The Political Development of Sophie Scholl

Sophie Scholl, was 11 years-old when Adolf Hitler came to power. Sophie, like her brothers and sisters, were influenced by the changes that took place in their school. Hitler immediately made changes to the school curriculum. Education in "racial awareness" began at school and children were constantly reminded of their racial duties to the "national community". Biology, along with political education, became compulsory. Children learnt about "worthy" and "unworthy" races, about breeding and hereditary disease.

As Louis L. Snyder has pointed out: "There were to be two basic educational ideas in his ideal state. First, there must be burnt into the heart and brains of youth the sense of race. Second, German youth must be made ready for war, educated for victory or death. The ultimate purpose of education was to fashion citizens conscious of the glory of country and filled with fanatical devotion to the national cause."

At school the students were taught to worship Adolf Hitler: "As the teacher entered the class, the students would stand and raise their right arms. The teacher would say, For the Führer a triple victory, answered by a chorus of Heil! three times... Every class started with a song. The almighty Führer would be staring at us from his picture on the wall. These uplifting songs were brilliantly written and composed, transporting us into a state of enthusiastic glee."

All school textbooks were withdrawn before new ones were published that reflected the Nazi ideology. Additional teaching materials were issued by Nazi teachers' organizations in different parts of the country. A directive issued in January 1934 made it compulsory for schools to educate their pupils "in the spirit of National Socialism". Teachers who did not support the new government were sacked.

Sophie and her sisters, Inge Scholl and Elisabeth Scholl, joined the German League of Girls, whereas her brothers, Hans Scholl and Werner Scholl, became members of the Hitler Youth. Their father, Robert Scholl, had been a strong opponent of the Nazi Party since the early 1920s and was very unhappy with this development. He was a pacifist and was convinced that Hitler's policies would lead to war.

Primary Sources

Sophie Scholl
(Source 1) Sophie Scholl in about 1933


(Source 2) Inge Scholl, The White Rose: 1942-1943 (1983)

We heard a great deal spoken about the Fatherland, of comradeship, the union of the Germanic people and love of the homeland. It impressed us, and we listened eagerly when such things were talked about on the streets or in school - for indeed we loved our homeland ... And everywhere we heard that Hitler wanted to help the homeland back to greatness, happiness and security. He would see to it that everyone had a job to go to and enough to eat. He wouldn't rest until every single German enjoyed independence, freedom and happiness.

(Source 3) Annette Dumbach & Jud Newborn, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose (1986)

For the first few years of Nazi rule, all of the Scholl children were infected by the excitement that permeated their schools and community - the wearing of uniforms, the marching in torchlit processions through the streets of Ulm, the camping out in the country - and felt themselves a part in the rebuilding of their deeply divided and demoralized nation.

Jewish Children in the Nazi Classroom
(Source 4) Children in a German primary school (1939)

(Source 5) Anton Gill, An Honourable Defeat: A History of German Resistance to Hitler (1994)

The children were keen to join the Hitler Youth, and their parents, though they had given them a liberal upbringing, did not forbid it... The children argued that Hitler had solved the problem of unemployment, and pointed to the new motorways being built throughout the land.... But never for an instant had Robert been fooled by Hitler, and he said to them, "Have you considered how he's going to manage it? He's expanding the armaments industry, and building barracks. Do you know where that's all going to end?" At first his arguments fell on deaf ears. His children were enthusiastic members of the Hitler Youth and its female branch, the League of German Girls. They became group leaders.

(Source 6) Richard F. Hanser, A Noble Treason: The Story of Sophie Scholl (1979)

They (the Scholl children) could say whatever they wished, and they all had opinions. This was far from customary practice in German households, where, by long tradition, the authority of the father was seldom questioned or his statements challenged... His aversion to mindless nationalism was not only unchanged but stronger than before. In his dinner-table discussions with his children, he could interpret events for them with an insight unblurred by current prejudices or official pronouncements.

(Source 7) Elisabeth Scholl, interviewed in The Daily Mail (18th January, 2014)

We just dismissed it (her father's views on Adolf Hitler): he's too old for this stuff, he doesn't understand. My father had a pacifist conviction and he championed that. That certainly played a role in our education. But we were all excited in the Hitler youth in Ulm, sometimes even with the Nazi leadership.

German Girls' League
(Source 8) League of German Girls in the Hitler Youth (c. 1936)

(Source 9) Richard F. Hanser, A Noble Treason: The Story of Sophie Scholl (1979)

Her (Sophie Scholl) zest gradually diminished as it became more and more clear that the BDM, like all other National Socialist programs, was designed for conformity rather than liberation. The three K's that traditionally marked off the boundaries for the German female - Kinder, Kuche, Kirche (children, kitchen, and church) - would remain fully in force under the Nazis, despite the exertions of the Ideological Training Division to persuade everyone that a new day had dawned. The shoulder-to-shoulder marching, the continual sloganeering that emphasized the group rather than the individual, came to have a suffocating effect on Sophie, who always had a sure sense of herself that she never wholly lost even when the marching, singing, and saluting were at their height. The constant pressure to give herself over to organized activity became less and less tolerable.

