“The sun is still shining!” Sophie Scholl, the Hitler youth turned pacifist fighter and anti-Nazi advocate shouted as she made her way to the execution chamber, faced with the sharp taunt of the guillotine that awaited.
Her brother Hans, also a former Hitler youth turned revolutionary and founder of the student-led anti-fascist group White Rose, followed in his younger sister’s footsteps.
“Long live freedom!” He roared as the blade fell.
The Weiße Rose (White Rose) was a resistance group ran by students from the University of Munich during World War II. They distributed leaflets and proclaimed the tyrannical activity of the Nazis. The group’s activities would prove profound in exposing the Nazi’s war crimes across Europe as well as to its fellow university peers. This movement was started by two siblings, a brother and sister whose organization would be both their pride and their downfall. Although ending in execution, the siblings left a legacy which proved to be eternal, inspiring resistance to control and uphold justice for others even at the cost of one’s own life.
The Aryan Ideal
Hans and Sophie Scholl were just teenagers when the Nazis came to power in the new year of 1933. Although raised in a liberal Lutheran family, Hitler’s brainwashing propaganda quickly indoctrinated the Scholl children like it did to so many others. As perfect models of the Aryan race, Sophie and her siblings became faithful followers of the National Socialist party and members of Hitler youth.
“These boys and girls enter our organizations ten years of age, and often for the first time get a little fresh air; after four years of the Young Folk, they go on to the Hitler Youth, where we have them for another four years . . . And even if they are still not complete National Socialists, they go to Labor Service and are smoothed out there for another six, seven months . . . And whatever class consciousness or social status might still be left . . . the Wehrmacht will take care of that.”– Adolf Hitler
Sophie joined the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel or BDM) while Hans became affiliated with Deutsche Jungenschaft,vom 1.11.1929. Both quickly rose through the ranks. As they spent more time living within the fascist group, however, Sophie and Hans began to question the group.
One major influence for Hans and Sophie’s eventual defection from the party can be attributed to their parents, especially their father, Robert Scholl. It was no secret that Robert was a critic of the Nazi party and was disgruntled with his children’s decision to join Hitler Youth. Robert, however, was incredibly forward thinking for the time and allowed his children the freedom to make their own decisions, far from the customary practice of German households at the time. According to Richard F. Hanser, Robert’s aversion to mindless nationalism was typical dinner table conversation that would be discussed with his children, “he could interpret events for them with an insight unblurred by current prejudices or official pronouncements.”
Nonetheless, the Scholl siblings were destined to decide their opinion of the Nazi party for themselves.
Throughout their careers as Hitler Youth, they began to encounter more situational events that acted as a sort of “domino effect of disillusionment” which prompted them to question whether the group they joined shared their moral values.
To See with Eyes Unclouded
Hans was a lover of music and owned a collection of Hitler Youth songs and folk numbers from different lands since Hans had an appreciation for other cultures. According to his sister Inge Scholl, he adored multicultural music because of its ability to portray the soul of those people and their homelands. This outlook was not valued by Hitler Youth and Hans was devastated when he was told his favorite songs were forbidden. He began to realize that the youth movement he envisioned was completely different from the reality.
Hans’ perspective shifted again as he witnessed the fanaticism and unconditional subordination that was promoted by Hitler Youth, the attitude was too similar to the “mindless nationalism” which his father warned against.
Hans’ disillusionment with the Nazi party was cemented in 1937 when he was charged with “immoral behavior” associated with homosexuality. Hans was arrested and put in solitary confinement after a former member of his group, Rolf Futterknecht, with whom Hans had a year-long relationship with, betrayed him to Schutzstaffel or SS – Nazi elite corps.
During interrogation, Hans admitted to the relationship by expressing that he was impassioned by “great love that he had for Futterknecht.”
The charges were dismissed likely because of Hans’ stellar performance within Hitler Youth. Yet, no amount of patriotism or career success could mend the shame and disgrace Hitler Youth felt towards the homosexual lifestyle. Regarding the group he devoted his life to, Hans would never see it the same way again.
As for Sophie, her close relationship with Hans played a factor in her own disenchantment. Her first notable qualm with the Nazi party occurred during one of BDM’s common ideological training exercises. When students were asked if they had any preferences for a book discussion, Sophie proposed the works of Heinrich Heine – a Jewish poet. Sophie’s suggestion was quickly met with disgust when the teacher explained that the anti-war advocate’s books were burned and banned in 1933. Sophie’s sister, Elizabeth Scholl, claimed that Sophie replied, “Whoever doesn’t know Heine, does not know German literature.”
