Monday, June 6, 2011

Sophie Scholl and the White Rose

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days tells the true story of Germany’s most famous anti-Nazi heroine. As described by the filmmakers, the film
stars Julia Jentsch in a luminous performance as the young coed-turned-fearless activist. Armed with long-buried historical records of her incarceration, director Marc Rothemund expertly re-creates the last six days of Sophie Scholl’s life: a heart-stopping journey from arrest to interrogation, trial and sentence.

In 1943, as Hitler continues to wage war across Europe, a group of college students mount an underground resistance movement in Munich. Dedicated expressly to the downfall of the monolithic Third Reich war machine, they call themselves the White Rose. One of its few female members, Sophie Scholl is captured during a dangerous mission to distribute pamphlets on campus with her brother Hans. Unwavering in her convictions and loyalty to the White Rose, her cross-examination by the Gestapo quickly escalates into a searing test of wills as Scholl delivers a passionate call to freedom and personal responsibility that is both haunting and timeless.۠

When Adolf Hitler rose to power, Sophie was 12 and Hans was 15. Initially they believed him when he said he wanted to bring freedom, security, and happiness back to Germany, so they both joined the Hitler Youth for a time. However, they were horrified by the messages of hate and oppression that they were then exposed to, and they left. From their mother's strong Christian faith, Sophie and Hans shared a sense of right and wrong, good and evil, and the value of human rights.

When Hans joined a group with the German Youth Movement, the family received a visit by the Gestapo in 1937 because the Nazi regime did not allow any youth groups separate from the Hitler Youth. The children were detained but later released because no incriminating evidence of anti-Nazi activities had been found and because Hans was then under the jurisdiction of the Army, having been recently conscripted. In 1938, the Scholls, who had maintained Jewish friendships, were witnesses to the anti-Jewish attacks of Kristallnacht.

When he returned home, Hans entered the university to study medicine, but after he met two Catholic scholars, Carl Muth and Theodor Haecker, his life took a new direction, and for a time he considered converting to Catholicism. Himself a convert, Haecker had translated the works of (Blessed) Cardinal John Henry Newman into German, and he later was an influence on a young seminarian by the name of Joseph Ratzinger. Hans also read a series of sermons given in the summer of 1941 by (Blessed) Clemens August von Galen, the Catholic bishop of Münster, forcefully speaking out against Nazi policies and practices. These sermons were to be a major inspiration for the formation of the White Rose.

Meanwhile, Sophie was an avid reader, and, like Hans, she also developed a growing interest in philosophy and theology.
They read the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine of Hippo and were soon exploring religious and philosophical questions of the rights and duties of conscience and its relationship to objective moral truth and religious freedom. Sophie began to pray daily and her sense of humility before God and her relationship with her Creator became ever more pronounced in her letters to her friends. She spent the Easter before her death at Mass at the Catholic church in Söflingen. (Caldwell, The student who took a stand against the Reich)
After Germany began the war in 1939, Sophie was disgusted, and she voiced her anger in letters to her boyfriend, Fritz Hartnagel, who was in the Army. Upon graduating high school, Sophie began working as a nursery and kindergarten teacher, waiting to be admitted to the University of Munich. In 1942, she enrolled as a student of biology and philosophy, and she was then introduced to Hans' group of friends, including Muth and Haecker. When Fritz was deployed to the eastern front, Sophie gave him two volumes on the sermons of Cardinal Newman, which included his remarks on the conscience of the individual. Upon seeing dead Soviet POWs who had been shot by their German guards, and hearing reports of mass killings of local Jews, Hartnagel wrote Sophie to say that reading Newman's words were like tasting "drops of precious wine."

Around this time, Hans, together with his friends Alexander Schmorell and George Wittenstein, decided that they had to do something to resist the evil of the National Socialist regime, they could remain silent no longer. Rather than engaging in violence, having been encouraged by the sermons of Bishop von Galen, they decided to engage in a leaflet campaign to influence the German people against the war and the regime. They took the name of the White Rose, and they cautiously added like-minded students, including Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, Traute Lafrenz, Katharina Schueddekopf, Lieselotte (Lilo) Berndl, Jurgen Wittenstein, Marie-Luise Jahn, Falk Harnack, Kurt Huber, and Wilhelm Geyer. When Sophie later learned of the formation of the group, she insisted on joining too.

