“Youth must not be seduced into silence when conscience demands it must speak.”
– Ernst Wiechert, German teacher, writer, poet, 1887-1950
A cigarette between them and smoke rising lazily above their heads, the three accused stood, arms wrapped around each other for one final moment.
Sophie Magdalene Scholl, 21, Hans Fritz Scholl, 24, and Christoph Hermann Probst, 23 were sentenced to death by guillotine for high treason against the state and regime of National Socialism.
In my last semester at university, we were assigned an essay to write about a moment during European history, which had an effect on World War II. My heart instantly settled onto the White Rose, as it had done years before. I knew that I wanted to retell the story of these young, college students, who were just like me – they spoke German, they loved nature and cared deeply about their friends and family and the world that each of them would too soon leave behind.
However, my professor wasn’t absolutely convinced. My essay needed to concretely explain the ways in which this group of inspired individuals were able to effectively end the second great war. I felt defeated, but I wrote that essay anyway.
“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”
To be brief, no, the White Rose of Germany did not end the war, they did not topple Hitler, and there was no uprising from university students across Germany about the horrors of their regime.
Yet, 74 years later, on the anniversary of the death of Sophie, Hans and Christoph I am still talking about it. We are still talking about groups of very committed people, young and old, who have come together in order to make change and create a just world. People who do not sleep at night, tireless in their work to be catalysts for change and progress and freedom.
Today, I want to honor the legacy of the White Rose. My personal affinity for this group of people will probably go unexplained, however, I am still of the opinion that a small group of dedicated individuals can in fact change the world.
“Many people think of our times as being the last before the end of the world. The evidence of horror all around us makes this seem possible, but isn’t that an idea of only minor importance? Doesn’t every human being, no matter which era he lives in, always have to reckon with being accountable to God at any moment? Can I know whether I’ll be alive tomorrow morning? A bomb could destroy all of us tonight. And then my guilt would not be one bit less than if I perished together with the Earth and the stars.”