Resistance to the Nazis in Germany

Whenever people talk about German history, the time of the Third Reich between 1933 and 1945 comes to mind first. Unspeakable atrocities have been committed by the Nazis in several countries and have thus given Germany and the Germans a burden of guilt they will be carrying for generations to come. Yet, while public perception often assumes that Hitler and his allies found support in the entire German people, there have been quite a number of individuals who bravely attempted to resist the Nazi’s seize of power, either in small acts of disobedience or in large-scaled plots to topple the Nazi regime. However, it has to be noted the Nazis indeed found support in most parts of the German people and it was this lack of resistance of the ordinary Germans which enabled Hitler to seize power, install a regime of terror and murder millions of civilians. Compared to the idleness, if not open collaboration of most Germans, the actions of resistance appear all the more brave and courageous.


Today, the most prominent names of the resistance movement are revered by the Germans and honored in many ways. Among those, the Weisse Rose (White Rose) group stands in particularly high regard. The group consisted of a handful of students enrolled at the Munich university, who mostly acted on the basis of their strong Christian beliefs. The names of two of the group’s members, the siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl (see photo), are most commonly associated with the Weisse Rose. The group engaged in a campaign to inform the German public of the wrongdoings of the Nazis and the impossibility to win the war by distributing a series of leaflets between 1942 and 1943, mostly in Southern Germany and Austria. The group was discovered in February 1943 by the Gestapo, its core members were arrested and executed only a few days later. A previously unpublished leaflet drafted by the Weisse Rose was later dropped by allied planes over German cities.

Famously portrayed in the 1993 Steven Spielberg movie “Schindler’s List”, the Austrian-Hungarian industrialist Oskar Schindler is another significant name of the resistance movement. Schindler employed more than 1,000 Jews in his ammunition and enamelware plants located in what is today Poland and the Czech Republic. By hiring those laborers and declaring them “essential” for the fabrication of the highly sought-after products, Schindler protected these Jews from being deported and murdered in concentration camps. Schindler lost all of his fortune on bribes of Nazi officials and on the purchase of supplies for his workers. After the war, he fled to the US-controlled regions of Austria. He died penniless in 1974 and has been buried on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

In 1944, an attempt to assassinate Hitler and by this means remove the Nazis from power failed. Behind the plan, today known as “Operation Valkyrie”, were a handful of Wehrmacht memebers, most prominently Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who was responsible for planting the explosive device that was supposed to kill Hitler. However, the operational plan, in which more than 200 persons were involved, did not merely aim at killing Hitler, but intended to overthrow the Nazi government as a whole. Upon the failed assassination attempt, several thousand persons were arrested and more than 200 were executed, among them Stauffenberg, Field Marshals Erwin von Witzleben and Erwin Rommel, politicians Carl Friedrich Goerdeler and Wilhelm Leuschner and diplomat Helmut von Moltke, one of the leaders and masterminds of the movement.

Resistance to the Nazis, albeit often only organized in small groups, could be found in many social circles. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor whose name is often associated with resistance arising in the church environment. Bonhoeffer began protesting the Nazi rulers within days after their rise to power and continued to make his voice heard in the following years, despite constantly being threatened by the Nazis. Growing frustrated by the church’s complacency with the regime, he went to Great Britain for a time and later to the United States and continued his studies on non-violent protests. Upon his return, he was forbidden from speaking publicly and from then on worked as an ambassador of the underground resistance movement to the allies abroad. He was also connected to the conspirators of the Stauffenberg group and for this reason was executed in 1945, two years after he had been arrested.