A portfolio of Sophie Scholl.
Why Did I Choose Sophie Scholl?
The primary reason I chose Sophie Scholl as the subject of my research was that she was a young hero, having been executed for treason by the Nazi Party when she was only 21 years old (Burns). Even though I, myself, have never been exposed to a situation in which the opposition I pose to something could result in my execution, I immensely respect youth who do face this risk, yet still brave the consequences to make their voices heard. In fact, I often respect them even more than adults who are in the same situations, because children are often sacrificing much more than adults when they do this, as not only are their lives being lost, but also their futures. Some say that children are incapable of making as great of an impact as adults are, as they don’t have the connections and power that some adults do and use for purposes such as these, but Sophie Scholl serves as a great historical example of this being untrue. The White Rose opposition group, comprised of Sophie, her brother, Hans, and three other students at the University of Munich: Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf and Christoph Probst, managed to distribute tens of thousands of copies of their anti-Nazi pamphlets (Lisciotto). Furthermore, the final pamphlet composed by this group was smuggled out of Germany into the UK and used by the Allied forces as a type of propaganda. Millions of copies were made and distributed (Bell). A young person who died at such a young age yet has such a powerful legacy is incredibly interesting to me.
A final reason that Sophie Scholl appeals to me as a research subject is that she was recently chosen by German youth as the most important German in history as part of a 2003 TV program called Unsere Besten, which means Our Best (Kuckuk). Someone who has this title among the youth of their country is certainly worth learning about for an outsider.
Background History of Sophie Scholl
Having been so young when she died, Sophie Scholl certainly lacks the lengthy history that many historical figures studied today have, but there is still a good amount of information about her. She was born on May 9th, 1921 in Forchtenberg, Germany. Her father was the mayor of this town at the time. In the summer of 1930, she and her family moved to Ludwigsburg, Germany, where they stayed until the spring of 1932. Following this, they moved to Ulm, then Munich. In 1933, she joined the Bund Deutscher Mädel, or the League of German Girls (Lisciotto). This was a part of the Hitler Youth group, a group of German youth that was forced to support Hitler (Burns). However, she quickly came to disagree with the ideas of this group after her father was arrested for speaking badly about Hitler (Burns), and three of her siblings were arrested and detained for weeks by the Gestapo for participating in anti-Nazi activities as part of the German Youth Movement (Lisciotto). In 1940, she graduated from secondary school and began to study to become a kindergarten teacher (Kuckuk). The reason she chose this was as a way to avoid serving in the Reichsarbeitsdienst, the National Labor Service, which was a requirement to attend University, and thus abstain from helping the Nazi party. Unfortunately, as a kindergarten teacher, she was forced to work for the Labor Service in Blumberg, where, after more exposure to Nazism, she began to become even more opposed to it (Lisciotto). In May, 1942, Sophie began studying biology and philosophy at the University of Munich. Later that year, she and a group of friends she had met through her brother, Hans, who was studying medicine at the University, formed a group called the White Rose, which was opposed to the actions of the Nazi Party against Jews on their Eastern Front. This group published and distributed six pamphlets calling for opposition to Nazism between June 1942 and February 1943, without the help of Sophie. However, when she later found out about this, she joined the group’s efforts. As mentioned earlier, the group’s fifth pamphlet was distributed all over the Nazi Empire, in Stuttgart, Cologne, Vienna, Freiburg, Chemnitz, Hamburg and Berlin. It called for Germans to “struggle for ‘Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and protection of the individual citizen from the arbitrary action of criminal dictator-states’” (Lisciotto).
On February 18th, 1943, Jakob Schmidt, a custodian at the University of Munich, witnessed Sophie distributing pamphlets, and reported her and Hans to the Gestapo, causing them to be arrested. Three days later, on February 21st, the two siblings were brought before Judge Roland Freisler, who sentenced them and their friend, Christoph Probst, to death the next day. During this trial, Sophie was recorded to say the quote the best describes her action during this period: “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” (Lisciotto). Her last words before she was executed by guillotine on February 22nd, 1943 were “Die Sonne scheint noch” (Lisciotto), which means “The sun still shines” (Lisciotto).
