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Duty to Warn: Lessons for Americans

By Gary G. Kohls
February 16, 2010

Editor’s Note: At one of the darkest moments of human history – in the heart of Nazi Germany – three idealistic German college students began publishing and distributing leaflets urging their countrymen to resist the barbaric depredations of Adolf Hitler’s war-making regime.

The three, known as The White Rose, were ultimately captured, tried and executed, but their inspirational pleas for resistance to an intolerable war machine and its propaganda apparatus inspire people to this day and offer lessons to Americans who face far less personal danger in resisting the dangers of militarism, Gary G. Kohls notes in this guest essay:

Sixty-seven years ago, on Feb. 18, 1943, three courageous, patriotic German college students from Munich, the birthplace of the Nazi party, were arrested by the Gestapo on charges of treason, a crime that was punishable by death. 

The three – 22-year-old medical student Christoph Probst, 24-year-old Hans Scholl, also a medical student, and Hans’ 21-year-old sister Sophie -- were part of a small group of university students whose code name was The White Rose.

The White Rose group had seen the atrocities that were being committed, the loss of freedom, the shredding of human rights and the fact that the war, following the carnage on the Eastern Front, had already been lost.

These dissenters were also aware, as early as 1942, that hundreds of thousands of Jews had already been murdered and that atrocities were being committed against the Polish people.

They were also alarmed at the apathy and fear that they witnessed all around them. There were no active resistance movements among the adults they knew.

They knew that Hitler’s aggressive war-making and terrorist activities were making Germany the most hated nation in the world and, because of their altruism, their still-intact consciences and out of their sense of patriotism, they felt that they had to do something.

Therefore they began, in late 1942, producing amazingly insightful, well-written leaflets, informing their fellow Germans about the criminal regime they were living under, which most Germans were tolerating without objection.

These heroic young people knew that they had to use underground tactics because the liberal printing presses and other media that had tried to alert the people years earlier had been smashed by the barbaric right-wing Freikorps, the demoralized, demobilized, combat-traumatized military veterans’ militia groups that had formed all over Germany following World War I, with orders to crush socialism, communism and the attempts at bringing democracy to Germany.

The Freikorps had done their jobs well, but, when their usefulness was over, they were betrayed and annihilated in 1934 (“The Night of the Long Knives”) certainly with the approval of the corporate elite that had control over Hitler.

The only “crime” that the little White Rose group had committed was the writing and circulating of a series of “subversive” leaflets whose purpose was to awaken people to the atrocities that were being perpetrated by Hitler’s obedient followers and to motivate others to join the various nonviolent resistance movements.

They had also been guilty of having evaded detection for so many months, humiliating the Gestapo in the process.

The Nazis thought that the White Rose story ended with the arrest and the show trial, overseen by the notorious Roland Freisler, the shrieking Nazi judge who had been assigned to the “People’s Court” trials that the Nazis deemed most important for propaganda purposes - to instill fear in the people.

Little did they know that the executions of the three, by guillotine, only made martyrs of these heroic resisters. Their inspiring lives and the spirit of their courageous stand against tyranny lives on.

I have excerpted here some of the statements from the first three leaflets. The texts of all six leaflets can be found online at:

It is highly recommended that freedom-lovers and anti-fascists read all six leaflets.

A wonderful movie about the White Rose movement, entitled Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is essential viewing. The movie utilized newly discovered documents of the interrogations of Sophie Scholl that had been unavailable for previous films about the movement.

The official trailer to the German-made film is available at:

Excerpts From The 1st Leaflet of the Resistance (of The White Rose) – Fall 1942

“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition 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 - reach the light of day?

“If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand…if they abandon the will to take decisive action …if they are so devoid of all individuality, …turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass - then, yes, they deserve their downfall.

“Goethe speaks of the Germans as a tragic people, like the Jews and the Greeks, but today it would appear rather that they are a spineless, will-less herd of hangers-on, who now - the marrow sucked out of their bones…are waiting to be hounded to their destruction.…[B]y means of gradual, treacherous, systematic abuse, the system has put every man into a spiritual prison. Only now, finding himself lying in fetters, has he become aware of his fate.

“Only a few recognized the threat of ruin.

“If everyone waits until the other man makes a start…the last victim will have been cast senselessly into the maw of the insatiable demon.

“Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself as best he can at this late hour, he must work against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism.

“Offer resistance wherever you may be…forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late, before the last cities, like Cologne, have been reduced to rubble, and before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield for the hubris of a sub-human [ Hitler].

“Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure!” 

