True freedom

Hans and Sophie Scholl

Here’s an example of people who did not compromise their beliefs under pressure. It’s the Highland News Christian Viewpoint column from a couple of weeks ago.  See th last paragraph – in the place of power, Sophie Scholl in her integrity, was totally free.

Exactly 75 years ago, on 22 February 1943, 24-year-old Hans Scholl walked across the courtyard of a prison in Munich. His destination was the outbuilding where minutes before his sister Sophie, three years his junior, had been executed. The guillotine awaiting him, he turned and shouted ‘Long life freedom!’

Hans and Sophie, who died that day together with their friend Christoph Probst were members of The White Rose, a clandestine group of people, most of them young, who were opposed to Hitler’s dictatorship. They printed and distributed leaflets calling on their fellow-Germans to acknowledge the regime’s inhumanity, and to take a stand against it.

We can draw close to Hans and Sophie through their letters and diaries, extracts from which have been published. They were sensitive, deeply intelligent, thoughtful, loving and passionate young people.

Initially both of them had, contrary to their father’s convictions, bought into the Hitler Youth movement, in which Hans had been a leader. But they grew to abhor the inhumanity shown to those who did not conform, the acquisitive conquest of other nations in the early years of WWII, and particularly the stories filtering through in 1942-3 of the treatment of Jewish people. The Germans, according to one of the White Rose leaflets were ‘blindly following their seducers into ruin.’

In Germany, crushed after the First World War Hitler’s National Socialism had been widely welcomed – here was a decisive man of action, who promised to make Germany great again. Many Christians at first saw Hitler as ‘a gift and miracle from God’, and even after Hitler’s human rights abuses became clear, there was much less opposition to him from Christians than you would have expected and hoped for.

The White Rose, and other similar groups and individuals challenge us not, in Sophie Scholl’s words, to apathetically ‘defer to a world of contradictions,’ but to take sides, to distinguish between truth and falsehood, to be agents of goodness and light. This digital age exposes us as never before to contradictions, to a multiplicity of opinions. It is easy to look after our own interests and stay silent. We desperately need to find the way of true freedom, and walk resolutely in it.

The parents of the Scholls and their three siblings were not especially religious, but Hans and Sophie found motivation and strength to resist the regime through their Christian faith – their opposition was driven by a spiritual and moral, rather than a purely political agenda.

Hans and Sophie’s faith was nourished by their friendship as students in Munich with a Roman Catholic writer, a wonderful man called Carl Muth who, though in his 70s, had the gift of nurturing young people.

Just before Christmas 1941, Hans described to Muth how, that year he had ‘heard and perceived the name of the Lord. Thereafter it grew lighter every day as if scales were falling from my eyes. I am praying. I feel I have a firm background and a clear goal. This year, Christ has been born for me anew.’

A month later, he told a friend ‘I have dropped anchor, come what may, and nothing can really trouble me from now on.’

Sophie’s writings reveal her joy, her sense of oneness with nature, her love of music, her struggles with doubt, her wrestling with theodicy – why does a loving God permit evil? Both faith and doubt come together in her words to her fiancé in November 1942: ‘I shall cling to the rope God has thrown me in Christ Jesus, even if my numb hands can no longer feel it.’

The words from Sophie which speak to me most powerfully are these: ‘How fortunate that, even in the army and much as it makes them suffer, there are people who retain their inner independence because they don’t rely on things that others can deprive them of.’

This is the secret of taking a stand in a world of contradictions – having a reliable source of inner strength. Hans had a dream: the light shone, beckoning, on an island, and the only way to cross the water was in a ferryboat called ‘poverty.’ It is when we realise that we are weak, and have nothing in and of ourselves, that we discover we have all we need in the sustaining love of God.

Hans and Sophie’s story was dramatized in the 2005 film Sophie Scholl – the Final Days. We see her as she confronts the wild, sarcastic fury of Roland Freisler of the People’s Court. Sophie calmly answers back, and I have a powerful sense that it was Sophie, and not that ranting cog in the wheel of the Nazi machine who was truly free.

Sophie and Hans played by Julia Jentsch and Fabian Hinrichs in Sophie Scholl - the Final Days










(A still from Sophie Scholll – the Final Days)

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