Sophie Scholl, Student, Resistance Fightress, and today a hundred year Myth. The White Rose Kurt Huber, Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst, Willi Graf, Sophie und Hans Scholl, and many others, brave, christian, young intellectuals. They all wrote and read illegal material, studied or taught, lived and died in Munich. What traces did they leave in Munich and how did they impact the city’s history? What does the story of The White Rose teach us about the city? How can we even grasp the story of The White Rose and is it still history or already a legend?
Who was Sophie Scholl?
A hundred years ago, on May 9th 1921, in Swabian Forchtenberg, Sophia Magdalena Scholl was born. Today, in the year 2021 many events of remembrance are held in her honor, but who is being honored? If we think of Sophie Scholl today, we think of and read about a symbol, a myth, a shining light, she seems impossible to grasp and superhuman even. In the end, Sophie Scholl was also just a human, humane with all of its facettes, inconsistencies, sometimes harsh, flying off the handle, a vigorous former supporter of the nationalsocialists and her humanity is often forgotten when the question: “Who was Sophie Scholl?, is asked.
Robert Zoske called her a “Consensual-Saint” in a talk with the newspaper SZ. Depending on who is asking or answering, there is a long row of different possible Interpretations about the person behind the symbol. Co-responsible for the prevailing, shallow view of Sophie Scholl as an emancipated, unambiguous, woman her whole life on the sure way into the resistance is her sister Inge Aicher-Scholl. She wrote a book in 152 which laid the groundwork for the modern portrayal of Sophie Scholl that we are so used to today. A smooth “consensual-Saint” that is immune to any and all criticism, and whose quotes can be, regardless of today’s political motivation of the speakers and regardless of the circumstances that they are being decontextualized from, used by anybody.
Everybody can interpret the famous quote pieces for or against anything they would like. This is partly because of her being a figure of identification for the whole group of the White Rose, even though she didn’t even contribute much to most of the flyers. Many of the quotes assigned to her most likely originated from her brother’s feather not hers.
The question: Who was Sophie Scholl is impossible to answer today, just like the question about the personality of every other (long deceased) historical figure. The personality of any historical figure can always only be (re-)constructed, never enough to assume possible behaviors in a contemporary environment. It is proven that she was, at some point, a convinced antifascist, always religious and a brave young woman. Her antifascism was a religious one and she understood Hitler and the Nazis as the incarnation of evil, not at all as a political phenomenon. A big portion of the accused in the trial against The White Rose called themselves “unpolitical” (which, in Nazi propaganda was considered as “unmanly”). Karl Ludwig Schneider (a friend of the group from Hamburg) said that only in prison, when he spoke to communists that were imprisoned with him he started to form a political picture of the “third Reich”.
The question who is Sophie Scholl today, on the other hand, is much easier to answer and in the way she is perceived today the question is already answered. Today she is a symbol for the German resistance against national-socialism and in that way she is being honored in the Bavarian Walhalla: “In memory of all those who bravely resisted the injustice, violence and the terror of the ›third Reich‹!”
What was the White Rose?
The White Rose was a loose union of Munich students, mostly consisting of the group of friends around Hans Scholl. They were young women and men that all came from a very middle class background, enjoyed good education and were for the most part very religious. They met in the evenings to discuss literature and later to do small clandestine actions, too, such as, for example, painting slogans on houses across from the LMU university. They spread flyers, too. First in their closer circles, then later via mail and finally, what was then the reason for their deaths, they threw them into the main lobby of the LMU in Munich. They were seen by a janitor, who alarmed the Gestapo, who then interrogated them. On February 22. 1943 they were trialed by the people’s court in Munich, declared guilty and on the same day executed in Stadelheim prison.
To Answer the question who was the White Rose is much easier, as it was a group of people which, in any case, leads to generalisations and historical fact provide more possibilities for classifications. Christian Petty calls the members of The White Rose in his book Students on the scaffold “victims of their time”, because the background from which they originated, the religious, well educated middle class families and their social surroundings, could only produce an ineffective resistance. He writes: “[The White Rose] set, in their time, an extraordinary example of moral integrity, which is even more painful in its political ineffectiveness, because of that moral integrity. As a moral feat The White Rose can not be erased from our history.”.
