The White Rose: Examination of Bias

2018 09 16: Format corrections, added links to related article on Mildred Harnack
2019 04 28: Added links to related articles.

Compared to the other members of The White Rose, an organization of predominantly students who peacefully resisted the Nazi-regime, Sophie Scholl receives an extraordinary amount of the interest of the public. That was not always so. The extent of the interest attracted was predominantly directed at, but about equally shared by Hans Scholl, one of the two founders of The White Rose (the other one was Alexander Schmorell), and by Sophie Scholl, who joined them quite some time later, when she eventually attended university.

“The White Rose (German: die Weiße Rose) was a non-violent, intellectual resistance group in Nazi Germany led by a group of students and a professor at the University of Munich. The group conducted an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign which called for active opposition to the Nazi regime. Their activities started in Munich on June 27th, 1942, and ended with the arrest of the core group by the Gestapo on February 18th, 1943.[1] They, as well as other members and supporters of the group who carried on distributing the pamphlets, faced show trials by the Nazi People’s Court (Volksgerichtshof), and many of them were sentenced to death or imprisonment.” (More at Wikipedia)

February 22, 1943, 9 am… Three students from the University of Munich are brought to trial for treason. The trial lasts until 1 pm and by 5 o’clock all are dead. What have these three young people done to cause the top justice of Hitler’s People’s Court to personally oversee the trial? Why are their voices silenced? And how many more innocent people will have to die before they are heard?
More at this link

In all, eight members of The White Rose were executed,  three of them on February 22, 1943.

Members of The White Rose

  Roles Birth Death Sentence
Hans Scholl Founder Core member 1918 09 22 1943 02 22 Execution
Alexander Schmorell  Founder Core member 1917 09 16 1943 07 13 Execution
Jürgen Wittenstein   Core member 1919 04 26 2015 06 14  
Christoph Probst   Core member 1919 11 06 1943 02 22 Execution
Willi Graf   Core member 1918 01 02 1943 10 12 Execution
Sophie Scholl   Core member 1921 05 09 1943 02 22 Execution
Kurt Huber   Core member 1893 10 24 1943 07 13 Execution
Traute Lafrenz   Member 1919 05 03 ? Incarceration
1 year
Hans Conrad Leipelt   Member 1921 07 18 1945 01 29 Execution
Marie-Luise Jahn   Member 1918 05 28 2010 06 22 Incarceration
12 years
Hans Hirzel   Member 1924 10 30 2006 06 03 Incarceration
5 years
Susanne Hirzel   Member 1921 08 07 2012 12 04 Incarceration
6 months
Heinz Brenner   Member 1924 (est.) ?  
Franz J. Müller   Member 1924 09 08 2015 03 31 Incarceration
5 years
Eugen Grimminger   Member 1892 07 29 1986 04 10 Incarceration
10 years
Lilo Ramdohr   Member 1913 10 11 2013 05 11  
Falk Harnack   Member 1913 03 02 1991 09 01 Acquitted
Harald Dohrn   Member 1885 04 17 1945 04 29 Execution
Manfred Eickemeyer   Member ? ?  
Wilhelm Geyer   Member 1900 06 24 1968 10 05  
Josef Söhngen   Member 1894 08 17 1970 03 12 Incarceration
6 months
Wilhelm Bollinger   Supporter 1919 06 10 1975 01 07 Incarceration
3 months
Heinrich Bollinger   Supporter 1916 04 23 1990 Incarceration
7 years
Rudolf Alt   Supporter ? ?  
Helmut Bauer   Supporter ? ?  
August Sahm   Supporter ? ?  
Hellmut Hartert   Supporter ? ?  
Michael Brink   Supporter 1914 01 17 1947 08 09 Concentration camps
1 year
Lilo Dreyfeldt   Supporter ? ?  
Werner Bergengruen Supporter 1892 09 16 1964 09 04  
Josef Furtmeier   Supporter 1887 09 03 1969 08 28 Remand
about 3 weeks
Günter Ammon   Member 1918 05 09 1995 09 03  
Fred Thieler   Supporter 1916 03 17 1999 06 06  
Various others          

Note: The White Rose was not the only resistance organization in Germany whose members were persecuted and even executed during Hitler’s regime.  See, for instance, the story of Mildred Harnack.  She and collaborators of the group Red Orchestra were also executed but never acquired the extent of notoriety that was given in print to Hans and Sophie Scholl.

The respective extents of popularity of Hans and Sophie Scholl, Christoph Probst (members of The White Rose, executed 1943 02 22), and of Mildred Harnack (member of Red Orchestra, executed 1943 02 16) differ greatly, as indicated by the following Google Ngram.

Yet the disparities in the extents of the popularity of the respective activists promoted by the print media do not explain the far greater disparities in the extents of popularity (interest expressed through relative proportions of Google searches) as illustrated in the following Google Trends Graph.

Consequences of the promotion of bias Relative levels of public in some of the White Rose members and a contemporary

Consequences of the promotion of bias
Relative levels of public interest in some of the White Rose members and a contemporary

Could it be that the name Sophie Scholl is much more easily remembered than the others, and therefore of greater interest and much more likely to be used in Google searches?

The issue is not that much of a puzzle.  In February 2005  a movie, Sophie Scholl – The Final Days (Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage) was released.

Sophie Scholl — Movie Poster lacks reference to The White Rose

Sophie Scholl — The Final Days

The title and the focus of the plot applied a very basic public relations ploy.  Sophie Scholl and her last days stimulated the interest of the public to a far greater extent than did anything that had been put into print about the last days of the organization she had joined and about those of her brother and the other six men who were executed for having participated in the activities of The White Rose.

When trying to attract the public’s attention, objectivity and impartiality are not as effective as is focusing on the plight of the one woman out of eight victims that were executed, when the other seven victims are men.

As to the lack of public interest in Mildred Harnack’s fate, also a woman and opponent of the Nazi regime, she was a communist, and American, and the wife of an American who was a Soviet spy.

She was beheaded on 16 February 1943. Her last words were purported to have been: “Ich habe Deutschland auch so geliebt” (“I loved Germany so much as well”). She was the only American woman executed on the orders of Adolf Hitler.[4] — More at Wikipedia

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