Sophie Scholl’s Last Words

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A Facebook post accurately describes the story of Sophie Scholl and her last words.

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In February 2020, a two-year-old Facebook post about Sophie Scholl circulated to mark the purported anniversary of her death with her last words before her execution by Nazis:

On February 21 2018, user Warren Lynn shared the screenshot above, writing: “Because 75 years is too short to forget…lest we repeat the past.” A screenshot appeared to depict a separate Facebook post and text above it reading:

Thinking of Sophie Scholl, who was executed on this day in 1943 for leading student resistance against Hitler. She was 21.

Underneath, a post dated February 22 (year not displayed) by the page “Our Resilient Bodies” read:

Her last words: “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?

As of February 24 2020, Warren Lynn’s February 21 2018 post had been shared more than half a million times; Our Resilient Bodies’ February 22 2017 post had been shared 24,000 times:

Lynn’s post cropped out the apparent author of the top commentary, Twitter user @aaronxrose. That user published the depicted tweet on the day it was originally shared to Facebook, and it had also accrued significant engagement — more than 25,000 retweets and nearly 50,000 likes:

Posts honoring Sophie Scholl were shared on February 21 and 22 of 2017 and 2018. Scholl’s Britannica entry redirected to that of the White Rose anti-Nazi resistance group, which went into Scholl’s role in its founding:

White Rose, German anti-Nazi group formed in Munich in 1942. Unlike the conspirators of the July Plot (1944) or participants in such youth gangs as the Edelweiss Pirates, the members of the White Rose advocated nonviolent resistance as a means of opposing the Nazi regime.

Three of the group’s founding members — Hans Scholl, Willi Graf, and Alexander Schmorell — were medical students at the University of Munich. While on the Eastern Front, the trio observed the murder of Jewish civilians by SS troops. When they returned to Munich, the three joined with other students — including Hans’s sister Sophie — to discuss their opposition to the Nazi regime. Coupling youthful idealism with an impressive knowledge of German literature and Christian religious teachings, the students published their beliefs in a series of leaflets under the name “the White Rose” (and later as “Leaflets of the Resistance”).

According to the Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team (HEART), Scholl was born on May 9 1921. Scholl and her brother Hans began engaging in non-violent resistance against the Nazis in 1942. HEART indicated Hans Scholl was initially reluctant to involve his sister in the group’s efforts, but that she eventually “joined him and proved invaluable to the group”:

In the summer of 1942, the friends began to question and resist the principals and policies of the Nazi regime. The group decided to adopt the strategy of passive resistance that was being used by students fighting against racial discrimination in the United States. This included publishing leaflets calling for the restoration of democracy and social justice. These were distributed throughout central Germany and the Gestapo soon became aware of the group’s activities.

The group co-authored six anti-Nazi Third Reich political resistance leaflets. Calling themselves the White Rose, they instructed Germans to passively resist the Nazis. They had been horrified by the behaviour of the Germans on the Eastern Front where they had witnessed a group of naked Jews being shot in a pit.

The core of the White Rose consisted of students; Hans Scholl, Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf, and Christoph Probst, all in their early twenties. Also members were Hans and Sophie’s sister Inge Scholl, and a professor of philosophy, Kurt Huber. Sophie also joined the group, however contrary to popular belief, she was not a co-author of the articles.

In January 1943, White Rose produced and distributed between 6,000 and 9,000 anti-Nazi pamphlets, documents which made their way to several cities. The following month, Hans and Sophie Scholl were reported to the Gestapo, arrested, and charged with treason:

On February 18, 1943, the Scholl’s brought a suitcase full of leaflets to the [University of Munich]. They hurriedly dropped stacks of copies in the empty corridors for students to find when they flooded out of lecture rooms. Leaving before the class break, the [Scholls] noticed that some copies remained in the suitcase and decided it would be a pity not to distribute them. They returned to the atrium and climbed the staircase to the top floor, and Sophie flung the last remaining leaflets into the air … This frantic action was observed by the custodian Jakob Schmid. The police were called and Hans and Sophie were taken into Gestapo custody. The other active members were soon arrested, and the group and everyone associated with them were interrogated and charged with treason.

Scholl, her brother, and Christoph Probst were found guilty and sentenced to death on February 21 1943; they were executed on February 22 1943. That particular profile mentioned Sophie Scholl’s last words, translated, which were not identical to the ones in the Facebook and Twitter posts:

The execution was supervised by Dr. Walter Roemer who was the enforcement chief of the Munich district court. Prison officials emphasized the courage with which she walked to her execution. Her last words were “Die Sonne scheint noch”—”The sun still shines.”

