Sophia Magdalena Scholl (May 9, 1921 – February 22, 1943) helped to publish and distribute leaflets under the group name of the White Rose non-violent resistance movement, in Nazi Germany. As a young college student, Scholl often questioned the role of a dictator such as Adolf Hitler and his brutal policies against the Jews. After being arrested for distributing the group's sixth leaflet, Sophie Scholl, along with her brother Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst were convicted of treason and only a few hours later, all three were executed by guillotine.
Sophie and her family loved Germany, and she and her brother had both received accolades and awards for their efforts as stellar German citizens. They were not rebels, they were outstanding young people pursuing academic degrees.In the end it was their love for truth that caused them to take the stand that would cost them their lives.
Sophie Scholl was the fourth out of five children born to Robert and Magdalena Scholl. Robert Scholl was the mayor of Forchtenberg am Kocher at the time of Sophie's birth. She led a happy and carefree childhood. Her parents, especially her father, encouraged the children to think for themselves, to form opinions, and to value education. At age seven, she proved to be an apt and able student, often learning the lessons quickly and applying herself to her studies. As she grew older, Sophie developed a talent in art and became an avid reader of books on philosophy and theology.
During the year of 1930, the Scholl family moved first to Ludwigsburg, and then two years later to the city of Ulm. In Ulm, Robert Scholl set up his business consulting office.
In 1933, Sophie, at the age of 12, was required to join the Hitler Youth group Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls). At first, joining the group was fun for Sophie and the other girls her age. But gradually Sophie became aware of the vast differences between what was taught by the Hitler youth and what she was taught at home. She eventually became very critical of the group and others like it. Her father was opposed to the fascist government of Adolf Hitler and Sophie's belief echoed her father's. Sophie's brother, Hans, was also a member of the Hitler youth, but Hans and his friends were put into prison in 1937, for subversive activities with the German Youth Movement. This injustice left a strong impression on Sophie. She often turned to reading and painting to create an alternative world to the fascist National Socialism that was growing ever-present in Germany.
In the spring of 1940, she graduated from secondary school and sought employment. As her studies and essays in school reflected, Sophie was fond of children. One of her most impressive essays was titled, The Hand that Moved the Cradle, Moved the World. Sophie's biggest dream was to continue on at the university level, but there were several prerequisites required at the time. One of these being service in the Reichsarbeitsdienst (National Labor Service). Sophie had no desire to serve in another Hitler sponsored group, so she took a job as a kindergarten teacher at the Fröbel Institute in Ulm-Söflingen. Her hope was that her employment at the kindergarten could be used as an alternative to the required service. However, this would prove not to be the case. In the spring of 1941, Sophie began a six month term of service in the auxiliary war service as a nursery teacher in Blumberg. During this time, her brother, Hans, was drafted by the Labor Service and sent to the front lines against Russia and became convinced that Germany had already lost the war. He soon began to form thoughts of resistance. Even though Sophie's job was with children, her schedule was very much a military-like regimen. The six months were hard for her, a mental strain rather than a physical one. She, too, soon began to think of passive resistance against the Nazi Reich.
In May 1942, Sophie completed her six months of service for the National Labor Service and was able to enroll at the University of Munich as a student of biology and philosophy. Hans had also returned from service and was studying medicine at the University. It was here that Sophie met her brother's friends, and the members of the soon to be White Rose Movement. Before the politics came into play, the young group of people enjoyed hiking, skiing, and swimming, as well as sharing their thoughts and ideas about art, music, literature, and philosophy. They were like any other group of college-age students at the time, attending parties and plays, as well as lectures and classes. As Sophie met others who shared her passions in art, writing, and philosophy, she was able to meet Carl Muth and Theodor Haecker, who were important friends for her. The trio questioned everything from the existence of God, to the pressing question that Sophie had thought about for years: How the individual must act under a dictatorship.
As a final incident that spurred Sophie and Hans into action, Robert Scholl, their father, was imprisoned for making a critical comment about Hitler to one of his employees. The employee reported that he had said: "this Hitler is God's scourge on mankind, and if this war doesn't end soon the Russians will be sitting in Berlin." Sophie was able to visit her father in Ulm, as she was required to do war service in a metallurgical plant there. The year was 1942.
