Sophie Scholl was born in 1921 to a middle class family in Germany. Her father, a businessman, was the mayor of the town where they lived.
Starting at the age of 12, Sophie, like other German schoolchildren, was required to participate in political youth groups. Her father, her brother, and some of her friends had independent views, dissenting from the popular nazi politics that dominated Germany in the 1930s. Sophie had strong religious views, as well as an interest in philosophy, and those combined to lead her to reject the Nazi ideology of her country.
All German youth were required to serve in a National Labor group as a condition to attending a University. After completing high school, Sophie served her six month national service commitment, which further alienated her from the militaristic government and its supporters.
In 1942 Sophie began college at the University of Munich. Her brother Hans was also a student there. Both Sophie and Hans had other friends who shared their political views including artists, writers, philosophers, and theatre people. By the time Sophie entered the university, Germany was at war, and undisputably was a military dictatorship. Sophie and her friends agonized over the obligation of an individual living in an unjust society: are people required to put their own lives on the line in order to stop a murderous regime? Her father ended up being thrown in prison for having made a critical comment about Hitler, which increased Sophie's commitment to doing something to oppose the Nazis.
Sophie was assigned to work in a factory in the summer of 1942, and her boyfriend was sent to the eastern front. By that time, Sophie had begun reading certain Catholic writings which had influenced her views of war, dictatorships, conscience, and the role and obligations of an individual in an unjust state.
In the summer of 1942, Sophie, her brother Hans, and some of their friends formed a group they called the White Rose. They wrote six anti-Nazi leaflets and secretly distributed them to the public. The pamphlets called on Germans to engage in passive resistance to the Nazis. Distributing the leaflets was extremely dangerous, and they knew that if they were caught, they would likely be executed. In February of 1943, all of the members of White Rose were arrested after one was found distributing the sixth leaflet.
The members of White Rose were immediately tried, and condemned to death for treason. Within a few hours after the conclusion of their trial, each of the members of White Rose was beheaded by the executioner in the prison in Munich.
Reportedly, as Sophie was led to the guillotine she made this statement: "How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?"
Sophie and her brother Hans, and the other members of White Rose, have been acknowledged and celebrated for their courage and sacrifice throughout the world. The Allied forces printed thousands of copies of the sixth leaflet of White Rose and dropped them all over Germany while the war was still being fought, to let the Germans know about these brave young people who were resisting the Nazis.
One of the institutes at the University of Munich is named after Sophie and Hans. Artists have sculpted busts of Sophie. Many schools and streets in Germany have been named after Sophie and her brother Hans. Both Sophie and her brother have been chosen by Germans as being among the top ten most important Germans of all time.
There have been many movies made about White Rose and Sophie Scholl including, most recently, the Academy Award Best Foreign Film nominee "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. There have also been many books written about them.
The First Pamphlet
Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be "governed" without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes - crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure - reach the light of day?
If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order in history; if they 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; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass - then, yes, they deserve their downfall.
Goethe speaks of the Germans as a tragic people, like the Jews and the Greeks, but today it would appear rather that they are a spineless, will-less herd of hangers-on, who now - the marrow sucked out of their bones, robbed of their center of stability - are waiting to be hounded to their destruction. So it seems - but it is not so. Rather, by means of a gradual, treacherous, systematic abuse, the system has put every man into a spiritual prison. Only now, finding himself lying in fetters, has he become aware of his fate.
Only a few recognized the threat of ruin, and the reward for their heroic warning was death. We will have more to say about the fate of these persons. If everyone waits until the other man makes a start, the messengers of avenging Nemesis will come steadily closer; then even the last victim will have been cast senselessly into the maw of the insatiable demon.
Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism. Offer passive resistance - resistance - wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late, before the last cities, like Cologne, have been reduced to rubble, and before the nation's last young man has given his blood on some battlefield for the hubris of a sub-human. Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.
From Friedrich Schiller's "The Lawgiving of Lycurgus and Solon":
Viewed in relation to its purposes, the law code of Lycurgus is a masterpiece of political science and knowledge of human nature. He desired a powerful, unassailable state, firmly established on its own principles. Political effectiveness and permanence were the goal towards which he strove, and he attained this goal to the full extent possible under the circumstances.
But if one compares the purpose Lycurgus had in view with the purposes of mankind, then a deep abhorrence takes the place of the approbation which we felt at first glance. Anything may be sacrificed to the good of the state except that end for which the State serves as a means. The state is never an end in itself; it is important only as a condition under which the purpose of mankind can be attained, and this purpose is none other than the development of all of man's powers, his progress and improvement.
If a state prevents the development of the capacities which reside in man, if it interferes with the progress of the human spirit, then it is reprehensible and injurious, no matter how excellently devised, how perfect in its own way. Its very permanence in that case amounts more to a reproach than to a basis for fame; it becomes a prolonged evil, and the longer it endures, the more harmful it is...
At the price of all moral feeling a political system was set up, and the resources of the state were mobilized to that end. In Sparta there was no conjugal love, no mother love, no filial devotion, no friendship; all men were citizens only, and all virtue was civic virtue.
A law of the state made it the duty of Spartans to be inhumane to their slaves; in these unhappy victims of war humanity itself was insulted and mistreated. In the Spartan code of law the dangerous principle was promulgated that men are to be looked upon as means and not as ends - and the foundations of natural law and of morality were destroyed by that law...
What an admirable sight is afforded, by contrast, by the rough soldier Gaius Marcius in his camp before Rome, when he renounced vengeance and victory because he could not endure to see a mother's tears!...
The state [of Lycurgus] could endure only under the one condition: that the spirit of the people remained quiescent. Hence it could be maintained only if it failed to achieve the highest, the sole purpose of a state.
From Goethe's "The Awakening of Epimenides, Act II, Scene 4:
SPIRITS: Though he who has boldly risen from the abyss Through an iron will and cunning May conquer half the world, Yet to the abyss he must return. Already a terrible fear has seized him; In vain he will resist! And all who still stand with him Must perish in his fall
HOPE: Now I find my good men Are gathered in the night, To wait in silence, not to sleep. And the glorious word of liberty They whisper and murmur, Till in unaccustomed strangeness, On the steps of our temple Once again in delight they cry: Freedom! Freedom!
Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.