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1943: Sophie Scholl of the White Rose

February 22nd, 2009 Sarah Owocki

On February 22, 1943, Sophie Magdalena Scholl, former student of philosophy and biology at the University of Munich in Germany, was executed by guillotine for her role in the White Rose nonviolent Nazi resistance group.

Scholl was born just 21 years earlier and spent a carefree childhood in Ludwigsburg and later, in Ulm.

Although she initially joined Bund Deutscher Mädel at age 12 (as required), she quickly grew disenchanted with the group and began to identify strongly with the dissenting political views of some of her teachers, family, and friends.

While serving the required six months in the National Labor Service prior to enrolling in university, Scholl began exploring the philosophy and practice of passive resistance, which she was almost immediately able to put into practice at the University of Munich the following spring, where she quickly fell in with the compatriots of her older brother, Hans Scholl.

Initially a forum to entertain the abstract questions of budding young intellectuals, the group (which dubbed itself the White Rose) quickly moved towards taking a more active role in resistance to the Nazi regime.

How should an individual act under a dictatorship? What obligations, or indeed, power, did a group of half a dozen students have in the face of such stifling repression? As Sophie and her brother watched as their father was jailed for a critical remark made about Hitler to an employee, other group members shared stories of atrocities witnessed during war service (of the six members, all but Sophie were male).

It was agreed that some sort of action was necessary. But what?

The group began distributing a series of leaflets urging other Germans to join them in resistance against the Nazi regime. The earlier leaflets were mailed anonymously to addresses all over Germany (copied out of the phone book), but later, the group began targeting the student population. In Fellow Fighters in the Resistance, they wrote: “The name of Germany is dishonoured for all time if German youth does not finally rise, take revenge, smash its tormentors. Students! The German people look to us.”

Passive was their philosophy, but their language was most certainly not.

In February 1943, the group targeted the last of the series of six leaflets for distribution in the main building of the university. Scholl and her brother volunteered to distribute the leaflets one morning, and nearly were able to disappear into the throng of students once classes let out, before being spotted by a janitor and quickly arrested.

After hours of interrogation, Scholl had almost established her innocence, until investigators searched the siblings’ apartment and found proof of her guilt. At this point, she switched tactics and proudly stood by her actions, stating that she was obligated to act in accordance with her conscience and would freely do the same thing again, and this in the face of increasingly hostile and derogatory questioning by her interrogator.

Scholl, her brother Hans, and White Rose member Christoph Probst were subsequently brought to trial in the People’s Court in a crowd of hand-picked Nazi supporters and in front of the notorious Nazi judge Roland Freisler. Found guilty, each was allowed to give a brief statement. Scholl proclaimed, “Where we stand today, you will stand soon.”

Hans and Sophie Scholl and Probst were executed just hours after their trial. Sophie Scholl’s last words were: “Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

Indeed, the pamphlet that led to Scholl’s death did have that very effect. Smuggled out of Germany later that year, the Allied Forces seized on it and dropped thousands of propaganda copies German cities later that year, retitled as “Manifesto of the Students of Munich”.

In the post World War II era, the Geschwister Scholl (Scholl siblings) have since attained an almost mythical stature in German culture and history, with numerous monuments and schools dedicated in their honor (as well as the famous University plaza the siblings crossed the day of their arrest). In a nationwide 2003 poll, Sophie and her brother Hans were voted the fourth most important Germans of all times, above Bach, Goethe and Einstein.

A celebrated movie about Sophie Scholl was released to critical acclaim in 2005, and the White Rose continues to be the subject of numerous books and articles, from the philosophical to the startlingly practical and pertinent questions of the present day, of just what an ordinary and relatively powerless individual can and should do under extraordinarily trying circumstances.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Germany,Guillotine,History,Martyrs,Treason,Wartime Executions,Women

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13 thoughts on “1943: Sophie Scholl of the White Rose”

  1. Matthew Davidsoin says:

    Where you write
    “Sophie Scholl’s last words were…”
    is *not* true.
    You dishonor the memory, and life, of Sophie Scholl when you put words in the mouth of a brave young girl, a martyr. I was a Corrections Specialist in the Marine Corps 50 years ago: I did a TAD in Berlin then.
    Nobody talks like that in the death chamber, just about to be executed. What Sophie Scholl’s last words *really* were was far more realistic and believable than that bumpf you put in her mouth.
    Upon entering the death chamber, Sophie Scholl broke down—she lost it, upon seeing the guillotine. She struggled, crying out “Let me have my young life!”
    I was told this by a German corrections officer who was there at that time. He is the only reliable source for that event.
    Shame on you.

  2. lawyer says:

    Sophie and Hans Scholl, and all their friends of the White Rose:
    The Honour and the Pride of the German People.
    Justs among the Justs.
    My heroes.

  3. I watched the movie this morning and was very moved. This type of dissent is needed in Western culture. So much is taken for granted in Western culture,yet there are many actions taken my Western governments that is seemingly,silently accepted and IF not approved of;few are willing to take the time necessary to change certain actions that are completely unacceptable. The NSA listening to phone calls based on national security may,at times,be necessary BUT what amazes me is how little is truly questioned when this info is made public. One wonders if people would take the time to demand explanations that the American people are entitled to……yet few take the time or show enough interest!!! Amazing………. WE have been brainwashed to expect this kind of behavior in other cultures.

  4. Anne Shafar says:

    Sophie Scholl is a great inspiration to me. I HAVE a picture of her on my mirrior and almost daily she leads me into my own rightousness. I am stronger in the knowledge of her existance of conviction and sacrifice.

  5. Anne Shupe says:

    I learned of The White Rose Campaign in a very mystical way. I am a ceramic artist/potter and now incoperate the “white rose” in many of my pieces. They represent the strength, beauty and peace so needed in that era and in deed today as well.

  6. I am not able to view this internet site correctly on firefox I feel there may be an issue

  7. Vinny says:

    A rare breed in this day and age…

  8. Fiz (UK) says:

    Long live Sophie and her brother – they were heros.

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