A Message from 1943: "Make a Start"

Virginia Santy | @ginnamccarver

University student Sophie Scholl was executed by guillotine in Germany on February 23, 1943. Her beheading was punishment for her involvement in the White Rose, a small intellectual resistance group, and her role in writing and distributing the group’s anti-Nazi pamphlets. In the wake of protests and neo-Nazi riots in Charlottesville, Virginia this week, Scholl and the White Rose are worth remembering.

Scholl and her fellow resisters wrote about oppression, the regime’s crimes against targeted groups of people, and encouraged fellow Germans to resist evil and hatred. She was arrested, along with the other members of the White Rose, by the Gestapo shortly after the White Rose distributed its sixth leaflet by placing copies outside of classroom doors on the University of Munich campus where Scholl was a student. Reluctant to waste extra leaflets, Scholl climbed to the top of a university staircase and dropped the extra materials from her arms to drift down the stairwell. A university janitor observed Scholl and reported her to authorities.

At her trial, Scholl is documented as stating, “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”

The next day, Scholl and two other members of the White Rose, including her brother, Hans, were executed. Sophie Scholl was 21 years old. Among her last words was the question: “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause?”

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of Scholl’s death was the lack of response it engendered at the time. Members of the White Rose, including Scholl, believed their deaths would inspire activism and outrage. Instead, university students and Scholl’s contemporaries carried on with business as usual, continuing their studies without mention of the White Rose, Scholl’s bravery, or her call to action.