On Sophie Scholl’s Wikipedia page, a longer version of her last words is included. However, it didn’t match the quotation in the circulating posts exactly:

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 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:

Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go… What does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?

That excerpt was absent the following portion included in the circulating versions:

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause?

Scholl was quoted in a letter from her cellmate Else Gebel to Scholl’s family in 1945, published on the web in German. In the context of the letter, Gebel appears to quote not Scholl’s last words per se, but a conversation between the two in the days before before Scholl was sentenced.

Gebel appears to be writing as if addressing Scholl herself in the letter, and Scholl is characterized as not wishing for a lighter sentence if Hans Scholl is to be executed. Gebel describes attempting to sway Scholl to seek leniency. Gebel’s account (translated imprecisely by Google Translate) began with Scholl’s receiving a copy of an indictment, and the letter read in part:

Dear, dear Sophie, your fate has already been decided. You come back after a few minutes, pale, very excited. Your hand trembles as you start reading the extensive indictment. But the further you read, the calmer your [thoughts] become, and by the time you finish, your excitement has completely subsided. “Thank God” is all you say. Then you ask me if I can read the brief without getting any inconvenience. Even at this hour [facing death], you don’t want anyone to be in danger because of you.

It’s a sunny February day outside. People walk happily and cheerfully past these walls, not realizing that three brave, true people are to be handed over to death again. We have laid down on our beds and you are considering in a low, calm voice. “Such a wonderful sunny day, and I have to go. – But how many have to die on the battlefields today, how many young, hopeful men … What is it about my death if thousands of people are shaken and awakened by our actions. There’s definitely a revolt among the student body. ” – Oh Sophie, you don’t yet know how cowardly the flock human is. – “I could also die from an illness, but would that make the same sense?” – I’m trying to talk you into that it could easily be possible that you could get away with a longer sentence. But you don’t want to know about that. “If my brother is sentenced to death, I can’t and shouldn’t get a milder sentence. I’m as guilty as he is.” The same thing you explain to the public defender who has been pro-formatized. If you have any wish: As if you could get a wish from such a puppet figure. No, you just want him to confirm that your brother has the right to be killed by shooting. After all, he was a front fighter. He can’t give you a precise answer to that. He is horrified by your further questions as to whether you yourself should be hung up in public or die from the guillotine. Such things asked in such a calm way in addition from a young girl, he probably did not expect. Where else strong, war-familiar men tremble, you stay calm and calm. But of course he gives you an evasive answer.

Your clerk will come over again to advise you to write letters to your loved ones if possible today, since you are only allowed to write short letters in Stadelheim. Does he mean well with you, or do you hope to find new material through the content of the letters? In any case, yours never got to read a line of these letters. We lay down after 10 a.m. You still tell about parents and siblings. The thought of your mother depresses you very much. “Losing two children at once, and the other brother somewhere in Russia! The father understands our actions better.”

Notably, at that time, Scholl had not yet been condemned. Subsequently in the letter, Gebel relates a dream Scholl purportedly relayed to her the morning after the conversation described above, in which Scholl dreamed she “carried a child in a long white dress to baptism,” saving the child from imminent death before herself perishing. Gebel wrote:

You interpreted the dream as follows: “The child in the white dress is our idea, she will prevail despite all obstacles. We could be pioneers, but we have to die first for her.”

Gebel wrote that Scholl was taken to her trial on February 21 1943, concluding:

At 4:30 a.m. M. comes in through the door. Still in a hat and coat, pale as chalk. I am the first to ask: “Is it really true that all three have to die?” He just nods, still shaken by the experience. – “How did she take the verdict, did you still speak to Sophie?” He spoke in a tired voice: “She was very brave, I still spoke to her in Stadelheim. She was also allowed to speak to her parents.” I anxiously ask: “Is there no prospect of a request for mercy?” – Then he looks up at the wall clock and says softly, tonelessly: “Think about her in half an hour, she will have survived.” The words fall on all of us like a club.

The minutes stretch to eternity. I want to keep turning the clock, faster, faster, so that the hardest thing may be behind you. But one minute after the other runs smoothly.

Finally: 5 o’clock … 5.04 … 5.08 …

Notably, Gebel was present at neither Scholl’s trial nor her execution. By her account, Scholl made the comments awaiting trail (but certain she faced death). It was possible Scholl repeated the same sentiment as she faced execution, but Gebel’s letter was provided as a source on Wikipedia.

