Sophia Magdalena Scholl died in 1943 when she was 22. That was about three years, psychologists reckon, before her cerebral cortex was fully developed.
But despite that, or perhaps because of it, she was one of the most conspicuous heroes of the Second World War.
Sophie Scholl was born May 9, 1921 in Forchtenberg, Germany. She was the daughter of socially active Lutheran parents. When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, many German Lutherans stepped back, recalling Martin Luther’s instructions to obey civil authority.
But the Scholls were early members of the resistance, and Sophie and her brother instigated anti-Nazi activities in college. They formed a group called the White Rose and in 1942 and 1943 they distributed thousands of leaflets urging Germans to passively resist the regime.
They were not subtle about it. According to the Holocaust Research Project, “On February 18, 1943, the Scholl’s brought a suitcase full of leaflets to the university. They hurriedly dropped stacks of copies in the empty corridors for students to find when they flooded out of lecture rooms. Leaving before the class break, the Scholl’s noticed that some copies remained in the suitcase and decided it would be a pity not to distribute them. They returned to the atrium and climbed the staircase to the top floor, and Sophie flung the last remaining leaflets into the air.”
That dramatic and impetuously reckless move attracted the attention of the Gestapo. The Scholls were arrested and brought to trial on 21 February 1943. Sophie was unrepentant.
“Somebody, after all, had to make a start,” she said. “What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just do not dare express themselves as we did.”
Sophie and her brother, Hans, were executed the following day by guillotine. According to witnesses, her last words were, “Die Sonne scheint noch.” The sun still shines.
Sophie’s singular defiance is a judgment on millions of Germans, most of them Lutherans and Catholics, who stood back while Hitler’s atrocities moved forward.
But her death was not unnoticed.
At the end of her life, Adolf Hitler’s personal secretary remembered Sophie Scholl.
“I was satisfied that I wasn’t personally to blame and that I hadn’t known about these things, I wasn’t aware of the extent,” said Traudl Junge, referring to the Holocaust.
“But one day I went past the memorial plaque which had been put up for Sophie Scholl. And I saw she was born the same year as me, and she was executed the same year I started working for Hitler.
“And at that moment I actually sensed that it was no excuse to be young.”