May 9th

On May 9th 1921 German student activist Sophie Scholl was born. Scholl was to be executed by the Nazis at only 21 years of age for her activity within the White Rose resistance group.

hans_sophie_scholl

Sophie Scholl was born in Forchtenburg am Kocher to the liberal mayor and Nazi critic Robert Scholl. Whilst attending the Nazi League of German Girls when at secondary school, she began to respond to criticism of the regime from her father and some teachers, and she was further politicised when some of her friends and brothers arrested in 1937 for participation in the German Youth movement. After some time as a kindergarten teacher, she was forced to take part in the militaristic Reichsarbeitsdienst (National Labor Service), in order to go to university, but whilst on this scheme she practiced passive resistance to make clear her political disagreements.

In May 1942, she began studying biology and philosophy at the University of Munich, and her politics was influenced by Nazi critics and Catholic writers Carl Muth and Theodor Haecker, whilst her father was in prison for critical remarks made about Hitler. Her Catholicism was very important to her life and morals, lending two volumes of Cardinal John Henry Newman’s sermons to boyfriend Fritz Hartnagel when he was deployed to the eastern front in May 1942. She then became involved with the core group of the White Rose, which included her brother, Hans, Willi Graf and Christoph Probst. Hartnagel’s reports of German war crimes on the Eastern Front including the mass murder of Soviet prisoners of war and Jews formed a key part of the pamphlets they circulated, which advocated passive resistance on philosophical and religious grounds. Although Hans was cautious of the involvement of his younger sister she was valuable because, as a women, she had less chance of being stopped by SS officers.

However the regime had become increasingly wary of the public becoming aware of wartime setbacks, including the major defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad. Thus, after being caught distributing leaflets in Munich, Sophie, Hans, and Probst were found guilty of treason and condemned to death by a People’s Court (a Nazi court which dealt with ‘political offenses’ and operated outside the frame of the German legal system).  These judicial murders were declared unlawful in post-war Germany.  A copy of their sixth leaflet, The Manifesto of the Students of Munich, was smuggled out of Germany through Scandinavia to the UK by German jurist Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, and the Allied forces dropped millions of copies across Germany.

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? 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? (Sophie’s last words before she was beheaded by guillotine on 22nd February 1943)

The legacy of the White Rose, which was symbolic of spiritual courage in an age of violent repression, censorship and conformism, is often represented in the image of Sophie Scholl. Many and schools are named after Sophie as well as her bust at Walhalla temple in Bavaria. In 2003, her and her brother were voted the 4th greatest Germans of all time (ZDF), the only female in the top 20.

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