortet dieser, alle, alle haben wir […]. Wer ist dieser Russe? Ein Bauer, eine Waschfrau, ein Briefträger’, Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl, Briefe und Aufzeichnungen, ed. by Inge Jens (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1988), p. 123.

[4] Cited in Léon Poliakov, Das Dritte Reich und seine Denker (Grunewald: Arani-Verlags-GmbH, 1978), p. 121 (my translation). ‘Gegen literarischen Verrat am Soldaten des Weltkrieges, für Erziehung des Volkes im Geist der Wahrhaftigkeit! Ich übergebe dem Feuer die Schriften des Erich Maria Remarque.’

[5] Hannah Arendt, ‘Franz Kafka: A Revaluation’, in Essays in Understanding, 1930–1954, ed. by Jerome Kohn (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994), p. 73.

[6] Scholl, The White Rose: Munich 1942–1943, p. 8. ‘Einer der Führer hatte ihm das Buch seines Lieblingsdichters aus der Hand genommen, Stefan Zweigs ‘Sternstunden der Menschheit’. Das sei verboten, hatte man ihm gesagt. Warum? Darauf gab es keine Antwort’, Scholl, Die Weiße Rose (Frankfurt a.M.: Verlag der Frankfurter Hefte, 1982), p. 18.

[7] Cited in Ernest M. Wolf, Blick auf Deutschland: Kleine Skizzen zur deutschen Kulturkunde (New York: Scribner, 1966), p. 113 (my translation).

[8] Georg Büchner, Der Hessische Landbote, ed. by Uwe Jansen (Stuttgart: Reclam, 2016), p. 5 (my translation).

[9] Scholl, The White Rose, pp. 32–34.