The ninth of May this year was the ninetieth anniversary of the birth of Sophie Scholl, a young German who was active in non-violent resistance to Nazism. She grew up in a close-knit family. Her mother was devoted to the children and her father, a devout Lutheran, taught them the values of citizenship and culture without any dogmatism or confessionalism. As a young girl, Sophie joined the German Girls’ League, a requirement imposed by the ruling regime. She became more and more aware of the injustice and outrages being perpetrated in the name of the German people. She had two Jewish companions who looked very “Aryan” (while she had dark hair), but they were marginalised. A teacher in her school in Ulm suddenly disappeared. There was a concentration camp for people with political views, and her father was imprisoned for a critical remark he made about Hitler. She was an avid reader of books by Stefan Zweig, Hans Carossa, Stefan George, Thomas Mann and others that were almost all censured. Sophie could not agree with a regime that branded these authors as degenerate when she found their writings to be wonderful. She said: “Although I do not understand much about politics nor even want to, I still have some sense of what is just and what is unjust. This has nothing to do with politics or nationality. I feel like crying when I see the cruelty of people in high politics and how they betray each other simply to gain an advantage”.
While she was doing compulsory social service, she felt increasingly opposed to the ruling regime and wanted to give meaning to her actions: “I do not have a sense of vocation or anything like that. However, those who wish to become artists must first of all become persons. It must come from our deepest being. I want to try to work on myself. It is very difficult” (Letter to her sister Inge, 8.VII.1938).
When Sophie realised that Hans – her elder brother whom she greatly admired – had embarked on secret resistance activities, she saw that this was the way to give meaning to her life during that dark period. She pleaded with her brother to let her join the group, but he was reluctant to involve her. He wanted to protect his sister, and he had been brought up to think that women should stay away from dangerous activities. He had to give in, however, and Sophie wholeheartedly joined the “White Rose” – the name given to the group by Hans and his friends. She became an active and very useful conspirator as she could move around more easily due to the fact that women were less likely to be stopped and controlled by the SS.
Sophie and her companions were not fanatics trying to promote an ideology at all costs. They were simply coherent to their human and christian values of fraternity and justice. They felt that their first duty at that time in history was to fight against the barbarism and contempt of human beings that they saw around them by using the methods of passive resistance. The core group of the White Rose consisted of five young German university students. During the year 1942 and early 1943, they challenged the regime in the only way they saw possible: communicating the truth. They continued to put their lives at risk by distributing anti-Hitler leaflets in Germany and Austria. They published them in secret with the aim of letting people know what was really going on (“Every word that comes from Hitler’s mouth is a lie...”). They wanted to contest false propaganda. They wanted people to know about the horrors being committed against Jews, and about Nazi military defeats, especially those on the Russian border at Stalingrad. They wanted to call on the great ideals of culture and the lessons of history, and to urge their compatriots to take the way of rebellion, sabotage and desertion.
Sophie, like her brother Hans, loved her family and refused to put family ties in second place to those of the motherland, the Volksgemeinschaft – the people’s community. Their family gave witness of coherence, of action according to conscience and intelligence: “Laws change, conscience remains”.
Nevertheless, although Sophie’s love for her family was so strong, she could never allow family ties to stand in the way of her inner call to seek justice. She loved her country, but she hoped for Germany’s defeat so that it would secure freedom from the ruling regime. She was very fond of nature and culture, and she loved reading (“in the evenings, while the others were fooling around, I read Saint Augustine”), painting, sport, music, friends, and her boyfriend Fritz Hartnagel. She was sentenced to be executed by guillotine by the People’s Court in Munich on 22 February 1943 when she was only 21 years of age. She was accused of treason against the State and the Führer. Her brother Hans was beheaded at the same time, as was a friend Christoph Probst and, two months later, other friends including Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf and the philosophy lecturer Kurt Huber.
Sophie’s story is one about a girl of moral integrity, a person who searched for the truth and who gave her life to defend it. She courageously stood up for freedom of thought, for moral and civic values, and for the joining of forces against a State that was destroying consciences by making idols of their country and race. Sophie and her brother had adopted Maritain’s motto: “an inflexible spirit and a tender heart”. Witnesses say that she went to her death with great dignity and serenity, and with the words “the sun continues to shine”.
Since the nineteen-seventies, Sophie has been honoured in Germany and the world by being counted as one of the “righteous among the nations”.
by Giulia Paola Di Nicola