Sophie Scholl and the White Rose: Young Defenders of Eternal Truths6:00:00 AMRose Deemer
Imagine a young, twenty-something girl, a biology and philosophy double major at a big-city university. She’s pretty, intelligent, and lightheartedly cheerful, but with a touch of seriousness and mature thoughtfulness beyond her years. She often goes off alone on walks, thinking about the deepest truths of life, but she also spends plenty of time hanging out with her crowd of friends like any college student. She takes her beliefs very seriously, but she knows how to have fun too. She finds it hard to relate to the careless and flippant behavior of many of her peers, but loves goofing off with her siblings and close friends.
Then, one day, she is convicted of treason and executed by Hitler’s Third Reich, three months before her twenty-second birthday. Her name is Sophie Scholl, and she, along with her brother and a group of college friends, started an underground propaganda campaign to undermine Nazism.
As Richard Hanser relates in A Noble Treason: The Revolt of the Munich Students Against Hitler, Sophie Scholl was born in 1921 in Forchtenberg, Germany, to devout Lutheran parents who instilled in their children a deeply rooted sense of morals and spirituality. Sophie and her five siblings grew up watching the rise of Hitler’s regime in Germany and experienced Nazism first-hand as members of the Hitler Youth, all in the context of a strongly anti-Nazi family. Throughout her formative years, Sophie developed a love for philosophy, theology, and the arts, while her carefree teenage life became increasingly clouded by the shadow which hung over Germany. The horrors of the war haunted her, causing her belief in the dignity of the human person to harden into an unshakable conviction. As she wrote in her diary, “If you believe in the victory of might, then you have to believe that men are on the same level as animals” (108).
When Sophie joined her brother Hans at the University of Munich in 1942, a group of friends formed around them, drawn together in part by their shared love of the arts and the intellectual life, and in part by their hatred of Nazism. Soon the group realized that their consciences would not allow them to sit idly by and watch their country fall to pieces around them. Although they were just a bunch of young, poor, and inexperienced college students, they decided to do something. That something turned out to be a secret printing operation. The little group, along with a philosophy professor from the university who served as a sort of mentor, began to secretly write, print, and distribute propaganda pamphlets (you can read all six of them here) which decried Nazism as the evil it truly was. Under the pseudonym of “The White Rose”, they distributed these pamphlets across not just the university, not just Munich, but the whole of Germany. They risked their lives on a daily basis (while still studying, attending classes, hanging out with friends, and doing all their normal activities) to spread the truth to as many of their fellow countrymen as they could reach.
The end had to come eventually, though. Nazi intelligence was too good for them to get away with it forever. One winter morning in February 1943, Hans and Sophie Scholl were caught distributing pamphlets on the university campus and arrested by the Gestapo. Four days later, on February 22, 1943, brother and sister, along with fellow White Rose member Christoph Probst, were guillotined. In the following months, a number of their fellow conspirators suffered the same fate.
Image 2- The graves of Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friend Christoph Probst
The beauty of Sophie Scholl’s story is that, in pretty much every respect, she and the rest of the White Rose were just normal college students. But when Nazism began to poison their country, their consciences weren’t about to let them sit still and watch. They didn’t let the fact that they were just a handful of young students stop them. They saw evil in their nation and they did something about it.
You might be tempted to think that your liberal arts education, your philosophy degree, your masters in theology, is useless. It’s not. You might be tempted to think that you’re just a college student and therefore can’t do much of anything to make a difference in the world. But you can. Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, a bunch of philosophy, science, and theater students in Nazi Germany, proved it for you. Maybe they didn’t end the war or defeat Hitler or anything. But, as Sophie Scholl told her mother on the morning of her execution, their work was not in vain.
“[The night before], she had dreamed that she was carrying a baby in a long white dress to a church for baptism…‘Then, without any warning, a crevasse opened at my feet...I had just enough presence of mind to place the baby on the other side of the crevasse, the safe side, before I plunged down into the abyss...Don’t you see? The baby in the white dress is our idea. It will survive us and succeed...We’ve been privileged to be the forerunners, pathfinders, but we have to die before the idea comes to fruition.’ Again white was the symbol--the white rose, the white of the baby’s dress--for the idea they were committed to, the idealism that would not wither even in the shadow of the guillotine.” (268)
Image 3- A monument to the White Rose in front of the University of Munich
Although the members of the White Rose who gave their lives for the truth have gone to their eternal rewards, their spirit and unshakable conviction live on. They fought for the truth, and truth is eternal, no matter what the times, no matter what the evils that threaten society. It is always there and must be defended by those who love it. And just because those who love it are young doesn’t mean that they must defend it any less. In the words of the English children’s hymn, “When A Knight”,
“Let faith be my shield and let joy be my steed
Against the dragons of anger, the ogres of greed,
And let me set free with the sword of my youth
From the castle of darkness the power of the truth.”