On February 22, 1943—75 years ago today—in Munich, Germany, two siblings made the ultimate sacrifice on the altar of conviction. They risked and lost, fought and failed, but not without leaving a lasting imprint.
Their names were Hans and Sophie Scholl.
Birth of the White Rose
Formerly enthusiastic about the Third Reich, the siblings soon realized the brutality and oppression of their own government. By the time World War II broke out, they’d turned from supporters to resistors. And they were students at the University of Munich when they formed the White Rose, a student-led resistance movement.
“We fight with our words,” Sophie said; and in June 1942, the first anti-Nazi leaflet appeared in Munich mailboxes. It was an eloquent plea for resistance and truth, aimed at the millions of Germans who shut their eyes to the brutalities enacted by their dictator. Each member of the White Rose understood the crime—high treason—and the punishment meted out to such offenders. “We were all aware we were risking our necks,” one member said.
A second leaflet soon followed, highlighting the mass deportation and killing of Jews, which they called “a crime . . . unparalleled in all of history.” A third, fourth, and fifth came in quick succession, landing in mailboxes, phone booths, and other public places around Munich and beyond. “Hitler cannot win the war, he can only prolong it,” the leaflets insisted, as Germany faced staggering losses on the Eastern Front during the Battle of Stalingrad.
With every pamphlet the risk of discovery increased, as the Gestapo scrambled to investigate the mysterious White Rose.
But to the Scholls, it was a risk worth taking. Raised Lutheran, they held deep convictions about the stand Christians should take against injustice. They quoted Scripture, along with the writings of prominent Christian thinkers, in every leaflet.
“Somebody, after all, had to make a start,” Sophie said. “What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”
Hans agreed: “It’s high time that Christians made up their minds to do something. . . . What are we going to show in the way of resistance . . . when all this terror is over? We will be standing empty-handed. We will have no answer when we are asked: What did you do about it?”
February 18, 1943, dawned bright and sunny as Hans and Sophie walked to the university. Hans carried a suitcase; Sophie, a briefcase. Inside lay nearly 2,000 copies of their sixth leaflet.
It was quiet, the students all in class. Hearts pounding, shoes tapping on the marble floor, Hans and Sophie began depositing their call to action. Seconds before the lecture hall doors opened, Sophie took the remaining leaflets and pushed them over the banister, sending them fluttering to the hall below. The siblings were spotted by a janitor and arrested on the spot.
Four long days and nights of interrogation followed. At first they denied the charges, but as solid evidence pointed in their direction, they confessed and took full responsibility, hoping to protect the other members of the White Rose. Unfortunately, a piece of paper Hans had in his pocket incriminated his friend, Christoph Probst, an active member of the student resistance. He too was arrested and brought in for interrogation.
Sophie’s interrogator later reported:
Until the bitter end, Sophie and Hans Scholl managed a bearing that must be called unique. Both [said] their activities had only one purpose: preventing an even greater calamity from overtaking Germany and, if possible, helping to save the lives of hundreds of thousands. . . . They were convinced their sacrifice was not in vain.
On Monday, February 22, Hans, Sophie, and Christoph went before the German People’s Court, infamous for condemning hundreds suspected of subversive activities. The verdict was read.
The siblings were immediately transferred to Stadelheim Prison to be executed by beheading later that day. Contrary to prison rules, Hans and Sophie were allowed a brief visit with their parents. They wept, embraced one final time, and heard their father say, “I’m proud of both of you.”
The whole prison and their interrogators were deeply shaken and impressed by Hans and Sophie’s courage and deep faith in God, even in the face of death. “They bore themselves with marvelous bravery,” one guard recalled.
At 5 p.m., Sophie was led to the execution chamber. Supposedly her last words were, “God, you are my refuge into eternity.”
Hans followed. With his last breath, he cried out a final word of resistance: “Long live freedom!”
We Will Remember
Hans and Sophie believed in freedom for all humanity, and in the importance of speaking truth. Sophie’s favorite Bible verse was James 1:22: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”
Now, 75 years later, Christians still need to be doers of the Word.
Anti-Semitism is increasingly—and alarmingly—on the rise. Acts of genocide happen every day. More than 27 million individuals are enslaved, in both labor and sex trafficking. Millions of babies are legally murdered year after year. Religious liberty and freedom of speech are slowly slipping away, and Christians around the world are tortured and killed for Christ every day.
All around me, I see Christians with the ability and potential to speak truth and fight for justice. But in place of action, there is often apathy. Overshadowing the call to make a difference is fear. Fear of how much it will cost us. Fear of ridicule. Fear of persecution. Fear of standing alone.
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail,” Sophie once asked, “when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually for a righteous cause?”
In our contemporary culture, the pressure to conform to the status quo is crippling. It takes tremendous courage to be the first to take a stand and speak out. But one person willing to be first is often all it takes. In their final moments together, Sophie told her parents, “What we did will make waves.” Our actions can have the same effect. As one speaks out, and another joins, the ripple becomes a wave and the wave becomes a flood.
After Hans and Sophie’s death, despite being more aware than ever of the risk, the remaining members of the White Rose released yet another leaflet. It reached farther and was read by more individuals than any of the previous ones. And it displayed in bold type: “Despite everything, their spirit lives on!”
May their spirit live on in our generation, as we—to quote Sophie—”stand up for what [we] believe in, even if it means standing alone.”
For Further Reading:
- The White Rose: Munich, 1942–1943 by Inge Scholl
- Sophie Scholl and the White Rose by Annette Dumbach and Jud Newborn
- Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005 docudrama)