The final days of a most remarkable German woman


I have written about Sophie Scholl before because I am in awe of her.

Hans and Sophie Scholl with Christoph Probst
All were executed by guillotine on Feb. 22, 1943

Anyone who thinks about religion inevitably ends up asking about the place of suffering. Everyone has heard or asked the question: If God is good, how come there is so much evil in the world?

I would never try to answer this question because I am not smart enough nor wise enough to explain it in a way that would convince anyone, even myself. This is the stuff of philosophers and great theologians – many of whom, I expect, can explain how evil and God can exist side by side but in the end are not totally convinced by their own arguments.

I do not think this question can be answered by logic, but only by faith because only faith can bear it.

I thought about this a lot this week after watching the 2005 film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, which takes place in February 1943. In brief, Scholl, 21 years old, was a student in Munich, along with her brother Hans and assorted friends. They began a movement called the White Rose to oppose the Nazis. They distributed pamphlets about the crimes of Nazism and the ruin that Hitler was bringing to their beloved Germany.

The film takes place over the course of a few days – from the time of Sophie’s capture, to her interrogation, her trial and execution. Hans Scholl, 24, and family friend Christoph Probst, 22, were also taken into custody but the film is squarely on her.

It is a stunning film, though incredibly painful to watch. It is about bravery so unique it is beyond measure. It is easy to feel small after watching it.

Once she was arrested, Sophie was trapped in the heart of an evil system that was not about to let her express her own thoughts and live. On some level, she terrified the Nazis. If more Germans had been like her the entire sick enterprise would have crumbled years before and I believe everyone who dealt with her knew that was the case. She was more of an enemy than those the Germans were fighting on the battlefield and they dealt with her as such.

Her interrogator found her far more difficult than he would have ever expected. Little things she said began to penetrate him. At one point he searched for a way that she could avoid punishment or at least death. All she had to do was say she was duped, she was sorry for all of it, that she knew her actions had been wrong.

She spoke about conscience, morals and God. For her, these were the only realities that mattered. And there was no question in her mind that those who practiced the Nazi madness were the opposite of that trinity of sacred notions.

During parts of the film we see her praying in her cell. She tells God that all she can do is "stammer" before him. Then she prays a line from St. Augustine’s Confessions: My heart will remain restless till it rests with you.

Her interrogator found her far more difficult than he would have ever expected. Little things she said began to penetrate him.

At her trial before a screaming Nazi judge, Roland Freisler, a state-employed sociopath, she again talked about conscience and God. And in her last moments, when her parents visit her before her execution, her mother tells her not to forget Jesus. And Sophie Scholl said to her mother: And you too.

I have written about Sophie Scholl before because I am in awe of her. When I was in Munich years ago I stood in front of the university where she was caught. There are now plates in the sidewalk that mimic the White Rose posters

I also met a man who was part of the White Rose and we talked about courage in the midst of such a brutal regime and about the friend he lost so long ago.

Such are the contradictions of the world. Out of the darkest years emerged a few lights of decency. The people who took part in the White Rose, the friends of Sophie Scholl, cannot be explained. There were other good people in Germany, many of them felt shame and asked God for guidance but they were too frozen in terror to act. Almost all of us would have been the same.

But one thing is for certain: Sophie Scholl drew strength from God and she triumphed. Not because she dragged the regime crashing to the ground, but because she could do nothing else but believe.





Charles Lewis. "The final days of a most remarkable German woman." Holy Post (Canada) July 2, 2011.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Charles Lewis.

Holy Post is the National Post's religion blog. Visit it here.


Charles Lewis writes about religion for the National Post and edits Holy Post. You can also follow him on twitter under the handle @holycharlie

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