In modern times, there has never been so grand a stage for the battle between good and evil as World War II. Great leaders and common soldiers amassed for epic battles and bold gambits that would rewrite world history.
However, not all heroes trod the battlefield. Some acts of courage and sacrifice were played out in nondescript rooms, with words and ideas as weapons. Those heroes were no less real and their risk no less dangerous than that of any soldier.
“Sophie Scholl—The Final Days” is the story of one such heroine—the true story of a young woman who did what few in Nazi Germany dared to even think.
Most Germans know the name Sophie Scholl. Sophie, her brother Hans, and the other members of a small group called The White Rose have become modern folk heroes in Germany.
The setting is 1943, the height of the war, and Hitler is at the zenith of power. A small band of college students in Munich, calling themselves The White Rose, dared oppose the war, question the Fuhrer and advocate freedom of speech and thought in the midst of a suffocating totalitarian regime.
During this time, neighbors turned in neighbors for disloyalty, and the Gestapo terrorized the German people as if they, too, were the enemy. In such a climate, to be associated with a dissident group like The White Rose was tantamount to signing one’s own death warrant.
The whole story of Sophie Scholl was not known until recently, when previously secret interrogation records became available. Relying heavily on the actual interrogation transcripts, director Marc Rothemund expertly re-creates the last six days of Sophie Scholl’s life: a dizzying journey from arrest to interrogation, trial, sentence and most horribly, execution.
The movie retells this harrowing and inspiring story of how a young coed became a fearless activist, dedicated to the downfall of the monolithic Third Reich war machine.
Sophie and her brother Hans were captured while attempting to distribute anti-war pamphlets on a Munich campus. Her interrogation and trial become a steely battle of wills. As brought to luminous life by young German actress, Julia Jentsch, Sophie is a compelling figure—a mix of moral outrage, sly calculation, stubborn courage and girlish fragility. Sophie is a lover of life, yet unafraid to face death.
One of the horrors of Nazi Germany was how fear and nationalism turned ordinary citizens into instruments of unimaginable cruelty and moral blindness. Robert Mohr, Sophie’s interrogator, was a career civil servant, who had worked under two previous German governments. As he badgered Sophie, broke her down, and sealed her fate, he was not only “just following orders” as so many Nazis rationalized, but also believed it was his patriotic duty.
The glory of Sophie’s struggle was that she refused to let slogans and blind nationalism cloud her vision or compromise her moral integrity. A devout Christian, she knew that supporting the government and its disastrous and immoral war, even through passive inaction, made her complicit in a great sin. Persecution, torture, destruction and death were the fruits of Hitler’s regime—no matter what lofty words and patriotic images these acts were wrapped in. For Sophie, the choice was not easy, but it was clear. Her Christian duty was to oppose the war on moral grounds.
Much has been said about her bravery, and even her executioner claimed that he never saw anyone, man or woman, approach him standing so tall and unbroken. But what this film reveals is that Sophie was also a paragon of loyalty as well. When her brother’s confession guaranteed their conviction, interrogator Mohr offered Sophie a deal: if she would give him the names of the other members of the group, her life would be spared. Yet Sophie refused to sell out her friends to save her own life. Repeatedly, she claimed she had acted alone, fully aware that she was sacrificing herself, not just for her friends, but for an idea—that dissent is not disloyalty and that God’s higher law supersedes the corrupt laws of men.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” Sophie Scholl lived those words. Although “Sophie Scholl—The Final Days” is a German-language film with English subtitles, its message is universal.
While it might be hard to find a showing at your local multiplex, I recommend you hunt it down, because it is worth the extra effort. This film is passionate testament to freedom and personal responsibility that is both haunting and timeless. It should not be missed.
Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Md.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church
MPAA Rating: Not yet rated. Contains only mild language and violence.
Director: Marc Rothemund
Writers: James Mangold and Gill Dennis
Cast: Sophie Scholl: Julia Jentsch; Hans Scholl: Fabian Hinrichs; Else Gebel: Johanna Gastdorf; Richter Dr. Roland Freisler: Andre Hennicke; Christoph Probst: Florian Stetter.
The movie’s official Web site.