SOPHIE SCHOLL – THE ‘WHITE ROSE’ ACTIVIST.
About fifteen kilometers east of Regensberg is an architectural marvel called Walhalla. It sits on a high hill overlooking the Danube and is modelled on the Pantheon. In the mid-19th century, King Ludwig I had this built as a Hall of Fame for distinguished Germans and people of German origin. It is home to 130 marble busts and 65 plaques commemorating famous Germans. On 22nd February 2003, the bust of Sophie Scholl was the last to be installed in Walhalla. It was the 60th anniversary of her execution by Hitler’s squads.
Sophie Scholl was born on 9th May 1921 in a little village called Forchtenberg. She was brought up as a Lutheran, by parents who were God-fearing and believed in the essential dignity of every human being irrespective of race, colour or social status. Her father was opposed to Hitler’s dictatorship and was imprisoned for telling one of his colleagues that Hitler was ‘God’s Scourge.’
The home where Sophie was born and grew up in is now the Town Hall at Forchtenberg. A small bust of Sophie stands in one corner.
Though at the age of 12, Sophie joined The League of German Girls, she soon became disillusioned with its practices. In 1940, when she finished High Scool, she became a kindergarden teacher with the hope of avoiding National Labour Service. But she was forced to do a compulsory stint as Nursery teacher in the Auxiliary War Service. This brought about an aversion towards Nazi ideology and practices.
In May 1942, Sophie entered the University of Munich as a student of Biology and Philosophy. Her brother Hans also was studying Medicine at the University. Her boy friend Fritz Hartnagel was serving in the Army on the Eastern Front. From him she received news about the atrocities conducted on prisoners of war and Jews.
Sophie was greatly influenced by the essays and sermons of Cardinal John Neumann. In1942, her brother Hans along with like-minded students Willi Graf and Christopher Probst secretly began to write anit-Nazi pamphlets, urging people to resist Hitler’s ideology. To start with, Sophie was not included in this group as they feared for her life. Later, they felt that as a woman, she would not raise suspicion when she went on her secret forays to distribute pamphlets.
This was the beginning of the ‘White Rose’ movement, which advocated passive resistance to Hitler’s dictatorship. The members were against anti-Semitism. They read books by Thomas Mann, Paul Claudel and others which was prohibited reading. They smuggled food to those in concentration camps and cared for relatives of prisoners. But their most important activity was authoring six anti-Nazi leaflets and secretly distributing them among University students. Some leaflets were sent to undetectable locations for distribution. They used their own pocket money for paper, envelopes, stamps, and printed them out on their typewriters.
Unfortunately, during the distribution of the sixth leaflet, they were caught by one of Hitler’s spies and sentenced to death for treason at the People’s Court, by a cruel judge called Roland Freisler. That Sophie limped into the courttoom with a broken leg was proof of the torture she underwent in jail. At her trial and sentencing, Sophie based her defence on ‘The Theology of Conscience’ referred to by Cardinal Neumann.
“Somebody afterall has to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did.”
Sophie and the members of the White Rose Resistance showed exceptional spiritual courage in the face of death. They were not afraid to verbalize their collective dissent against Hitler’s absolute dictatorship. Sophie recalled the words of her father when she was growing up. “What I want for you is to live in uprightness and freedom of spirit, no matter how difficult that proves to be.”
Ironically, the sixth leaflet was smuggled out to UK and used by the Allies. They dropped millions of copies over Germany under a new title, “The Manifesto of The Students of Munich.”
Sophie was just 21 when she and other members, were beheaded at Stadelheim Prison in Munich on 22nd February 1943. They are buried in the Perlacher Friedhof next to the prison. Her last words were ,”Such a fine day and I have to go. But what does my death matter if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred into action!”
Many children born during that time were named after Sophie and her brother. The German Major Brigitte called her the greatest German woman of the 20th century. Later, films and books were made, based on her life. The most comprehensive book released in 2009 was titled “Sophie Scholl –The Real Story of A Woman Who Defied Hitler.”