Just a nudge, a little thoughtless push, and a stack of leaflets floated down from a balcony over a university lecture hall entryway. In an unguarded moment, twenty-one year old Sophie Scholl sealed her fate. She and her brother Hans would be captured for distributing their leaflets calling for the German people to protest against Hitler and the Nazis. Within days, she, her brother, and another member of the White Rose fellowship would be tried and executed as a message to all who contemplated resistance to Nazi rule.
Few Americans know of Sophie Scholl, but according to Frank McDonough in Sophie Scholl: The Real Story of the Woman Who Defied Hitler, Scholl was chosen in a recent poll as the most admired German woman of the twentieth century. Schools and streets throughout the country are named for the young woman who was at the heart of the small group of students with courage to speak up against absolute rule of the Nazis and protest the killing of Jews, communists, and handicapped people. In Germany, there have been many biographies of Scholl, but McDonough contends that most repeat undocumented stories that depict Scholl and her brother as saintly, which he says they were not. While the sister and brother were idealistic children of a philosophical father and devoutly religious mother, they had to overcome fears and set aside their pleasures to take up clandestine actions against the Nazis. They even disagreed whether a campaign of graffiti helped their cause.
Scholl and the members of the White Rose were not without mixed feelings. Several members had been in the German Army before attending the University in Munich. Sophie's boyfriend was on the Russian Front. How to support the troops while protesting the war was a delicate issue that arose each time they edited another leaflet.
McDonough is a history reader at Liverpool John Moores University specializing in Anglo-German relations. In Sophie Scholl, he sets out to discover the real woman, who was energetic, idealistic, a bit naive, always a bit of a tomboy. In doing so, he points out that she should be a hero to women's rights groups as much as for her protests of war, for she endured many hardships to get accepted at the university in Munich. Nazi policy makers were working to remove all women from higher education and might have succeeded if the war and extermination of non-Aryans had not taken precedence.
Sophie Scholl is a quick reading biography that gives readers a street level view of Germany during World War II. It is a British publication but it is available in the U.S. and Canada.
McDonough, Frank. Sophie Scholl: The Real Story of the Woman Who Defied Hitler. History Press, 2009. ISBN 9780752446752.