Sophie was brought up a Lutheran. She entered junior/grade school at the age of seven, learned easily and had a carefree childhood. In 1930 the family moved to Ludwigsburg and then two years later to Ulm where her father had a business consulting office.
In 1932, Scholl started attending a secondary school for girls. At the age of twelve, she was required to join the Bund Deutscher Mdel (League of German Girls), like most of her classmates, but her initial enthusiasm gradually gave way to criticism. She was aware of the dissenting political views of her father, of friends, and also of some teachers. Political attitude had become an essential criterion in her choice of friends. The arrest of her brothers and friends in 1937 for participating in the German Youth Movement left a strong impression on her.
She had a talent for drawing and painting and for the first time came into contact with a few so-called 'degenerate' artists. An avid reader, she developed a growing interest in philosophy and theology. Her firm Christian belief in God and in every human being's essential dignity formed her basis for resisting Nazi ideology. It built her alternative world to fascist National Socialism.
In the spring of 1940, she graduated from secondary school. The subject of her essay was 'The Hand that Moved the Cradle, Moved the World.' Being fond of children, she became a kindergarten teacher at the Frbel Institute in Ulm-Sflingen. She had also chosen this kindergarten job hoping that it would be recognized as an alternate service to Reichsarbeitsdienst (National Labor Service), a prerequisite to be admitted to the University. This was not the case, though, and in the spring of 1941 she began a six month stint in the auxiliary war service as a nursery teacher in Blumberg. The military-like regimen of the Labor Service caused her to think very hard about the political situation as well as to begin practicing passive resistance.
After her six months in the National Labor Service, in May 1942, she enrolled at the University of Munich as a student of biology and philosophy. Her brother Hans, who was studying medicine there, introduced her to his friends. Although this group of friends was eventually known for their political views, they were initially drawn together by a shared love of art, music, literature, philosophy and theology. Hiking in the mountains, skiing and swimming were also of importance. They often attended concerts, plays and lectures together.
In Munich, Scholl met a number of artists, writers and philosophers, particularly Carl Muth and Theodor Haecker, who were important contacts for her. The question they pondered the most was how the individual must act under a dictatorship. During the summer vacation in 1942, Scholl had to do war service in a metallurgical plant in Ulm. At the same time, her father was serving time in prison for a critical remark to an employee about Hitler.
Based upon letters between her and her boyfriend, Fritz Hartnagel (reported and analyzed by Gunter Biemer and Jakob Knab in the journal, Newman Studien) she had given two volumes of Cardinal John Henry Newman's sermons to Hartnagel when he was deployed to the eastern front in May 1942. This discovery by Jakob Knab shows the importance of religion in Sophie's life and was highlighted in an article in the Catholic Herald in the UK and by the British biographer of Sophie Scholl, Dr. Frank McDonough, who commented on BBC Radio Merseyside, 'Knab's discovery is very important as it has highlighted how important her religious faith was in her life and as a key factor in her decision to oppose the Nazi regime.' Though she was Lutheran, the White Rose was founded after Scholl and others read a stern anti-Nazi sermon by Cardinal Clemens August Graf von Galen (the "Lion of Mnster"), the Roman Catholic Bishop of Mnster.
She and they had been horrified by Hartnagel's reports of the behavior of the Germans on the Eastern Front where Hartnagel witnessed Soviet soldiers shot in a pit, and learned of the mass killings of Jews. Her correspondence with Hartnagel deeply discussed the "theology of conscience" developed in Newman's writings. This is seen as her primary defense in her transcribed interrogations leading to her "trial" and execution. Those transcripts became the basis for a 2005 film treatment of her final days, Sophie Scholl – The Final Days.
The core members initially included Hans Scholl (Sophie's brother), Willi Graf and Christoph Probst. In the early summer of 1942, this group of young men co-authored six anti-Nazi political resistance leaflets. Contrary to popular belief, Sophie Scholl was not a co-author of the articles. Her brother had been initially keen to keep her unaware of their activities, but once she discovered them, she joined him and proved valuable to the group: as a woman, her chances of being randomly stopped by the SS were much smaller. Calling themselves The White Rose, they instructed Germans passively to resist the Nazis. She and the rest of the White Rose were arrested for distributing the sixth leaflet at the University of Munich on February 18, 1943.
