The group consisted of five students: Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie Scholl, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, and Willi Graf, all in their early twenties. They were joined by a professor, Kurt Huber, who drafted the final two leaflets. Though the members of the White Rose were all students at Munich University, the men had also participated in the war on the French and Russian fronts, were witness to the atrocities being committed against Jews, and sensed that the reversal of fortunes that the Wehrmacht suffered at Stalingrad would eventually lead to Germany's defeat. They rejected the Prussiann militarism of Adolf Hitler's Germany and believed in a federated Europe that adhered to Christian principles of tolerance and justice. Quoting extensively from the Bible, Lao Tzu, 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 mass mailings from different cities in Bavaria and Austria, since the members believed that southern Germany would be more receptive to their anti-militarist message.
Following an extended lull in activities after mid-July 1942, the White Rose took a more vigorous stance against Hitler in February 1943, issuing the final two leaflets and painting anti-Nazi slogans throughout Munich, most notably on the gates of the university. The shift in their position is obvious from the heading of their new leaflets, which now read, "The Resistance Movement in Germany". The sixth leaflet was distributed in the university on February 18, 1943 to coincide with students leaving their lectures. With almost all of the leaflets distributed in prominent places, Sophie Scholl made the headstrong decision of climbing the stairs to the top of the atrium and dropping the final leaflets onto the students below. She was spotted by a caretaker, who was a member of the Nazi party, and arrested together with her brother. The other active members were soon rounded up and the group and everyone associated with them were brought in for questioning.
The Scholls and Probst were the first to stand trial, on February 22, 1943. They were found guilty of treason and executed by guillotine that same day. The other key members of the group were also beheaded later that summer. Friends and colleagues of the White Rose, who helped in the preparation and distribution of leaflets and in collecting money for the widow and young children of Probst, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to ten years.
With the fall of Nazi Germany, the White Rose came to represent the purest form of opposition to tyranny, with no interest in personal power or self-aggrandizement. Their story became so well-known that the composer Carl Orff, attempting to justify his remaining in Germany during the war, claimed to his Allied interrogators that he was a founding member of the White Rose and released. While he was personally acquainted with Huber, there is no evidence that Orff was in any way involved in the movement, and he most likely made his claim to escape imprisonment.
The square where the central hall of Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich is located has been named "Geschwister-Scholl-Platz" after Hans and Sophie Scholl.