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Sophie Scholl and The White Rose
Sophie Scholl was 21, a leader of the White Rose a non-violent underground resistance group of students attending the University of Munich, and one of many Germans who did not support Germany's Nazi regime, when in February 1943 she was executed together with her brother Hans Scholl and their best friend Christoph Probst.
The story of her short life is one of courage, principle and honor.
Sophie and her brother were teenagers in the 1930s and, as with the majority of other young Germans, they had to join branches of the Hitler Youth, which for Sophie was the Bund Deutscher Maedel, the League of German Girls. Most believed Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers Party would continue to lead Germany out of its economic crisis, while also returning the German nation to its former position of importance in the world.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 had had a more destructive effect on Germany's economy than on any other European country, as the USA had called in all its foreign loans and this had destroyed the Weimar republic. In 1933 one third of its people were unemployed so Hitler gained a great deal of support when he promised to eliminate unemployment, and one of the steps he took was to encourage the mass production of radios.
However, although helping to reduce unemployment was the stated motive, the radios were used as an effective means of supplying Nazi propaganda to the German people, and teenagers were not immune to the messages that they heard.
At the same time the Voluntary Youth Service, which planted forests, repaired river banks and helped reclaim wasteland, together with the Voluntary Labor Service, organizations similar to Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps, had been introduced by the National Socialists, and these had succeeded in improving Youth Unemployment Figures.
Hans and Sophie's parents, Robert and Magdalene Scholl, did not share their children's enthusiasm for Hitler and National Socialism which led to their father, who had been a pacifist during WWI, being imprisoned during WWII, in 1942, for insulting Hitler.
After their initial admiration of both the man and the system the brother and sister also began to see their parent's point of view that, far from leading their country back to health and prosperity, under the leadership of Nazis Germany its people and its culture were heading towards ruin, and in 1937 Hans Scholl was jailed for five weeks as a dissident.
Sophie Magdelana Scholl, a national hero in Germany voted the fourth greatest woman in the country's history, its greatest woman of the 20th Century and the focus of Sophie Scholl movies, was born into a strongly religious Lutheran family on 9th May, 1921 in Forchtenberg am Kocher, a picturesque town amongst the vineyards of south west Germany where her father served as mayor.
The family moved several times eventually living in Ulm, alongside the River Danube, where Sophie, an excellent pupil, talented artist, pianist and dancer, attended a secondary school until leaving in 1940 to train as a kindergarten teacher. This she believed would help her to avoid the compulsory National Labor Service, Reichsarbeitsdienst, which was necessary for admittance to University in Nazi Germany.
However the plan did not work, and from the spring of 1941 she served six months of auxiliary war service in Blumberg, a small town in what was then a part of Baden, close to the Swiss border and in the south of the Black Forest. There she was visited by her long term boyfriend Fritz Hartnagel, whom she had met during while dancing in 1937 and who was later to have a decisive influence on the White Rose group and their actions.
In Blumberg she helped at a protestant creche, set up to care for the children of women forcibly recruited to work in jobs considered important for the work effort, and the military like regimen of the Labor Service reinforced her existing feeling of disillusionment with National Socialism. This, and the importance her religious faith had in her life, led her on the path towards practising passive resistance in opposition to the Nazi regime, for which she was ultimately guillotined.
It was May 1942 when she finally enrolled at the University of Munich, as a student of biology and philosophy, and her brother Hans Scholl, who was studying medicine there, introduced her to his friends who despite the war, and the fact that many had served with distinction on the German Eastern Front, lived a student life with a shared love of the arts, philosophy, theology as well as hiking and skiing in the Bavarian mountains.
These were not super heroes in any way, just ordinary young men and women.
To begin with Sophie rented a room in the home of Professor Carl Muth, who had an influence on her brother and his friends. He was the publisher of a religious and cultural magazine featuring works from authors of all denominations which, as it spoke out against the travesty of Nazi inspired Christian Justice, had been forbidden.
Hans had formed the White Rose group together with friends who came from a mix of spiritual backgrounds, devout Roman Catholics, equally as devout Lutherans, one a student of anthroposophy, another a Buddhist, one an atheist who was baptized a Catholic shortly before being executed. As a German resistance group it was committed to using a strategy of passive resistance to oppose the government of Nazi Germany, which included the publishing of leaflets calling for a restoration of democracy and social justice, and calling for active opposition from the German people to Nazism and an the end to the support of WWII in Germany. In every way a very difficult and dangerous plan.
Sophie joined the White Rose resistance movement.
Her boyfriend, Fritz Hartnagel, sent her reports from the Eastern Front where he was a serving army officer, and these covered in depth what he had seen of the brutal conduct of many German troops when dealing with Soviet soldiers and civilians, as well as their involvement in the mass killings of local Jews.
Hearing this for the first time it horrified them all.
The second White Rose leaflet declared: 'Since the conquest of Poland 300,000 Jews have been murdered, a crime against human dignity. Germans encourage fascist criminals if no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds. An end in terror is preferable to terror without end.'
The group believed that the young people of Germany could overthrow Adolf Hitler and the Nazi government, and in one leaflet, 'Fellow Fighters in the Resistance', was written: 'The name of Germany is dishonored for all time if German youth does not finally rise, take revenge, smash its tormentors. Students! The German people look to us.' University students had contributed to Germany's defeat of Napoleon in 1813.
The leaflets were distributed secretly and produced in a complicated and roundabout way which made them difficult to trace, each was more critical of Hitler and the behavior of the German people than the last, and they caused a sensation.
The Gestapo had begun an intensive search for the publishers when, on the morning of 18th February, Sophie and Hans Scholl made a rash decision to finish distributing the sixth leaflet openly at the University, and Jakob Schmidt, a janitor and member of the Nazi Party, saw Sophie throwing leaflets into the air and over a balustrade on the third floor into the courtyard below. He immediately informed the Gestapo and the Scholls were arrested as suspected members of the resistance movement. A handwritten draft for the seventh leaflet was found after they had been searched, and the police matched this to a letter signed by Christoph Probst, one of the six main members of White Rose, in Hans Scholl's apartment.
When questioned by the Gestapo Sophie said it was her Christian conscience which had compelled her to peacefully oppose Nazism.
Four days after their arrest Sophie, Hans and Christoph were condemned to death for treason by the 'People's' Court, which had been created by the National Socialist Party to eliminate Hitler's enemies.
They were executed by guillotine at 5 pm later that day, Feb 22, 1943.
Standing in the People's Court on February 21, 1943, before notorious 'Hanging Judge' Roland Freisler, Sophie Scholl said:
'Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just do not dare express themselves as we did.'
Sophie Scholl May 9, 1921 - February 22, 1943
Illustrations: Bundesarchives photos - Sophie Scholl - Sophie Scholl with Fritz Hartnagel - Together with fellow Munich University Students - Copies of White Rose Leaflets - Hans Scholl, Christoph Probst, Sophie Scholl, courtesy de.Wikipedia
Amazon.com: Sophie Scholl - The Final Days is an eminently watchable movie. Brilliantly acted and historically accurate it is based on the last days in the life of Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans and Christoph Probst. That it is a true story and the participants 'ordinary' people, with faults as well as virtues, who were simply standing firm for their beliefs in a non-violent manner, makes it all the more inspirational. It is a German language film with English sub-titles and was nominated for an Oscar.
Amazon.com: The latest written version of an absorbing and uplifting story. Sophie Scholl: The Real Story of the Woman who Defied Hitler, has contributions from Sophie's one remaining sibling, Elizabeth, and the author uses newly discovered documents to open a fascinating window onto the life of Sophie Scholl and her family, both before and during WWII.
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