Sophie Scholl

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Date: 2011
Publisher: UXL
Document Type: Biography
Length: 2,505 words
Content Level: (Level 3)
Lexile Measure: 1020L

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About this Person
Born: May 09, 1921 in Forchtenberg, Germany
Died: February 22, 1943 in Munich, Germany
Nationality: German
Other Names: Scholl, Sophia Magdalena
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"Somebody, after all, had to make a start.... What we did will make waves."

Brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl were idealistic university students, former members of the Hitler Youth, who watched as the horrors committed against the Jews escalated during World War II (1939-45). Although they were not Jewish, they courageously banded together with a small group of students to demand passive resistance to the war and the overthrow of National Socialist German Workers' Party, or Nazi, leader Adolf Hitler. (Passive resistance is a way of showing opposition to a government's activities by not cooperating with them.) For these activities Hans and Sophie were seized by German officials, tried, and beheaded. Hans and Sophie Scholl have become symbols to the world of youthful sacrifice in defense of their ideals.

Childhood in Ingersheim

Hans and Sophie Scholl were the second and third of five children born to Robert and Magdalene Scholl. Their siblings, two girls and a boy, were called Inge, Werner, and Elisabeth (Lisel). Their father was a pacifist during World War I (1914-18), which meant that he believed that war was morally unacceptable and never justified. He later served a prison term for calling Hitler "a scourge of God." Robert Scholl was elected mayor of a number of small German towns, and the family moved from town to town before settling in Ulm, a beautiful and fertile region of farms and orchards situated on the Danube River. When Robert finally lost a mayoral election, he became a tax and business consultant.

Both Robert and Magdalene encouraged their children to think for themselves and to speak their minds. Dinner hours were the occasion for many lively discussions about books, art, music, and current events. Inge Jens, who edited the book At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl, describes the Scholl family as "deeply humane" (possessing many good qualities) and "devoted to music, literature and art" and to nature. Many of the letters that Hans and Sophie sent to their family are reprinted in Jens's book. They are evidence of the deep affection and respect the children felt for their parents and siblings.

Hans: Boyhood

Hans had been born the same year Germany suffered a humiliating defeat in World War I. The victors in that war had placed many restrictions on Germany, forcing the disbanding of the mighty German army, among other things. The country was plunged into a period of economic hardship. Many people blamed the Jews for the defeat and the hardships, and antisemitism become more prevalent. Antisemitism is hatred towards Jews, who are sometimes called Semites. Many Germans began to pay attention to the hate-filled speeches of Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party. Hitler promised to make Germany great again.

Hans was a lively and restless boy. Like all German schoolchildren of the 1920s and 1930s, he was taught to be loyal to the Nazi Party. Joining a Hitler Youth organization to demonstrate this loyalty was a natural step for an idealistic young person. The Hitler Youth organizations were military-like clubs in which total obedience to the Nazi Party was stressed. The boys of the Hitler Youth were eventually to become part of Hitler's "master race," meaning they would be free from Jewish blood. Hans saw joining the group as a chance not only to help make Germany great again but also to break away from his family. So, at the age of 15, he became a Hitler Youth, much to the dismay of his father. Robert Scholl seemed to have a sixth sense about Hitler's intentions of starting a world war, and he did not like to see his children become a part of that.

It was at a week-long Nazi rally that Hans first felt some doubts about Hitler and his methods. As Hans observed the behavior of Hitler's Storm Troopers, also known as the SA (an abbreviation for Sturmabteilungen), he became disgusted at the idea that he should behave like them. Storm Troopers, sometimes called Brownshirts because of the uniforms they wore, were young men in training to fight for Hitler when war finally came. They trained by marching in parades. By the tens of thousands they marched, with their bands playing and their voices raised in warlike songs. When not engaged in these activities, they attacked Jews in the streets, blaming them for Germany's defeat in World War I and the economic hardships that followed.

Finally, Hans broke away from the group and started his own secret club, which he called Young Germans. Its members, boys aged 12 to 17, gathered for wilderness adventures without military drills, marching, or saluting. On these expeditions, Hans, who was a gifted guitar player, often entertained the boys by playing folk songs. All boys were encouraged to freely voice their opinions. It was Hans's opinion that everyone should be able to live their lives the way they believed was right, and not as the Nazis told them.

