Sophie and Hans Scholl’s Example for Latin America

Los hermanos Scholl enfrentaron a los nazis con ideas, y pagaron con sus vidas (Testigos de la Historia)
The Scholl siblings took on the Nazis with ideas, and paid with their lives. (Detectives de la Historia)

EspañolIt’s striking to remember, or perhaps to discover for the first time, the invaluable example of bravery that Hans and Sophie Scholl showed in the National Socialist Germany of Adolf Hitler. These two young people gave their lives for their principles, which they believed in with nothing short of passionate fervor.

Armed with nothing but ideas, a typewriter, and a copying machine, the Scholl siblings brought the struggle for freedom against the Nazi dictatorship that had captivated the German people.

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May 9 is the anniversary of the birth of Sophia Magdalena Scholl, who was sentenced to death at the age of 21, together with her brother Hans, 23, in February 1943 by the Nazi regime in Munich.

At the age of 12, Sophie was briefly part of the League of German Girls, part of the Hitler Youth, but she rapidly became disillusioned with the indoctrination, the camouflaged killings, and the repression of all those who thought differently.

As the years passed and National Socialism rose to greater power, Sophie became an increasingly fierce intellectual opponent of Hitler’s dictatorship. The regime had already tried to censor her several times, the same as her family and friends, who practiced peaceful resistance on multiple occasions.

In 1942, she began her studies in biological sciences and philosophy at the University of Munich, where her older brother Hans, also a fervent opponent of the regime, was studying.

Thanks to these two young people and the power of ideas — despite spreading them in an increasingly hostile and dangerous environment — a movement was launched in June 1942 which combated in a peaceful way the morbid actions of Hitler.

This movement, best known as “the White Rose,” grew out of the pamphleteering, murals, and graffiti of Hans and Sophie Scholl, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, and Willi Graf. The murals contained messages like “Down with Hitler!” and “Hitler murderer,” and it took massive bravery to express yourself this way in Nazi Germany.

However, on the morning of February 18, 1943, Sophie and her brother distributed opposition material around key points of their university for the last time.

Sophie’s love of freedom was so great that she risked all until the last moment, and seconds before the bell sounded to indicate the end of classes, she climbed to the top floor of a university building, where she launched hundreds of leaflets which flew throughout the entire university complex, falling around the students like drops of long-awaited freedom, hoarded up by the government.

Los hermanos Scholl han inspirado libros y pelĂ­culas (Detectives de la Historia)
The Scholl siblings have inspired multiple books and films. (Filmafinity)

At that exact moment, the university porter, who favored Nazi ideology, looked up and identified the siblings. He rushed to contact the Gestapo so that the pair could be arrested.

Their trial lasted no longer than four days, amid a never-ending series of interrogations. Finally, on February 22, 1943, the Scholl siblings and Probst were sentenced by the People’s Court for “betrayal in helping the enemy, preparation to commit high treason, weakening the armed security of the nation, incitement to sabotage the war effort, disregarding the National Socialist way of life, spreading defeatist ideas, and vulgar defamation of the FĂĽhrer.”

All these allegations just for handing out leaflets and thinking differently.

Hans, 24, and Sophie, 21, were executed on the very same day of their sentence. Eyewitness accounts testify that seconds before the guillotine fell on their heads, they shouted “long live freedom!” Despite the loss of its key leaders, the White Rose and its members continued to work secretly to spread their principles.

Ideas and words were the only weapons that remained to them. Despite death and prison sentences for life, they were never beaten down, because ideas and words are bulletproof, and can’t be decapitated by the executioner’s axe.

According to the Court’s records, with the sentence barely read out, the Scholls addressed the judges as follows: “Our heads may fall today, but we assure you that yours will fall very soon.” And thus it transpired.

If the dictators and populist rulers of the world ought to bear one thing in mind, it’s that their heads too will one day fall, and their brutal actions will soon come back to bite them. Kim Jong-un, Fidel and RaĂşl Castro, Nicolás Maduro, VladĂ­mir Putin, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and the interminable dictators of Africa and Asia, will all one day be judged.

Hitler controlled the media, the news, the police, the judiciary, education, the arts, state institutions, culture, religion, academia, and every other sphere of life. There still exist hundreds of rulers who attempt to govern in the same way, controlling everything, just as the Soviets did in turn.

The Nazis also killed millions, and although you might not believe it, in those islands and countries with beautiful Caribbean beaches, in China, North Korea, or perhaps very close to where you are now, there still exist governments who are secretly torturing and murdering their citizens.

Yet it’s always worth remembering the courage of one, two, or three people to go against the prevailing message of public opinion, or the beliefs imposed by a abusive and totalitarian regime. This example of bravery, this example of love for the ideas of freedom, ought to give pause for thought to Latin America and the world.

We should at least remember that here, too, young people are killed in cold blood by their governments simply for an idea. We should show bravery and courage when liberty is in peril, because if we don’t defend it, who will?

In the diary of the young Sophie Scholl is the following question which should make us think even now, 15 years into the 21st century. “How can we hope that justice will prevail when almost no one offers themselves up individually for a just cause?”

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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