Friday, November 7, 2014
"SUCH A FINE SUNNY DAY": The Power of WORDS on the Path of Resistance
The title of this post includes a part of the last words of Sophie Scholl, member of the German Resistance Group, The White Rose.
On the twenty second of February in 1943, Sophie, her brother Hans and their friend Christoph Probst were found guilty of treason and condemned to death. Their crime? The distribution of six anti-Nazi political resistance leaflets. They had been arrested while distributing the sixth leaflet at the University of Munich just four days earlier.
All three were beheaded by a guillotine in Munich's Stadelheim Prison at 17:00 hours. The execution was supervised by Walter Roemer, the enforcement chief of the Munich district court. He along with other prison officials, in later reports describing the scene, emphasized the great courage of the young 22 year old girl as she walked to her execution. Her complete last words were recorded as follows:
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 into action?
Following her death, a copy of the sixth leaflet was smuggled out of Germany through Scandinavia to the UK by German jurist Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, where it was used by the Allied Forces. In mid-1943, they dropped over Germany millions of propaganda copies of the tract, now retitled The Manifesto of the Students of Munich...
Sophie's legacy had begun...and it rained down on all of Germany as a warning.
In a historical context, The White Rose's legacy is significant as a demonstration of exemplary spiritual courage and as a well-documented case of social dissent in a time of violent repression, censorship and conformist pressure.
It also teaches us that while words can be manipulated and twisted in pretty ways to lead a nation into committing heinous acts of murder, torture and war, they may also be used to proclaim truth, which is ultimately the mightiest sword in any arsenal.
Playwright Lillian Garrett-Groag stated in Newsday on February 22, 1993: "It is possibly the most spectacular moment of resistance that I can think of in the twentieth century. The fact that five little kids, in the mouth of the wolf, where it really counted, had the tremendous courage to do what they did, is spectacular to me."
In the same issue of Newsday, Holocaust historian Jud Newborn noted that: "You cannot really measure the effect of this kind of resistance in whether or not X number of bridges were blown up or a regime fell...The White Rose really as a more symbolic value, but that's a very important value."
I would personally argue that Sophie Scholl and The White Rose Resistance has more than just symbolic value. It represents the essence of what every human being is called to be: a protector of truth, a defender of the innocent, and a warrior for freedom. This, in the case of young Sophie, may prove to be deadly in a world where so often truth is abhorrent to those who hunger for their own personal gain and power; but it is that quiet gnawing in the soul and heart of all human beings--that part of ourselves that can hear the voice of that truth and realize that it is, in fact, something worth dying for.
The Power of Words. The Power of the Truth they can wield. It is immeasurable.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and another member of the German Resistance who was tortured then executed for treason against Germany once said: "Silence in the face of evil is, itself, evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children."
Powerful words. Convicting words. They acknowledge that our voice, when used for truth--when used as a weapon to admonish evil outright and out loud to the world--is what defines our character. Inaction is, in fact, a choice of action. Silence is also speaking volumes. Sophie knew this. Her executioners knew this, too. She made her choice, and I believe that because it was the right one--the truth--that she was able to face her death in peace and with a clear conscience.
On May 9, 2014, Google depicted Sophie Scholl for its Google Doodle on the occasion of what would have been her 93rd birthday. She is, apparently, an inspiration to Google.
She is also a great inspiration to me.
Please take the time to read about Sophie in the article below. She is worth your time, I promise! If you like what you read and want to be inspired further, there is a great YA novel based on her lived titled The Silenced. There is also an incredible movie: Sophie Scholl: The Final Days that I highly recommend. I have also included the trailer to that movie below. Please look at BOTH and give me your comments.
Here is to Words and their saving power. Here is to truth and courage.
Here is to the White Rose.
"Always stand up for what's right; even if you're standing alone." ~Sophie Scholl