Dienstag, 23. Februar 2010

Eulogy Sophie Scholl

Dr. Frank McDonough, Lizzie Kitely, Jakob Knab
(Liverpool, 22 February 2010)

Thank you Frank. Thank you for inviting me to this book launch.
I believe Frank McDonough has done a valuable and lasting service to my country by highlighting Sophie Scholl, the greatest heroine in our history.

Let me begin by looking back… I still remember 18 February 1963… Our German teacher began his lesson with a very serious look on his face: “Twenty years ago my fellow students Hans and Sophie Scholl were arrested at Munich University. Only five days later they were beheaded – along with their friend Christoph Probst.” And then our teacher read to us from a little grey paperback entitled Inge Scholl, “Die Weiße Rose”. To cut a long story short: In November 1986 I had published an article about my research on those ten Catholic conscientious objectors in Hitler’s war. A couple of days later I got a letter from Inge Scholl, Sophie’s sister, inviting me round to her place. Well, I told her the story about 18 February 1963. You might have guessed by now: I love dates and figures. Therefore the date of today’s book launch 22 February 2010 is most appropriate and fitting. History will never forget Hans Scholl’s final outcry: Long live freedom! (In German: “Es lebe die Freiheit!”)

On 22 February 1943 Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friend Christoph Probst were beheaded at the Munich Stadelheim prison – the other members of the White Rose were beheaded later that year…

All of them had come a long way… Initially all the Scholl children were attracted by the Nazi youth organizations; the Scholl girls joined the female branch of the Hitler Youth (BDM girls). When Sophie was confirmed at the Lutheran Pauluskirche Ulm on Palm Sunday 1937, she was the only girl that was wearing the shirt of the Hitler Youth (BDM). She became disillusioned with Nazi ideals (“Volksgemeinschaft”) when a Jewish girl in her class was not allowed to join the Hitler Youth. (…)

In November 1937 members of nonconformist Youth groups – among them Hans Scholl – were arrested. A month or two later the Scholl siblings got to know the nonconformist young Catholic Otl Aicher who told them about Augustine’s Confessions and about the intellectual Catholic monthly Hochland. Now books played an important part. Later Sophie confided to a friend: “I could not live without Augustine’s Confessions.”

Sophie’s religious and political awakening went hand in hand. When on 1 September 1939 Nazi Germany attacked Poland and WW II began, only four days later that eighteen-year-old schoolgirl Sophie wrote to her boyfriend Fritz Hartnagel, who was a lieutenant (professional soldier) in the Wehrmacht: “You and your men must have plenty to do now. I just can’t grasp that people’s lives are now under constant threat from other people. I’ll never understand it, and I find it terrible. Don’t go telling me it’s for the sake of the Fatherland.”

Sophie began her compulsory Reichsarbeitsdienst (Reich Labour Service) in April 1941. A few days later she wrote in her diary: “At night, while the others are cracking jokes, I read Augustine.” The next day she wrote: ‘This evening, as I glanced quickly out of the window of our cheerful, bustling room, I saw the yellow skyline through the bare trees. It suddenly struck me then that it was Good Friday. I was saddened by the strangely remote and detached sky. Or by all the laughing people who were so divorced from the sky.’

The original German says: “Der so seltsam ferne, gleichmütige Himmel machte mich traurig. Oder die vielen lachenden Menschen, die so beziehungslos zu dem Himmel waren.“ ‘Himmel’ in German is ambiguous: either sky or heaven. So it is really about all the laughing people on Good Friday who are so divorced from heaven, who on Good Friday do not care about human misery. Sophie’s greatest gift, however, was her intuition, her sensitivity, her compassion. As I see it Good Friday 1941 was the turning point in Sophie’s spiritual life.

And when reading this bit about the “yellow skyline” and the “detached sky” I was reminded of John Henry Newman’s famous sentence: “What a veil and curtain this world of sense is … beautiful, but still a veil.” Both Newman and Sophie Scholl talk about unveiling and disclosure, for this world we see is a world of appearances pointing towards a deeper, hidden, underlying reality.

One of Sophie’s friends remembers a day in the autumn of 1941: “… but Sophie read constantly and one day she handed me a book by Cardinal Newman. ‘What? You don’t know him? There’s a wonderful world awaiting you there!” (I hope you know the great English divine John Henry Newman (1801 – 1890). Newman's luminous teaching on conscience has become an important foundation for personalism and Christian existentialism.)

When on 20 May 1942 – she had begun her studies at the University of Munich just a few weeks before – Sophie Scholl and her fiancé Fritz Hartnagel met in Munich for the last time, she gave him a farewell present of, among other things, two volumes of sermons by John Henry Newman. In June 1942, as Hitler’s “Wehrmacht” began its great summer offensive between Kursk and Taganrog, first lieutenant Hartnagel was sent to Mariupol on the eastern front, on the Sea of Azov.

