I wanted to go to journalism school because I liked reading the columnists in Maclean’s; I had a weekly subscription ever since I was 13. I hoped one day I’d be as good a writer as they were. Sometime in my fourth year of university, I read the story of Sophie Scholl and realized being a journalist could be something much more important.
On the same day Sophie Scholl and her brother, Hans were found guilty of high treason for distributing leaflets denouncing Hitler’s dictatorship, they were executed by guillotine. Seconds before the blade fell, Scholl is recorded to have shouted in one last courageous act, “Long live freedom!”
I realized than that it’s not just soldiers who fight for freedom, but journalists too.
Hans and Sophie’s leafleting campaign began in the summer of 1942. Sophie was 21 when she joined her older brother in Munich. Hans Scholl, a medical student at Munich University had spent two years in the military. He and other medical students had already begun to form a resistance against the Nazi regime. Sophie soon got involved in what became known as the White Rose.
Sophie’s story and legacy has always touched me – her personal conviction and everlasting faith seems outdated somehow in today’s social climate. And yet, it’s exactly what I aspire to be.
In Sophie’s second interrogation by the Gestapo after her arrest, she said that she and her brother discussed for almost a year how to communicate their opposition to Hitler.
According to Frank McDonough’s Sophie Scholl: the real story of the woman who defied Hitler, although Germany’s success in the war was starting to look bleak, members of the White Rose had become disillusioned long before:
“The leading student figures in The White Rose in Munich had all opposed Nazism long before the war began…Sophie became most agitated and depressed after the defeat of France in 1940 and in the months following the attack on the Soviet Union – when the rest of Germany was rejoicing” (96).
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause?” -Sophie Scholl
Sophie and Hans were deeply devoted to their Christian faith and opposed to Hitler’s control over organized religion. The “increasing criminal irresponsibility of the Nazi regime” (Ibid, 96), including atrocities by German soldiers Hans and his fellow med students witnessed firsthand on the front lines at Stalingrad and the mass murders of Jews and children with disabilities deeply disturbed the students.
In June 1942, the White Rose bought a typewriter and began to distribute the first leaflet as a form of passive resistance. The second and third pamphlets were distributed in the first week of July 1942.
Hans wrote many of the leaflets himself. The second he co-wrote with Alexander Schmorell, opposing the mass deportation of Jews: “Since the conquest of Poland, 300,000 Jews have been murdered, a crime against human dignity…Germans encourage fascist criminals if no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds. An end in terror is preferable to terror without end” (Burns, “Sophie Scholl and the White Rose”).
Members of The White Rose produced thousands of leaflets and encouraged recipients to make copies. They mailed out many and left others in locations such as bars and pubs in hopes that customers would see them. Paper was scarce and they had trouble getting enough. They were also forced to buy stamps and paper at various shops, to avoid suspicion.
On July 23, 1942, Hans and other members of The White Rose were sent to the front lines in the Soviet Union for three months of medical duty. That summer, his father, Robert Scholl was arrested for referring to Hitler as “God’s Scourge,” to an employee, and imprisoned for four months. Scholl, a lawyer was also barred from practicing law.
A new semester began in November 1942 and talk began about how to proceed with the White Rose. The students tried to raise more money for a more extensive campaign. Secretly, they set out to gain financial support from like-minded individuals. An accountant friend of Robert Scholl donated money to the group and Sophie took charge of the finances.
Hans and several other members were able to entice their philosophy professor, Kurt Huber, to become involved in December 1942 and he worked on the final White Rose leaflets.
The night the Germans were defeated at Stalingrad in 1943, Hans, and two others crossed-out swastikas and painted “Freedom” and ”Down with Hitler” on buildings in Munich, putting the Gestapo on even higher alert.
In January of that year, the local governor of the district of Munich and Upper Bavaria, Paul Giesler gave a speech at Munich University to mark the 470th anniversary of its founding. Geisler instead used his speech to preach loyalty to the regime. He was especially hostile towards the female students who he thought should be looking for husbands to offer “an annual contribution to the Fatherland of a child” (McDonough, 11). Geisler’s remarks prompted uproar from the students that soon turned into a massive street demonstration, the first in the history of Nazi Germany.
Soon after this demonstration, the White Rose printed a fifth pamphlet titled “Resistance Movement in Germany” and distributed between 8,000 and 10,000 leaflets in Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt, Augsburg, Saltzburg, Stuttgart, Vienna and Innsbruck.
On Thursday, February 18, 1943, Sophie and Hans brought a suitcase of the final leaflets, written by Professor Huber, to the University. They carried between 1500 and 1800 copies of leaflets addressed to “Fellow Students” in two briefcases. Because paper was so scarce, the group was not able to mail these last leaflets and decided to risk leaving them in corridors for students to discover after class.
Jakob Schmid, a general handyman at the university and Nazi party member saw Hans and Sophie throw the leaflets into the mezzanine and reported them to the Gestapo. Over the next several days, the siblings went through a series of gruelling interrogations.
On Feb 22, 1943, Sophie, Hans and another member of the White Rose were condemned to death by the People’s Court, which had been created by the National Socialist Party to eliminate Hitler’s enemies. Sophie was 21.
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause?” Sophie said. “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?”
- Germans Against Hitler: July 20, 1944, copyright 1969, 5th edition, adapted by Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, Printed by: Weisbadner Graphische Betriebe GmbH
- Sophie Scholl: the real story of the woman who defied Hitler, by Frank McDonough, copyright 2009, The History Press: Stroud, Gloucestershire
- Burns, Margie. “Sophie Scholl and the White Rose”: www.raoulwallenberg.net/holocaust/articles-20/sophie-scholl-white-rose/