Had she not been executed in Munich aged 21, Sophie Scholl would have celebrated her 94th birthday today.
Had she been alive, I would like to have invited her for the German tradition of afternoon coffee and cake in an artisan cafe in the student quarter of Schwabing, in the north side of central Munich. One we both once knew well and liked. One opposite a bookshop.
She famously wrote in a letter: ’Send me more new books, I’m dying of hunger!’
We might have talked of Heine’s poetry that she loved and was banned. Of Hemingway or Mann. When she was at school there was a long list of books removed which weren’t by Nazi approved authors.
We may have strolled past the space where the Wittelsbach Palace in the Brienner Strasse once stood, Munich’s former Gestapo headquarters, where she was questioned for four days in 1943. It was torn down in 1964. She didn’t live to see that happen.
She was a courageous, bright young woman who stood up for peace, criticised the Nazi leader and government, and died for her ideals, embodied in the group the ‘White Rose’.
The media then was controlled and wrote little of what protest there was.
Some media outlets today in the UK and America have been criticised for their poor coverage of recent peaceful protests. But set fire to a police van or deface a monument and your cause might make the front page. Albeit for all the wrong reasons.
It is time for journalists to reconsider their role and responsibilities. In a world of change which may include losing the right to free speech and equality for women and minorities in the Human Rights Act, it seems odd editors of all people, would choose to be so biased.
The White Rose group called for students to fight against the party. The Nazi party. To leave the party organizations in which they saw students politically muzzled and protest contained.
Post UK General Election 2015 I wonder if there are people who are doubting their own political involvement with parties who lost seats.
Some may be joining political groups or marching under campaign groups’ banners. What will they achieve?
Post Election Protests
Of the two thirds who did not vote for the winning GE2015 party, how many people turned out in protests today?
There was more of a widespread rally reported on the stock market than on the streets since Friday morning.
“Centrica, the owner of British Gas and one of the UK’s main energy providers rose 7.4 per cent to 276.5p. Royal Bank of Scotland was one of the best-performing financial stocks, up 6 per cent at 352p.” [FT May 9, 2015]
This week after the election, parties and large member campaign groups may be thinking hard about their messages and their audience. If their message on the NHS for example, has hundreds of concrete case studies of moves towards outsourcing under the last five years of government, and millions of online signatures, yet they cannot convince the voting public that the state NHS as we know it is at risk, something is wrong with the message, their delivery or finding the audience they need to engage.
What matters to the majority of people everyday is more palpable than policies or protest campaigns; shelter, water, food, power, transport, our digital infrastructure and freedom of communication and travel. The protection of human dignity. To feel safe. To have access to justice and education and health. To have freedom to love and live as you choose.
There is also another possibility. That not enough people care enough to stand up with the courage of their convictions. But perhaps it is rather that the majority are just too busy managing daily life?
Perhaps there is also an argument for campaign groups with millions of members to stop national protest and start delivery of grassroots local change. To provide the services and solutions that strengthen individuals. Their big campaigns did not turn into great electoral power. Perhaps like twitter, there is a tendency for the message to only reach already like minded folk. Small concrete changes for individuals may have more impact on everyday lives. Through those could come cohesion. And instead of telling their already convinced supporters to sign yet another petition, they should share stories, with consent, of everyday lives.
Stories of what real life is like when you are affected by policies in practice, stories whose ripples will reach further. Show, don’t tell. Don’t tell us the NHS is in danger, show us the service rationing.
The Access to Work cuts consultation affecting the disabled has already been announced, picked up by twitter and in the Independent.
But how effective any ensuing protests may be, may depend on the press and wider public for enough support.
The Press and the Public
In the 2015 General Election campaign, many felt the biggest winner was spin.
There was the Telegraph’s last minute email to readers, and a letter so misleading reportedly from business owners that even big name companies distanced themselves from it.
Now after the result and seeing the first cuts to the disabled and threats to free speech, I really think the Telegraph editor(s) should go and sit in a corner and think about what they have done.
