On February 18, 1943, 21 year old Sophie Scholl was arrested for distributing White Rose pacifist pamphlets on campus: Four days later on the 22nd she was tried, sentenced and guillotined within a few hours.
Scholl learned of the White Rose … when she found [a pamphlet] at her university. Realizing her brother helped write the pamphlet, Scholl herself began to work on the White Rose.
The group of authors had been horrified by Hartnagel’s reports of German war crimes on the Eastern Front where Hartnagel witnessed Soviet POWs being shot in a mass grave and learned of mass killings of Jews.
Her correspondence with Hartnagel* deeply discussed the “theology of conscience” developed in Newman’s writings. This is seen as her primary defense in her transcribed interrogations leading to her “trial” and execution. Those transcripts became the basis for a 2005 film treatment, “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days”.
With six core members, three more White Rose pamphlets were created and circulated over the summer of 1942.
White Rose’s … core members initially included Hans Scholl (Sophie’s brother), Willi Graf, Christoph Probstand Alexander Schmorell (Schmorell was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2012.)
Calling themselves the White Rose, they instructed Germans to passively resist the Nazi government. The pamphlet used both Biblical and philosophical support for an intellectual argument of resistance. In addition to authorship and protection, Scholl helped copy, distribute, and mail pamphlets while also managing the group’s finances.
She and the rest of the White Rose were arrested for distributing the sixth leaflet at the University of Munich on 18 February 1943. In the People’s Court before Judge Roland Freisler on 22 February 1943, Scholl was recorded as saying these words:
Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.
There was no testimony allowed for the defendants; this was their only defense.
Grave of Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst, in the Perlacher Friedhof, next to the Stadelheim prison in Munich
On 22 February 1943, Scholl, her brother, Hans, and their friend, Christoph Probst, were found guilty of treason and condemned to death. They were all beheaded by a guillotine by executioner Johann Reichhart in Munich’s Stadelheim Prison only a few hours later, at 17:00 hrs. The execution was supervised by Walter Roemer, the enforcement chief of the Munich district court. Prison officials, in later describing the scene, emphasized the courage with which she walked to her execution. Her last words were:
» How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action? «
Fritz Hartnagel was evacuated from Stalingrad in January 1943, but did not return to Germany before Sophie was executed. In October 1945, he married Sophie’s sister Elisabeth.