The White Rose was a group of intellectuals in Munich who began an ill-fated campaign of resistance against the Nazi authorities. Led by Hans and Sophie Scholl (brother and sister of the author) the group included fellow medical students Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst and their professor of philosophy Kurt Huber. Over a period of nine months between June 1942 and February 1943 they wrote, printed and scattered six leaflets advocating active resistance and sabotage and calling for an end to the mass slaughter of the Jews.
"Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be 'governed' without oppositions by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. 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 - reaches the light of day".
Sophie and Hans Scholl, and Crisoph Probst were captured when distributing their sixth and final leaflet. Spotted by the custodian of the university they had targeted, the Gestapo were informed and the trio were quickly apprehended. At first they insisted upon their innocence but they soon, and independently of each other, tried to take the entire ownership of the whole enterprise to try and save as many of their collaborators as possible. Brought before the People's Court before the notorious judge Roland Freisler and charged with high treason they stood little chance. After being lectured by Judge Freisler all three were sentenced to death. Sophie was offered a deal that neither Hans nor Cristoph were, were she to recant her beliefs she would be spared the guillotine but she declined the offer, instead she was to be executed first as an act of kindness, the Gestapo officers knowing that at that stage the waiting was the worst part.
The book was written in 1947 aimed at children from thirteen to eighteen. Aimed at children who had grown up in the Hitler Youth, "children who at that time were asking their parents, 'How was it possible for you to be taken in by the Nazis? It was written also for those of their elders who were ready to face up to their past". As well as a description of the events, the book contains transcripts of all six leaflets, the indictment for the People's Court, court transcripts and the death sentences. The message of the book is that what these kids did was important. Their resistance was short lived and other than a small group in Hamburg who redistributed the materials of the White Rose, their deeds did not inspire the mass popular resistance they desired. What it did do was give people hope. The deeds of the White Rose were heard about in the concentration camps and on the Eastern Front. Thomas Mann on his German language radio station in the States talked about their deeds in 1943 and German prisoners of war held in Russia used their example and wrote leaflets of their own campaigning for a Germany free of Nazi oppression.
Clive James dedicated his book Cultural Amnesia to Sophie Scholl and much of his essay of Sophie goes in to something of a boyish crush on Natalie Portman (whom Clive James believes would be the perfect actress for Sophie were Hollywood ever to be trusted with telling the story). Talking about the bravery of Sophie he remarks "She was probably a saint. Certainly she was noble in her behaviour beyond any standard that we, in normal life, would feel bound to attain or even comfortable to encounter. Yet the world would undoubtedly be a better place if Sophie Scholl were a household name like Anne Frank, another miraculous woman from the same period."
The uncomfortable question the book asks is of us. It ask us whether we would be brave enough to do as Sophie Scholl did in the full knowledge that their efforts would lead their death. Sadly I think for most of us, the best we can do is admire the deeds of the White Rose with the knowledge that we wouldn't be able to equal them.