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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sophie Scholl

Much has been written about how difficult it was for Germans under the Nazi regime during World War II to resist government authority. Much has also been written about how that authority seemed to sneak up and grab a real strangle-hold on the mass public before they realized it had been done. But a small group of students, including one in-your-face woman saw what was happening, called it what it was, and did something about it.

Sophie Scholl, a biology and philosophy student at the University of Munich in the summer of 1942, had just turned twenty-one when she joined her brother and a scant few other of their friends in organizing a group they christened The White Rose Society after a novel that had been banned by the Nazis. Their primary action was to use a hand-cranked duplicating machine to print thousands each of six different leaflets against the Nazis and surreptitiously distribute them here and there in public spaces. Sophie was particularly good at it because soldiers weren't as suspicious of her as they might have been of one of the men.

Leaflet Three said in part: "Why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanised state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right – or rather, your moral duty to eliminate this system?"

Highly frustrated at this bold resistance right under their noses, the Nazi Powers-That-Be identified and arrested Sophie, her brother and one other man on February 18, 1943. They were tortured, tried, convicted and beheaded within three days. Speaking of Sophie Scholl, a prison guard said later, "She went without the flicker of an eyelash. None of us knew how this was possible. The executioner said he had never seen anyone meet [their] end as she did." Which only means they hadn't seen a lot of in-your-face women.

As she walked to the guillotine, Scholl was heard to say, "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?" In 2003, proving that hundreds of thousands of Germans have been affected by Scholl's example, she and her brother were voted fourth on the list of the Top Ten Germans of All Time. Counting only the votes of those under forty, the two siblings were number one on the list. Not bad for one so young.

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