The White Rose was composed of university (mostly medical) students who spoke out against Adolf Hitler and his regime. The founder, Hans Scholl, was a former member of Hitler Youth who grew disenchanted with Nazi ideology once its real aims became evident. As a student at the University of Munich in 1940-41, he met two Roman Catholic men of letters who redirected his life. Turning from medicine to religion, philosophy, and the arts, Scholl gathered around him like-minded friends who also despised the Nazis, and the White Rose was born.
During the summer of 1942, Scholl and a friend composed four leaflets, which exposed and denounced Nazi and SS atrocities, including the extermination of Jews and Polish nobility, and called for resistance to the regime. The literature was peppered with quotations from great writers and thinkers, from Aristotle to Goethe, and called for the rebirth of the German university. It was aimed at an educated elite within Germany.
The risks involved in such an enterprise were enormous. The lives of average civilians were monitored for any deviation from absolute loyalty to the state. Even a casual remark critical of Hitler or the Nazis could result in arrest by the Gestapo, the regime's secret police. Yet the students of the White Rose (the origin of the group's name is uncertain; possibly, it came from the picture of the flower on their leaflets) risked all, motivated purely by idealism, the highest moral and ethical principles, and sympathy for their Jewish neighbors and friends. (Despite the risks, Hans' sister, Sophie, a biology student at her brother's university, begged to participate in the activities of the White Rose when she discovered her brother's covert operation.)
On February 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie left a suitcase filled with copies of yet another leaflet in the main university building. The leaflet stated, in part: "The day of reckoning has come, the reckoning of our German youth with the most abominable tyranny our people has ever endured. In the name of the entire German people we demand of Adolf Hitler's state the return of personal freedom, the most precious treasure of the Germans which he cunningly has cheated us out of." The pair were spotted by a janitor and reported to the Gestapo and arrested. Turned over to Hitler's "People's Court," basically a kangaroo court for dispatching dissidents quickly, the Scholls, along with another White Rose member who was caught, were sentenced to death. They were beheaded--a punishment reserved for "political traitors"--on February 23, but not before Hans Scholl proclaimed "Long live freedom!"