We are your guilty conscience. The White Rose will not let you rest easy.
On 22 Feburary 1943, Sophie Scholl, German revolutionary, was sentenced to death for crimes of treason by the People’s Court in Germany. Later that same day, she was executed by guillotine in Munich-Stedelheim Prison. She was only 21 years old. Her crime?
Sophie was a courageous, visionary activist and a founding member of The White Rose, a non-violent resistance group working to immobilise Germany’s people and facilitate opposition to the Nazi dictatorship.
Somebody, after all, had to make a start.
Born in Württemberg in 1921, Sophie was academically gifted with a great passion for English and an insatiable appetite for literature. Despite the family moving to Ulm, a city which initially hadn’t been supportive of the Nazi government, Sophie’s school soon became Nazi-centric and was forced to teach Nazi-approved books on a Nazi-approved syllabus.
By early 1940, Sophie was a trained teacher. She went on to complete her compulsory six months of service at Reichsarbeitsdienst, the Nazi’s National Labour Service, and as she watched the regime operate with military precision, she began to further engage with the growing political crisis.
Just because so many things are in conflict does not mean that we ourselves should be divided.
The White Rose was born during the summer of 1942, and developed through the friendships of artists, writers and philosophers at the University of Munich, where Sophie was studying biology and philosophy. The group included Sophie’s brother Hans Scholl, fellow students Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf and university professor Kurt Huber. Together, they discussed the ways in which the individual conscience can survive under an absolute dictatorship.
When Sophie learned of the mass killings of Jews via first-hand testimonies, the group bought a typewriter and a duplicating machine and began a strategic campaign which would become one of the most famous demonstrations of the power of passive resistance in history.
How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause?
The anonymous leaflet campaign they embarked upon had a clear message. The first leaflet read “Western civilisation must defend itself against fascism and offer passive resistance, before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield” and the second, “Since the conquest of Poland, 300,000 Jews have been murdered, a crime against human dignity… An end in terror is preferable to terror without end.”
The team worked day and night, and created thousands of leaflets which they mailed to people across Germany anonymously — they reached professionals of all kinds and successfully completed five leaflet campaigns.
The sixth leaflet marked the end of their successes. On 18 February 1943, Sophie and Hans were observed distributing their pamphlets at the university by the Nazi custodian, who immediately alerted the authorities. Sophie and Hans were arrested and after, Chrisoph Probst.
I am, now as before, of the opinion that I did the best that I could do for my nation. I therefore do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences that result.
Sophie and The White Rose members suffered brutal interrogations during the next few days and when they arrived to be tried by the People’s Court, their physical appearance showed the violence they’d faced. But even after hours of Gestapo interrogation, Sophie and her colleagues never faltered. The group remained calm and dedicated to their cause throughout the trial. Found guilty of treason and facing the guillotine, Sophie commented “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?” Later, in the spring of 1943, more members of The White Rose were tried and executed.
After Sophie’s death, the text of the group’s sixth leaflet was smuggled from Germany to England and during the summer, allied planes dropped millions of copies of it all over Germany, entitled “The Manifesto of the Students of Munich.”
The White Rose’s non-violent campaign showed the world what can be achieved when we speak out against injustice. Many educational establishments are now named after Sophie and Hans, as are several streets in Germany. In 2003, the government of Bavaria placed a bust of Sophie in the Walhalla temple to honour her courage. The 2005 film Sophie Scholl – The Final Days was critically-acclaimed. Fred Breinersdorfer’s incredible screenplay, based upon original transcripts, is a beautiful evocation of Sophie’s bravery, dedication and belief in justice.
References include Find A Grave, Raoul Wallenberg, The German Resistance Memorial Center, and White Rose Studies.
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