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Sophie Scholl as symbol of German resistance

In the early summer of 1942, students from the Munich University formed a clandestine group which they called the “White Rose”. They wrote several leaflets calling for resistance against the National Socialist dictatorship. Similar groups also formed in Hamburg and other places.


Although she did not act alone, Sophie Scholl is the best-known face of the “White Rose” today. Born in 1921, she joined the National Socialist organization “Bund Deutscher Mädel” at the age of 13 where she became a group leader. She later distanced herself from the Nazi regime. Together with her brother Hans, she was arrested in February 1943 while the siblings were distributing leaflets at Munich University. A few days later, on 22 February 1943, both were sentenced to death and murdered the same day in Munich-Stadelheim prison. Other members of the “White Rose” also received death or long prison sentences.


While in the 1960s both siblings were remembered in the Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR, Sophie Scholl increasingly came to the fore. Her entire life is reduced to her acts of resistance and the contradictions in her biography are ignored. She is seen as a young, apolitical, innocent and attractive woman from a middle-class home and therefore seems particularly suitable as a consensual figure of identification.


In 2021, German broadcasters Südwestrundfunk and Bayerischer Rundfunk launched a controversial Instagram project to mark the 100th anniversary of her birth. The last months of her life were re-enacted as if Sophie Scholl had posted the news herself. The project was criticized for historical inaccuracies.


Undemocratic and far-right groups in Germany are also appropriating Sophie Scholl. Members of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, for example, refer to Sophie Scholl in their propaganda and political campaigns. They draw false comparisons between today’s democracy and the Nazi state and claim to be oppressed by today’s government in Germany.


In this way, the concept of resistance is blurred and an important difference is ignored: While in current German society it is perfectly possible to hold different political positions, criticize the government or even question the democratic system, even the slightest criticism of the actions of the National Socialist state could end in a death sentence. The latter is shown by the example of Sophie Scholl and other comrades-in-arms of the “White Rose”.


Dagmar Lieske

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