Book Review: Sophie Scholl & The White Rose

white rose

In the history of resistance movements the one in Nazi Germany was at best a mixed affair. Failing to gain popular support its successes were far outnumbered by its failures. However in recent years due to the popularising effect of Hollywood films there has been a growing awareness of the plot to kill Hitler and of course that it, like most things in the German resistance, failed.

Christians are more likely to be aware of the resistance due to the ongoing popularity of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer the theologian and pastor who was executed for his role in the resistance or men like Martin Niemoller who survived the concentration camps.

In considering the general and remarkable lack of resistance to something so spectacularly rotten there are good questions to be asked. Why couldn’t more Germans see the Nazis for the evil they were? While the Confessing Church and the courage of Bonhoeffer & Niemoller are rightly to be admired, surely the witness of the church as a whole should be considered as deeply shameful.

However every answer must take into account the fact that the Nazis were utterly ruthless in their suppression of all dissenting voices. Fear is a powerful suppressant. Fear not only of your own suffering & death but also of the impoverishment, disappearance and death of your loved ones as well.

That’s probably the main lesson to draw from the story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose. The White Rose was a student movement originating in Munich, that published seven anti-Nazi leaflets before the leaders were caught and executed in 1943. The leaflets steadily and progressively grew in outrage and in their courageous call for the German people to rise up and resist the Nazis which unsurprisingly provoked the full wrath of the Reich. Freedom of speech was a costly cause to fight for.

The main leader of the movement wasn’t, as the book’s title might suggest, Sophie Scholl but instead her brother Hans. Sophie though was a key member and showed remarkable courage in the face of a ludicrous show trial and certain death. Their faith in God was clear (although not examined in great detail). Movingly her mother’s last known words to her daughter were, “Sophie, remember Jesus” to which came the reply, “Yes, but you too..”

The story is told with pace and verve by authors Annette Dumbach & Jud Newborn which makes this book an easy one to recommend.  The story is worth reading because in our day of fairy tale endings it’s worth being reminded that freedom does more often than not mean someone dies to defend it and that these causes are powerful even when victory seems far off, as it must have done even in 1943.

Ultimately the White Rose failed, neither awakening the spirit of the German people nor surviving their foe to see a new Germany born. However the authors argue that,

The impact of the White Rose cannot be measured in tyrants destroyed, regimes overthrown, justice restored. A scale with another dimension is needed, and then their significance is deeper; it goes even beyond the Third Reich, beyond Germany: if people like those who formed the White Rose can exist, believe as they believed, act as they acted, maybe it means that this weary, corrupted, and extremely endangered species we belong to has the right to survive, and to keep on trying.

In other words they are an inspiration. They are an inspiration to stand up even when the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against you and the chances of a happy ending are slim to none.

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