This image is undoubtedly recognisable around the world. This photograph is a portrait of Sophie Scholl, a figure that embodies the courage to resist evil and tyranny. Almost 80 years after this picture was taken, Scholl’s story still resonates with thousands who use her courageous actions and groundbreaking recollection of thoughts to confront sources of evil.
The protagonist of this picture, Sophie Scholl, was born in the 1920s, a dark period in German history. These were times of international embarrassment, hyperinflation and misery as the nation attempted to recover from its WWI defeat.
These circumstances ultimately led to rise of Hitler and the National Socialists who offered simple solutions to the complex problem that was recovery. Like many others, Sophie was initially enthusiastic about this movement. However, during her time as a student in the University of Munich accompanied by her brother Hans, the awful truth finally dawned on her.
By 1933, the atrocities the Nazis are now widely known for had begun. Dachau was built just a few miles away from Munich - where Sophie Scholl lived, with the purpose of holding political prisoners. This later became the model for concentration camps that would exterminate millions of lives. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were passed, which stripped Jews of their citizenship and effectively all of their basic human rights. This marked the start of the campaign to eradicate ‘untermenschen’, a campaign more commonly known as the Holocaust.
Sophie and Hans were aware of these actions and watched them with a tremendous sense of guilt as they knew someone had to stand up and fight for the rights of those being slaughtered in order for such measures to stop. After the Nazis announced Germany’s involvement in WWII, Sophie Scholl realised silence was no longer an option. It became apparent to her that in order for justice to be achieved, someone needed to confront the Nazis. “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?”
With full awareness of the risks involved, she decided, alongside her brother, to embark on a moral war against evil. A brief glimpse into her eyes in this photograph highlights how deeply she felt about being the agent that brought about change. The determined look in her face clearly demonstrates that she would not rest until the atrocities that were being committed came to an end, as she knew the powerful impact her actions could have.
Just by looking at her eyes, we can get a sense that the only thing that would stop her from confronting the Nazis would be death – a determined statement that eventually became true. In 1942, Sophie and Hans created the White Rose Movement, culminating their transformation from supporters to resistors (the white rose was intended to represent purity and innocence in the face of evil). This would become a student led resistance movement involving peaceful protest (“we fight with words”) that wanted to shed a light on the awful truth that many people were casting a blind eye to so that support for the Nazi regime would collapse.
Leaflets were distributed and graffiti was sprayed, highlighting Hitler’s genocides and the plight of the ‘untermenschen’. The movement quickly began gaining momentum, which meant the risk of being discovered grew too. The Gestapo - the German secret police, quickly started receiving information about the actions of Sophie and Hans Scholl. Nevertheless, this didn’t scare the siblings.
After years of opting for the genre of silence, they came to the powerful realisation that conforming to the status quo would bring about the same ending as standing up for human rights - death is inevitable, which led to them to do something powerful with their lives. They would rather die young standing up against evil rather than live a long life with the regret of being bystanders of evil.
Ignoring what was going on to stay out of trouble and live a comfortable life was something the Scholl siblings were no longer interested in. Sophie described this with the following quote: “Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”
In 1943, as Sophie and Hans distributed their sixth leaflet, they were spotted by a janitor of the university, which lead to their arrest. After four agonising days of interrogations, they plead guilty to the charge of high treason. However, during these gruelling days when they were facing death, Sophie and Hans’ courage did not come to an end.
The prison guards recalled that they took refuge in the word of God and rather than being overwhelmed by fear, they both radiated feelings of pride. Hans and Sophie knew their actions had a powerful impact and thus their lives would not be taken in vain. As their integration read: “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”. One of Sophie’s last words to her parents were: “What we did will make waves.”
At 5PM on the 22nd of February 1943, Sophie was led to the execution chamber. Although she had died, it was clear that her gallantry to confront evil would live on forever. Many nowadays look at this photograph and draw inspiration from the determined look in Sophie’s face to find the courage to confront evil.
James 1:22 “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”
Carlos B, Year 13