On the “Talk” section of Wikipedia’s page on Scholl, one editor questioned the credibility of a source for her last words in 2006. In March 2017, after the viral tweet began circulating, another user commented on the section:

Is Die letzten Tage a reliable source for her last words, or was that a dramatisation? I thought her last words were documented as (paraphrased) “your heads will also fall”. In addition, isn’t the profound Christian belief write-up slightly POV? Chris 11:20, 28 June 2006 (UTC)

I have no idea how to add this to the discussion, but I just want to say one thing: This incredible woman should be canonized as a saint. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 108.16.234.68 (talk) 07:57, 17 March 2019 (UTC)

Incidentally, the longer quote circulating on social media did appear on Scholl’s Wikipedia page at some point after March 2019:

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?

The next edit to the page on May 27 2019 removed the “how can we expect righteousness to prevail …” portion of the quote, and an edit header explains:

27 May 2019 (→‎Activities of the White Rose: Looking at the original German text (added as ref), only the second part of the quote is substantiated. The deleted portion may have come from elsewhere but isn’t part of her last words as recorded at the time.).

On Wikipedia in 2006, Sophie Scholl’s last words were described in a vastly different way (changing to the longer, circulating version around 2008):

Her last words were: “Your heads will fall as well.”

On March 20 2008, a revision offered differing versions of Scholl’s last words, somewhat conflictingly:

Her last words were partially: “Die Sonne scheint noch”—”The sun still shines.” while her full comments 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?”

One of the three sources on Wikipedia cited the letter above as its source, despite the content not matching the quote entirely. Of note is that that source describes Scholl’s last “recorded words” in reference to and citing Gebel’s letter, not her last words entirely. Moreover, the first portion of the quote did not seem to appear in the same portion of Gebel’s letter:

Else Gebel shared Sophie Scholl’s cell and recorded her last words before being taken away to be executed. “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.”

The longer version of the quote also appeared on a page for Scholl published by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, a Holocaust remembrance organization. On that page, the longer quote is attributed to Sophie Scholl without a specific source identified (making it possible the second source above was its reference). Hans Scholl’s last words are described, but the phrase attributed to Scholl appeared to be the one partially described in Gebel’s letter:

On Feb 22, 1943, Sophie, Hans and Christoph were condemned to death by the ‘People’s’ Court, which had been created by the National Socialist Party to eliminate Hitler’s enemies.

Hans Scholl’s last words shouted from the guillotine were, ”Long live freedom!” In an unprecedented action by the guards, Christoph Probst was allowed a few moments alone with Hans and Sophie before they went to their deaths. After months of Gestapo interrogations to obtain the names of his co-conspirators, Willi was executed. His final thoughts were: ”They shall continue what we have begun.”

[…]

”How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause,” Sophie said. ”Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go,” she continued, ”but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

We located the longer quote in a book, but its footnotes suggested the veracity was shaky; the book itself was published in December 2019 (two years after the quote began circulating on social media). It was possible the sourcing to Gebel’s letter was related to the circulating posts.

Finally, Scholl was quoted at her February 21 1943 trial in a February 22 2020 profile published by the National WWII Museum of New Orleans. Scholl’s words were again not expressly “last words,” but reflected the bravery described in both sets of her attributed last words. Even facing certain death, Sophie Scholl affirmed she did not regret her actions:

The three [both Scholls and Probst] endured a mock trial after long and arduous interrogations. They took all blame for the White Rose’s actions. This attempt to save their friends from persecution failed in the end, and Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorell, and Kurt Huber were arrested later in February and put to death shortly after.

After a half-day trial led by the infamous Roland Freisler, president of the People’s Court, Hans, Sophie, and Christoph were sentenced to death for treason. Despite this horrific prospect, Sophie did not waver. Freisler asked her as the closing question whether she hadn’t “indeed come to the conclusion that [her] conduct and the actions along with [her] brother and other persons in the present phase of the war should be seen as a crime against the community?” Sophie answered:

“I am, now as before, of the opinion that I did the best that I could do for my nation. I therefore do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences that result from my conduct.”

Regarding Sophie Scholl’s last words, in 2006, Wikipedia provided them as: “Your heads will fall as well.” Between 2006 and 2008, the longer quote (“How can we expect righteousness to prevail…”) was added, removed, and added again in years-long edit-warring on Scholl’s Wikipedia page. The core source for all three citations appeared to be a German letter from Scholl’s cellmate Gebel to the parents of Sophie and Hans in 1945. In that letter, Gebel recounted conversations with Scholl before her trial, not her words on the morning of her execution, for which Gebel was not present. The longer version of the quote about righteousness prevailing appeared to stem a circular citations dating back to around 2008, originally stemming from the letter sent two years after the Scholls were killed. We found no other record of her last words.

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