Sunday, 25 February 2018

Remembering Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst

In this coming week’s Cornish Guardian, my article remembers Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst who were executed 75 years ago this month. It will be as follows:

Some years ago, I purchased a book titled “Conscience in Revolt” at what I remember was a bric-a-brac shop in Tintagel. Translated from the original “Das Gewissen Steht Auf,” it contains the life stories of 64 men and women from Germany who opposed Nazism between 1933 and 1945, and who all lost their lives as a consequence.

It is a truly compelling publication and details many acts of extreme courage. One of the biographies is that of Sophie Scholl, a 22-year-old student, who along with her brother and a friend were executed on 22nd February 1943.

Seventy-five years on from their deaths, it is important that we never forget what happened.

Sophie was the daughter of a local mayor in Forchtenberg in northern Baden-Wurttemberg, and she was born in 1921. For two years, she trained to be a kindergarten teacher, but in May 1942 matriculated to study biology and philosophy at Munich University, where her brother Hans was already studying medicine.

Hans belonged to a non-violent resistance group known as the “White Rose,” made up of “students, artists and scientists” which called on people to oppose Hitler’s regime through passive resistance. He had assisted in the production of pamphlets, and Sophie joined to help.

During 1942, three pamphlets were distributed around Munich. A famous extract from one of the leaflets stated: “We grew up in a state in which all free expression of opinion is unscrupulously repressed. The Hitler Youth, the SA and the SS have tried to stupefy us, subvert us, in the brightest years of our lives. We want genuine learning, real freedom of expression.”

The Scholls were arrested on 18th February 1943, along with Christoph Probst – who had three children, the youngest of which was less than one month old.

Four days later, they were paraded in front of the maliciously misnamed “People’s Court” and found guilty of treason. Later that same day, they were all executed by guillotine.

Sophie’s cellmate recorded her last words as she was being led away to be beheaded. She said: “It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives. What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted.”

Such resolute calmness in the face of a violent death is truly inspiring.

And it should impress on us all – whatever our grumbles – how very fortunate we are to live in an open, 21st century, democracy where there is real freedom of expression.

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