The White Rose’s resistance was based upon “Christian European culture”, they never analysed and even consciously ignored the social, political and historical circumstances of national socialism’s rise. On September 5th, Sophie Scholl wrote in her diary: “Considerations about the effectiveness of political acting [shouldn’t] influence the acting itself. […] acting against evil, without accounting for expediency, without accounting for life or personal health.” With that they basically bridge a gap between the noble, nationalistic, and motivated by power-political ideas resistance of the group around Stauffenberg, and the socialist resistance of the working class movement.
In this, one could almost say fantasy-world, the group lived in and operated out of, there was only good and bad. Under no circumstance should the bravery or the exemplary ideals of these young man and women be diminished, but it can be used as a starting point to understand why this group is hailed heroes since the fifties, and other resistance fighters like Georg Elser didn’t receive any recognition until the early nineties: The White Rose represented in their moral superiority, christian believes and middle class backgrounds the perfect heroes for the young BRD.
How is Sophie Scholl connected with Munich?
Sophie Scholl and most of her friends studied in Munich at the LMU. Scholl herself studied Biology and Philosophy from 1942 until her death in 1943. Before she came to Munich to study, she lived in Ulm. It can be assumed that Sophie was at first looking forward to her studies, but then, shocked by the race-theory propaganda covered as scientific material, couldn’t find much joy in it anymore. Maybe this is also applicable for her views on the city? Centre of studies, introduction to adulthood, at the same time Capital of the Movement, place of political socialisation through her commolitons, and finally place of political action and execution.
Which traces can you find of The White Rose and Sophie Scholl in Munich today?
The three most important buildings for the fate of The White Rose still exist today, and all serve the same purpose as they used to a hundred years ago. The main building of the LMU, the prison Stadelheim, and the palace of justice. At or in all of these buildings there are memorial sites dedicated to The White Rose.
The memorial in the auditorium of the LMU is being operated by The White Rose Foundation. Here Hans and Sophie Schll threw the flyers that landed them on trial and finally on the guillotine. The auditorium is almost exactly preserved as the sibling Scholl would have known it a hundred years ago. Outside of the main building of the LMU, on your left hand side coming from Odeonsplatz, across from the Professor Huber square, there are the leaflets in marmor tiles in the ground. The political science institute of the LMU is also named after the sibling Scholl.
In the palace of justice there is a hall named after the resistance group where you can also find a constant exhibition on the whole trial against the 17 defendants in connection to The White Rose trials.
The prison of Stadelheim holds different historical memorials, one of which is dedicated to The White Rose and can be visited with prior registration. On the outside walls you can also find a memorial for all of the persecuted and murdered here by the Nazi-regime, in total these are 1.118 people.
An array of places in Munich are also connected with the siblings Scholl or are home to memorial sites dedicated to the student resistance of The White Rose. For example, the fence on Orleanstraße close to Ostbahnhof where the famous pictures of Sophie saying goodbye to her friends being sent to the eastern front were taken. Here people regularly lay down white roses.
In Franz-Joseph Straße 13 is the former house of Hans and Sophie Scholl and in Mandlstraße 28 is the former house of Willi Graf.
In Hofgarten there is a memorial plaque for The White Rose and in Perlacher Forst you can visit the graves of all members of The White Rose, as well as the graves of Hans and Sophie Scholl.
100th Birthday of Sophie Scholl in the year 2021
The question who was Sophie Scholl is also being answered via Instagram by SWR and BR commemorating her 100th birthday. They try on the channel @ichbinsophiescholl to bring the personality of the famous figure closer to a younger generation. It is based on the concept: “What would Sophie Scholl post on Instagram?”. Daily there is “news” from the life of Sophie being uploaded. The life of the young student is being reenacted by a group of actors and a digital diary is being created.
“The memory of Sophie Scholl is being upheld daily by young people in Munich”, said Dr. Hildegard Kronawitter on May 9th 2021 on Königsplatz. Here a performance of young students from all over Bavaria was being curated in memory of Sophie Scholls hundredth birthday.