Great European of the Week: Sophie Scholl

Sophie Magdalena Scholl was born 9th May 1921 in Fortchenberg am Kocher. The third five children, she enjoyed a childhood that was marked by the Lutheran and humanistic education of her parents Robert and Magdalena. When Hitler rose to power, she and her family at first welcomed the takeover and she enthusiastically joined the Nazi female youth organization “Bund Deutscher Mädel”. Soon, she became aware of the sanguinary and degrading nature of the NSDAP and realized that it was not compatible with her tolerant morals and beliefs. After the introduction of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935 she had to witness the increasingly hostile treatment of her Jewish friends and fellow citizens. In 1937 Sophie herself was arrested along with her siblings for the participation in a forbidden youth organization. This was a decisive moment for her because she had to experience personally how efficiently the Nazi’s surveillance system worked and how little freedom was left.

Sophie Scholl (right).

Sophie Scholl (right).

In May 1942 she began to study biology and philosophy at the Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Munich, where her older brother Hans was a student in medicine. He introduced her to a circle of fellow students who shared their horror against Nazi rule. The plan emerged to form an active, yet peaceful resistance group called the Weisse Rose. Besides the Scholls, the main activists were Christoph Probst, Willy Graf, Alexander Schmorell and the university professor Kurt Huber. They soon began secretly formulating, printing and distributing leaflets, encouraging Germans to resist the Nazi regime. On 18th February 1943 Sophie and Hans were observed and reported by a university custodian for placing leaflets in the main university hall. Shortly after their detection all the members of the Weisse Rose were executed by the guillotine. Sophie Scholl died on 22th February at the age of 21 years in the Munich prison Stadelheim.

She is a role model for the resistance against suppression and totalitarianism in a time when open resistance was painfully scarce among the German people. Too few dared to speak out a dissenting opinion in fear of sharing the cruel fate of the countless victims of Nazi terror. Their names are widely known today and are rightfully honored in several places and memorials such as the Geschwister-Scholl-Platz in front of the Munich University. It remains the duty of each and every individual to accuse those who misuse their powers and violate universal human rights. Totalitarianism in Europe was just quite recently abrogated and it still exists in many parts of the world. Only in realizing this, the death of Sophie Scholl will not be in vain and remain a powerful symbol for posterity.

Image: “SOPHIE SCHOLL” by UNARMED CIVILIAN via Flickr. Published under Creative Commons License 2.0. 

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