Begins military and medical training

In 1937, at the age of 19, Hans passed his college entrance examination. It was his plan to enroll at a university as a medical student. But first he had to complete his National Labor Service, which was yet another way the Nazi Party kept control over Germany's young people. Hans worked building roads for Hitler's autobahn, a vast freeway system that still serves German motorists today. Next, he was required to serve for two years in the military. He had been adept at handling horses since he was a young boy, so he joined a cavalry unit.

While Hans was fulfilling his military obligations, the Nazi Party decided to round up members of all youth groups not affiliated with the Hitler Youth. Hans's group had been banned because of its so-called "subversive" activities (activities intended to overthrow the government). Some of the activities the Nazis objected to were the singing of songs other than those approved by the party and the free exchange of opinions. In the Nazi sweep of unauthorized clubs, young people throughout Germany found themselves under arrest. Among them were Hans's siblings; Inge and Werner spent a week in a Gestapo jail, and Sophie was taken in for questioning for the first of what would be many times. The Gestapo was the state secret police force. It operated against German citizens who were suspected of being disloyal to Hitler. Brutal methods were employed, and the Gestapo was widely feared. Hans himself was not at first taken to jail because he was serving in the military. However, a few months later he too was arrested and spent a month in jail. He would remain an object of suspicion to the Nazis for the rest of his short life.

In 1939, Hans was finally able to enroll as a medical student at a university only 50 miles from his home. When World War II began that same year, he received special permission to continue his studies for the time being instead of being called to serve. This good luck was not to last for long. In 1940, he was sent to France to serve in a military medical division. Still in the army in 1941, he was ordered back to Munich, Germany, to continue medical studies there.

Sophie: Girlhood

Sophie has been described by those who knew her as intelligent and kind. As a young child, she enjoyed playing with dolls and had many friends. As a schoolgirl, she got into minor trouble from time to time because she expressed opinions contrary to Nazi ideas. She believed in justice and spoke out against unfairness. She loved music, painting, drawing, hiking, and swimming. She was an expressive writer, as can be seen in her letters to friends and family. Her sister Inge said Sophie was fond of dancing, which she did "with great abandon."

As a young teen, Sophie joined the League of German Girls, the female equivalent of the Hitler Youth. There she was taught that the goal of German girls should be motherhood (it was Sophie's lifelong dream to go to college to study philosophy and biology). Full of youthful enthusiasm, Sophie rose in the ranks and soon became a group leader.

Like her brother, as Sophie matured and observed what was happening in Germany, she became increasingly disillusioned with Hitler. An art lover, she was shocked when Germany's finest artists began to leave the country rather than be forced to conform to Hitler's concept of what was art. Also an enthusiast of literature, she saw some of her favorite books placed on the "banned books" list because they had been written by Jewish authors. Both Sophie and Hans began to realize that Hitler was not proposing to build a grand new world for everyone. Rather, he was building a world where people were imprisoned, tortured, and killed because they did not match his view of a master race of blond, blue-eyed Aryans (white, non-Jew).

National service, then college

In 1940, Sophie finished secondary school. Like Hans, she was now required to perform some type of public service before she could enter college. Hoping to satisfy the service requirement by becoming a kindergarten teacher, she enrolled in a training course. As the war continued, Sophie struggled to come to terms with her feelings about it and the men in charge of it. Her feelings were complicated by the fact that she was growing fonder of a young man who was serving in Hitler's army. As more and more of her male friends were called to war, Sophie tried to make them promise never to pull the trigger on another human being.

After a year training and serving as a kindergarten teacher, Sophie applied to the University of Munich but was refused admission because her kindergarten work was not recognized as a substitute for national service. Sophie was forced to go off to a labor camp for six months, where she grew increasingly homesick and was treated like a prisoner. Upon completing the six months, she was informed that a new rule required an additional six months of labor!

Finally, in 1942, two years after graduating from high school, Sophie was ready to begin college—the same university Hans was now attending. She was 21 years old and Hans was 24.

