‘White Rose’ Exhibit Seeks to Inspire, Embolden Through the Medium of History

College campuses are simultaneously praised and ridiculed as being havens for progressive thinking. After the recent presidential election, students across the country were lambasted by parents, friends, teachers, and political pundits for infantile behaviors as rumors swirled around of students skipping class and crying because Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. It’s easy for adults to target college students as being too young, inexperienced, naïve, optimistic, and impressionable. These criticisms levied against students, in many ways, are fair, but, as evidenced by history, university students also carry with them a deeply held passion to do good. With all this in mind, the story of the White Rose student resistance to Adolf Hitler should inspire Boston College student to be politically active by honoring the actions of a bastion of brave and courageous university students in Germany, who actively urged fellow students to resist the Nazi Party.

Located in the Theology and Ministry Library Atrium, on Brighton Campus, the White Rose exhibit is simple: tall, gray panels of words and faces circle the perimeter of the room to guide guests along. The exhibit tells of a group of university students in Munich who, between 1942 and 1943, actively took a stand against Hitler. This action was especially commendable, given that most other university students at the time donned the brown uniforms of the Hitler Youth. Certain students at the University of Munich soon began to take notice of the intense anti-Semitic hatred that had slithered its way onto campus, as brilliant minds like Albert Einstein and Richard Willstatter were told to leave Munich. In order to combat the appealing pull of the Nazis, students of the White Rose in Munich created leaflets that were supposed to inform people, shake their belief in Hitler, arouse feelings of doubt and make Germans aware of their guilt. These leaflets were dispersed throughout Germany in an attempt to inspire more students at other universities. By 1943, the British had gotten ahold of the sixth leaflet of the White Rose. In a feverous attempt to infuriate the Germans, the British dropped 1.5 million reprinted leaflets over Germany, titled “A German leaflet – manifesto of the students of Munich.”

The students at the University of Munich who initiated the White Rose resistance were well acquainted prior to the rise of Hitler. Students Christoph Probst and Alexander Schmorell had been good friends since their schooldays—they eventually met friends Willi Graf, Hans Scholl, and Sophie Scholl, all of whom were quite critical of the Nazi regime. These friends often came together to listen to Professor Kurt Huber give lectures on the reprehensible actions of Hitler and the Nazis—Huber also helped compose the many leaflets alongside the rest of the students at the university. Long nights were spent talking, debating, and planning what to do in order to persuade others to stop following Hitler. This type of intense collaboration and camaraderie between friends helped make the White Rose resistance as effective as it was.

As informative as the panels of words are, the individual photographs of the White Rose resistors will truly stay with attendees. Featured throughout the exhibit are in-depth biographies of many student resistors situated adjacent to these photos—they are not much older than the students of Boston College. The haunting reality is the fact, that many of these students died for the cause. Resistors, like the aforementioned Schmorell, were slaughtered—Schmorell was only 25 years old when he was sent to the guillotine. One of the more sobering panels tallies the atrocities committed by the Nazis against political opponents in Germany. Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis interrogated and tortured over one million Germans, and killed over 130,000 of their own people.

After learning of the slaughter of these student resistors, optimism may seem lost. Still, the curators of the exhibit made an effort to show that the action taken by the White Rose was not in vain. Amid the gut-wrenching photographs of burned bodies and broken families lies a panel that addressed the legacy of the resistance. After the fall of Nazi Germany, the White Rose leaflets were used as drafts for the future Federal Government of Germany, while influencing freedom of speech, freedom of confession, and reasonable socialist movements. In many ways, the progressive students of the White Rose outlined many ideals held up by modern society, demonstrating their lasting impact.

John Michalczyk, director of the film department, has written a book and directed documentaries dealing with the atrocities committed by the Nazis. Michalczyk first learned about the White Rose in the 1980s, when he met Franz Mueller, a young member of the White Rose with whom he remains friends to this day. The White Rose resistance, in particular, moved the professor because he was interested in how a group develops momentum to take on a totalitarian and oppressive government body. Given his expertise, he was asked to be on the panel discussing the importance and impact of the White Rose.

Michalczyk ultimately hopes that Boston College students will see this exhibit, and remember that they too have a voice and that they, too, should express themselves when there is a matter of social justice at stake.
“The exhibit has great relevance today when we are trying to make certain that a political ideology does not have priority over the law,” he said. “Every day, we are seeing more travesties of justice around us, and this has emboldened many to find a fresh voice of resistance.”

Featured Image By Jake Evans / Heights Staff