This is another installment in my series Inspiring People Whom I Admire Part V. A few weeks ago I wrote about the inspirational story of Irene Sendler. Today I want to continue that theme of inspiring women in the World War II era and tell you the story of Sophie Scholl.
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Inspiring People Whom I Admire Part V
Sophie Scholl was born on May 9, 1921, in Germany. At the age of 12, she joined the League of German Girls as did most of her classmates. This displeased her father who was an ardent Nazi critic. Initially, she was very enthusiastic but eventually also became critical of the Nazis. Her brother Hans, at one time, eagerly participated in the Hitler Youth program became disillusioned as well. Hans was even arrested in 1937 for participating in the German Youth Movement. Seeing her brother arrested affected her deeply.
After graduating from secondary school, she became a kindergarten teacher. She had hoped this would be recognized as an alternative service to the National Labor Service. Unfortunately for Sophie, it wasn’t. National Labor Service was a prerequisite to be admitted to the University. Therefore, Sophie served six months of auxiliary war service. The military-like regimen of the Labor Service caused her to change her initial views of National Socialism. She would eventually begin to practice passive resistance.
In 1942 she enrolled at the University of Munich and attended with her brother Hans. During the summer, Sophie, Hans, and their friends began to question and resist the principles and policies of the Nazi regime. They adopted passive resistance strategies that were being used by students in the United States fighting racial discrimination.
The group called themselves, White Rose, and co-authored six Anti-Nazi Third Reich political resistance leaflets. These leaflets instructed Germans to passively resist the Nazis. During school breaks, Hans and some of his friends were conscripted into the military and sent to the eastern front. There, some of the group witnessed a group of naked Jews shot in a pit. They were horrified and it emboldened their efforts when they returned to school.
Sophie was an invaluable member of White Rose. As a female, her chances of being randomly stopped by the SS were much less. Between June 1942 and February 1943 they prepared and distributed the six leaflets. In January 1943, the White Rose, using hand-operated duplicating machines, produced, and distributed between 6000 to 9000 copies of their 5th leaflet, “Appeal to All Germans.”
Readers of the leaflets were urged to support the resistance movement in their struggle for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and protection of individuals from the arbitrary action of the criminal dictator state. The leaflets caused a sensation and the Gestapo initiated an intensive search for the publishers.
On February 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie brought a suitcase full of leaflets to the University. They dropped stacks of leaflets in the hallways for the students to find when class let out. After dropping off the leaflets they discovered that some copies remained in the suitcase. Not wanting to waste a single leaflet Sophie grabbed the copies and ran up the stairs to the top floor of the building. There she flung the copies into the air over the railing.
Unfortunately, Sophie was observed by a custodian who supported the Nazis and notified the police. Hans and Sophie were taken into Gestapo custody. Eventually, the rest of the group was arrested, interrogated, and charged with treason. Sophie assumed full responsibility in an attempt to protect the other members of the White Rose.
In the People’s Court on February 21, 1943, Sophie 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.”
No testimony was allowed for the defendants; this was their only defense. Sophie and Han’s defiance, in the face of certain death, gained them the admiration of many people.
On February 22, 1943, Sophie, and Hans, along with their friend Christopher Probst, were adjudged guilty of treason and condemned to death by guillotine. A few hours later as she walked to her execution, still brave and defiant, she uttered her last words:
“Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go… What does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
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After her death, a copy of the sixth leaflet was smuggled out of Germany to the UK, where it was used by the Allied Forces. In mid-1943, they dropped millions of propaganda copies over Germany. The leaflet was now retitled, The Manifesto of the Students of Munich.
I admire Sophie, her brother, and their friends for having the courage to stand up for what is right. Knowing that if they were caught it would mean certain death, they were still willing to make the sacrifice. Their small part in resisting the tyranny of Hitler and his National Socialist Party contributed to Germany’s defeat. The symbolic value of what Sophie and the White Rose accomplished cannot be measured. It is because of her courage and sacrifice that I’m proud to include Sophie Scholl in this series of Inspiring People Whom I Admire Part V.
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