The film, “Sophie Scholl—The Final Days,” begins in February 1943 at the University of Munich. Sophie and her brother, Hans, both students there (Sophie in biology and philosophy, Hans in medicine) enter the main building while classes are meeting, walk rapidly up the stairs, and hurriedly begin leaving stacks of leaflets outside the classroom doors. As they are about to leave, Sophie notices a few are left in her suitcase and lets them fly over the balustrade.
The leaflets protest Hitler’s regime, its acts of oppression, denial of free expression, and the prolongation of the war (The German army had just been defeated at Stalingrad). From one of the leaflets:
“…why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanized state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right—or rather, your moral duty—to eliminate this system?”
Distributing leaflets like this was an extremely risky step to take. Before then, they had been sent by mail throughout Germany. Sophie and Hans were members of the White Rose resistance group in Nazi Germany, a relatively small group of intellectuals, largely students, who actively opposed Hitler’s regime.
Their act was observed by a university janitor who informed the Gestapo and within moments both Sophie, Hans and their collaborator Christoph (father of three young children) were arrested and thrown into prison. We know at the outset they are guilty of breaking the law then in force in Germany. The rest of the film depicts Sophie’s interrogation and trial, if you can call it that, and the last six days of her life.
The questioning by Robert Mohr, a Nazi investigator, is grueling, goes on for three consecutive days. Mohr is relentless in his interrogation, is a patient listener, and in my mind shows more sympathy for Sophie than he will ever acknowledge. He owes everything to the Nazi party where he became a high ranking investigator, rather than the country policeman he used to be.
Sophie is articulate, smart, forceful in response to Mohr’s questions. She is clever in devising elaborate excuses in defense of her actions. She knows what she did and sticks to the truth as much as possible. She retains her composure knowing things that she will never reveal.
The dialogue between the two is based upon the actual transcript of the trial that was discovered in East Germany after the country was unified. I wish I had a copy of those records for the eloquence of Sophie’s statements in defense of her resistance is memorable.
At one point Mohr offers to release her if she will acknowledge her role in distributing the leaflets. She refuses. It is only after Mohr informs her that Hans has confessed, that she finally admits her complicity. She believes Mohr is not trying to trick her into confessing and wants to believe that he is not entirely unmoved by her arguments.
It isn’t easy denying the truth when all the evidence about you confirms it. You can pretend otherwise and hope to find a sympathetic ear. I sense that might have been the case by observing Mohr’s expression after an especially powerful statement by Sophie during her subsequent show trial.
She and Hans, along with their friend Cristoph were convicted and sentenced to death. They were executed two days later. Sophie’s last words were … “your heads will fall as well.”
During her interrogation Sophie said: “I knew what I took upon myself and I was prepared to lose my life by doing so.”