By Cliff Porter

During World War II, the White Rose was a group of medical students at the University of Munich who rejected the evil of Nazism in the name of spiritual freedom and free will and thus determined to resist the Nazi regime.  The symbolism of the White Rose has since been expropriated by several groups in the name of modern resistance to “Fascism”—which, for them, means anything conservative and/or not supportive of progressivism.  The modern White Rose groups’ calls for resistance to hate and racism continues the trend on university campuses toward restrictions on freedom of thought. This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the sacrifice the real White Rose students made at the University of Munich in 1943.

The White Rose students were initially attracted to Nazism and the Hitler Youth in the 1930s as teenagers, motivated by the ephemeral Nazi promises as a higher spiritual movement, similar to the appeal progressive ideologies have on students today.  The absence of spiritual substance in Nazism quickly led to disillusionment, and the students felt intellectually restricted in a system that held thoughtless obedience to be a virtue.  After breaking free of the intellectual and emotional constraints of Nazi ideology, they discovered that ideas transcending nationalism and race were secretly being taught by a handful of professors. The students embraced the Catholic resistance embodied by Bishop Galen and his opposition to Nazi euthanasia of the mentally ill and disabled.

They were also deeply influenced by the ideas of spiritual freedom in Russian Orthodox writers, such as Nikolai Berdiaev, and the meaning of free will in “The Grand Inquisitor” poem in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov.  They understood that the Nazi’s hostility to free will was a threat to humanity.  The name “White Rose” was adopted from its Christian symbolism in both Orthodox and Catholic traditions.  Unfortunately, as medical students in a totalitarian regime at war, three of the White Rose students were required to serve as Army medics during the summer months; there they witnessed the terrible reality of Nazism while serving on the Eastern Front.  Yet, they also experienced the depth of Russian culture, even fraternizing with the peasants in occupied Russia in July 1942.  Based on their experiences and their secret learning, they were able to solidify the spiritual foundation of resistance, and then developed a plan of action to distribute a series of leaflets at the University of Munich. The leaflets called for an intellectual and spiritual awakening, the overthrow of Nazism, and the restoration of Christian civilization. 

The White Rose students distributed five leaflets, but were caught distributing the sixth. Most of the White Rose members were rounded up, and several were beheaded in 1943 by the Gestapo.

Today, multiple progressive groups have adopted the symbolism of the “White Rose,” proclaiming their anti-Fascist credentials and resistance to capitalism and conservativism, along with dismissive intolerance of Christians.  Groups like Antifa and the various “White Rose” organizations proudly oppose free speech, proclaiming censorship a legitimate suppression of hate speech. They also practice on-campus bullying, restrictions on liberty, and dictating what and how students should think and learn.  Opposition to politically correct progressivism is smeared as racist micro-aggressions or hatred. Little tolerance is shown for anyone asking questions and promoting free thinking – even fellow progressives.

A review of the websites and literature of these “White Rose” groups quickly demonstrates they are predicated on the belief that conservatives and capitalism are either forms or causes of racism and Fascism, in stark contrast to the actual history of Fascism’s rise as an anti-capitalist, nationalist-socialist ideology.  The moral rationale used by these modern “White Rose” groups in calling for restrictions on free speech is grounding in the desire to prevent the rise of Fascism and Nazism.  There appears to be a presumption that students either cannot or should not think independently, making propaganda critically important.  Free thinking and speaking on university campuses are viewed with suspicion, because intellectual independence undermines their ideological messaging and perception of resistance.

The real White Rose students were disillusioned by the demand for unquestioning obedience and restrictions on free thought and debate.  Despite the dominance of Darwinian views on race in early twentieth-century Germany (the “political correctness” of the age), the White Rose students were not seduced.  They had the insight at a young age that obedience to a political ideology based on race undermined their free will, and they instead sought a Christian revival of civilization based on free will and religious freedom.  These real White Rose students might well face “resistance” on many campuses for defending free speech today.

In 1942 there were several incidents of student protest against Nazi in university administration.  On one occasion several female students were threatened with arrest for protesting the crude Nazi call for female students to become Nazi mothers in the Nazi Aryan breeding campaign.  The protest was rapid and overwhelming, surprising the university officials, who then backed down.  This episode gave the White Rose students hope their leaflets might be successful.  In contrast, today most students are either intimidated or in lockstep with many university administrators and the campus PC bullies – who, ironically, tend to where black shirts while supporting administration suppression of free speech and academic freedom.  The moral imperative of modern ideology has led to the heights of hypocrisy among many college administrators and students, where the tactics and behavior of some groups are either tolerated of even encouraged in order to intimidate opposition voices.  (See my “Stunted Thinking and the Ideological Imperative” April 2, 2018)

The real White Rose students witnessed the destruction of freedom of thought and democracy in Germany, and paid with their lives trying too late to restore liberty.  Our own liberty, freedom of speech, religious liberty, and individual rights in general continue to suffer assault by ideologies that subordinate the individual to ideological goals.  The White Rose movements of today preach the same ideological obedience, use of force (or toleration of it), and hatred of imagined enemies, just as the original Fascists did.  They would do well to relearn the history and symbolism of a White Rose.