In June and July 1942, the White Rose distributed four leaflets condemning the war and Nazis. The leaflets were copied by typewriter and distributed by leaving copies in public phonebooks, mailing them to various people, and sending them by secret courier to other schools.

However, Hans and some others were then ordered to the Russian Front. While there, they saw the horrifying maltreatment of Jews and Russian prisoners first hand, and when they returned home a few months later, they more determined than ever to carry on the work of resistance. They obtained a duplicating machine, so instead of a hundred copies of their leaflets, they could now produce thousands. Their only limitation was on their supply of paper, envelopes, and postage stamps.

In January 1943, the fifth leaflet of the White Rose was published and copies were mailed to people whose names were taken out of telephone books. A short time later, the group struck with an anti-Nazi graffiti campaign around Munich. The words "Down with Hitler" and calls for "Freedom" were posted in large letters in paint and tar, which made it difficult to remove.

On February 18, 1943, after a Nazi leader had given a contentious speech at the University of Munich calling on female students to produce children for der Führer rather than waste their time on books, the group addressed their sixth leaflet to "Fellow Students," and they decided to not only mail copies anonymously, but to distribute them secretly at the University. White Rose member George Wittenstein reports what happened:
In the morning of February 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie Scholl entered the University with a large suitcase filled with leaflets, placing stacks of them outside each lecture hall. As they left the building, they realized there were many leaflets left in the suitcase. They turned, climbed the stairs to the top landing of the glass roofed inner court, where Sophie dumped the remaining content of the suitcase into the court.

They were observed and immediately apprehended by a senior janitor. Within a few days over 80 people were arrested all over Germany, among them Christoph Probst, whose draft of a leaflet, written on January 31, was found in Hans Scholl's pocket at his arrest. . . .

It will never be known what drove Hans and Sophie to this action, which, according to statements made by them during their interrogation, had not been planned. It has been speculated that they knew that the Gestapo was hot on their trail, and that they, encouraged by what had happened a month earlier at the German Museum, believed that this last desperate act would result in a general uprising in Germany. . . .

Hitler's reaction was swift - the "People's Court" was called into session only four days later; and, in a trial lasting barely four hours, the two Scholls and Christoph Probst were sentenced to death by beheading.
Hans and Sophie knew the risk. Shortly before, Sophie remarked, "So many people have already died for this regime that it's time someone died against it." Following their arrest, Sophie was questioned by Gestapo interrogator Robert Mohr, and in her confrontation with this agent of an evil regime, she heroically showed herself to be fortified by faith, hope, and love.

Her love of what is right and good and just, building on rock by placing her faith in God, rather than in a twisted anti-God despot who offered only the hopelessness of Hell to the people of the world, gave Sophie the grace and fortitude to defiantly shine the light of truth on the evils of Hitler and the Nazis. Rather than be made an example of "the supremacy of Nazi justice," Sophie turned the tables on Mohr and at her subsequent trial, striking at the depths of their souls and forcing them to confront their consciences.

Upcoming: excerpts of the leaflets of the White Rose, leaflets 1-5 and leaflet 6
relevant works of Blessed John Henry Newman (here) and Blessed Clemens August von Galen (here and here)

See also: Protest of Youth - The White Rose, by Anton Gill
Memories of the White Rose, by George J. Wittenstein, M.D.
Alexander Schmorell and the White Rose, by Jim Forest
The White Rose: A Lesson in Dissent, by Jacob G. Hornberger
World War II: The White Rose, by Kennedy Hickman
Sophie Scholl: A Life of Courage, by Wendy McElroy
The White Rose, by Fr. John Murray, The Sacred Heart Messenger
Newman, Sophie Scholl, and Joseph Ratzinger, by Carl Olson, Ignatius Press
Woman who defied Hitler ‘was inspired by Newman’, by Simon Caldwell
Scholar: Newman inspired resistance, by Simon Caldwell
The student who took a stand against the Reich, by Simon Caldwell
Sophie Scholl, Holocaust Research Project

No comments: