Feb. 18, 2022

The Arrest of the White Rose Resistance

The Arrest of the White Rose Resistance

February 18, 1943. Members of an anti-Nazi resistance movement, called the White Rose, are arrested by the Gestapo.

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Cold Open

It’s late morning on February 18th, 1943, at the University of Munich in Germany.

Inside the grand main building on campus, throngs of students hustle from one class to the next. They bob and weave around a much older man, 56-year-old janitor Jakob Schmid, who wheels his cart of cleaning supplies down the halls.

Jakob has worked at this university for almost twenty years; he’s far too old to be a soldier, so he views his service here in these halls of learning as his contribution to the war effort.

The second World War is in its fourth year and the tide of the conflict has turned against Germany, which faces heavy casualties fighting the Soviet Union in the East, and now, fresh troops from the United States in the West. But Jakob is confident his country will prevail. He is a devoted member of the Nazi party.

Jakob and his cart arrive at the polished mosaic floor of the atrium, but before he can get to work with his mop… he hears a commotion high above him. He looks up to see dozens of sheets of paper spiraling downward from above.

Jakob snatches a piece of paper out of the air.  It’s a leaflet that calls on the students at the University to revolt against Nazi rule in Germany.

The janitor scowls and tosses the paper aside. He looks up to the top floor of the atrium and sees two students: a handsome young man in his early twenties and a short dark-haired girl just a few years younger holding a red briefcase. 

Thinking these are the culprits, Jakob runs to the nearest stairwell and dashes up several flights.

As he barrels out onto the upper level of the atrium, he almost collides with the two young students as they try to make their escape.

Jakob grabs them both by the collar yelling, “you’re not going anywhere!”

And then as students begin to emerge from their classrooms, the janitor marches the two culprits to his office and calls the Gestapo. Soon, the young man and the girl, both members of a secret resistance group called the White Rose, will be arrested. They will face trial in the dreaded Nazi People’s Court where they will be convicted of treason on February 18th, 1943.


From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.

History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world.

Today is February 18th: The Arrest of the White Rose Resistance.

Act One: Buds of Resistance

It’s evening on April 20th, 1934, nine years before the janitor, Jakob Schmid, calls the Gestapo.

In the city of Ulm, in southern Germany, the sound of a military band echoes across a local park.

As bugles play, a troop of girls in dark uniforms march through the trees. Crowds line the path, standing in solemn silence as Nazi flags flutter overhead. The girls carry flaming torches. They’re young, barely teenagers, and, in the flickering light, their youthful faces shine with excitement.

Near the back of the torchlit procession is a short and slender 12-year-old. Her name is Sophie Scholl. This is a proud moment for Sophie. Like the other girls here, she’s worked hard and passed her tests, and tonight’s ceremony will see her become a full member of the Jungmädelbund – the German League of Young Maidens.

Today has been chosen specially for the ceremony. It’s an auspicious date in German history - Adolf Hitler’s birthday.

A little over a year has passed since the Nazis seized power in Germany. Hitler took control of the government after democratically elected members of the Nazi party forced a new law through the German Parliament called the Enabling Act – which gave Hitler total power to transform Germany from a democratic republic into a fascist dictatorship.

Hitler has since banned all political parties except his own. He’s sent his enemies to concentration camps, and he’s shut down the trade unions. But the Nazis know that to truly cement their power over Germany, they must capture the hearts and minds of its children.

Libraries have been purged of any books deemed subversive. School curriculums have been changed. And even popular children’s organizations have been hijacked and transformed into propaganda tools of the Nazi state.

For girls like Sophie Scholl, joining the German League of Young Maidens has quickly become a rite of passage. And she glows with pride as she joins the girls around her chanting:

“We want to be young maidens! We want to be strong and proud!”

An official from the local Nazi Party is there with them. And one by one, the girls step before him and swear their oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Sophie beams as she takes her turn. The official presents her with the league’s regalia - a black neckerchief and a brown leather knot to tie it in. He tells her: “Be faithful, be pure, be German!” Sophie is now a Young Maiden.

She will rise fast in the organization. But as the years pass, and as Sophie sees more of Hitler’s vision for Germany, she begins to have doubts.


It’s summer 1936 in southern Germany.

Two years have passed since Sophie became a member of the Young Maidens. She’s 15 now, and she’s joined her older brother Hans and their father on a summer hike through the gentle rolling hills and dark forests that surround their hometown of Ulm.

Despite being three years younger than her brother, and much shorter, Sophie prides herself on keeping up. She’s always been a tomboy, much to her mother’s chagrin. And nothing makes Sophie happier than climbing a tree or swimming across the river that runs behind their house.

But today, as she walks beside her father and brother, she listens intently as their conversation turns to politics. This summer, the eyes of the world are on Germany. Berlin is hosting the Olympic Games and Adolf Hitler is using the spectacle to broadcast the glories of his Nazi regime.

Sophie’s father has never been a supporter of Hitler. In fact, he has long been horrified by political developments in his country. He never wanted Hans to join the Hitler Youth or Sophie to become a Young Maiden. But he also never felt he could impose his views on his children. He hoped, in time, that they would see the truth about the Nazis.

And they have. Both Hans and Sophie have become disillusioned. Their youthful enthusiasm for Hitler has been dulled by the relentless, stifling conformity the regime demands. Sophie once got into trouble for reading a book by a Jewish poet. And Hans has grown to hate the unthinking fanaticism that surrounds him every day.

Their father is proud of his freethinking children. They talk all during the hike about Germany’s past, the events that brought the country to this sad state, and what hopes there are for the future. Their home in Ulm is becoming a haven for those critical of the Nazi regime, a safe place where banned books can be read, and forbidden ideas debated.

But this passive resistance won’t be enough for Hans and Sophie. As the Nazi regime grows ever more repressive and violent, the two siblings will launch a daring resistance movement that will enrage the ruling Nazi Party and sow seeds of rebellion. 

Act Two: The White Rose

It’s autumn 1942, five months before the arrest of the White Rose resistance.

Sophie sits in a lecture hall at the University of Munich. She’s 21 years old and is studying biology and philosophy. But as the professor drones on at the front of the class, Sophie’s attention wanders.

She notices a scrap of crumpled paper on the floor. Peering under the desk, she can just make out some writing crudely printed on it. She stretches down to pick it up and flattens the paper out on her desk. It’s a pamphlet. 

“Who among us has any conception of the shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible crimes — crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure — reach the light of day?”

Sophie's shocked reading the words. Somebody else here feels the way she does about the Nazis. She glances around the lecture hall. The other students stare glass-eyed at the professor. So she flips open her bag and begins to slide the paper inside. But then she hesitates.

The pamphlet is clearly treasonous. Sophie should report it – not doing so is a crime. She wonders whether it's worth the risk to even take the pamphlet.

Sophie’s father is already in jail, convicted of calling Hitler the “scourge of God”. Her mother has grown sick with all the stress and worry. And Sophie doesn’t want to make things harder. But as the lecture continues, she cannot stop thinking about the pamphlet and what it says. So when the professor finally finishes, Sophie walks out of the lecture hall with the leaflet in her bag.

Sophie heads for the apartment of her older brother, Hans. He’s studying medicine at the University, but he isn’t home when Sophie arrives so she lets herself inside.

As she waits, she noses through the books of poetry and philosophy piled up on her brother’s desk. As she flips through a chapter of one of the books, she stops on a page filled with annotations and underlined phrases. They’re very familiar to her. 

She grabs her bag and digs out the pamphlet she found in class. The phrases underlined in the book are the same ones used in the flyer.

Just then, Sophie hears the turn of a key in the lock. She whirls around to see her brother Hans in the doorway. She holds up the pamphlet and then the book and demands to know what’s going on.


It’s January 1943. A few months have passed since Sophie discovered that her brother Hans was running a resistance movement known as the White Rose.

