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Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Group

October 27, 2010

White Rose vs. the Third Reich

The comparison of a film with the book that it is based on does not always result in the film being an exact representation of what has been written. Much of this is related to a film having to adhere to time restraints forcing it to tell its story in a limited time span. A book, on the other hand, has the luxury of being as long as the author intends, giving it the upper hand in presenting many more aspects of a story. Because of this, books usually tend to generously elaborate on a storyline by introducing more characters than a film as well as historical background information.

The film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days directed by Marc Rothemund and written by Fred Breinersdorfer is a limited dramatization of the events surrounding the White Rose group in comparison to the book Sophie Scholl and the White Rose by Annette Dumbach and Jud Newborn, and does not necessarily offer a better understanding as to why Sophie and the White Rose Group decided and embarked on their courses of action against Hitler’s regime.

The book and the film find a common ground from February 17th through February 22nd of 1943 in telling the story of how Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Group rebel against the Third Reich. The book, more than the film, clearly describes the events and historical facts leading up to the actions that Sophie and the White Rose Group take part in. The book also brings to light the many other individuals involved, who also faced trial, and elaborates on the role they each played, along with how they become associated with the White Rose Group.

Through the book, we easily determine how Sophie may have been influenced into taking part in leaflet propaganda becoming what could be considered the most significant female revolutionary of the Third Reich. In its defense, the film crafts the interrogation process that Sophie withstands while in the custody of the Gestapo prior to her trial and execution, and offers a brilliantly orchestrated visual account of Sophie’s final six days alive.

The book contains much more background information than the film does on many aspects of German culture and German youth before and during World War II through the end of the Third Reich, specifically in Munich. Aside from the Hitler Youth, the book portrays the life of teenagers and young adults in Munich, understandably and naturally so, as being influenced by art, music, sports, and culture. The book emphasizes on how, in Munich, there continued to be “a frisson of pleasure in young people” during the Third Reich (22). “The rather free and casual style of life of [the White Rose members] during wartime—attending concerts, taking fencing lessons, and joining Bach choral societies—is surprising” (22). The only time the film makes reference to any of these aspects of society is briefly, at the beginning, when Sophie’s character is listening and singing, along with another member of the White Rose, to a Billie Holiday song called “Sugar” which she plays on a phonograph.

In trying to understand how Sophie may have been motivated, we must quickly examine the time she spent in the Hitler Youth. This is a very important biographical fact not shown in the film, but rather found in the book, of how at the tender age of eleven, Sophie joins the Hitler Youth through the League of German Girls, also known as the BDM, following her older brother, Hans Scholl, who joined the Jungvolk for boys. Although Sophie and Hans eventually manage to disengage and withdraw from the Hitler Youth, they definitely became aware of what the Third Reich’s military youth program was designed to do: Mold and shape the German youth community into becoming monsters.

While in the Hitler Youth, Sophie has a disappointing experience after she publicly expresses interest and praises her favorite German writer, Heinrich Hein, who happens to have been Jewish. This shocked her BDM group leader and fellow female comrades while, to Sophie, the fact that Hein was born a Jew seems to have no bearing on the matter of his poetry. In conclusion, Sophie responds: “Whoever doesn’t know Heine, does not know German literature” (38).

Hans is similarly disappointed and his experience culminates in him being stripped of the title he held as group leader within the Jungvolk. It is safe to assume that these experiences help mark the beginning their rebellion against the Third Reich for both sister and brother. It should also be noted that, at one point, Sophie also served as group leader in the Hitler Youth. Sophie’s time in the Hitler Youth is never mentioned in the film while the book gives an account of it.

Prior to her involvement in the White Rose Group, the National Labor Service, a workforce department structured and implemented by the Nazis, assigned Sophie to six months of mandatory hard labor working for German farmers. Originally, Sophie hoped the training she had completed, certifying her as a kindergarten teacher, would exonerate her from having to contribute to the German war effort as a labor worker. But this is not the case. After she completed six months of mandatory hard labor, Sophie receives a second draft from Germany’s War Assistance Program and she is required to complete an additional six months serving as a kindergarten attendant in the city of Blumberg for a school adjacent to a factory where ammunition was being manufactured for the war.