(Source 10) Inge Scholl, The White Rose: 1942-1943 (1983)

Hans and my youngest brother Werner... formed their own youth group... These groups were illegal... The club had its own most impressive style, which had grown up out of the membership itself. The boys recognized one another by their dress, their songs, even their way of talking... For these boys life was a great, splendid adventure, an expedition into an unknown, beckoning world. On weekends they went on hikes, and it was their way, even in bitter cold, to live in a tent... Seated around the campfire they would read aloud to each other or sing, accompanying themselves with guitar, banjo, and balalaika. They collected the folk songs of all peoples and wrote words and music for their own ritual chants and popular songs.

Robert Scholl
(Source 11) Inge Scholl with her father Robert Scholl.


(Source 12) Annette Dumbach & Jud Newborn, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose (1986)

Hans Scholl was arrested one day at his base and taken to the Gestapo family. Hans was arrested one day at his base and taken to the Gestapo prison in Stuttgart. Meanwhile, security agents burst into the Scholl home in Ulm... It was a wholesale arrest. Inge and Werner were taken, transported in an open truck to Stuttgart. Sophie too was hauled off. She was sixteen at the time... Although released later that day, Sophie was jolted by this first direct encounter with brute force... For a sensitive, intelligent adolescent, deeply attached to her parents and family, it must have seemed that all certainty had been swept out of her life.

(Source 13) Elisabeth Scholl, interviewed in The Daily Mail (18th January, 2014)

As time went on Sophie became increasingly disillusioned with the Nazis. On the day before England declared war in 1939 I went with her for a walk along the Danube and I remember I said: "Hopefully there will be no war". And she said: "Yes, I hope there will be. Hopefully someone will stand up to Hitler". In this she was more decisive than Hans.

(Source 14) Sophie Scholl, letter to her boyfriend, Fritz Hartnagel, who was serving in the German Army (28th June, 1940)

If I didn't know that I'll probably outlive many older people then I'd be overcome with horror at the spirit that's dominating history today... I'm sure you find what I'm writing very unfeminine. It's ridiculous for a girl to involve herself in politics. She should let her feminine feelings dominate her thoughts. Especially compassion. But I believe that first comes thinking, and that feelings, especially about little things that affect you directly, maybe about your own body, deflect you so that you can hardly see the big things anymore.

(Source 15) Sophie Scholl, letter to Fritz Hartnagel (September, 1940)

For me the relationship between a soldier and his people is roughly like that of a son who swears to stand by his father and his family through thick and thin. If it turns out that the father harms another family and then gets hurt as a consequence, must the son still stick by him? I can't accept it. Justice is more important than sentimental loyalty.

(Source 16) Fritz Hartnagel, interviewed by Hermann Vinke for his book, The Short Life of Sophie Scholl (1986)

It was striking to see with what incisiveness and logic Sophie saw how things would develop, for she was warm-hearted and full of feeling, not cold and calculating. Here is an example: in winter 1941-42 there was a big propaganda campaign in Germany to get the people to give sweaters and other warm woollen clothing to the Army. German soldiers were at the gates of Leningrad and Moscow in the middle of a winter war for which they weren't prepared... Sophie said, "We're not giving anything." I had just got back from the Russian Front... I tried to describe to her how conditions were for the men, with no gloves, pullovers or warm socks. She stuck to her viewpoint relentlessly and justified it by saying, "It doesn't matter if it's German soldiers who are freezing to death or Russians, the case is equally terrible. But we must lose the war. If we contribute warm clothes, we'll be extending it."

Questions for Students

Question 1: Read the introduction and study sources 2, 3 and 4 and explain why Sophie Scholl joined the German League of Girls?

Question 2: Sophie's father, Robert Scholl, was totally opposed to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Explain how sources 5, 6 and 7, help to explain why this did not stop Sophie from being a member of the German League of Girls?

Question 3: Explain what Richard F. Hanser (source 9) meant when he said: "Her (Sophie Scholl) zest gradually diminished as it became more and more clear that the BDM, like all other National Socialist programs, was designed for conformity rather than liberation."

Question 4: How does the information in source 10 help to explain what happened in source 12.

Question 5: Why did Sophie Scholl want the Second World War to take place?

Question 6:In Sophie's letters to her boyfriend, Fritz Hartnagel, she explained the reasons why she joined the resistance against Adolf Hitler. Study sources 14, 15 and 16 and explain what she meant by the following: (i) "I'm sure you find what I'm writing very unfeminine". (ii) "Justice is more important than sentimental loyalty". (iii) "It doesn't matter if it's German soldiers who are freezing to death or Russians, the case is equally terrible. But we must lose the war. If we contribute warm clothes, we'll be extending it."

Answer Commentary

A commentary on these questions can be found here.