It’s early morning in the southwest German city of Stuttgart. Snow crunches beneath Sophie’s shoes as she hurries down the street with a briefcase. Ahead, across the road, she can see a mailbox. Its dark red paint makes a rare splash of color among the grimy snow and blacked-out windows of the buildings that surround her.

She checks to make sure the coast is clear, and then she hurries across the road headed for the mailbox.

Sophie has been a member of the White Rose resistance for several months. Her charismatic brother Hans started the group. As a medical student, Hans was forced to serve in the German Army, where he saw combat, first in France, and then later in the East. The experiences horrified the young man. And when his round of service was over and he returned to his medical studies, Hans and some like-minded friends began writing anonymous anti-Nazi leaflets. Secretly, they distributed them to other students and academics or left them in public places for ordinary people to find.

Upon discovering her brother’s activities, Sophie insisted on joining them. And she has since become an important addition to the White Rose, working alongside Hans and his friends long into the night as they crank out more and more pamphlets.

Hoping to conceal their base of operations in Munich, the students now travel to towns and cities across Germany. Sophie has come to Stuttgart with a thousand pamphlets stored away in her briefcase.

Her heart pounding, she crouches on the snowy street by a mailbox and flicks open the case. Stuffed inside are hundreds of envelopes, each containing the White Rose’s latest pamphlet. The envelopes are addressed to academics, universities, and even bars all over Germany. With a quick glance down the still-deserted street, Sophie begins to stuff the envelopes into the mailbox.

In a few moments, she is done. And quickly, she closes the briefcase and hurries away down the street.

Sophie isn’t caught today, but the activities of her resistance group have not gone unnoticed. The Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s notorious secret police, have been investigating the treasonous leaflets for some time. And soon, they will threaten to bring down the entire White Rose resistance, and close in on Sophie and her brother.

Act Three: Cut Flowers

It’s the morning of February 18th, 1943.

Sophie and Hans Scholl stride through the deserted corridors of the University of Munich’s main building. In their hands are thick wads of paper – the White Rose’s latest leaflet. They move quickly from door to door, leaving piles where they think students will spot them and pick them up.

From the lecture halls that line the corridor, they can hear students packing up their things. In just a few moments, the halls will be flooded with students. But Sophie still has a stack of leaflets left in her hands. She doesn’t want to risk being caught with them, so impulsively, she flings them over the balcony into the atrium.

She watches a moment as the leaflets flutter in the air before her brother pulls her away. They hurry toward the stairs, hoping to disappear into the crowd before making their escape. But at the top of the steps, they bump into the janitor, Jakob Schmid who holds one of the flyers in his hand.

Soon, Sophie and Hans are taken away by the Gestapo for interrogation. The Scholl siblings decide to confess, hoping to protect the other members of the White Rose. But the Gestapo find a draft of their next leaflet and match it to the handwriting of one of their friends, a young man named Christoph Probst.

Christoph joins Sophie and Hans at their trial four days later. The so-called People’s Court permits no lawyers or evidence for the defense. Sophie, Hans, and Christoph know the outcome of the trial already: they will be found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. After the trial, they are taken to a prison in Munich for execution.

The three prisoners are allowed to share a cigarette together before their deaths. Sophie’s last words are believed to be: “It’s such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go. But what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

Soon afterward, the three students are beheaded. 

Despite Sophie’s hopes, the White Rose failed to ignite a rebellion against Nazi rule. But Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans and all the other members of the White Rose will never be forgotten. Their bravery and sacrifice stand as a testament that even in humanity’s darkest moments, the flowers of freedom, kindness, and conscience can still grow. Nothing can erase their bravery; not their horrific execution, not their unjust trial, and not their arrest that occurred on February 18th, 1943.


Next on History Daily.February 21st, 1965, Human rights activist and Muslim Minister Malcolm X is assassinated while giving a speech in New York.

From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.

Audio editing by Mollie Baack.

Sound design by Derek Behrens. 

Music by Lindsay Graham.

This episode is written and researched by William Simpson.

Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.