Friday, April 18, 2014

A story of courage: Sophie Scholl

In the past several years, I have related these stories of 20 otherwise ordinary people whose lives exhibited a special kind of courage: moral courage.  Moral courage is defined as "the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences." In other words, moral courage is the courage that is required to do what one knows or believes is right when that choice involves personal risk, or when it will result in personal vilification or actual danger. if you took no personal risk; you didn't exhibit moral courage.

Here are some some points I've tried to make about courage; specifically about moral courage, the type exhibited by the people I've profiled:

  • Courage is not reserved for extraordinary people only. 
  • Courage is always individual. 
  • Courage is something we are all capable of.
  • Courage is something we should exhibit every day.

Sophie and Hans Scholl were a German sister and brother who were among the founders, in 1942, of a Nazi resistance group called "The White Rose" (auf Deutsche, die Weiße Rose).  The White Rose was a peaceful group, composed of young students, which mainly distributed leaflets that questioned the Nazi regime.  And for that, they were considered dangerous enemies of the State. They were the Edward Snowdens of 1940's Nazi Germany.

Sophie, Hans, and other members of The White Rose, were distributing their sixth leaflet at the University of Munich on 18 February 1943 when they were arrested. Four days later, they were found guilty of treason against the States, and only a few hours later, at 17:00 hrs, on 22 February 1943, they were guillotined to death.

Sophie Scholl's last words were recorded.  She said, "Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did."

Sophie Scholl was 21 years old when they silenced her voice by removing her head.

The life and death of Sophie Scholl is told in the 2005 film Sophie Scholl – The Final Days.  The movie, which I have not seen, depicts a scene in the trial in which a functionary of the Nazi State declares, "Without law, there is no order. What can we rely on if not the law?"

In the movie, Sophie responds: "Your conscience. Laws change. Conscience doesn't."

Did she actually say those words at her trial?  It is unlikely.  But that doesn't matter to me.  What she said at her trial does not matter to me.  She lived her life according to that principle, whether it was ever so stated or not.  Her life is my example; not her words.

Most people today define what was right as what the State tells them is right.  What they do is what the State tells them to do. 

What is true today, is whatever is popularly accepted as truth; there are no eternal immutable truths anymore.  The State decides.

And just like Nazi Germany in the 1930's and early 1940's, there is a rapidly growing belief among Americans that what is most paramount, what must be observed above all other things, is adherence to the Law.

Those who would question the Law; or attempt to live outside it, must be silenced, by death if necessary.

Of course we live in a new, post-9/11 world today, right?  Sophie Scholl lived in a "post-9/11 world" too, one in which national security mandated a strict compliance with the Law; and no questions about the activities of the State were permitted.

She chose to act according to her individual conscience.  And her name lives on because of that.

Sophie Scholl lived and died a heroine. Can you think of a better way to live ... or die?

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Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others.  They just do not dare express themselves as we did.

– Sophie Scholl, die Weiße Rose  (The White Rose Society)
   Statement to the Volksgerichtshof [People's Court], 21 February 1943