When on Friday I spoke with an experienced investigative journalist, his reaction to the election result was disappointment the campaign had been so bland on content yet strongly partisan.
For people who blame Scots for the outcome of the election, the political press did its job. Not only have cuts in compassionate welfare been successfully justified by blaming the demand for it on laziness, employment market failures have been left squarely at the feet of foreigners, and the press front pages managed to drive a wedge between the nations and parties.
‘Divide and conquer’ is an ancient but perhaps forgotton meme. Pushing living issues we struggle with in society back into our own hands so that we criticised each other and not the failings of parties’ policies to deal with them, was an effective tactic.
The created fear of anything foreign became not just about mugs, not just about people crossing the channel, but fear of the unknown.
So we voted for what we knew or against what we could no longer trust.
So what would Sophie have been like today?
She would no doubt find the injustice of our recent changes in the legal system abhorrent.
Solicitors tell me of rumors that people on probation in Sussex are no longer being met face-to-face since the service was privatised. She may also have had fears that an increase in juvenile behaviour legislation as was implemented in her youth in Germany, will come into Britain. Powers to search pupils, issue same day detention, exclusions & use reasonable force began in 2010. What will be next for our young people under the same leader now in charge of directly punitive services? A fan of long custodial sentences.
She would perhaps have been pretty sharp on twitter. She may have supported Millifandom. She would have stood up to the press. She would have become a pretty indomitable woman. Exactly what the judge, state and its supporters saw in her at 21.
I will not be able to indulge Sophie on her 94th birthday, as she lies buried in a tiny grave, in the Perlach cemetery on the south side of Munich next to the Stadelheim prison where she spent her final days.
It is still one of the largest prison complexes in Germany today.
She reminds us that well used peaceful protest, and print, can prick the conscience of citizens and those in power to achieve justice, fairness and a future society open to all who want to live in it.
“We will not be quiet. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace.”[Flugblatt 4]
The world is better for Sophie Scholl and friends having been there. She would have been 94 today. It wasn’t long ago she was 21.
Herzlichen Glückwunsch Sophie, meine Liebe.
The White Rose background:
In 1943 open protest was impossible.
Their sixth and final leaflet produced by the movement was titled: “To fellow freedom fighters in the resistance”.
Its last lines are quite hard to translate: “Frisch auf mein Volk, die Flammenzeichen rauchen!” But the spirit is this. “Wake up people, where there is smoke there is fire.”
Would the White Rose flyers have fanned the sparks of protest in Munich had she not been killed?
The state wasn’t prepared to find out.
The judge, Freisler, who became later known for his ideology of the ‘pernicious juvenile’ which helped shape Nazi law, condemned six people to death from the group the ‘White Rose’: all three defendants of the first trial of February 22, 1943: Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst; as well as Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf and Professor Kurt Huber in the second trial on April 19, 1943.
Sophie Scholl believed she could change things. In life or death.
“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.”
She was given a written copy of the charges against her. In her cell she wrote one word on the back of the page. “Freedom.”
But she did not get the student revolt or the freedom she hoped for.
Of about 8,000 Munich students a maximum of 50 ever stood up for them. Neither the leaflets left in the university or the White Rose deaths sparked great protest against the Nazi regime.
The ‘seditious’ leaflet promoted peace and pointed out how many young men were losing their lives on the Russian front. It decried gagging laws and limits to freedom of expression. It called for people, in particular students, to be individual conscious citizens with responsibility to freedom, and honour for their future.
Fatally, it also said that Hitler’s regime must fall to ensure the survival of Germany: “Hitler und seine Regime müssen fallen, damit Deutschland weiterlebt.”
Michael C. Schneider/ Winfried Süß: “Keine Volksgenossen. Studentischer Widerstand der Weißen Rose”LMU Müchen 1993 ISBN 3-922480-08-X
Barbara Leisner: ‘Ich würde es genauso wieder machen’. Sophie Scholl, ISBN: 3-612-65059-9