Sophie Scholl was a member of the White Rose movement that was formed in Nazi Germany during World War Two. Sophie, along with a small group of others, was anti-Nazi and therefore by definition anti-Hitler. It was only a matter of time before the authorities knew the identities of those who were writing what was described as ‘subversive’ leaflets and Sophie was put on trial, found guilty and executed.
Sophie Scholl was born on May 9th 1921 in Forchtenberg in Bäden-Württemberg. Her father, Robert, was the town mayor. The family lived in a degree of comfort in a large apartment in the town hall. Robert had been a conscientious objector during World War One and served in the ambulance corps working at a Red Cross military hospital. It was at this hospital in Ludwigsburg, that he met his future wife, Magdalene, who was working as a nurse. They married in 1916 and had six children: Inge, Hans, Elisabeth, Sophie, Werner and Thilde; Thilde died in 1926.
All the children were brought up to value Lutheran beliefs. Magdalene was a Lutheran lay preacher and she taught her children to have a “strong moral and social conscience”. (Frank McDonough in ‘Sophie Scholl’).
Sophie excelled at school. Her favourite subjects were English, Music and sports. She had a voracious appetite for reading and by her early teens she had developed a great dislike for injustices of any sort. She was also a free willed teenager who did things having been advised not to do them.
In 1930 Robert was beaten in a mayoral election and the family left Forchtenberg for Ludwigsburg. In 1932, the family moved to the city of Ulm. Ulm did not have a reputation for being supportive of the Nazis and when it was announced that Hitler had been appointed Chancellor on January 30th 1933, there was no wholesale celebration in the city – unlike many other cities in Germany. The Nazi Party apparatus did, however, arrive in the city and political opponents were put into the city’s castle.
The school in which Sophie was educated in Ulm, the Girls Public School, underwent change as all schools did. Books were removed and replaced with Nazi-approved ones. Teachers had to belong to the Nationalist Socialist Teachers League and the curriculum became a Nazi-approved one. An emphasis was put on physical fitness and sport and outdoor activities became a major part of education.
Robert Scholl openly spoke out against Hitler to his children but they did not inform their teachers as they had been told to do. Father and children had heated discussions about the Hitler Youth movement. The children wanted to join because of the opportunities it presented to them. Robert did not want them to join, as he feared that the movement had ulterior motives. However, he did not stand in their way and all five children voluntarily joined the Hitler Youth movement. Sophie joined the Young Girls League and then when she was fourteen the German Girls League. In 1935, she was promoted to Squad Leader. Inge Scholl later said: “we could not understand why our father did not approve (of us joining)”. It seems that Sophie enjoyed her time in the Hitler Youth because of the sporting and outdoor opportunities it gave to her. Other aspects of it seemingly did not appeal to her. Sophie remained friends with some Jewish girls she knew from school and invited them over to her home even after she had joined the Hitler Youth movement. She also complained to senior leaders in the Ulm Hitler Youth when the movement rejected the application of two of her Jewish girlfriends to join.
However, Sophie’s rebellious streak was also seen when she was a senior member of the German Girls League. She was heard reading out to a younger group of girls passages from ‘Book of Songs’ by the banned Jewish writer Heinrich Heine. When she was reprimanded by a superior, Sophie was said to have replied that no one could know anything about German literature if they had not read Heine.
The scenario in Germany changed a great deal in September 1935 when the Nuremberg Laws were introduced. These forbade Sophie’s Jewish friends from going to swimming pools, the theatre, cinemas etc. These friends soon had to leave the Girls Public School and attend a separate one. This treatment very much went against Sophie’s belief in equal justice for all and there can be little doubt that it angered her.
