By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published September 15, 2012, in The Madera Tribune
“God, you are my refuge into eternity.” Those words were allegedly the last spoken by 21-year-old university student Sophie Scholl before her beheading Feb. 22, 1943.
That same day her 24-year-old brother Hans said, “Let freedom live,” even as the guillotine blade fell.
They and four others had been convicted of treason by the National Socialist government of Germany. Their nonviolent resistance group, the White Rose, had distributed anonymous leaflets arguing against the Nazi regime.
Members Hans, Alexander Schmorell, and Willi Graf also painted the slogans “Down with Hitler” and “Freedom” on the walls of buildings in Munich, Germany, repeatedly that same month. Their handiwork inspired copycat graffiti by others.
Ultimately more than 100 Germans would be prosecuted in a series of White Rose trials, which ended only because of the fall of Adolf Hitler.
“If the German people… surrender man’s highest principle, that which raises him above all other God’s creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision… — then, yes, they deserve their downfall… Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.” (excerpt of the first leaflet)
The White Rose consisted of University of Munich students and their philosophy professor Kurt Huber, high school students, and others. Schmorell would be canonized as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Former agnostic Christoph Probst, a married father of three, would become Catholic shortly before execution. “Now my death will be easy and joyful,” he said after his baptism and first confession.
The group’s founders Sophie and Hans, both Lutheran, had originally ignored their father’s opposition to the Nazi Party and been seduced by its utopian propaganda. Then in 1941 they read a sermon by Count Clemens August von Galen, Catholic bishop of Munster, denouncing Nazi “mercy killing” policies, which in 1939 focused on sick and disabled children, then included ill adults, and in 1941 extended to concentration camps.
“The officials follow the precept that it is permissible to destroy ‘life unworthy of life’ — to kill innocent persons, if it is decided that such lives are no longer of value to the people and the state,” he preached. “It is a terrible doctrine, which excuses the murder of innocent people.”
Hans told family, “Finally someone has the courage to speak, and all you need is a duplicating machine.” Sophie gained permission to reprint and distribute the sermon.
“There awoke in us [Scholl siblings] a feeling of living in a house once beautiful and clean but in whose cellars behind locked doors frightful, evil, and fearsome things were happening,” wrote Inge Scholl, concentration camp survivor (“The White Rose: Munich 1942-1943”).
Christian youth movements clashed, morally, with the government, and were eradicated. Nazi paramilitary youth groups remained and membership wasn’t optional. Farther from home, medical student-soldier Graf witnessed war atrocities against civilians in Poland that haunted him. Philosophy debates arose at school.
These threads pulled together classmates to create seven leaflets. The last two would not be distributed before the arrests, but the sixth would be smuggled to Allied forces, who air-dropped millions on Germany.
“We are not in a position to draw up a final judgment about the meaning of our history. But if this catastrophe can be used to further the public welfare, it will be only by virtue of the fact that we are cleansed by suffering; that we yearn for the light in the midst of deepest night, summon our strength, and finally help in shaking off the yoke which weighs on our world.” (excerpt of the second leaflet)
May the White Rose’s heroic witness to truth and goodness — the truest form of patriotism — arouse our own courage today.
“During a thunderstorm she [Sophie] had gone up to the roof with a little boy who was living with them and whom she loved dearly. She wanted to bring in the drying clothes before the rain came. At the sound of a loud clap of thunder the boy turned his face in fear toward hers. Then she showed him the lightning rod. After she had explained how it worked, he asked: ‘But does God understand about your lightning rod?’
“‘He knows about lightning rods and a great deal more; for if that were not so, then there wouldn’t be one stone left standing on another in the world today. You need not fear.” (Inge Scholl)