I just finished reading the book, “Sophie Scholl: The Real Story of the Woman who Defied Hitler.” (I don’t think that’s the best title to describe Sophie Scholl.) Not many Americans know about Sophie Scholl but she is a very popular icon in Germany today. In November 2003, the German TV channel ZDF conducted a nationwide poll of viewers in a series called “Greatest Germans,” and among them were Hans and Sophie Scholl. They came in fourth place together, ahead of Bach and Albert Einstein. She is undoubtedly dubbed as the greatest woman in Germany. And in 2005, the German film “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days” was nominated for “Best Foreign Film” at the 2006 Academy Awards. So this is the short-story version of one of my heroes, a 21-year-old who stood against the norm of a society and died for her religious, political, and social beliefs during WWII in a resistance called, “The White Rose.”
THE FALSE BELIEFS ABOUT HITLER:
As I read into history about Adolf Hitler in general, something that the author pointed out was Hitler did not come in as an “evil dictator” as American history would usually depict him but one that many citizens looked up to for help during an economic crisis. Many people, including Sophie and Hans Scholl, viewed Hitler as a good man with good intentions to help the Fatherland but their father, Robert Scholl- a politically involved mayor, detested him. Robert hated everything that Hitler stood for and believed that Hitler would lead the people into disaster and his propagandas, such as the Hitler Youth, were a disguise for his own political and social agendas. Several years later Hitler began to show his true intentions through bills and legislations, such as the Enabling Act in 1933 (the Enabling Act allowed Hitler to issue his own laws and decrees without the need of endorsement from parliament), that would eventually give him much power to control the country and its directions even with very little manpower through the Gestapo in the beginning of his reign.
THE HITLER YOUTH AND THE NAZIS:
On a side note, I want to talk about the Nazis real quick and its target toward the youths in Germany! The Nazis made huge efforts to win over the youths. Adolf was 43 when he became a German chancellor. Most of the leading figures in his Nazi elite were under forty and the average age of the Nazi Party members was below thirty. The leader of the Hitler Youth and a member of the Cabinet, Baldur von Schirach, was only twenty-five years old! This was one of the statements that Hitler made in a speech to the 1935 Nuremberg rally: “We must bring up a new type of human being, men and girls, who are DISCIPLINED and HEALTHY to the core.”
Sophie was part of the Hitler Youth and her brother Hans was one of the regional leaders for it. The Hitler Youth can be seen as a stepping stone before the future membership of the elite group, the SS (Schultzstaffel), and the organization would teach much of the Nazis doctrines that included discrimination against some of the following: Jews, communists, Jehovah’s Wtinesses, religious and political dissidents, homosexuals, prostitutes and the mentally and physically handicapped. Initially, the Hitler Youth did not teach these things but it was slowly creeping in the rules and laws. Membership was voluntary at first in 1933 but by the end of 1936 it was compulsory for all German youths between ten to eighteen years old. Eventually Sophie and Hans did everything to stay away from the group.
Here is a little background about the Scholl family and Sophie. Sophie Scholl came from a Christian background where her father, Robert Scholl, was a mayor and was a somewhat religious but a very morally ethical man but his wife was a woman of prayer and loved Jesus Christ very much. Sophie’s mother greatly influenced and encouraged her children seek counsel and solace in biblical study. The family loved reading books, especially Sophie and Hans- actually, the majority of the library consisted of books that the two siblings owned. Some of the major writers that influenced them included the philosopher Aristotle. As a family, they stood for justice and believed in it to the death.
Franz Muller, one of Hans’ friends said something I loved about him:
“He was highly educated and had leadership qualities. Hans had no fear. He had no sense of danger. That was very bad…If you have NO FEAR you can have a CLEAR VISION. BUT IT IS DANGEROUS.”
As the discrimination arose in the country and in ever sphere of life in the culture, Sophie at fourteen years old began verbalizing about the injustice in the concentration camps in her school and her doubts toward Hitler:
“How could he not know? They’ve existed for years and were set up by his friends. And why didn’t he use his power to do away with them at once? Why are those who are released from them forbidden on pain of death to tell anything about what they went through?”
Sophie generally would stand up for justice in her classrooms for the Jews as well as for people who suffered injustice. She would openly verbalize the injustice and act against it rather than watching it happen and sit still.
Sophie was undoubtedly a lover of God. She prayed daily at least before bed and God was part of her everyday lifestyle. Sophie would also receive prophetic dreams. In October 1939, she had a dream where she sat in a prison cell with a heavy iron ring around her neck. On Monday February 22, 1943, she received a dream about carrying a child in a long white dress. She was going on a path to the church but that had a steep slope. She held a child in her arms firmly and suddenly her “footing gave way… [she] had enough time to put the child down before plunging into the abyss.” After she woke up, she believed that the child represented the White Rose or the idea of it and that it would continue on even though she would die as she sat in the prison cell before her death sentence was coming.
THE WHITE ROSE:
The White Rose movement eventually rose up because the Nazi regime constantly encroached against organized religion. Beyond that Hans experienced a lot of the discrimination and saw what WWII was doing to the people as he was forced to serve in the war. The siblings started to notice the freedom that they were losing as a nation and the people of Germany were constantly living in fear because of the many laws and regulations in the land. People could not share their political stance, unless it was like Hitler’s, and non-pure Germans were being discriminated publicly and questioned. And of course, Jews were placed in concentration camps and such.