On 27 June 1942 the first White Rose leaflet, written by her brother Hans Scholl and his close friend Alexander Schmorell, was secretly distributed in Munich.
Let me quote from the second leaflet of the White Rose (end of June 1942).
“Since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way … The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals … Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!”
And this is an excerpt from the fourth leaflet (12 July 1942):
“We must attack evil where it is strongest,
and it is strongest in the power of Hitler.”
And the fourth leaflet ends:
“We will not be silent.
We are your bad conscience.
The White Rose will not leave you in peace.”

These four leaflets were the work of Hans Scholl and his friend Alexander Schmorell. Sophie was not yet involved in the resistance of the White Rose.

At the same time (June / July 1942) Hartnagel, serving on the southern sector of the eastern front, was seeing the corpses of Soviet prisoners of war who had collapsed from exhaustion and had been shot by their German guards. And he was hearing of mass executions among the Jewish population. Writing to Sophie on 26 June 1942 from east of the Donets Basin, he lamented: “It’s frightening, the cynical insensitivity with which my commanding officer describes the slaughter of all those Jews in occupied Russia, and the way he is totally convinced of the rightness of his course of action. I sat there, my heart pounding. How relieved I was to be back on my own, lying on my camp bed, where I could take refuge in prayer, and in thoughts of you.”

In this same letter Hartnagel talked about the sources of his inner strength; for in that summer of war, 1942, he too discovered the “wonderful world” of John Henry Newman. It had been Sophie Scholl who had provided the impetus for this reading, from which Hartnagel absorbed every line like “drops of precious wine”. Newman left a manifest impression on him, for a few days after that appalling anti-Jewish diatribe of his superior officer, he wrote to his dear Sophie: “What a fallacy it is to take nature as a model for our actions and to describe its cruelty as ‘great’.” The following lines, written at the beginning of July 1942, are further fruit of his Newman readings: “But we know by whom we were created, and that we stand in a relationship of moral obligation to our Creator. Conscience gives us the capacity to distinguish between Good and Evil.”

A close examination of the text suggests that, in these crucial days, Hartnagel read Newman’s sermon “The Testimony of Conscience”. Here Newman – he had held this sermon in 1838 at St Mary the Virgin Oxford when his influence in the Oxford movement was at its height – develops the central theme of his doctrine about conscience. (…)

Hartnagel’s conscience was deeply disturbed by what he saw in Nazi occupied Russia. He eventually found the strength to speak out against the mass execution of Jews.

Back to Sophie and Hans Scholl, back to the White Rose: On 18 February 1943 Hans and Sophie Scholl brought a suitcase full of leaflets to Munich University.

Actually it was the same day that in his Sportpalast speech Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels called on the German people – after the surrender at Stalingrad – to embrace total war. (Actually I’ve been told: “Don’t mention the war!”)

But this is the first passage of the last leaflet: “Our people are deeply shaken by the fall of our men at Stalingrad. Three hundred and thirty thousand German men have been senselessly and irresponsibly driven to death and destruction by the brilliant strategy of our World War I corporal. Führer, we thank you!”

On 18 February 1943 Sophie and her brother Hans were arrested in the entrance hall (Lichthof) of Munich University. They had left the bulk of leaflets outside the university lecture halls, and when Sophie sent the last few copies fluttering down over the second-floor-balustrade (of the entrance hall) they were spotted by the university janitor. On 22 February – along with their friend Christoph Probst – they were sentenced to death. Only a few hours later they were executed.

Let me quote Frank McDonough: “Sophie Scholl’s inspirational and life-affirming story is not just another story about the past. It is a story of vital importance in the present and about the future. It is a story of bravery, of personal conscience and of freedom of opinion. It is really a story of today, about you and me. We must never forget she was just 21 years old when she was killed by the Nazis, but she possessed a life-affirming personality no dictatorship could ever silence.”

I agree with my friend Frank McDonough: The spirit of freedom is stronger, it transcends the closed system of a dictatorship.

Today it is my only wish and desire: Dear Dr McDonough, why don’t you write a complete and comprehensive story of the White Rose? People here in Great Britain ought to know about Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Christoph Probst, Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorell (who was born in Russia), and about Professor Kurt Huber (who was born in Switzerland).

Frank McDonough has placed two quotes at the beginning of his book. Let me end my eulogy with quoting from Sir Winston Churchill and Sophie Scholl.

I know that life is a doorway to eternity,
and yet my heart so often gets lost in petty anxieties.
It forgets the great way home that lies before it.

The political history of all nations has hardly ever produced
anything greater and nobler
than the opposition which existed in Germany.
These people fought without any help,
whether from within or from without,
driven only by the uneasiness of their consciences.
As long as they were alive,
they were invisible to us,
because they had to put on masks.
But their deaths brought their resistance to light.