On February 22, 1943, a 21-year-old girl named Sophie Scholl was beheaded in Munich, Germany, after being condemned to death by the infamous Nazi “People’s Court.” Her crime? She would not stay silent while her country destroyed human lives and assaulted human dignity.
Sophie, her brother Hans, and their fellow activists belonged to an organization they had begun called The White Rose, a resistance group dedicated to non-violent activism against Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. They distributed leaflets, spray painted anti-Nazi slogans on walls, and met together to discuss philosophy, theology, and literature. Students at the University of Munich soon took notice, and as more leaflets—six in all—were distributed, other White Rose groups began to form. People as far away as Austria began to read their writing, and the Gestapo began a frantic manhunt to quell the dissension.
Among the many reasons for speaking out, several members of the White Rose had witnessed the injustices being perpetrated against the Jews on the Eastern Front. In their first leaflet, they asked the German public a solemn question:
“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?”
The second leaflet continued the denunciations, stating that “…we want to cite the fact that since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history. For Jews, too, are human beings—no matter what position we take with respect to the Jewish question—and a crime of this dimension has been perpetrated against human beings.”
They then asked another question that pierces us from across the years, and should once again give our society reason for pause: “Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? Hardly anyone thinks about that. It is accepted as fact and put out of mind…Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cried out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencelessness from which they will never, never awake?”
Indeed. It is a shame that such questions must still be asked today in our society, as we tolerate the mass slaughter of our pre-born brothers and sisters and the Culture of Death looks greedily at the disabled and elderly. And who among us is still appalled? How many of us have caved to the monotony of the surgical nature and medical characterization of the slaughter, and slowly slipped into “consciencelessness”? As Sophie herself said just before she faced the guillotine, “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause?”
Today, however, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose are remembered and venerated for their valiant opposition to the crimes of Nazi Germany. They are remembered as a heroic few who did not share in the shame of their generation. Their voices, although silenced by those who had no regard for human life, still echo across the generations with their message of freedom and human rights.
We should pay these voices heed, and stand up to fight injustices in our own society and in our own culture. Sophie and her comrades were willing to pay the price of death for what they believed. What are we willing to give up? What are we willing to sacrifice?
And perhaps most importantly, how will history judge us?