This film takes on new meaning in the Trump era, when many people feel the need to resist, but are torn: on which despicable, unjust, racist, inhumane act of the administration should we focus? And how to best use our energies?
Viewers may already know the story of the White Rose: a group of brave German youth who wrote leaflets detailing their opposition to a war which Hitler could “prolong but never win.” Hans Scholl, 24, a medic with the German forces on the eastern front, had seen first-hand the callous waste of life and devastation there. His sister Sophie, 21, supported him and assisted in distributing the illegal leaflets at the university in Munich and throughout the city. The small group of students were armed only with a duplicating machine, their conviction and intelligence. Presbyterians, they seemed marginally aware of Nazi treatment of Jews, a rumor whispered among neighbors.
One measure of their audacity was how it threw the Nazis into unhinged vehemence. According to the film, convicts usually got 99 days before they were beheaded. The brother and sister were caught on Feb. 18, 1943, convicted of treason, and killed on Feb. 22, shortly before the German defeat. She was a pediatric nurse; he a medical student—what a waste of resources the war-torn nation could’ve used.
The film, available on Amazon Prime, is stark, befitting its subject. Sophie remains cool and calm, with only a few scenes that show her humanity: weeping in fear for her parents, basking in the sun on her face as she walks to her execution. Photos of the actual Sophie at the end show her laughing, beautiful, alive. Even a Nazi interrogator seems intrigued by her clarity and conviction. He once offers her real coffee, but then follows the dull path of many sycophants. (Et tu, Archbishop Dolan?)
Perhaps the most dramatic scene is the trial, when the defense attorney doesn’t say a word on behalf of the Scholls, and the judge rants in a belligerent, deranged, repetitive tirade. (Does the style sound familiar?) Because of its focus on the last days, the film omits one of my favorite details in the story: when their dad was earlier imprisoned by Nazis, the siblings played classical music at his window so he could listen through the bars. As the young people walk to the guillotine, one has a strong sense that their story doesn’t end with the clank of the blade. Indeed, British planes would drop their smuggled leaflets all over Germany, near the time of the Allied victory.
Sophie referred to herself as “a little candle,” but she still shines a brilliant light on our inertia and complacency.