In 1941 Hans Scholl read a copy of a sermon by an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime, Bishop August von Galen, decrying the euthanasia policies (extended that same year to the concentration camps) which the Nazis maintained would protect the European gene pool. Horrified by the Nazi policies, Sophie obtained permission to reprint the sermon and distribute it at the University of Munich as the group's first leaflet prior to their formal organization.
Under Gestapo interrogation, Hans Scholl said that the name the White Rose had been taken from a Spanish novel he had read. Annette Dumbach and Jud Newborn speculate that this may have been The White Rose, a novel about peasant exploitation in Mexico published in Berlin in 1931, written by B. Traven, the German author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Dumbach and Newborn say there is a chance that Hans Scholl and Alex Schmorell had read this. They write that the symbol of the white rose was intended to represent purity and innocence in the face of evil.
Quoting extensively from the Bible, Aristotle and Novalis, as well as Goethe and Schiller, they appealed to what they considered the German intelligentsia, believing that they would be intrinsically opposed to Nazism. At first, the leaflets were sent out in mailings from cities in Bavaria and Austria, since the members believed that southern Germany would be more receptive to their anti-militarist message.
“ Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes - crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure - reach the light of day? ”
— From the first leaflet of the White Rose
August von Galen was born in Germany in 1878. He joined the church and eventually became Bishop of Munster. He held conventional religious views and was initially a supporter of Adolf Hitler and in 1936 blessed the troops before they marched into the Rhineland.
Galen disliked the Nazis racial doctrines and on one occasion wrote a critical review of a book by Alfred Rosenberg.
In 1941 Galen spoke out in a sermon against the Nazi practice of euthanasia (the killing of those considered by the Nazis as genetically unsuitable). Adolf Hitler wanted Galen arrested but Joseph Goebbels warned against this as Galen was a popular religious leader. It is claimed that Galen's sermon inspired the formation of the anti-Nazi White Rose group.
After the July Plot Galen was arrested and accused of being involved in the attempt to assassinate Hitler. He was sent to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp but after no evidence against him was found he was released in early 1945. August von Galen died in 1946.