In the People's Court before Judge Roland Freisler on February 21, 1943, Scholl was recorded as saying "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."
On February 22, 1943, Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans and their friend Christoph Probst were found guilty of treason and condemned to death. They were all beheaded by executioner Johann Reichhart in Munich's Stadelheim Prison only a few hours later, at 17:00 hrs. The execution was supervised by Dr. Walter Roemer, the enforcement chief of the Munich district court. Prison officials, in later describing the scene, emphasized the courage with which she walked to her execution. Her last words were "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?"
Fritz Hartnagel was evacuated from Stalingrad in January 1943, but did not return to Germany before Sophie was already dead. He later married Sophie's sister Elizabeth.
Following her death, a copy of the sixth leaflet was smuggled out of Germany through Scandinavia to the UK by German jurist Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, where it was utilized by the Allied Forces. In mid-1943, they dropped millions of propaganda copies over Germany of the tract, now retitled The Manifesto of the Students of Munich.
In a historical context, the White Rose's legacy has significance for many commentators, both as a demonstration of exemplary spiritual courage, and as a well-documentated case of social dissent in a time of vioent repression, censorship, and conformist pressure.
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 20th 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 do not know why."
In the same issue of Newsday, Holocaust historian Jud Newborn noted that "You cannot 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."
The Geschwister-Scholl-Institut for Political Science at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich is named in honour of Sophie and her brother Hans. The institute is home to the university's political science and communication departments, and is housed in the former Radio Free Europe building close to the city's Englischer Garten. There is also an ongoing effort to rename the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich into "Geschwister Scholl University of Munich" ("Scholl Siblings University") by the LMU Students' Committee (AStA).
Over the last four decades many local schools as well as countless streets and squares in Germany have been named after Sophie Scholl and her brother.
In 2003, Germans were invited by ZDF Television to participate in a nation-wide competition to choose the top ten most important Germans of all time. Voters under the age of 40 helped catapult Sophie and her brother Hans Scholl into fourth place, winning over Bach, Goethe, Gutenberg, Bismarck, Willy Brandt and Albert Einstein. If the votes of young viewers alone had been counted, Sophie and Hans Scholl would have been ranked first. Several years earlier, readers of Brigitte Magazine, one of Germany's leading magazines for women, voted Sophie Scholl "the greatest woman of the twentieth century," winning over such figures as Madeleine Albright and Madonna.
In February 2005, a movie about Scholl's last days, Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl: The Final Days), featuring actress Julia Jentsch in the title role, was released. Drawing on interviews with survivors and transcripts that had remained hidden in East German archives until 1990, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in January 2006. In an interview, Jentsch said that the role was "an honour." 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.
Jud Newborn and Annette Dumbach's 1986 book about the White Rose, Shattering the German Night (Little, Brown) was reissued in an expanded, updated and illustrated edition in 2006, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, to accompany the new film's release and provide an account of the history behind the White Rose.
In February 2009, The History Press released Sophie Scholl: The Woman Who Defied Hitler. The author, Dr. Frank McDonough, is the first person to have uncensored access to Sophie Scholl's letters and diaries, and the Gestapo interrogation records and court files. The leading historian of the Third Reich, Professor Richard J. Evans of Cambridge University, described the biography in the Times Higher Educational Supplement on 9 April 2009 and 'undoubtedly the standard work on its subject'. The release of the book led to renewed interest in Sophie Scholl and prompted the first ever showing of Sophie Scholl: The Final Days on a major British TV Channel: Channel 4 in March 2009.
There were three earlier film accounts of the White Rose resistance. The first film was financed by the Bavarian state government and released in the 1970s, entitled Das Versprechen (The Promise). In 1982, Percy Adlon's Fnf letzte Tage (Five Last Days) presented Lena Stolze as Sophie in her last days from the point of view of her cellmate Else Gebel. In the same year, Stolze repeated the role in Michael Verhoeven's Die Weie Rose (The White Rose).
American playwright Lillian Garrett-Groag's play The White Rose features Sophie Scholl as a major character.
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