I love when history gives us a hero that defies stereotype. Young, female, and unarmed (save for the written word), Sophie Scholl and the members of the White Rose dared take on one of the most evil and powerful characters in human history.
Image above credit :https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d3/Sophie_Scholl_portrait.jpg
I thought I’d do a little web dictionary hunt to clearly define two seemingly opposite qualities that can be attributed to the subject of this post. Here you are (per dictionary.com):
Traitor: [trey-ter] /ˈtreɪ tər/ noun 1. a person who betrays another, a cause, or any trust. 2. a person who commits treason by betraying his or her country.
Hero: [heer-oh] /ˈhɪər oʊ/ noun 1. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal.
In my last post about Benedict Arnold, I explained that my frustration with him lies primarily at the purpose for his treason. That ego and money and self-preservation were the things that he valued enough to make a decision that could have changed the course of history.
As I began to pinpoint that his motives and lack of conviction were the heart of my reason for putting Arnold on my “bad guy” list, it sparked my interest in other “traitors,” but of the good variety. Those who also made potentially history altering decisions, but for the right reasons. Those who had motives and conviction as honorable as Arnold’s were repulsive.
So I did some research. I googled “noble traitors,” dug a little more, and found a reference to Richard Hanser’s A Noble Treason (1979). The book tells the Story of Sophie Scholl and the Nazi resistance group she was a part of, the White Rose. I researched her further, and was left in awe at the bravery of this woman and her friends.
Sophie Scholl was born in Germany in 1921, three years after the end of WWI. Germany was defeated country, looking for leadership and reason for restored pride. This created the perfect opportunity for Hitler to rise to power. While many Germans were ready to put their faith in him and his Nazi party, others sensed the danger and darkness of the growing government leadership. The Scholl household was one such example. Having been raised in a family with strong dissent for the Nazi party (Robert Scholl, Sophie’s father was imprisoned in 1942 for having made an anti-Hitler remark), Sophie and her brother Hans were already uncomfortable with the politics of WWII Germany. Their disapproval grew with both first hand and secondary exposure to the atrocities committed at the hands of their homeland during WWII. The members of the White Rose were also strongly motivated by religious writings and beliefs.
The White Rose was formed in 1942, in secret, of course. Their activities consisted of writing, printing, and distributing 6 anti-Nazi, anti-Hitler leaflets from June 1942- February 1943. The leaflets were designed to appeal to the intellectuals of the German population, and were distributed in various locations including at universities and were also mailed to professors and students. They called all who read them to examine their conscience and to oppose the Nazi regime in a non-violent manner.
On each leaflet was also a request that those who read them make copies and distribute them. Sophie Scholl was not originally part of the group, as her brother Hans (who was an original member) sought to protect her, but once she learned about it, she became an active member.
The White Rose also conducted a graffiti campaign, painting the words “Freedom!” “Down with Hitler!” and “Hitler the Mass Murderer!” on walls in Munich.
The Gestapo caught Sophie and her brother Hans leaving the 6th pamphlet in the halls of the University of Munich on February 18, 1943. She, her brother, and another member of the White Rose, Christopher Probst, were arrested and tried by the Volksgerich (the People’s Court that tried political offenses against the Nazi German state). They were quickly found guilty of treason and executed by Guillotine on February 22, 1943.
After the executions of Sophie and Hans Scholl and Christopher Probst, the White Rose itself released no further leaflets or graffiti. Other members were also later arrested and executed. However, its message continued to spread. In July 1943, millions of copies of the 6th leaflet (retitled “The Manifesto of the Students of Munich”) were dropped over Germany by Allied planes. The text of the leaflet had been smuggled out of Germany by the jurist Helmuth James Graf von Moltke to the United Kingdom. He was later convicted of treason and executed by the Nazi government. Yet another noble traitor.
The White Rose’s leaflet campaign is considered to be one of the most important acts of opposition to the Nazis while the war was still being fought. While the war was still being fought. This alone is so important. The members of the White Rose did not claim ignorance to the actions of the Nazis.When they became aware of the evils of the Nazi regime, they decided to do something. Sophie Scholl is documented as saying during her trial:
“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did.”
To have knowledge of something occurring that goes against your own moral code and do nothing is a very common thing. Especially when to “do something” means to put your own life at risk, as the members of the White Rose were surely aware that theirs were. The actions of the White Rose made them traitors in the technical sense, as they actively campaigned for the people of Germany to rise up against the leadership of their homeland. However, they were loyal to the human spirit, and to what is inherently good. They made the choice to speak up in a world where speaking up meant death.
Defining a traitor, or a person for that matter, as “good” or “bad” is an impossible and perhaps pointless task. We certainly all have aspects of both within us. It is, however, valuable to examine our choices and where our motivations for making them come from. History can help us with this. So many examples of people with choices that in some instances truly are life or death or world changing decisions. How can we help but try to benefit from the hindsight we are privileged to have as students of history and of our world?
Perhaps the biggest difference between the “good” and the “bad” kind of traitor does lie in motive and who it is that is being betrayed. While the bad kind of traitor seeks to betray good for his own benefit, the good kind betrays bad for the benefit of others. This is, of course, only one very simple way to look at a very complicated question. However, it seems to me that when it comes to the actions, choices, and motivations of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, their “treason” cannot be viewed as anything other than simply and 100% right.
According to https://whiterosemovementblog.wordpress.com, in 2003, German public television aired a show called Unsere Besten (“Our Best”) which aired the results of a public poll which asked Germans to rank the greatest Germans. Hans and Sophie Scholl were ranked the fourth-most influential Germans of all time.