Hans and Sophie at university

At the university, Sophie was introduced by Hans to a group of his friends. All of them shared a love of art, literature, music, and nature. The young people had long, earnest discussions about the ugliness of war and Hitler's actions. In time they came to believe that they had to put an end to mere talk and act on their beliefs. The group decided to print and distribute pamphlets calling for resistance to Hitler. They were well aware that by doing so, they were risking their lives. As a result, all activities had to be carried out with the utmost secrecy.

In the summer of 1942 the group, which called itself the White Rose, distributed its first four pamphlets. Filled with fiery phrases referring to the Nazis as an "irresponsible gang of bosses," "crimes most horrible," and souls "corrupt and decayed," the pamphlets caused a sensation. Later pamphlets declared: "Each one is guilty," and "The White Rose Will Not Leave You in Peace!" The group expanded, and the risk of discovery grew.

One day a Nazi-sponsored speaker appeared on campus to urge women to give up their college plans, return home, and have children for the German empire. Many women objected vigorously to this notion and were arrested. Soon a small campus riot erupted, which had the effect of making more people aware of a growing resistance to Hitler. When the German army suffered a terrible defeat in the Soviet Union (Russia), the White Rose stepped up its activities to take advantage of people's hopes that Hitler would fall. A final pamphlet was printed, and Hans and Sophie volunteered to distribute it on campus. While doing so, they were caught by a janitor, who turned them over to the president of the university, who happened to be an SS man. (SS is an abbreviation for the Shutzstaffeln or Security Squad who acted as Hitler's personal bodyguards and guards at various concentration camps.) He in turn called the Gestapo, and the two young people were arrested.

Throughout the questioning and the trial that quickly followed their arrest, Hans and Sophie impressed everyone—including their Nazi interrogators—with their composure. The presiding judge, on the other hand, has been described as behaving like a madman: "raging, screaming, roaring till his voice broke, jumping up again and again in red-hot explosions," according to a young man who was present. "It seemed ... his purpose was to generate lasting, widespread terror and dread, and to suppress the feelings of all those who felt that the defendants' courageous act was admirable and magnificent." At the end of the trial, the judge ruled that Hans and Sophie should die by guillotine. The guillotine, a machine used for beheading, had not been used in Germany since ancient times. Nazi official Hermann Göring was responsible for returning this cruel form of execution to Germany.

Fearful that more protestors might rise up to challenge their rule—the Nazis hurried to carry out the death sentence. The head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler ordered a quiet execution so the world would not know about this Nazi barbarism. As soon as the sentence was handed down, Sophie, Hans, and their friend Christel Probst were handcuffed and taken to the place of execution. That same afternoon they were beheaded. Just before the blade fell, Hans cried out: "Long live freedom."


Five days later, on February 27, 1943, Kurt Huber, a professor and author of the last White Rose pamphlet, was arrested. Soon after, the Gestapo took students Willi Graf and Alexander Schmorell. Huber and Schmorell were beheaded on July 13, 1943, in the presence of three SS officers who "wished to ascertain exactly how long it took for a man to strangle to death in a hanging" and were disappointed to learn that these deaths were to be by beheading. On October 12, 1943, after enduring months of brutal questioning, Willi Graf was beheaded, proud that he had not revealed any of the names of additional members of the White Rose.

The Scholl family was the first to be arrested under the Nazi Party's new policy of arresting and punishing the relatives of offenders against the party. Hans and Sophie's father was sentenced to the longest prison term, two years of hard labor. When the war ended he became Lord Mayor of Ulm.

Hans and Sophie Scholl as well as the other heroic members of the White Rose have not been forgotten. Today, many schools and streets in Germany are named for them. In 1984, author Hermann Vinke received an award called the Buxtehuder Bulle for his book The Short Life of Sophie Scholl. The award is given to an outstanding children's book promoting peace.


Hanser, Richard. A Noble Treason: The Revolt of the Munich Students Against Hitler. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1979.

Jens, Inge, ed. At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl. Translated from the German by J. Maxwell Brownjohn. Harper & Row, 1987.

Vinke, Hermann. The Short Life of Sophie Scholl. Harper & Row, 1984.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ2108102044