Alexander Schmorell was a medical student in Munich during World War II, and one of
the founding members of the anti-Nazi group The White Rose. Along with the other
members of the White Rose, he tried to rally popular support amongst Germans to try
to resist Hitler and the Nazi regime. He was arrested in February 1943, and was
executed on 13 July 1943 at Stadelheim Prison in Munich.
Alexander Schmorell was born in Orenburg, Russia, on 16 September 1917 (3
September old-style) and was baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church. His father,
Hugo Schmorell, a doctor, was German, although he had been born in Russia, and had
lived there most of his life, except for a time when he studied medicine in Germany.
His mother, Nataliya Vvedenskaya, was Russian, and was the daughter of a Russian
Orthodox priest. When Alexander was two years old, his mother died of typhus. His
father remarried in 1920. The woman whom he married, Elisabeth Hoffman, was also
German, but, like Hugo Schmorell, she had also grown up in Russia.
Hugo Schmorell and his family left Russia in 1921 in order to flee the Bolsheviks. With
them came Feodosiya Lapschina, Alexander's nanny, under the pretense that she was
the widow of Hugo Schmorell's brother. (For this reason, she was buried with the
name Franziska Schmorell.) The family settled in Munich, and soon afterward two
children, Erich and Natascha, were borne of this union.
Although the family was now in Germany, the language of the house remained
Russian. In fact, even with the many years she stayed in Germany, Feodosiya
Lapschina never learned very much German. Elisabeth Schmorell was Roman
Catholic, as were Alexander's siblings, but in large part due to Feodosiya Lapschina's
influence, Alexander remained Orthodox, and his stepmother made it possible for him
to attend Orthodox religion classes in Munich.
In the Nazi mindset, the Slavs belonged to the great horde of "untermenschen", that is,
people who supposedly were barely human. This was a mindset that Alexander could
never accept. At one point, he had been part of the Scharnhorst Youth, but once they
became part of the Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugend), he eventually stopped attending.
When he was to be sworn in to military service, he nearly had a breakdown, and told
his commanding officer that he could not do it; he could not swear absolute loyalty to
Adolf Hitler. He asked to be released from military duty. He was not released, yet,
amazingly, there were also no repercussions for his refusal to take the oath. Before
getting involved with the White Rose, he served in Czechoslovakia and in France.
He began his university study in Hamburg in 1939, but by the fall of 1940 he was
studying closer to home at Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität in Munich. It is around this
time that he met Hans Scholl, who would, with him become the founders of the White
The White Rose
By 1942, Nazi control of Germany was nearly total. World War II was raging around
Germany on all sides. German forces had taken over most of Europe, and German
troops were far into Russia and as far as the north of Africa. By this time Hitler's plans
for the "cleansing" of Europe were well underway, and Nazi death camps were up and
running. It was no secret that any perceived enemy of Hitler's was also liable to be
arrested and sent to one of these prisons. Not only that, but the practice of "
Sippenhaft" was also widespread, that is, the family and friends of anyone suspected
of opposing Hitler would also be arrested.
The White Rose was one of the few instances in the history of Germany during the
Third Reich where people took the chance to speak out against what Hitler was doing.
In the summer of 1942, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell, got ahold of a
duplicating machine, and composed four leaflets under the name "The White Rose"
which called on Germany's people to rise up and resist Hitler. The distribution of these
four leaflets was fairly limited and was centered around Munich. This was not the first
time that leaflets had been distributed in Germany, for example, some of the homilies
of Bishop Clements von Galen which had denounced Hitler's euthanasia program had
been written down, typed out, and sent around Germany anonymously. However, the
leaflets of the White Rose went further, calling for Germans to realise what was
happening, and to resist by any means possible. Contained in the second leaflet, in a
passage written by Alexander Schmorell, is the only known public outcry by any
German resistance group against the Holocaust.