The White Rose
In the summer of 1942, the White Rose (named after the Spanish novel Rosa Blanco) began to take form. The group grew around the friendships the Scholl siblings had with Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, and Professor Kurt Huber, their psychology and philosophy professor. The resistance consisted of publishing and distributing leaflets that called for a restoration of democracy and justice. The first leaflet contained an anonymous essay that said that the Nazi system had turned evil. It was time, the essay said, for Germans to rise up and resist the tyranny of their own government. It was the first time that internal dissent against the Nazi regime surfaced in Germany.
The leaflet stated: "We want to try and show that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of the system. It can be done only by the cooperation of many convinced, energetic people—people who are agreed as to the means they must use. We have no great number of choices as to the means. The meaning and goal of passive resistance is to topple National Socialism, and in this struggle we must not recoil from our course, any action, whatever its nature. A victory of fascist Germany in this war would have immeasurable, frightful consequences."
The leaflets were mailed to people in Germany by picking names and addresses from telephone directories. After that, they left piles of the leaflets in public places, including the University. The leaflets echoed the belief that the young people of Germany had the potential to restore democracy and rid Germany of Adolf Hitler's tyrannical rule. They wrote: "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."
On February 18, 1943, Sophie and Hans went to the University of Munich to distribute the sixth leaflet published by the White Rose. A member of the Nazi Party, Jakob Schmidt, said that he saw the two throwing leaflets off the third floor of a building, into the courtyard below. Schmidt called for the Gestapo and the two were arrested. They were searched and the police found a handwritten draft of another leaflet in Hans' pocket. The writing on this letter matched the writing of a letter the Gestapo found in Sophie's apartment that had been written by Christoph Probst. Christoph was then arrested.
Trial and execution
Just a few days later, after intense interrogation, Sophie, Hans, and Christoph were brought before the People's Court on February 21, 1943. The notorious Judge Roland Freisler presided over the hearing. When questioned as to why the three had published the leaflets, Sophie said, "Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did." The outcome of the trial declared that all three were guilty of treason and condemned to death.
Lawfully, there was a ninety day waiting period before the death sentence could be carried out, enough time to appeal the decision, but the rules were not followed. On February 22, 1943, at 17:00, Sophie, her brother Hans, and their friend Christoph Probst were beheaded by executioner Johann Reichhart in Munich's Stadelheim Prison. The executions were supervised by the enforcement chief, Dr. Walter Roemer. Many prison officials later remarked on Sophie's last hours, emphasizing the courage with which she handled herself.
Sophie apparently had a chance for freedom. The gestapo agent who interrogated her gave her the opportunity to blame all the actions on her brother, so that only he and Christoph would die. Instead, Sophie took all of the blame, claiming that it was she and Hans alone who instigated the leaflets and that Christoph should go free. Christoph Probst was married and had three small children at home. Sophie's last words were "Die Sonne scheint noch," meaning "The Sun still shines." She said this, knowing that her brother would understand her metaphor. She was committed to God and had hope for the future of Germany. The film of her last days, Sophie Scholl—Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl: The Final Days), used the sun to point to her profound Christian belief. In a written account by her cell mate, it was recorded that Sophie prayed often to God during her three days in prison.
Following the death of Sophie, Hans, and Christoph, a copy of the sixth leaflet was smuggled out of Germany through Scandinavia and then on to England. In England, the leaflet became was exploited by the Allied Forces. In mid-1943, several million copies of the leaflets were dropped over Germany. Only the leaflet title had been changed; it now read, The Manifesto of the Students of Munich.
In Germany, Sophie Scholl is a national icon. Playwright Lillian Garrett-Groag stated in Newsday on February 22, 1993, that "It is possibly the most spectacular moment of resistance that I can think of in the twentieth century... The fact that five little kids, in the mouth of the wolf, where it really counted, had the tremendous courage to do what they did, is spectacular to me. I know that the world is better for them having been there, but I don't know why."
In the same issue of Newsday, Holocaust historian Jud Newborn stated that, "You can't really measure the effect of this kind of resistance in whether or not X number of bridges were blown up or a regime fell… The White Rose really has a more symbolic value, but that's a very important value."
On February 22, 2003, a bust of Scholl was placed by the government of Bavaria in the Walhalla temple in her honor.
The Geschwister-Scholl-Institut at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich was named to honor both Sophie and Hans Scholl. The institute is home to the university's political science department.
Over the last three decades many local schools in Germany have been named after Scholl and her brother.
In 2005, a ZDF Television audience survey voted Hans and Sophie the fourth greatest Germans of all time. Younger viewers placed them first.
