Most of them were not. They were heroes – no doubt about that – it takes a genuinely heroic courage to risk one’s life (and practically all Resistance members gave their lives) to do what your conscience tells you to do. Especially if it means going against such formidable adversary as the Nazi regime. This heroic courage definitely deserves respect and admiration.
However, it takes more than heroic courage to be a genuine patriot (actually, sometimes it does not take courage at all). Being a genuine patriot of your country means doing what your country needs to so at the moment in question.
In other words, satisfying not the demands of your consciousness (no matter how noble) but the genuine needs of your country at the specific moment.
Did Germany need resistance against the Nazis? Of course, it did. It desperately needed someone to start and organize resistance against crimes against humanity (and later the war crimes) committed by the Nazi regime.
It needed resistance against the persecution of Jews (and later against the Holocaust), homosexuals, Roma and Sinti people. Against mass murder of civilians committed during ‘pacification’ and anti-guerilla warfare; against mass murder of Soviet POWs, against enslaving millions of residents of occupied territories and forcing them to work in German factories and farms. Against plunder of these occupied territories etc.
In other words, Germany desperately needed mass movement to force the Nazi regime to stop behaving like an organized crime syndicate and start behaving like a civilized government and the civilized state.
Consequently, the only genuinely patriotic Resistance movement in Nazi Germany was the campaign against the infamous ‘Aktion T4’ – mass murder through involuntary euthanasia of mentally ill (and some incurably physically ill) Germans in Germany and Austria in 1939-41.
This campaign (led by Catholic and Protestant Churches) managed to put an end to this monstrous crime against humanity. On 24 August 1941, Hitler ordered the indefinite suspension of the T4 killings.
Unfortunately, no other German Resistance activist ever tried to start and organize such a resistance movement and grow it into a political force powerful enough to make Nazi government put an end to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The group led by Generalmajor Hans Oster, deputy head of the Abwehr develop a very detailed plan of a military coup that was literally hours away from being commenced when the Munich agreement was signed (which averted the outbreak of war between Germany and France & Britain over Czechoslovakia).
Plotters planned to have Adolf Hitler arrested (and possibly assassinated), to overthrow the Nazi government and to establish the military junta to govern Germany.
Which was exactly what Germany did not need, because at that time the Nazi regime (and personally Adolf Hitler) were the only force capable of saving Germany and the whole European civilization from being invaded, conquered, occupied and ultimately destroyed by Stalin and his Bolshevik hordes.
In other words, successful military coup would have resulted in exactly the opposite to what the plotters wanted. Consequently, these plotters, though being completely unaware of that (which does say something about their competence as intelligence professionals), were acting in the interests of a foreign power that was an existential threat to their homeland. Which automatically made them traitors – no doubt about that.
Members of the German section of the Rote Kapelle (‘Red Orchestra’) were traitors as well – plain and simple. They were Soviet spies who before and during World War II supplied the Soviet High Command with vital information that helped the Red Army kill more Germans and to reach its ultimate objective – invade, conquer, occupy and ultimately destroy Germany and the European civilization.
Consequently, Harro Schulze-Boysen (a Luftwaffe staff officer, believe it or not), Arvid Harnack, a prominent lawyer and economist and their associates got what they richly deserved when they were arrested, tried and executed by the Nazi authorities.
Yes, they were heroes (a spy is always a hero), but still traitors. Because both prior to and especially during the existential war with the Soviet Union Germany definitely did not need someone to pass strategic military and economic information to the enemy.
Communist Resistance activists were traitors as well. For a very simple reason – the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) was a member of Comintern – an organization established by Vladimir Lenin (leader of the Bolshevist Russia) with but one objective – conquer the entire world and incorporate all countries into the global Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Run from Moscow, obviously.
Thus, Communists in Nazi Germany were essentially agents of the external power that represented an existential threat to their Fatherland. No sane and responsible government would tolerate such activities in their homeland. Hence, the Nazis did exactly the right and patriotic thing by ruthlessly suppressing KPD and its activities.
Georg Elser, a carpenter from Württemberg, who on the night of November 7th, 1939 detonated a bomb that was supposed to kill Hitler but missed its target by 13 minutes (!) was a traitor as well.
