Munich, Germany 1943. Time was running out for Hans and Sophie Scholl. As brother and sister and students at the University of Munich, they faced the brutal reality of Hitler's Germany. There was no time for righteous indignation or sentimental thoughts about justice. It was time for action against the regime. Hans began The White Rose resistance movement. He was inspired by the sermons of Bishop Graf von Galen of Muenster, one of the first to denounce the extermination of what the regime called "useless eaters"-the elderly and disabled.
Bishop von Galen wrote, This secret program to kill innocent citizens of the Reich is against God's commandments. It is against the law of nature and against the system of justice in Germany. These are our brothers and sisters! How can we be expected to live if the measure of our lifespan is economic productivity? We must not use force, but spiritual and moral opposition. Be strong. Be steadfast.
Hans bought a mimeograph machine and began distributing hundreds of leaflets under cover of night. The White Rose was the first voice in Germany to reveal Hitler's "final solution"-extermination of Jews.
On this fateful day, Hans and Sophie had a dangerous mission. Hans carried a suitcase full of leaflets that denounced Hitler and the Nazi government. In the Third Reich, even a whisper of dissent meant imprisonment or death. They were in an upper hallway above an atrium. Quickly, they placed piles of leaflets outside classroom doors. Only minutes remained before classes were dismissed. Soon students would flood the halls. Sophie opened the suitcase and dumped leaflets over the railing. Leaflets fluttered down to the floor below. This caught the eye of the school janitor. He looked up and saw the sweet, young face of Sophie Scholl.
Trials and executions moved swiftly in Nazi Germany. Sophie, Hans, and a friend, Chirstoph Probst were tried for high treason. In the trial, Sophie stated, "we simply expressed what many people are thinking. They just don't dare say it out loud!" Before their execution, Sophie's mother came to visit her 21 year old daughter. Mrs. Scholl brought a cake. Sophie smiled and said that she had not had lunch. Her mother said, "I'll never see you come through the door again."
All three members of the White Rose were beheaded on February 22, 1943.
Several months later, millions of White Rose leaflets were dropped over Germany by British bombers. Their legacy of courage in the face of tyranny lives on. Their story has been told in many books, movies, and plays. Monuments honoring these young people can be found throughout Germany.
Hans Scholl's words as he stood before the guillotine were prophetic, "Freedom lives!"
Sophie, Hans, and Christoph died exactly 75 years ago this past Thursday. As a writer, I am grateful to have learned this fact so as to honor these brave young people.