If young people today would like to learn something about courage, they should see the movie “Sophie Scholl–The Final Days.” Sophie Scholl was a 21 year old student at the University of Munich in 1943. Her older brother, Hans Scholl, was a medical student at the University, and a founder of the White Rose, a small group of students that secretly put out leaflets critical of Hitler’s Germany. Sophie Scholl and her brother took risks to oppose the Nazi regime, when most Germans, including students, were either enthusiastic supporters of the regime or were cowed by fear from speaking out.
In February 1943, Sophie Scholl and Hans distributed leaflets at their University denouncing Hitler’s regime and its aggressive war in Europe. They were detained and taken to the police station for interrogation. For distributing information critical of the Nazi government they were charged with high treason and with lowering the morale of the German troops. In a matter of only a few days, they were brought before a judge who condemned them to death. The same day they were executed by guillotine. The movie is about the dignity of this young woman, who stayed true to her beliefs and paid the ultimate penalty.
The story has some parallels to today’s America. The United States is engaged in an aggressive and illegal war in Iraq. Critics of the war are often denounced as being unpatriotic and of demoralizing the troops. Detainees in the so-called “global war on terror” are being held without charges and without trials. Prisoners are being tortured. American citizens are being wiretapped. And most members of our society, including those on college campuses, are docile, even though we have the freedom to speak out without fear of imprisonment and death.
Sophie Scholl chose to live and die by her conscience rather than support the repressive laws and aggressive militarism of a vicious regime. That her ideas live on in this movie is a tribute to her heroism and that of her colleagues in The White Rose.
The evening that I saw this powerful film, there were 14 people in the theater. It is a film that everyone should see, reflect upon and discuss. What gave Sophie and her colleagues in the White Rose Society the clarity and courage to act? Why was courage such a rare commodity then, and why is it now? Why are our college campuses so quiet in the face of an aggressive and illegal war?
DAVID KRIEGER is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.