Both Scholl siblings came to despise the government they once trusted, influenced partly by their parents but overall shaped by their experiences living in Nazi Germany.
Finding Connection Within Resistance
After returning to their family’s Christian values, both siblings enrolled in the University of Munich in 1942. Hans began studying medicine while Sophie focused on biology and philosophy. For the first time Hans and Sophie were surrounded by people of their age who questioned the regime as they did.
During their semester break, Hans was drafted to serve at the Eastern Front in medical assistance. It was there that Hans saw firsthand the extermination of the Jews in Poland and witnessed the misery up close in Russia as Soviet POWs were executed and dropped into a mass grave.
First came the disillusionment, next the resentment, and finally the move to action. It was then that Hans and Sophie founded the resistance movement White Rose, along with their fellow classmates: Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, and Willi Graf. Philosophy professor Kurt Huber later joined as well. In the early summer of 1942, they began printing and distributing pamphlets that criticized Hitler, exposed the mass murder of Jews, and called for an end to the “national socialist sub-humanism.” The leaflets were passed out on the university campus and mailed to various cities in Germany and Austria.
The group quickly accumulated more members. In total, the movement distributed six pamphlets, typed on a typewriter, and duplicated via mimeograph; they managed to distribute thousands, reaching people all over the country. The college-led group was able to trick the Gestapo into believing that White Rose was a massive organization with locations all around Germany because of its intricate network of supporters distributing leaflets in their own cities.
Th group began advocating sabotage of Hitler’s armament, they urged passive resistance but demanded action. Hans graffitied public buildings that read “Down With Hitler,” while Sophie purchased the illegal typewriter for the group to use for their pamphlets. They both proved to be fearless leaders and valued members of the resistance.
Following the German’s defeat in Stalingrad, the White Rose believed a turning point was imminent as dissent within the University of Munich grew. The White Rose’s actions became bolder as members began distributing their leaflets in person. On February 18, 1943, Sophie pushed a stack of the White Rose’s flyers off of a railing onto the central hall, the dauntless move spread the word of the resistance all over campus and destroyed any sense of anonymity the siblings had when a janitor and a loyal supporter of the Nazi party witnessed the event and turned them in.
Another member of the group, Christoph Probst, was arrested with them. The three endured brutal interrogations for four days where Sophie explained that the deciding factor behind her and her brother’s betrayal of the Nazi party was Hans’ treatment by the Gestapo for his supposed “sexual deviance.”
Hans, Sophie and Christoph were given a trial by the notorious Roland Freisler, president of the People’s Court, who was famous for his sadistic desire to humiliate defendants as well as his frequent use of the death penalty.
With a poor excuse for a lawyer given to them and mock trial badly disguised as real, the three rebels stood no chance at a fair fight and were sentenced to death, they took complete responsibility for the White Rose’s actions to save their friends. This selfless act would prove to be in vain because Kurt Huber, Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf would be arrested later that month and executed.
In an attempt to add insult to injury Freisler asked Sophie the closing question about whether she hadn’t come to the conclusion that her and her brother’s actions on behalf of the White Rose should be seen as a crime against the community.
Even in the face of death, Sophie’s powerful will was unwavering, she refused to give Freiser any satisfaction and responded:
“I am, now as before, of the opinion that I did the best that I could do for my nation. I therefore do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences that result from my conduct.” –Sophie Scholl
The three member’s marvelous bravery had reached even the most loyal soldiers of the regime. A few prison guards from Stadelheim prison went as far as to risk putting the three of them in a cell for one last moment together before they greeted an early death. Had the guard’s actions been known, they would have faced grave consequences but to the guards, for whatever reason it meant to them, it was worth it.
“It was just a few minutes that they had, but I believe that it meant a great deal to them.” One of the guards recalls.
In one last act of defiance, the three college kids who went from loyal Hitler youth to resistance fighters and finally to martyrs, shared a final cigarette.
Else Gebel, Sophie’s cellmate, remembers the 22-year-old’s final words to her before she, along with her brother, were executed by guillotine. The words stayed in Else’s mind years after the end of the war as if they had been carved into the stone of her mind, like the ten commandments, it was her duty, as it was that to Moses, to spread the word to the masses.
Sophie’s commandments were as such:
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause…. It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives. . What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted. Among the student body there will certainly be a revolt.” – Sophie Scholl