After leaving school in 1940, Sophie worked in a kindergarten. This served two purposes for her as she loved working with younger children and such work, it was hoped by Sophie, would ensure that she did not have to join the National Labour Service led by Robert Ley. However, her plan did not come to fruition and she had to do six months service as a nursery teacher under the auspices of the Reichsarbeitsdienst. Her successful completion of this work was a passport for Sophie to go to university and in May 1942 she started at the University of Munich. Here she studied Philosophy and Biology. Sophie met the friends of her brother Hans – some of the people who were to makeup the White Rose movement.
Her hatred of the Nazi regime was heightened by the arrest and imprisonment of her father after he was critical of Hitler at his workplace.
The part played by her then boyfriend, Fritz Hartnagel, was critical in pushing Sophie towards passive resistance against the Nazi regime. He fought on the Eastern Front and told Sophie and others about the crimes by German soldiers he witnessed, such as the shooting of unarmed Soviet prisoners. Once again, her views on what was right and what was wrong played on her mind.
Her brother Hans, along with three other medical students, had founded the White Rose movement in Munich. Sophie joined and helped to distribute White Rose leaflets though she did not help write them. The sixth leaflet produced by the movement was titled “To fellow freedom fighters in the resistance”.
Sophie and Hans took a bundle of this printed leaflet to Munich University on February 18th 1943 where both of them distributed what they could before attending a lecture.
However, they did not have time to leave them all before their lecture started. After they left their lecture they made the fatal decision to leave the rest of the leaflets at the university as they were convinced that students would be very important in any uprising against Hitler. They decided not to waste the leaflets as a great deal of time had been put into illegally printing them. Both Hans and Sophie went to the university’s atrium where they left the remaining leaflets. However, they were seen by a caretaker called Jacob Schmid. He called the Gestapo and held Sophie and Hans until the secret police arrived. Their fate was sealed as the Gestapo had all the evidence they needed actually in the university.
Just four days later Sophie was brought before the People’s Court. The Reich Attorney General composed the indictment against her:
“The accused, Sophie Scholl, as early as the summer of 1942 took part in political discussions in which she and her brother Hans Scholl, came to the conclusion that Germany had lost the war. She admits to having taken part in the preparing and distributing of leaflets in 1943. Together with her brother she drafted the text of the seditious ‘Leaflets of the Resistance in Germany’. In addition, she had a part in the purchasing of paper, envelopes and stencils, and together with her brother she actually prepared the duplicated copies of this leaflet. She put the prepared leaflets into various mailboxes, and she took part in the distribution of leaflets in Munich. She accompanied her brother to the university, was observed there in an act of scattering the leaflets, and was arrested when he was taken into custody.”
Sophie was given a written copy of the indictment and wrote on the back of it “freedom”.
Both Hans and Sophie admitted their full responsibility in an attempt to end any form of interrogation that might result in them revealing other members of the movement. However, the Gestapo refused to believe that only two people were involved and after further interrogation, they gained the names of all those involved who were subsequently arrested.
Sophie and Hans along with a fellow member of the White Rose movement, Christoph Probst were the first to be brought before the People’s Court on February 22nd 1943. The People’s Court had been established on April 24th 1934 to try cases that were deemed to be political offences against the Nazi state. Invariably these trials were nothing more than show trials designed to humiliate those brought before it, presumably in the hope that such a public humiliation would put off anyone else whom might be thinking in the same way as the condemned. The judge at the trial was the notorious Roland Freisler, who did his best to belittle anyone brought before him. All three were found guilty and sentenced to death.
During the brief trial, where no one doubted what the outcome would be, Sophie shared a cell with a political prisoner called Else Gebel. She claimed that Sophie said to her:
“It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives? What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted? Among the student body there will certainly be a revolt.”
Sophie’s execution took place in Munich’s Stadelheim Prison a few hours after the trial had finished. She was beheaded by guillotine. No student revolt did take place.
In 1999 Sophie Scholl was named ‘Woman of the Century’ by the readers of the magazine ‘Brigette’ and in 2003 she and Hans were voted fourth in a telephone poll of ‘Greatest Germans’.