Women Who Changed the World: Sophie Scholl

Between June 1942 and February 1943, German student Sophie Scholl barely slept a wink. By moonlight, she sprayed anti-Nazi slogans onto walls and typed thousands of leaflets by hand, advising her countrymen on how best to practise active resistance against Hitler. By day, she ran courier missions across the country, stuffing secret messages into phone boxes, letterboxes and library books. Eventually executed for high treason, she fought for the enduring freedom of the human spirit, wherever and whenever it was threatened.

Activist Sophie Scholl, illustrated by Hannah Sunny Whaler for  Oh Comely  issue 32.

Activist Sophie Scholl, illustrated by Hannah Sunny Whaler for Oh Comely issue 32.

When a nationwide manhunt was launched to catch a traitor group “of considerable size and resources”, few could have predicted the truth about the culprits. The White Rose movement had nothing but pens for weapons, and fewer than 10 active members at any given time. All were students in their early 20s – a small circle of siblings, friends and lovers, with the exception of Sophie’s beloved philosophy lecturer, Kurt Huber. 

As a young woman, Sophie aroused little suspicion at checkpoints and was notoriously good at hiding the group’s tracks. However, in seizing every opportunity to spread their message further, she put herself in grave danger. During a routine leaflet drop at the University of Munich on 18 February 1943, she climbed to the top floor and spontaneously flung excess copies into the air, sending a cascade of paper down the atrium staircase. Caught in the act, she was immediately reported to the Gestapo. 

Sophie remained stoic in the courtroom, and serene even when walking to her death. On the night before her execution, she shared a dream with her cellmate. 

“It was a sunny day. I was carrying a child, in a long white dress, to be christened. Suddenly, a crevasse opened at my feet, gradually gaping wider and wider. I was able to put the child down safely before plunging into the abyss. The child is our idea. In spite of all obstacles, it will prevail.”

Her prophecy was correct. Though she received little credit until after the war, Sophie is now a national hero. Her actions represented the ‘other’ Germany – one of progressive thinking and poetry – during a time of barbarism and mass ignorance. 

Further reading: The White Rose: Munich 1942-1943 by Inge Scholl (Wesleyan University Press); Opposition and Resistance in Nazi Germany by Frank McDonough (Cambridge Perspectives in History). 

This feature originally appeared in Oh Comely issue 32.