We’ve just gotten back from Germany, and I’ve resumed reading (I barely started it before the trip) the book Sophie Scholl & The White Rose. Only to discover a 75th anniversary edition (with new preface and more photos) published this month.
It’s no wonder we are still lifted up by the words and actions of these people. I was impressed by what it might’ve been like for them as I walked the same cold, winter streets of Munich somewhat self-consciously in 2017, following Sophie and Hans Scholl’s footsteps the few blocks from his student apartment to the main lecture building of the university. They carried a suitcase of pamphlets whose words would change history.
(Literally. We’re still talking about them and reading them now, and the following fall after it was smuggled out, Allied forces copied the 7th pamphlets into millions of positive propaganda brochures to drop out of planes over Germany.)
There are so many good quotes in it.
Like this one:
“Isn’t it a riddle [Sophie wrote to a friend near the time of her move to Munich] … and awe-inspiring, that everything is so beautiful? Despite the horror. Lately I’ve noticed something grand and mysterious peering through my sheer joy in all that is beautiful, a sense of its creator… Only man can be truly ugly, because he has the free will to estrange himself from this song of praise.
It often seems that he’ll manage to drown out this hymn with his cannon thunder, curses and blasphemy. But during this past spring it has dawned upon me that he won’t be able to do this. And so I want to try and throw myself on the side of the victor.”
These words give some insight into the strength and determination she found a short time later to face that roomful of men in the courtroom during her false trial. Everything happened so fast. They were caught on the campus February 18th and four days later on the 22nd they were dead.
And yet. Were they? I mean this existentially and spiritually of course.
When I saw the movie Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, which features a lot of her actual courtroom testimony word-for-word I was greatly moved and inspired.
This woman had a way with words. She had a way of capturing the power of life-giving, essential concepts and communicating them. You can see the intensity (and sadness) in her eyes in the above picture.
She was full of conviction and a brilliant search for truth. Not to mention the courage to share that truth with others, at the risk of death by guillotine.
She and the others were also full of laughter. As evidenced by this other picture taken the same day.
I think it’s important to note both Hans and Sophie a few years before were members of the Hitler Youth in its early stages – when it was still voluntary.
This important detail says to me, that:
1) They were among the majority of Germans wanting the best for their country at that time, and they thought (at first) that the National Socialist party (Nazism) was it.
2) People thought Hitler and the National Socialist party were offering them power — power for good.
I also think it was compelling for children to be acknowledged as having something to contribute.
3) It’s important to note that Magdalene and Robert Scholl, the parents of Sophie and Hans and their other three siblings close in age, did not forbid them to join the various Nazi youth organizations.
“He (their father) knew that opponents to tyranny could never be created by force, only by personal experience.”
Therefore, Robert Scholl at the same time stocked their home library with books that explored important issues, celebrated human accomplishment and encouraged critical thinking. Magdalene Scholl also apparently had a vital Christian faith that strongly influenced her daily life.
This kind of upbringing and encouragement to analyze and seek truth led Sophie to involuntarily laugh out loud in class one time after hearing “an absurd ideological comment intoned solemnly” – and she got in trouble for that.
She and her brother eventually became disillusioned with Hitler’s organizations. Hans was a standard bearer at the Nuremberg Rally (I never realized before how theatrical this all was – it was a gigantic, astonishingly designed set) — and he came back changed — commenting to his sister Inge about how there hadn’t been a chance for a single “sensible conversation” amidst all the noise and mindless enthusiasm.
Their leaflets would’ve been heavy – they were paper – and the weight of that adds up.
A few steps away from the lecture hall where classes were in session while Sophie impulsively tossed extra papers from the top of the stairs to flutter down into the atrium below, and then was seen and reported by the building’s janitor, is a series of beautiful parks of Munich. The Scholls and other members of the White Rose as well as many Jewish and other Muencheners I’m sure walked and talked here in those years, as they do now.