Also for a very simple reason – by assassinating Adolf Hitler in November 1939, he would have killed the only leader capable of saving Germany (and the whole Europe) from the existential threat of being invaded, conquered and occupied by the Bolshevist Soviet Union.
For the same reason, Wehrmacht officers (Major-General Henning von Treskow and his associates) who planned their own assassination attempts using a bomb as their tool, were also traitors.
Fortunately for Germany and the whole European civilization, Elser succeeded only in killing seven innocent civilians (and subsequent plotters failed even to detonate their devices).
The total death toll, however, was four times higher as outraged SS guards at Buchenwald Concentration Camp killed twenty-one Jews as a reprisal for this assassination attempt. Which made no sense at all, because Elser was not a Jew and no Jew was in any way involved in this attempt on Hitler.
For the reasons still unknown, Nazi authorities decided to spare Elser’s life. Instead of being executed after a brief trial (as was the case with just about every Resistance activist), he was placed (without trial) in ‘special custody’ in Sachsenhausen concentration camp where he spent the next five years in relatively comfortable conditions.
He was executed (again without trial) only on April 9th, 1945 – just four weeks before the end of the war in Europe. Given that his bomb killed seven innocent people, he also got what he richly deserved.
And because he murdered innocent people (and apparently did not care a damn thing about their lives when he planned his assassination attempt), he does not (IMHO) deserve to be called a hero.
The now well-known White Rose group led by Sophie Scholl and her brother were essentially harmless confused kids who had no idea that Germany was fighting an existential war with the Soviet Union on the Eastern front.
Which was not an excuse for mass murders the Nazis committed on a regular basis, but, unfortunately, the group called for the uprising against the Nazi regime (i.e. for the overthrow of the Nazi government), not for putting an end to crimes against humanity.
Their group conducted an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign which called for active opposition to the Nazi regime. As it was a non-violent protest and just about no one shared their attitude towards the Nazi regime, they were no threat to the Nazi regime.
Hence, the decision of the Nazi authorities to try them in the notorious Volksgerichtshof (“People’s court”), sentence them to death and execute them almost immediately after the verdict was a very bad decision.
All that the Nazi authorities accomplished, was creating martyrs and giving the anti-Nazi Allied propaganda a powerful tool (thousands of copies of the group’s sixth leaflet, re-titled “The Manifesto of the Students of Munich”, was dropped by Allied planes in July 1943, and became widely known in World War II Germany).
A far better decision would have been to explain to these kids the errors of their ways and to send the boys to the anti-aircraft Luftwaffe units (to protect German women, children and elderly being brutally murdered by the Allied bombers) and girls to the battlefield hospitals – to care for the sick and wounded.
The White Rose had no followers, but had a predecessor – a middle-aged Berlin couple Otto and Elise Hampel who after Elise’s brother was killed in action in France suffered a fundamental nervous breakdown.
Blaming (somewhat incorrectly because it was France who declared war on Germany, not the other way around) the Nazi regime for his death, they began their revenge campaign (revenge, not resistance) against the Nazi regime.
From September 1940 until their arrest in autumn 1942, they hand-wrote over 200 postcards, dropping them into mailboxes and leaving them in stairwells in Berlin, often near Wedding, where they lived.
Their postcards urged people to refuse to cooperate with the Nazis, to refuse military service, and (of course) to overthrow Hitler. Again, practically no one in Berlin at that time shared their negative attitude for the Nazi regime so all but a very small number of postcards were immediately brought to the nearest Gestapo office. Hence, the couple was essentially harmless.
Despite enormous resources at its disposal and the high priority given to the investigation by SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, Gestapo failed to find the creative couple. It was able to arrest them only because Otto Hampel was denounced by his co-worker.
Under normal circumstances, both husband and wife would have been found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a mental hospital, probably for the rest of their lives.
But the circumstances in Nazi Germany in late 1942 were anything but normal, so they were tried by the Nazi “People’s Court” and convicted of “subversion of the war effort” and of “preparing for high treason” (I wonder what that meant). They were both decapitated on 8 April 1943 in the Plötzensee Prison in Berlin.