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This month Anniversaries

Sophie’s choice

 La scelta di Sophie  DCM-005
30 April 2021

The young Catholic member of the White Rose, who was a symbol of the resistance to Nazism, was born May 9, 100 years ago. Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans Scholl and their friend Christoph Probst were killed together.

On the occasion of International Women’s day, March 8 2021, the European Parliament decided to dedicate two of its buildings to women: Clara Campoamor, a Spanish lawyer and politician; and, Sophie Scholl, the young German student whose opposition to Nazism cost her life. There has been much that has been written about the young people of the White Rose and their efforts in the resistance, and the cinema has effectively told their story too. The details of the life of the only girl in the group, however, are to be discovered on the pages of her diaries, in her copious correspondence, in the minutes of her interrogations by the Gestapo, in the acts of her flash trial, and in the testimonies of family members, and the survivors of the Weisse Rose.

When tracing her footsteps, we encounter a fountain of crystal clear water, where we can plunge into a deep and luminous well of an upright and free conscience, which is a precious treasure enclosed between two baptisms. The first one was the giving of two names to the little Sofia Magdalena, the secret of her existence: the wisdom of “Sofia” and the boundless love of “Magdalena”, united in the motto embodied in her by Jacques Maritain “one must have a soft heart and a hard spirit”.

The second is that of her final dream on the night before her execution. Sophie is carrying a baby to be christened, yet feels herself sinking. She is able to rescue the child but falls into the abyss: “The child symbolises our ideas, they will triumph after our death”.

Only by looking at her spirit and at her heart can we appreciate Sophie’s choice.

Born in Forchtenberg, Germany, on 9 May 1921, she was guillotined in Munich on 22 February 1943, aged 22.

As the fourth of six children, Sophie’s life and her fate was profoundly marked by the strong bond between them. Her father Robert, a liberal Christian and mayor of the town, opposed Nazism, and in particular its propaganda towards the younger generation. In fact, he was so against it that he openly opposed his children Hans and Sophie’s initial membership of the Nazi youth organisations. Her mother Magdalena Muller was a devout Lutheran Christian, who held the Gospel at the centre of her life, and transmitted a message of liberation from all forms of power and evil to her daughters and sons.

The Scholl family lived in a house that was open and hospitable to both people and ideas. Their home was a place full of affection and joy, a respect for differences, an equality between men and women, and an ample space for reading -even books banned by the regime-; intellectual exchanges, and, impassioned research. The first petals of what would later become the White Rose blossomed in this fertile soil.  In fact, so much so that biographers define this family workshop as a true Scholl-Bund, the Scholl League.

Sophie is described as being sweet and ironic, shy and cheeky, small and dark, and with an unruly and unrepentant fringe rather than blonde braids, she seemed more Italian than Aryan in appearance. She clarified her own aspirations early on when as a child she said, “I’m not the best, I don’t want to be the prettiest, but I do want to be the cleverest!”

In addition to nature walks and sport, the young Sophie’s membership of the German Girls’ League represented an opportunity to equip herself for the struggle and to reject the sugarcoated and sentimental model of being a woman. She was fascinated by the Führerin “Charlo” who had modified the Heil Hitler salute for her girls into an affectionate gesture that consisted of touching her companion’s forehead and mussing her hair!

Women’s freedom, and her own independent way of thinking brought about a departure from Hitler’s youth organisations. Therefore, she could contest the pedagogy she experienced even in mandatory work, “I found the service boring and wrong, therefore ugly and unjust because it mortified the personal individuality of boys and girls”. In her high school graduation paper entitled “The hand that moves the cradle moves the world”, she hypothesised a special role for women.

There too, in her affections and friendships that, indomitable spirit appeared unconstrained by forms and conditioning. She was not afraid to say to her friends, “I don’t want to take the side of everything that is trivial” or to her fiancé: “I can quietly think about you. And I’m happy to be able to do as I want to, without any obligations”.

Her love of nature, beauty and music is overflowing in her diaries. Right up to her last breath, not only does it manifest her vital enthusiasm, but becomes a true form of spiritual contemplation. In addition, it reveals a straightforward and determined faith, even in the darkness of oppression, war and prison, hers was a living faith that fueled her coherence. Sophie’s tender heart is expressed with the exultation of youth:

 “Just as I can’t look at a clear stream without getting my feet wet, so I can’t walk past a meadow in May without stopping”.

Music “softens the heart, puts its confusion in order, and loosens its rigidity. Yes, silently and without violence, music opens the doors of the soul”.

 “Is it not also a mystery that everything is so beautiful? Despite the horror, it continues to be so. [...] That is why man is singular in his capability of being truly cruel, covering this song with the sound of cannons, curses and blasphemies. But the song of praise has the upper hand; and I want to do everything possible to associate myself with its victory”.

Even while in a prison cell, waiting for the now certain execution, she would whisper, “Such a beautiful sunny day and I have to go”, but he would immediately add forcefully: “it doesn't matter if we die if our actions serve to shake and awaken consciences”.

Sophie’s conscience is that of the young people of the White Rose, the same conscience to which they appeal in their leaflets aimed at awakening the German people subjugated by Evil.

The determined spirit that led them to martyrdom. The same toughness that belonged to Sophie before her accusers. The same determined Sophie’ resolve before her accusers, who were astonished by the determination of this little girl: “I deny nothing. I am convinced that I have acted in the interests of my people. I do not regret it and I will accept all the consequences.  Not I, for it is you have a false vision of the world”.

In the last pages of her diary she wrote, “life is always on the edge of death, a small candle burns just like a burning torch. I choose for myself the way to burn”. The same fire of love that led her to the guillotine to proclaim her freedom to the end: “Freiheit”, was the last word shouted by her brother Hans before her executioners; and given to us by them forever.

by Grazia Villa
Advocate for people’s rights

Annunciation with white rose

There is a painting in the Vatican Museum entitled Annunciation, in which Mary and the angel are holding white roses.  The expressionist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, who was much loved by Sophie Scoll, painted it around 1905. She wrote about the painter in a letter to her sister Inge, in 1939.

“Paula Modersohn thrilled me so much, I really admired her. She always worked alone, and was never guided by anyone in the making of her paintings. You have to see them. After her paintings, I did not notice all the others I passed by”.

An artist deemed “degenerate” by the Nazi regime, Paula Modersohn-Becker (Dresden 1876 - Worpswede 1907) was trained in London and Germany, but it was her encounters with the work of Cézanne, Gauguin and van Gogh during a stay in Paris in 1900 that influenced her art.

African art, and in particular the iconography of the goddess of fertility, exerted a special fascination on her imagination and influences can be found in many of her female portraits. “One example of this is Annunciation, in which the painter offers an intimate version of the moment in which the angel meets the Virgin, which is made disturbing by the total absence of features” (museivaticani.va). She died at the age of 31 from complications following the birth of her first-born daughter, Mathilde.