Eventually, Sophie came alongside her brother, the leader, and supported his ideas. In many of her letters to Fritz Hartnagel, her boyfriend who was a sergeant or general in the army (basically one of the main leaders of armies), she emphasized the importance of Christian values and the right to religious freedom as key elements in any moral regeneration of Germany. Hans was also being influenced by his visits to many scholars that were deemed “politically unreliable” and were forbidden by the Nazis from publishing books. One of them was Theodor Haecker, a 63-year-old Catholic scholar, who believed that National Socialism was an “alternative religion to Christianity.” The idea of the need for a “spiritual resistance” to National Socialism- which informed the views of [people like] Haecker- were “very important philosophical influences on [Sophie and Han’s] own moral, intellectual and spiritual journey towards active opposition.”
However, religion was not the only thing that influenced their protest. Afred von Martin and Josef Furtmeier were “The Philosopher” who suggested a need for active resistance to the Nazi regime by shaking the Germans through propaganda.
There were several key people that were involved in The White Rose. Sophie can be described as the heart while Hans is the thinker behind it. Christopher Probst was also helping the organization write the leaflet campaigns. Alexander Schmorell also provided a protable US-made Remington typerwriter for the first leaflet even though Hans wrote it on his own.
The organization as a whole was very small and consisted of less than ten main people before the siblings were beheaded. Its aim was a non-violent “passive resistance” toward the Fuhrer (Hitler) and his ideology through leafleting campaigns through letters and also phone calls through our modern-day Yellowbook. (The leaflets were written papers that state its political stance and encourage its people to join its resistance.)
The following is the most provocative, which is the third leaflet out of the six, that they sent throughout the nation:
“Sabotage in armament plants and war industries. Sabotage in all gatherings, rallies, public ceremonies and organizations in the National Socialist Party. Obstruction in the smooth running of the war machine… sabotage in all areas of science and scholarship which further the continuation of the war- in universities, technical schools, laboratories, research institutes or technical bureaus… Sabotage in all branches of the arts… Sabotage in all [media]… Try to convince all your acquaintances, including those of the lower social classes, the senselessness of continuing, of the hopelessness of the war, of our spiritual enslavement at the hands of the National Socialists, of its destruction of all moral and religious values and urge them to PASSIVE RESISTANCE.”
Eventually, the Nazi regime and its commanding officers placed a criminal charge for treason over their heads and the Gestapo wanted to track down the group behind the leaflets. The Gestapo in Munich, where the siblings reside and sends out their leaflets, established a special task force headed by Robert Mohr to bring about a “speedy arrest” of the leaders and make an example out of them.
THE INVESTIGATION AND DEATH SENTENCE:
Eventually, the group leaders were arrested, investigated, and finally beheaded by the guillotine device. However, throughout the whole investigation and the court appearance at the People’s Court in February 1943, Sophie remained calmed, peaceful, and very steadfast in her ideology. Robert Mohr, the skilled Gestapo investigator for The White Rose special task force, said he was impressed by her intelligence, courage, justice-cry, incredible strength of character, her unwavering love and faith in God, and treated her well. He even offered her “an off the record” interrogation to persuade her to admit that she did not agree with brother’s ideology and admit that she was only an assistant. He offered her a chance to live but she refused saying she could not betray her own brother. She believed that her sentence should be the same as her brother. Sophie chose to die for her principles and to stand with her brother. Robert was remorseful that such an intelligent-young girl was going to be killed but he granted her wish.
Roland Freisler was their judge who was known as the most notorious and terrifying judge in Nazy Germany. He was the president of the People’s Court, where he gave the death sentence to 1,192 people in the FIRST YEAR. He was Hitler’s special man to handle cases in the court that would defy him as a Fuhrer and the war efforts. All of his trials were extremely quick and very demeaning.
The judge, as a custom, gave the defendants the last words. Hans last words in the court were, “Today you will hang us, but soon you will be standing where I now stand.” Sophie also stated, “What we wrote and said is believed by many others. They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did… You know the war is lost. Why don’t you have the courage to face it?”
As they were assisted out of the court, their parents and brother managed to gatecrash into the non-public proceedings. Their father shouted, “There is a higher court [God’s] before which we must all stand,” and their mother nearly fainted as she received the announcement about her children’s death sentence. Their parents somehow through favor were able to visit their children in the visiting room. Magdalence Scholl said to her daughter, “Remember Jesus,” and Sophie replied, “Yes. But you [remember Him] too.” Those were her last words to her parents.
As they were sitting in their separate cells, Sophie was visited first by the prison chaplain. The man encouraged her to the read the bible, and the first passage she read out loud was from 1 Corinthians 13:8-13:
“8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
The last words she heard before she entered the anteroom were, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for your friends” (John 15:13). And the last words that Hans defiantly shouted before the blade fell were, “Long live FREEDOM!”
In mid-1943 (about three to four months after the execution), a copy of the sixth leaflet was smuggled out of Germany through Scandinavia to the UK by German jurist Helmuth von Moltke, where it was utilized by the Allied Forces. They dropped millions of propaganda copies over Germany of the tract, now retitled The Manifesto of the Students of Munich.
There are over 190 school named in Sophie Scholl’s honor including the schools they went to, Ulm Gymnasium. Their motto is, “We stand up against injustice.”
SOME OF MY FAVORITE QUOTES:
“Youth must not be seduced into silence when conscience demands it must speak.” – The Author and His Time by Ernst Wichert.
“Where books are burned, they will ultimately also burn human beings.”- Book of Songs by Heinrich Heine.
“God was your insight into yourself. He was the only mirror you could see and understand yourself with clarity.”- Sophie Scholl
“”How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of [youths] are awakened and stirred to action?” – Sophie Scholl