In June of 1942 at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, a small number of students formed a group decrying the Nazi government and its war crimes. Led by 24-year-old disillusioned former Hitler Youth squad leader Hans Scholl and his 21-year-old, devoutly Christian sister Sophie, the group wrote, printed, and distributed leaflets condemning the Nazi party in general and denouncing the inhuman policies of Adolph Hitler in particular. They encouraged the general public to stand up to do the same: resist. They called their group “White Rose.” Eventually, most of them were arrested by the Gestapo; three were executed in 1943.

Today, in the inner courtyard of the University of Munich there’s a monument to the White Rose installed in 1988: a trompe-l’oeil representation of the mimeographed leaflets, rendered in ceramic by artist Robert Schmidt-Matt, and embedded in the cobblestone paving in the apparently random heap they landed when thrown, in a final act of defiance, from a second-floor gallery inside the building.  

At the spot in the building’s atrium where the leaflets were actually dropped, and through which today’s current students pass every day on their way to classes, there is an older monument—a memorial plaque designed by Theodor Georgii in 1946, naming the six students and their professor who were murdered. Also in the atrium are a bronze relief mounted on the wall and a freestanding bust of group leader Sophie Scholl created by Lothar Dietz in 1958. As part of postwar restoration of the atrium the Steinmeyer/Oettingen company installed “The White Rose Organ” there in 1961. 

The monuments continue throughout the city of Munich.  An 11-minute walk from there, at Schwabing Franz Joseph Strasse 13, a bronze plaque reminds pedestrians that this is the house where Sophie Scholl and her brother/fellow group member Hans lived before they were killed. Their tombstones are specially marked in the Cemetery at Perlacher Forst. A polished cube of black dolerite stone, inscribed with handwritten text by sculptor Leo Kornbrust to honor the White Rose, is sited prominently in the very centrally located Hofgarten Park. Just some of the additional public works serving as daily testaments to this tiny but influential resistance group are in the Munich Court of Justice and in cities throughout Germany, from Bommersheim to Crailsheim and all the way to Hamburg. A postage stamp commemorating the Scholl siblings emblazoned with their double portrait was issued in 1961. 

Yet in the United States, where the concept of resistance by a tiny underdog has an especially sui generis American significance for those proud to be activists against government tyranny, very little is known about this group. Except for a few temporary museum exhibits, there are no public monuments, no park memorials, no plaques or busts or commemorative stamps telling the story of the White Rose.   

But there is now an opportunity to change that. A new theatrical production devoted to telling the story of the White Rose—from their inception to their demise—has come to Theatre Row on 42nd Street in New York City for a 12-week run. White Rose: The Musical is the work of Brian Belding (book and lyrics), Natalie Brice (music), Will Nunziata (direction), and a handful of young actors with experience from Broadway to Netflix.  The single, flexible set, designed by James Noone, opens with the enlarged projected image of Robert Schmidt-Matt’s leaflet memorial sculpture, graphically foretelling the last chapter of the story.  Before that story unfolds, in a short dialogue Hans and Sophie look out to the audience reflecting on the value of what they’ve done. 

At a time when the Nazis were defensively centralizing their power within the country, and outside, venturing aggressively into the Russian front where they would soon suffer miserably in Stalingrad, Germany was in a state of high alert for acts of subversion.  This was the context for these idealistic young pupils and the professor Kurt Huber who joined their efforts. 

In all they published six leaflets—the last of which called out Hitler for the tyrant he was, proving to be a tipping point for the increasingly suspicious Gestapo. Until the end, when they were convicted in bogus trials they were confident of the righteousness of their cause and ultimately faced death without regret for their actions. For them it was a duty of conscience to resist.

With the horrific news in our own time of an American ally, a small population with the most liberal society anywhere in its vicinity, forced into a defensive war against a neighbor who wants only to see its eradication; and the perverted use by protesters here—many of them college students—of the word “resistance” in their frenzied battle cry in sympathetic support of a regime run by terrorists, the story of the White Rose is particularly timely and important.  

It was the idealistic belief of the students of the White Rose that the atrocities of an elected government bent on murdering Jewish civilians because of who they were (the very meaning of “genocide”), that by spreading information they could inspire their countrymen to rise up against injustice.  They did this not as similarly oppressed Jews, but as human equals who sacrificed their privileged position of safety for humanity at large. And in doing so acquired redemption for their short lives, and gave meaning to the word “resistance.”

White Rose: The Musical. Theatre Three at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, NYC.