Excerpts from The Second Leaflet of the Resistance (of The White Rose) – Fall 1942

”It is impossible to engage in intellectual discourse with (fascist) philosophy...At its very inception this movement depended on the deception and betrayal of one's fellow man; even at that time it was inwardly corrupt and could support itself only by constant lies. After all, Hitler states in an early edition of "his" book (a book written in the worst German I have ever read, in spite of the fact that it has been elevated to the position of the Bible in this nation of poets and thinkers): "It is unbelievable to what extent one must betray a people in order to rule it." 

“If at the start this cancerous growth in the nation was not particularly noticeable, it was only because there were still enough forces at work that operated for the good, so that it was kept under control. As it grew larger, however, and finally…attained ruling power, the tumor broke open, as it were, and infected the whole body.

“The greater part of its former opponents went into hiding. The German intellectuals fled to their cellars; there, like plants struggling in the dark, away from light and sun, gradually to choke to death. Now the end is at hand. Now it is our task to find one another again, to spread information from person to person, to keep a steady purpose, and to allow ourselves no rest until the last man is persuaded of the urgent need of his struggle against this system.

“We are not in a position to draw up a final judgment about the meaning of our history. But if this catastrophe can be used to further the public welfare, it will be only by virtue of the fact that we are cleansed by suffering; that we yearn for the light in the midst of deepest night, summon our strength, and finally help in shaking off the yoke which weighs on our world. 

“…three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history.

“…the entire Polish aristocratic youth is being annihilated. All male offspring of the houses of the nobility between the ages of fifteen and twenty were transported to concentration camps in Germany and sentenced to forced labor, and all the girls of this age group were sent to Norway, into the [houses of prostitution] for the SS! 

“Why do German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes? The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so.

“Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencelessness from which they will never, never awake? It seems to be so, and will certainly be so, if the German does not at last start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminals.

“He must evidence not only sympathy; no, much more: a sense of complicity in guilt. For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do; he tolerates this "government" which has taken upon itself such an infinitely great burden of guilt; indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all!

“Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty! It is not too late, however, to do away with this most reprehensible of all miscarriages of government... Now…our eyes have been opened, we know exactly who our adversary is…[I]t is high time to root out this brown horde.

“Up until the outbreak of the war the larger part of the German people was blinded; the Nazis did not show themselves in their true aspect. But now, now that we have recognized them for what they are, it must be the sole and first duty, the holiest duty of every German to destroy these beasts.”

Excerpts From the Third Leaflet of The White Rose - February 1943


“But our present "state" is the dictatorship of evil. "Oh, we've known that for a long time," I hear you object, "and it isn't necessary to bring that to our attention again." But, I ask you, if you know that, why do you not bestir yourselves, why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanized state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right - or rather, your moral duty - to eliminate this system?

”Many, perhaps most, of the readers of these leaflets do not see clearly how they can practice an effective opposition. We have no great number of choices... The only one available is passive [but active] resistance. At all points we must oppose [fascism], wherever it is open to attack. We must soon bring this monster of a state to an end. A victory of fascist Germany in this war would have immeasurable, frightful consequences…The defeat of the Nazis must unconditionally be the first order of business…

“Sabotage in armament plants and war industries, sabotage at all gatherings, rallies, public ceremonies, and organizations of the National Socialist Party. Obstruction of the smooth functioning of the war machine (a machine for war that goes on solely to shore up and perpetuate the Nazi Party and its dictatorship). Sabotage in all publications, all newspapers, that are in the pay of the [fascist] "government" and that defend its ideology...the presses run continuously to manufacture any desired amount of paper currency…Try to convince all your acquaintances, including those in the lower social classes, of the senselessness of continuing, of the hopelessness of this war; of our spiritual and economic enslavement at the hands of the National Socialists; of the destruction of all moral and religious values; and urge them to passive resistance! 

“Aristotle [said in] Politics: "... and further, it is part [of the nature of tyranny]…that everywhere [the subjects] will be spied upon...and so it is part of these tyrannical measures, to keep the subjects poor, in order to pay the guards and soldiers, and so that they will be occupied with earning their livelihood and will have neither leisure nor opportunity to engage in conspiratorial acts.... Further, [to levy] such taxes on income as were imposed in Syracuse, for under Dionysius the citizens gladly paid out their whole fortunes in taxes within five years. Also, the tyrant is inclined constantly to foment wars." 

”Please duplicate and distribute!”

Gary G. Kohls is a retired physician who writes about issues of war, peace, justice, mental health and nonviolence and feels it is important to mix religion and non-partisan politics. One of his areas of interest and expertise is combat-induced posttraumatic stress disorder. Dr. Kohls is a founding member of the interdenominational peace group, Every Church A Peace Church (, whose stated goal is to gradually transform Christian churches back to the original form of Christianity.

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