On 18 February, a young Lutheran woman (Sophie, 21) and her brother (Hans, 24) were distributing pamphlets at the university they attended. It was night, so they were just leaving stacks of pamphlets in the hallway. Although Sophie had initially been a party enthusiast, restrictions on her freedom, such as being forced to teach kindergarten in order to be admitted to the university so she could study biology, caused her to speak against the party and the socialist government it had formed. A janitor saw them and called the police, who came and arrested them.
Like any activists, they had wanted their group to appear large and spoke of their movement as popular. Two others from their group had also been arrested. They were seen as enemies of the state and were questioned for four days, culminating with their trial, for which a special judge had been sent from the capital. They were found guilty of treason. They bravely faced their fate, Sophie saying “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?” After their trial, they were allowed to see their parents. Sophie smiled stoically, not showing any fear. Their mother offered Sophie some candy, which she accepted saying “Gladly, after all, I haven’t had any lunch!” Magdalena Scholl, told Sophie to “Remember Jesus” as she left.
Later that day, they accepted their sentences. Death by guillotine. Seventy seven years ago today.
The party which they had been protesting was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, also referred to by it’s acronym, NAZI . The woman was Sophie Scholl. Their resistance group was called “The White Rose.” Over the following year several other members of their group met the same fate, for the crime of nonviolent resistance, writing and distributing pamphlets.
Today, I and millions of others wear a white rose (that’s mine above), as a remembrance Of Sophie and nonviolent resistance. We resist different things, but we do so without violence. In my lifetime, I have been in several resistance movements, starting with the civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said “We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts.” Dr. King was assassinated fifty two years ago. While violence has been used in pursuit of my various goals, it has been a last resort. As one of my colleagues said in the eighties, the conversation is over when you start shooting.
Champions of peace and nonviolence rarely die in their sleep. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was with his grandnieces in the garden when he was assassinated at age 78. He had been accepting of Muslims and was blamed for their violence. John Winston Ono Lennon was assassinated as he returned home by a madman who wanted to be famous. Bantu Stephen Biko was assassinated by South African police by way of twenty eight days of beatings.
Nonviolence is routinely met with violence, a sad irony. Most people picture “resistance” as the French resistance of World War Two, romanticized by Earnest Hemingway in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Little is said about places like the village of Chambon-sur-Lignon, which successful disguised the presence of five thousand refugees.
Hermine “Miep” Gies, the Dutch woman who helped hide a fifteen year old Anne Frank until betrayed by a neighbor, is not often recalled as a member of the resistance. Nonviolent resistance is quiet, acts of violence grab the headlines. The millions of LGBTQ+ people who have led successful lives under the radar are seldom thought of as a resistance members, because they resist the accepted norms of society by merely existing; when they are discovered they routinely pay with their lives, or at very least their social standing and vocation.
Most everyone has heard of “Pride” without recognizing its origin. The LGBTQ+ Pride movement originated in New York City, springing from the ashes of days of riots. Today millions gather for Pride events, proud they can be who they are without being victimized, seldom recognizing the brutality of the straight factions their forebears encountered. Today calling a trans woman “just a man in a dress” is seen as bigotry, when in my youth it would have been seen as victorious recognition, the alternative being death by beating.
Sophie Scholl was not the first person to resist tyranny, nor the last flame of an old idea. People have been resisting since Abel displayed his faith before his brother, who killed him with a rock. People continue to resist tyranny today all over the world. Resisting the President of the United States by revealing illegal behavior was met by an insistence to know the resister’s identity. No one thinks the President was going to shake his hand; that tyrant consistently destroys anyone who opposes him, calling for violence from his supporters or worse from foriegn governments.
Resist, even if it is only by your life continuing under oppression.