On 22 February 1943, a few days after the Stalingrad battle was ended, Sophie and Hans Scholl, respectively 20 and 23 years old, were beheaded by nazi executioners. Four days before, they were arrested while they threw pamphlets of the underground group The White Rose in the yard of the Munich university.
I am presently reading Lettres et carnets of Hans and Sophie Scholl. Edited by Tallandier in 2008, the book exists now as Livre de Poche (n° 31913), the edition to which I refer. [I don’t possess an English edition of the book. The translation is mine, and probably full of imperfections...]
The White Rose group was set up by a few students and intellectuals, mostly catholics, in spring of 1942, a period that concerns me in a special way: my birth, and, in Poland, the beginning of the annihilation of my father’s family in the death camps. How not to be moved by this sentence of the second pamphlet written by Hans Scholl and his friend Alexander Schmorell: “Since the seizure of Poland, three hundred thousand Jews in this country were slaughtered like animals. This is the most heinous crime committed against human dignity, and no other in history can be compared with this”.
On reading the book, one is struck by the maturity and intelligence of Hans and - perhaps even more - of Sophie, especially by the way their correspondence and diaries reveal a deepening of their thinking and an awakening of their conscience. Deeply moving too is the spiritual progress that brother and sister perform in the space of a few months.
Many letters or pages of the diaries deserve a full quotation, but for the time being, I will only quote a few short passages: I have just read about half of the book. I shall probably return on it [I wrote this article in September 2011].
First, a few lines on the political regime and the war:
“With that stubborn military barracks mindset everywhere, they soon will remove any possibility of protecting the poor soul of their uniforms. Really, what a time in the history of the German people! What do we find there later apart from dates of battles and other things like that?” (Sophie, April 41).
“... that awful war, this Moloch which has crept from below in the souls of all men trying to kill them...” (Hans, Décember 41).
“The mere sight of the rubble is thought-provoking, but amid the crumbling walls, an American palace rises incongruously in the sky. Half-starved children swarm in the streets, asking for bread with a whiny voice, while from another place exciting jazz tunes are heard. And peasants kiss the stone pavement of churches close to bars where people rejoice boundless with stupid games. Twilight atmosphere everywhere.” (Hans, in bombed Warsaw, July 42).
“I still have several weeks of work at the factory. It is a soulless and loveless occupation. The sight of all these people in front of all these machines is sad; it looks like slaves, except that they themselves have crowned their ruler” (Sophie, at compulsory work in a munitions factory, August 42).
And now, some quotes where the religious and spiritual journey of Sophie and Hans comes to light.
“... a word or two on the mystery of poverty, which has occupied me more than anything for a while, waiting for a solution until I came across Bloy, through Dostoevsky. That poverty, leading to 'absolute' Christianity, relies mainly on a spiritual basis and, only secondarily, material.” (Hans, October 41).
“The heart gets lost amid these small conveniences and forgets its great road of return. Unprepared, busy with pointless and trivial trifles, it may get caught off guard when the hour strikes, for having sacrificed the one great joy to smaller ones (…) But if my heart can stubbornly cling to its treasures, even if only by love of sweet life, tear me away against my will, because I am too weak to do it alone...” (Sophie, autumn 41).
“Nevertheless, I continue to find life rich and good, but people do not make a good use of it. It might do good to us to become truly poor, and so doing, getting ready for less ephemeral wealth. Fortunately, there are people, even in the army, who keep their internal independence, whatever the suffering, because they are not dependent on things that others can rob them, and we are privileged to count such people among our friends” (Sophie, December 41).
“I have heard and seen the Lord's name. It was at this time that I met you. Then it became clearer day after day. As if scales fell from my eyes. I pray. I feel on firmer ground and I see more clearly. This year, Christ is born again in me” (Hans, to Karl Muth, December 41).
“When I look at people around me, including myself, they arouse fear in me because God came down here because of them...” (Sophie, February 42).
Ultimately, the mystery of a goodness that nothing can destroy was unveiled in the heart of these young people, when they faced the most horrible of human experiences. We can perceive it in this beautiful passage of the Russian diary written by Hans during the summer of 42, where some overtones bring to mind the Prophets of Israël and the Psalms: “How beautiful are the flowers, on the bank of the railroad! As if they had given themselves the word so that no color misses, they bloom here with a gentle violence... everywhere: next to ruined buildings, burned freight cars, devastated human faces. Flowers grow and children play innocently in the middle of ruins. O loving God, help me to overcome my doubts. Yes, I see the Creation, which is Your work, and that is good. But I also see the work of men, our work, which is cruel, which we call destruction and despair, and which always plagues the innocent. Have pity on these children! How much longer must they suffer? Why is suffering so unjustly imposed? When will the storm eventually take away all these godless, who soil your image, who sacrifice the blood of countless innocents to a devil? The whole world shines again, as far as the eye can see, after that rain...”