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Prophetic Voices: Sophie Scholl

Posted Thu, 12/09/2021 - 15:57 by Avigail

picture of Sophie Scholl

 

This Advent, our blog posts will reflect on ‘prophetic voices’; people who, in the spirit of the prophets, may inspire us to action, challenge our preconceptions, refocus our religious practices, or forge a new path forward for our communities. 

During Advent, many Christians will light Advent candles in a wreath each Sunday in their church. The meaning of these candles varies in different traditions, and in my Methodist Church the third candle - which will be lit this Sunday - remembers John the Baptist. John prophesied about the coming of Jesus and was executed for his words. The life and death of John is a reminder that prophecy can be dangerous, with those speaking out against the status quo sometimes risking their lives to do so. In spite of this, there are many people who have been inspired by their faith to prophecy and faced death for it. One who particularly stands out to me is Sophie Scholl. 

Scholl was a Christian student at the University of Munich and part of The White Rose, a resistance group calling on people to oppose the Nazis. The group shared leaflets raising awareness about the evils of Nazi tyranny and encouraging students to rebel. Through their work they decried the apathy that gives ‘fascist criminals courage and the opportunity to rage on’ (1), instead calling on people to join in non-violent resistance. 

Among The White Rose were Christians of different denominations and the influence of their faith was clear in their publications. For Scholl, Cardinal John Henry Newman provided a particular inspiration with his sermon on the ‘theology of conscience’, which she would later quote at her trial (2). For Newman and Scholl conscience is a voice from God and shows people what is right and what they should stand against. Scholl believed she had to act as a conscience to those Germans not resisting the Nazis, showing them that what was happening was wrong. The White Rose wrote to their fellow Germans ‘we are not silent, we are your bad conscience, the White Rose will not leave you in peace!’ (3). 

The White Rose were disillusioned with Christian leadership, who they did not believe were doing enough to follow their conscience and resist. Through their leaflets they hoped to challenge the use of Christian arguments and imagery in Nazi ideology, and show that Hitler did not speak for God. They stressed that Hitler and his regime were not Christian, writing ‘he calls the name of the Almighty in the most outrageous way, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan.’ (3). 

There are many, later described as prophets, who would not choose this title for themselves, but Scholl and the rest of the White Rose saw themselves in a prophetic role. They compared themselves to those who at times of great need ‘have stood up, prophets, saints who had preserved their freedom, who pointed to the only God and with his help urged the people to repent’ (3). In Advent Christians often hear the words of the prophet Isaiah and the White Rose borrowed from his language to declare that the ‘day of reckoning has come’ (4). 

Like many prophets, speaking out was dangerous for the White Rose and led to several members being arrested. Scholl along with her brother Hans and friend Christoph Probst were tried and sentenced to be executed for their resistance. They had accepted all blame to save others in the group from being arrested. 

Scholl’s last known words were: 

"How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause.... It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives. What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted. Among the student body there will certainly be a revolt." (5) 

Scholl saw herself as one of many who were joining together to resist. In particular she believed universities were vital places for people to ask questions and stand up against injustice. For the final leaflet the group specifically targeted universities, and as she faced her own death it was students she looked to, to continue the resistance. 

Today, universities remain a place where I believe we see prophets in action. In my own time at CCJ I’ve been inspired by students standing against the antisemitism that still exists in society, and students calling for all people to be treated with dignity and respect. Many of the Biblical prophets are often depicted as old men, but the prophets who inspire me today are much more varied and include young people who are inspired by their faith to take a stand against the status quo. I hope we can continue to listen to young prophets calling for change, and sharing the stories of those like Scholl who made the ultimate sacrifice to speak out against evil. 

1 White Rose Second Leaflet 

2 https://www.biographyonline.net/women/sophie-scholl.html 

3 White Rose Fourth Leaflet 

4 White Rose Sixth Leaflet  

5 https://spartacus-educational.com/GERschollS.htm 

All leaflets and translations available here: https://www.weisse-rose-stiftung.de/white-rose-resistance-group/leaflets-of-the-white-rose/