Sophie thought she could somehow avoid contributing to the war’s efforts, but instead becoming a kindergarten teacher backfired, and to top it off, the location of the school could not have been worse. One can only imagine how tragic the irony of this could have been when all Sophie wanted to do was continue her education at the University of Munich and enroll as a science and philosophy student. It is the book that explains Sophie’s struggle in this regard as she becomes depressed and frustrated. The way Sophie had to compromise her education and comply with mandatory hard labor is absent from the film.

The book explains the fruition of the first four leaflets and how they come to be distributed in the second half of 1942. After the fourth leaflet is distributed, Hans is required to serve as a medic in the Russian warfront at Stalingrad. Hans does this along with two other members of the White Rose group who also serve in the same capacity and location. After they fulfill their German civic duty by taking part in the war’s efforts as medics, they return to Munich towards the end of 1942 with tales of how the German soldiers were at the brink of exhaustion and defeat. It is evident to these young medics that the German Sixth Army would lose the battle at Stalingrad.

Shortly after Germany lost the battle at Stalingrad, Hans meets with a member of the German Army who is an insurgent. This soldier speaks of a forthcoming assassination on Hitler being planned and in the preliminary stage. According to the book, this propels the actions of the White Rose Group motivating them even further by simply knowing that they are not alone in wanting to rebel. Again, no mention of the possibility of an assassination is made in the film.

According to the book, two important events occur in January 1943. One is the direct involvement and participation on Hans’ part in the graffiti that reads “Freedom!” and “Down With Hitler!” appearing around the city Munich. The second event is the verbal abuse of female students at a University of Munich assembly being conducted by the party leader of Bavaria.

The film and the book share the same storyline in February 1943 as the White Rose Group produce their fifth leaflet simply titled A Call to All Germans of which Sophie pushes a large number of them down the light well of the University of Munich from the third floor. This leads to the Gestapo arresting Sophie and Hans, along with a third member of the White Rose. Sophie and Hans are charged with high treason, and are subsequently executed after being interrogated and then tried by the People’s Court of Germany. The third member of the White Rose suffers the same fate.

The book Sophie Scholl and the White Rose gives a detailed account of how the entire White Rose group originated, grew, and was eventually broken up by the execution of its core members. The book details how Sophie and the members of the White Rose Group experience discontent and become dissatisfied with the Third Reich. Although they are not alone in being politically disheartened, the White Rose Group definitely express their emotions in a public forum while trying to remain anonymous. There are many issues the White Rose Group deals with, individually and collectively, culminating in their rebellion against Hitler’s regime.

Among them are the Scholls’ failures within the Hitler Youth, mandatory hard labor and military service, educational compromises, the battle at Stalingrad, and the oppression of female university students are just to name a few. Although unmentioned in this paper, the murders of their fellow Jewish citizens, nevertheless, also play a role in helping the White Rose Group decide on their courses of action, all of which are described in the book in great detail, while only briefly mentioned in the film. The book also gives an account on what the remaining members of the White Rose Group do after the initial executions that take place on February 22 of 1943.

The film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days did not expand my understanding of the actions of the White Rose group nor does it enhance my understanding of why Sophie followed the courses of action she did. The only aspect of Sophie’s struggle that the film elaborates on is Inspector Mohr’s interrogation of Sophie, and by that time, Sophie has already taken action, aside from what occurs in the trial.

At that point, there is not much more Sophie can do, but stand proud of what she has done. Sophie remains proud and, as viewers, so do we. Sophie must have been terrified of dying at the hands of the Nazis, yet “after all, an end in terror is preferable to terror without end” (White Rose).

Works Cited:

Dumbach, Annette, et al. Sophie Scholl and the White Rose. Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications. 1986. Print.

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. Dir. Marc Rothemund. Perf. Julian Jentsch. Broth Film, 2005. DVD.

White Rose Group. The Second Leaflet. Munich, Germany: White Rose Group. 1942. Print.

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