In February of 1943, German university student Sophie Scholl was convicted of high treason against the Nazi regime and executed by guillotine. Last week, Germany announced it will honor this Christian martyr with a €20.00 sterling silver commemorative coin. Scheduled for circulation in time for her 100th birthday, which is in 2021, the coin will bear Sophie’s likeness with her words, “A feeling for what is just and unjust” along the edge.
Sophie Scholl was raised, along with her older brother Hans, in a nominal Lutheran household. Like most German children at the time, she was a member of the League of German Girls and her brother, a member of the Hitler Youth. However, as they grew up, they became more and more disillusioned by the Nazification of virtually every area of German life and Hitler’s tyrannical opposition to much they believed to be good, such as works of art and music considered to be non-Aryan.
As students at the University in Munich in the early 1940s, they began to seriously consider, partly due to the influence of Christian professors, what their faith was demanding of them. Finally, the slaughter of Polish Jews and Russian POWs pushed them to act against Nazi atrocities. Hans founded an underground resistance group called The White Rose and began, with a few friends, to write, publish, and distribute leaflets advocating passive resistance to Hitler’s policies and for the eventual overthrow of National Socialism.
When Sophie, having arrived at University after her brother, was introduced to his friends, she insisted on joining the group. They acquired a typewriter and a mimeograph machine to produce their leaflets and bought paper and stamps in small amounts from different sources so as not to arouse suspicion. They would mail them anonymously to nearby homes and distribute them secretly around their university campus.
While distributing their sixth group of leaflets at the university, Hans and Sophie, along with friend Christoph Probst, were discovered, arrested and charged with treason. Within four days, they had been accused, tried, condemned, and executed. Sophie was 21.
According to several witnesses, Sophie died as she had lived, with grace and courage, and without regret. As she was led to the guillotine, Sophie reportedly said, “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?”
As Brett Kunkle and I wrote in our book A Practical Guide to Culture, Christians often talk about what we are saved from, things like sin and death and judgment. And that is good news indeed! But as Sophie and Hans Scholl grew in their faith, they we forced to wrestle with what they were saved for. God had called them to a particular moment in German history. The intersection of their dual citizenships, in heaven and in Germany, clarified for them their responsibility to love and act.
As Hans once wrote to a friend: “Should one go off and build a little house with flowers outside the windows and a garden outside the door and extol and thank God and turn one’s back on the world and its filth? Isn’t seclusion a form of treachery—of desertion? …. I’m weak and puny, but I want to do what is right.”
The Scholl siblings refused to flee from their culture, as we are tempted to do today, to seek safe shelter for ourselves and our children from the depravities around us. Safety, however, is never the goal of the Christ-follower. Faithfulness is. As the prophet Jeremiah described, faithfulness to God requires we seek the welfare of the city, of the nation to which we are called. If we are to be, what Paul called, ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18), we have to figure out what it means to be in the world, but not “of” it.
Few, if any of us, will face a guillotine for our faith. We will, it seems, face lesser challenges and persecution. Like Sophie Scholl, we will need a courage and a commitment that only comes from understanding that we are called by God to this time and this place. We’ll have to know now only what we are saved from and what we are saved to, but what we are saved for. We’ll have to learn to speak the truth in love, not because it will necessarily “work” but because it is our Lord’s command. We’ll need to strive faithfully to educate and catechize our children, even as we seek to protect the most vulnerable among us, and proclaim God’s vision for human flourishing.
We may have to risk our friendships, our reputations, and even our careers but, to quote Sophie Scholl one more time, what does that matter, “if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”