The preface to the Dumbach and Newborn book Sophie Scholl and the White Rose (2005) states that Brigitte Magazine's audience voted Scholl "The most important woman of the twentieth century" during a poll. The book states that the magazine's circulation at the time was 4,000,000 readers.
In February 2005, a movie about Sophie Scholl's last days, Sophie Scholl—Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl: The Final Days), featuring actress Julia Jentsch as Sophie, was released.
The director of the film, Marc Rothemund, began searching for the story of the last days of Sophie's life. He found survivors to interview and was able to find the transcripts of the interrogations that took place. He said, "The easiest of the whole thing was to get these documents, because all Gestapo headquarters destroyed all documents at the end of the war. But these documents were sent to the People's Court in Berlin, and when the Russians came they sent them to Moscow, then to East Germany, where they were checked and hidden. After the reunification they became part of the German archive, and there they were lying for 13 years. No one was ever interested in them; I was really the first. I was calling asking 'Can I see the documents?' 'Yes one Euro.' And it was not only the documents of Sophie Scholl it was also Hans Scholl and all the members. There were documents about the trial, you saw the handwriting… and then I found a 14-page letter of the cell mate. In the three days she spent most of the time in the interrogation room, but the lady she shared a cell with wrote a 14-page letter to the parents to let them know exactly how their daughter spent the three days there. So the timing and motivation of the emotional breakdown of Sophie Scholl in the film are from this letter."
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in January 2006.
In an interview, Jentsch said that the role was "an honor." For her portrayal of Scholl, she won the best actress at the European Film Awards, best actress at the German Film Awards (Lolas), along with the Silver Bear for best actress at the Berlin Film Festival.
There are also two earlier film accounts of the White Rose resistance. In 1982, Percy Adlon's Fünf letzte Tage ((The) Last Five Days) presented Lena Stolze as Sophie in her last days from the point of view of her cell mate Else Gebel. In the same year, Stolze repeated the role in Michael Verhoeven's Die Weiße Rose (The White Rose).
One famous child psychologist, Alice Miller stated in her 1984 book, Thou Shalt Not be Aware that "the tolerant and open atmosphere of Sophie and Hans Scholl's childhood enabled them to see through Hitler's platitudes at the Nuremberg Rally, when the brother and sister were members of Nazi youth organizations. Nearly all their peers were completely won over by the Führer, whereas Hans and Sophie had other, higher expectations of human nature, not shared by their comrades, against which they could measure Hitler. Because such standards are rare, it is also very difficult for patients in therapy to see through the manipulative methods they are subjected to; the patient doesn't even notice such methods because they are inherent in a system he takes completely for granted."
- Shoah Education, The White Rose. Retrieved July 24, 2007.
- BBC News, Berlin cheers for anti-Nazi film. Retrieved July 23, 2007.
- Fred Breinersdorfer and Ulrich Chaussy, Sophie Scholl: die letzten Tage (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch, 2005). ISBN 3596166098
- Film Ireland, A Strong Mind and a Tender Heart. Retrieved July 24, 2007.
- Brigitte.de, Es war uns eine Ehre, Sophie Scholl zu sein. Retrieved July 24, 2007.
- Alice Miller, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984). ISBN 0374276463
- Axelrod, Toby. 2001. Hans and Sophie Scholl: German Resisters of the White Rose. New York: Rosen Pub. Group. ISBN 0823933164
- Dumbach, Annette E., Jud Newborn, and Annette E. Dumbach. 2006. Sophie Scholl and the White Rose. Oxford: Oneworld Pub. ISBN 1851684743
- Hanser, Richard. 1979. A Noble Treason: The Revolt of the Munich Students Against Hitler. New York: Putnam. ISBN 0399120416
- Scholl, Inge and Dorothee Sölle. 1983. The White Rose: Munich, 1942-1943. Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0819560863
- Vinke, Hermann and Ilse Aichinger. 1984. The Short Life of Sophie Scholl. Cambridge Mass.: Harper & Row. ISBN 0060263024
All links retrieved November 16, 2019.
- Hornberger, Jacob G. The White Rose: A Lesson in Dissent Jewishvirtuallibrary.org.
- '"Film Website (in German)", Sophie Scholl - Die letzten Tage.
- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, 2006: "Movie Review of Sophie Scholl: The Final Days", rogerebert.com.
- "The Geschwister-Scholl-Institut", LMU.
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