Sophie becomes disillusioned with the Bund Deutscher Mädel
As mentioned above, the Bund Deutscher Mädel is the League of German Girls, a division of Hitler Youth. As a whole, the BDM may have represented a negative cause, Nazism, but the way in which they did this was quite progressive for the part of society which it served. Just like the boys’ division of Hitler Youth, this exposed young girls to activities such as sports, camping, and hiking, while teaching them about Nazism and its values, as well as the role they were expected to play in society as adults, as homemakers, mothers and wives. However, these activities as well as others that the group sponsored, such as crafts, arts, theater, fashion design and much more, drew immense numbers of girls. In fact, far more girls were part of the BDM than boys were of the HJ, the Hitler Youth. This was because the BDM focused on activities that girls were interested in, whereas the HJ focused on military training, the best use of young boys to prepare them for the future (“Bund”). However, the main purpose of the BDM did eventually discourage some female members, such as Sophie Scholl. While she and her brother were initially great supporters of Nazism, this began to change as the political opinions of others close to her began to become more apparent (Kuckuk). For example, their father was arrested by the Gestapo after an employee of his reported him for having called Hitler “God’s Scourge” (Burns). Another major event that impacted Sophie’s opinion of Nazism was a series of false allegations against three of her siblings by the Gestapo, which then arrested them. They were held for several weeks in jail, even though they had done nothing wrong (Kuckuk). While this action might not have represented any specific disagreement in Sophie’s environment with Nazism, it did cause Sophie to start to distance herself from the philosophy. It is likely that this demonstrated to her the extreme fascist point of view of the Nazi Regime. It demonstrated that the Gestapo would go to any length, no matter the problems it caused for the people of Germany, to prevent opposition to Nazism. They became, in Sophie’s eyes, the epitome of closed-mindedness. Quite simply, Nazism no longer seemed like such a positive future for Germany to her.
Sophie helps her brother and his friends form the White Rose
As mentioned above, Sophie and Hans were exposed to anti-Nazi sentiments early on, through their father, though they did initially support the regime’s ideas. However, after the beginning of WWII, they both started to feel quite passionately about these ideas (“White”). From the beginning, even before learning of Nazi atrocities, they acknowledged the fact that, though Germany’s military might may have been great, it was nothing in front of the enemies it was facing. As mentioned above, the fascist ideas of the Nazi party were starting to become too extreme, and, as The Jewish Virtual Library puts it, “enslaving and destroying the German people… in the name of freedom and the greater good of the German nation.” Even so, the Jewish Virtual Library goes on to emphasize that the majority of the German population believed in supporting German troops and the goals of the military. Thus, the belief held by Hans and Sophie that a citizen must oppose an evil regime, especially in a time of war when hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens are dying for the cause, was one that was initially held by very few (“White”). Thus, the White Rose was created with the purpose of spreading this message and convincing more German citizens to face the regime and demand reform (“White”). The initial members of the group, other than the Scholl siblings, were friends that they both spent time with for other purposes. They shared interests in art, music, literature, philosophy, theology and various outdoor activities, such as hiking, skiing and swimming. These friends were Alexander Schmorell, Will Graf and Jurgen Wittenstein (Lisciotto). They were also joined by a psychology and philosophy professor at the University of Munich, where they were studying, Kurt Huber. He would later edit their pamphlets for them and help them distribute them. Within just months of being formed, they began preparing and distributing their pamphlets (“White”). The pamphlets were titled “The White Rose,” and emphasized the need for German citizens to rise against the government in support of “democracy and social justice” (Lisciotto). They further highlighted the terrifying behavior of the Nazi regime on the Eastern Front against Jews, and thus used their own type of scare tactic to badmouth the Nazi Party. This is a quote from the first pamphlet: “Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes– crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure– reach the light of day?” (Wikipedia). This next clip is from the second pamphlet published by the group. “Since the conquest of Poland, 3000 Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way… The German people slumber on in dull, stupid sleep and encourage the fascist criminals. Each wants to be exonerated of guilt, each one continues on his way with the most placid, calm conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!” (Wikipedia). As is apparent, the group was highly anti-Nazi, and not afraid to express it. This came to be a bit of a problem, as the Gestapo was extremely strict with any opposition voiced towards Nazism. Thus, it was key for the White Rose to maintain secrecy in their publication, while spreading the leaflets far and wide.
