On this day, seventy-three years ago, Sophie Scholl was beheaded for distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets on her campus at the University of Munich. Sophie was only 22 years old when she was convicted of high treason and executed along with some of her close friends and her brother, Hans. She and her brother were part of a student organization and anti-Nazi group called the White Rose. Together, they peaceably and relentlessly challenged the corrupt powers of Nazi Germany.
Elizabeth Scholl recalls the day she discovered her brother and sister had been executed: “I picked up a newspaper in a cafe where I was waiting for a bus. I noticed the headline on the front page. It told me that my brother and sister had been beheaded the previous day for treason. I wished there and then that I was insane so that I did not have to comprehend this. I was just four days away from my own 23rd birthday and I felt that my entire world had been destroyed.”
Freedom of speech was crushed under the Nazi regime. The smallest mention of anything remotely anti-Nazi or anti-Hitler was viewed as high treason. Sophie Scholl’s father was even imprisoned for a critical remark he made about Hitler to an employee. Ultimately, Sophie herself was guillotined for simply spreading pamphlets and dissenting against the current political order. Like any college student today, Sophie and members of the White Rose shared opinions publicly and shed light on political abuse. They dispersed leaflets and painted anti-Nazi graffiti on walls with words as simple and powerful as “Freedom.” Their hope was to stir good men and women to action, to awaken their conscience, and to encourage like-minded people to take a stand against an oppressive regime. The leaflets were especially intended to gain the attention of the intellectual community and inspire the rise of true leadership. The writings they published described the mass extermination of Jews and other such atrocities, condemning national socialism and the Nazi party. Leaflets distributed by members of the White Rose were left in phone-booths, mailed to professors, and scattered across stairwells. The White Rose’s efforts lasted from 1942-1943, until a school janitor caught Sophie Scholl and others scattering leaflets inside a campus building.
Thankfully, one of the White Rose members, George Wittenstein, survived. His description of Germany during the reign of Adolph Hitler holds disturbing similarities to America today:
The government – or rather, the party – controlled everything: the news media, arms, police, the armed forces, the judiciary system, communications, travel, all levels of education from kindergarten to universities, all cultural and religious institutions. Political indoctrination started at a very early age, and continued by means of the Hitler Youth with the ultimate goal of complete mind control. Children were exhorted in school to denounce even their own parents for derogatory remarks about Hitler or Nazi ideology.
After reading this, I began to wonder how close we are as a nation to becoming like this totalitarian regime. That may sound over-dramatic, but since Wilson’s presidency, America has been undergoing a dangerous evolution. Regimes like Nazi Germany do not grow overnight. They begin with certain threatening ideologies that take root in the soil of apathy. These ideologies grow in the dead of night while society slumbers.
Holocaust survivor, Anita Dittman, warns that America eerily mirrors that of Germany right before and during Hitler’s rise to power. She goes a step further, comparing Hitler’s political tactics to that of President Obama. Progressive mandates and legislation pushed by Obama and his administration may appear trivial to some, but historically they will trigger serious consequences. The socialization of medicine by Obamacare, the HHS Mandate’s strict fines on religious businesses, the persecution and direct targeting of conservative organizations by the IRS, the federal attempt to ban gun rights, and the national override of education, are only a few political strides that follow in the footsteps of Nazi Germany.
Freedom may live in the hearts and actions of individuals, but it comes at a price. Heroes like Sophie Scholl understood this and paid with her life. Today, our freedoms are not merely taken for granted, they are under attack. Yet, many of us do nothing. Perhaps the heroic feats of Sophie Scholl and those like her will embolden us. It should be remembered that unchecked power will continue to consume and control, until ultimately destroying the freedom it promised to protect. Hans Scholl realized this and before his death declared, “It is time, in the name of civic and Christian courage, something must be done.” Likewise, we must speak out to preserve freedom, we must fight to protect human life from the youngest among us to the oldest, because justice demands a defense of all that is good and true and of all we hold dear. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German pastor who was executed for his vocal opposition of the Nazi regime, left us with these words, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
By Jennifer Beard