A human being, not an icon

Munich (dpa) – The name Sophie Scholl is synonymous with the resistance to National Socialism like no other. She was part of a group that included Alexander Schmorell and her brother Hans. The White Rose denounced the crimes of the Nazis and distributed leaflets to stir people to action. On 18 February 1943, Hans and Sophie Scholl were arrested while leafleting in Munich and executed four days later. Sophie Scholl in particular became an icon. However, around the 100th anniversary of her birth on Sunday (9 May), the image of her is changing – increasingly revealing a young woman who had courage and strength, but also weaknesses and contradictions, which makes her more approachable than ever.
Thomas Rink of the Nazi Documentation Centre in Munich believes it is high time that our image of her should change. “Sophie Scholl was not born a resistance fighter.” If one looks at her entire life story with all its contradictions, ambivalences and developments, the myth of a “saint without contradictions” is dispelled. “She switches from being an icon of resistance to a human being.” Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews, also welcomes this: “There is no such thing as perfect people. And if they are put on a pedestal, they are no longer suited to being role models. Because then they become unattainable.
Hildegard Kronawitter from the White Rose Foundation believes that young people in particular are well able to handle such inconsistency. Young people often experience themselves as contradictory, says the chairwoman. If an idol like Sophie Scholl also has contradictions within her, they can well relate to that.
The Instagram project “@ichbinsophiescholl” is a good example of this. For ten months, the channel is sharing videos, photos and impressions from the last ten months of Sophie’s life. Luna Wedler plays the student who films herself in everyday life. Wedler was impressed: “She is a modern woman. For me she has become an incredible role model.”
Scholl was born on 9 May 1921 in Forchtenberg, Baden-Württemberg, and grew up with four siblings. Her parental home was liberal and Protestant. She enjoyed an idyllic childhood with games, freedom and nature. After a short period spent in Ludwigsburg, the family ended up in Ulm in 1932, just as the Nazis were becoming more and more of a presence. 
But while their parents were critical of the Nazi ideology, older siblings like Hans or Inge were active in the Hitler Youth. Sophie also became an enthusiastic member of the Jungmädelbund at the age of 13. In her biography “Wie schwer ein Menschenleben wiegt” (How Heavy a Human Life Weighs), Maren Gottschalk describes the schoolgirl at this time as daredevil and provocative, with short hair and a cheeky manner quite different from the pigtailed Hitler girls. She smoked in secret and was in love with Fritz Hartnagel, whom she met when she was 15 and to whom she wrote what was probably her last love letter on 16 February 1943, filled with purple blossoms.
Cycling tours and excursions with her peers, overnight trips, sitting around the campfire – all of that gave rise to a realm of experience that girls like her did not normally have, Kronawitter explains. Only gradually did Sophie learn that it was not about freedom, but that everything was linked to an ideology.
The theologian and historian Robert Zoske speaks of a long and at times painful process of development. “Sophie the person, as she appears to us from the sources, had many facets, of which the death-defying prisoner, as she is at the end before the People’s Court, is only one of many,” he writes in the book “Sophie Scholl – Es reut mich nichts” (I Regret Nothing). He believes that she achieved such iconic significance because of the way she stood by her actions so stubbornly and categorically to the very end. 
Nurtured by discussions and books, Sophie’s doubts about the Nazi regime grew and she was repulsed by its enthusiasm for war. While studying biology and philosophy in Munich, Hans brought her into contact with like-minded people such as Schmorell, Christoph Probst, Willi Graf and Kurt Huber. The friends discussed, read banned books and wrote pamphlets in which they strongly criticised crimes such as the mass murder of the Jews. “We will not be silent, we are your guilty conscience, the White Rose will not let you rest in peace!” reads the fourth leaflet, for example. 
Sophie joined in enthusiastically. On 18 February 1943, she and Hans were handing out the sixth leaflet at Munich University. They were discovered and arrested, as were others in their group. Sophie and Hans Scholl as well as Probst were sentenced to death and executed on 22 February 1943, further death sentences followed. On the day before the execution, Sophie is supposed to have said the following: “Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go. (…) what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action.”

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