The German loss at Stalingrad urges the White Rose into a final burst of action
On February 2nd, 1943, the Wehrmacht, the Nazi army, surrendered to the Red Army of Russia after fighting for over five months in Stalingrad. As an act named Operation Barbarossa, the Wehrmacht had led a massive force against the Red Army using the technique known as Blitzkrieg, in which a target was selected, then quickly utterly devastated. While this was obviously extremely destructive for the Russians, the sheer size of the Red Army and the civilian population that it defended meant that it was much better prepared for the Operation than the Nazis had expected. Thus, the surrender in February 1943 was simply an acknowledgement of the massive losses that the Wehrmacht had suffered, and was the only thing that could be done to spare troops to defend Germany if the Russians decided to attack in response to this (Trueman). This was seen as a variety of things by the White Rose. Obviously, it represented a negative future outcome for the Nazi regime, but it also posed a significant danger towards the civilian population of Germany. This loss would have not only resulted in a loss of civilian confidence in the power of the Wehrmacht and the Nazi Regime, but also subsequently an increase in vigilance and suspicion among the Gestapo. Thus, it both became significantly more dangerous for the White Rose to be participating in the distribution of anti-Nazi propaganda, but also significantly easier for them to attract more supporters. According to Maggie Burns, “that night [of the surrender], Hans, Willi, and Alex painted “Freedom” and “Down with Hitler,” and drew crossed-out swastikas on buildings in Munich” (Burns). The other result of this surrender was that people started to find out more about the atrocities that the Nazi Regime was committing, especially within Germany. As well as including this in copies of the White Rose pamphlets, Kurt Huber, the philosophy and psychology teacher that worked with the students to publish the pamphlets, lectured about them in his classes (Burns). Overall, the end of the Battle of Stalingrad both represented the turning point in the course of the war itself, but also of the opposition to the Axis Powers among past supporters and home countries.
Sophie Scholl at various stages in her life. 2007, Lisciotto
Having died at the young age of 21, the majority of images that exist of Sophie are of her as a child. However, the fact that these are publicized emphasize her death at such a young age as the death of a child: that of a person who had a long future ahead of her before she died.
Monument in honor of the White Rose in front of the University of Munich. Released into the Public Domain by Gryffindor on Wikipedia.
Having been recognized as one of the most important Germans in history, monuments in honor of Sophie Scholl and her brother, Hans, exist all over Germany. This is a fortunate recognition by her people that they were major players in the fight for German civil liberties, and, even as children, were able to make such a great change. This recognition is essential to acknowledging the importance of these values, and preventing them from being infringed upon by people in the parts of the world impacted by these events.
Graves of Christoph Probst, Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl in the Perlacher Friedhof, next to the Stadelheim prison in Munich. 2007, Rufus46.
As with many important historical figures, an important memorial to the Scholls and their friends from the White Rose is their grave. They were buried next to the prison where they were executed on February 22nd, 1943 by the Gestapo for treason. Their trial only lasted four days because they confessed to their crimes immediately, preventing the need for witnesses. One of Sophie Scholl’s most important quotes, as mentioned in the introduction, was made during the short trial: “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” (Lisciotto).
The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. “Bund Deutscher Mädel – The League of German Girls.” Jewish Virtual Library. The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2013. Web. 08 Mar. 2013.
The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. “The White Rose: A Lesson in Dissent.” The White Rose: A Lesson in Dissent. The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2013. Web. 08 Mar. 2013.
Bell the Cat. “Commemorating Munich Student Resistance to Nazism.” Toytown Germany. The Local Europe AB, 8 Oct. 2006. Web. 01 Mar. 2013.
Burns, Margie. “Sophie Scholl and the White Rose.” The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
Kuckuk, Carsten. “Sophie Scholl in Ludwigsburg, Germany.” Sophie Scholl in Ludwigsburg, Germany. Carsten Kuckuk, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
Lisciotto, Carmelo. “Sophie Scholl Revolt & Resistance.” Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team. Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team, 2007. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
Rufus46. “File:Grab Sophie Und Hans Scholl Christoph Probst-1.jpg.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 10 June 2007. Web. 6 Mar. 2013.
Trueman, Chris. “The Battle of Stalingrad.” The Battle of Stalingrad. HistoryLearningSite.co.uk, 2013. Web. 08 Mar. 2013.
Wikipedia contributors. “White Rose.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 Mar. 2013. Web. 8 Mar. 2013.