During the summer of 1942, Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, and Willi Graf were
sent to Russia as medics. For Alexander, it was a homecoming of sorts - this was the
first time in his life that he could remember experiencing Russia for himself. He told
others that there was no way that he could shoot at a Russian, though he said he
couldn't kill Germans either. In Russia, he provided a link for his friends to the Russian
people. He sought contact with regular people, doctors, and Orthodox priests; he,
Hans, and Willi attended Orthodox liturgies (wearing Nazi uniforms, no less!)
When they returned to Munich in October of 1942, the activities of the White Rose
were redoubled. This time, more people were directly involved, including Sophie
Scholl (Hans' sister), Professor Kurt Huber, and Traute Lafrenz. Through Alexander's
friend, Lilo Ramdohr, contact was established with Falk Harnack, younger brother of
Arvid Harnack, who had been arrested in connection with the Red Orchestra (and who
was also connected with the Bonhoeffers).
In January of 1943, the publication of the fifth leaflet was ready. This time, the
members of the White Rose risked their lives to distribute the thousands of leaflets all
over greater Germany. Alexander's journey brought him to Linz, Vienna, and Salzburg.
The End of the White Rose
After the fall of Stalingrad, a sixth leaflet was produced. On 18 February 1943, Hans
and Sophie Scholl were caught distributing this leaflet at the University in Munich. They
were arrested, and the search was on for Alexander Schmorell. With the help of Lilo
Ramdohr and Nikolai Hamazaspian, he tried escaping to Switzerland with a forged
passport, but the way was too difficult, and he turned back to Munich. On 24 February
1943, he was arrested when a friend of his recognised him in a air-raid shelter. He
was sentenced to death on 19 April 1943, and was executed by guillotine on 13 July
Religion in the White Rose
Although the White Rose was not an religious group, per se, it is undeniable that the
faith in God that these young people had was one of the primary reasons that they
acted with the bravery they did. Alexander Schmorell was the only one of the group
who was Orthodox, but the faith they all showed to do what they did is exemplary.
Although Alexander's connection to Orthodoxy has, in various books, been played off
as merely a way for him to stay more connected with his Russian heritage, or a
fascination with ritual rather than with real faith. However, he attended Orthodox
services regularly, and as his friend Lilo Ramdohr said he was somebody who always
had a Bible with him, and demonstrated a lifelong love of Orthodoxy. In his letters to
his family from prison, he writes about the deepening of his faith; that although he is
condemned to die, he is at peace, knowing he served the truth. In his last letter,
written just before his execution, he wrote his family, "Never forget God!!"
Alexander Schmorell was buried behind Stadelheim Prison, in the cemetary at
Perlacher Forst. After World War II, the American forces came in and built a base
behind Perlacher Forst. When the Americans left in the mid-1990's, they had to sell
off the buildings and property. One of the buildings left behind was a church.
Coincidentally, at this time, the ROCOR in Munich was searching for a church
building. They were able to purchase the American church, and in this way, Alexander
Schmorell's home parish is now across the street from where his earthly remains are
buried. He is pictured on the iconostasis there, and will become a saint along with the
New Martyrs of Russia.
Letters from Prison
- Fürst-Ramdohr, Lilo, "Freundschaften in der 'Weißen Rose'", Verlag
Geschichtswerkstatt Neuhausen 1995 ISBN: 3931231003
- Bald, Detlaf, "Die Weiße Rose: Von der Front in den Widerstand", Aufbau-Verlag
2003 ISBN: 3351025467
- Breinersdorfer, Fred, "Sophie Scholl - Die Letzten Tage", Fischer Tb. Vlg. 2005
- Dumbach, Annette, and Jud Newborn, "Shattering the German Night", Little, Brown, &
Co. 1986 ISBN: 0316604135
- Hanser, Richard, "A Noble Treason: The Revolt of the Munich Students Against Hitler"
Putnam Pub Group 1979 ASIN: 0399120416
- Kulturinitiative e.V. Freiburg (Hrg), "Die Weiße Rose: Gesichter einer Freundschaft"
- Храмов, Игор, Ру