Franz J. Müller was part of the White Rose resistance group that called for active opposition against the Nazi regime. In an interview with DW he recalls what happened and why the White Rose is still significant.
DW: How did it happen that, as a young student, you became a member of the White Rose?
Franz J. Müller: Well, you can't really say "member." I was more a participant; after all, we were no association or club. I was introduced to the White Rose through Hans Hirzel. He was my friend at school and son of the pastor at the Martin-Luther Church in Ulm. We were quite close and played many pranks together at school.
The Hirzels were also friends with the Scholl family, and Hans Hirzel had visited the Scholl siblings in Munich. That's when Hans Scholl showed him the second leaflet they had printed for the White Rose and asked if he had friends that could help him spread the papers in Ulm. Hirzel showed the leaflets to his closest friends and asked who wanted to help. In the end it was only me who agreed to do it.
What made you agree to spread leaflets for the White Rose?
The Führer decided whether we were to live or to die. And then, all that pseudo-militaristic stuff. And we weren't allowed to read what we wanted, either. Fortunately we were able to listen to Swiss radio broadcasts. That wasn't exactly the voice of freedom, but at least they had information that was not available in Germany. And, of course, we then discussed all these things, too. We knew that if Germany didn't lose the war, the Nazis would rule Europe. Under no circumstances did we want that! In our opinion Germany HAD to lose the war! Otherwise we wouldn't see freedom again in our lifetime.
What exactly did you do for the White Rose?
Together with Hans Hirzel I sent out the fifth leaflet. For that, we first of all had to get envelopes. In the early morning hours I took the key to my father's office. He was a clerk with the Reichsnährstand, the government body that regulated food production. I sneaked into the office and stole a whole box, probably 1,000 envelopes.
What was your experience with Hans and Sophie Scholl?
Unfortunately, I never got to know Hans and Sophie in person. Hans Scholl was the most well-known leader within the Hitler Youth movement in Ulm and the surrounding area. He owed that to his looks and to the special way he organized duties. Everyone, me included, wanted to be part of his group. Whenever Hans Scholl talked to you, that alone was already some kind of honor.
My friend Hans Hirzel had a bit of a crush on Sophie Scholl. She was an attractive young woman and we were self-conscious high school students. I never would have dared to approach her, and I would have blushed had she done it.
You were drafted into the military, the Wehrmacht, before the Scholls were executed. How did you learn of their fate?
My mother sent me a clipping from the Ulm newspaper: "Traitors of the people executed." That's how I knew Sophie and Hans were no longer alive.
What happened to you?
I was arrested in France. One evening, at the beginning of March 1943, as we returned to the barracks from one of our maneuvers, they said: "Artilleryman Müller, off to the orderly room!" At that point I knew. The commander said "I received orders from Berlin to imprison you and have you brought to Munich." They brought me to Munich by train and took me to the Gestapo [the Nazi secret service police].
In the end, like the Scholls, they brought you in front of the people's court under its chairman Roland Freisler. But you managed to avoid the death sentence?
This was thanks to Suse Hirzel, Hans' sister, who was also charged.
Blond and blue-eyed, with braided and coiled hair, [she was] for Freisler "the incarnation of a Germanic girl, one that could never have known of the filthy lies against the Führer." He sentenced her to one year in prison. That meant he could hardly charge us younger boys, also blond and blue-eyed, with the death penalty. That's how we got five years in prison "as immature adolescents, seduced by the enemy of the state."
After the war you gained prominence through the White Rose Foundation, which you co-founded. What would you like to accomplish with this foundation?
My reasoning was that we had to show the allies, and all those that saw Germans only negatively as perpetrators and followers, that [even] under Hitler, there were other Germans, too. Those who fought for a different Germany, risked their lives, and unfortunately often also lost them. We can be proud of them. Their ideas should shape our future.
White Rose leaflet memorial in front of the Munich university
It's in this sense that I see it as a merit of my life to have initiated the White Rose Foundation and eventually founded it - together with survivors and relatives of those that were executed. We have created a touring exhibition to keep the memory of those who were part of the White Rose alive. It is now available in many languages, and it travels quite a bit, for example to Italy, France, Spain, Russia, the US, Japan and so on. Of course it helps that the White Rose is a fixed part of the history curriculum.
How do you explain the international attention the White Rose continues to draw?
The White Rose is seen as the prominent indication that resistance in Germany was possible, that one could do something. Of course it adds to the effect that it was young people, and also that it was siblings who were executed.
What's your experience when meeting young people and students? What is it that the example of the White Rose ought to convey?
They tend to admire what we did. I try to explain: Hans and Sophie didn't want to be heroes. They valued friendship and freedom. The students should look for information as comprehensively as possible and have discussions with friends, in order not to be easily influenced by propaganda slogans, and to show civil courage when liberties are at stake.