Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sophie Scholl - Woman of Valor

Last night my wife and I watched another fascinating movie (and a second that was entertaining but not nearly as engaging and shall, therefore, not receive further mention). Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is a powerful account of a young woman who opposed the Nazis and was executed for her stance. As a student of German language, culture and history, I should have known more about Scholl and the movement known as Die weiße Rose (The White Rose). I had certainly heard both the name of Sophie Scholl and of the movement but had never taken the time to become better informed.

 Having watched the movie, I can say without hesitation that Sophie Scholl is an Eshet chayil – a woman of valor. The movie, which was based on material from her trial (alongside her brother Hans) found in the archives of the East German state after 1990, depicts Scholl as a courageous, bold young woman with clear convictions and the willingness to stand for them even when doing so will cost her life. Confronted with the opportunity to shift blame to her brother or to betray others involved in the movement, Scholl accepts her responsibility and more. She tries to allay suspicions against her brother and others, ultimately unsuccessfully. But she does not take the easy way out offered by the investigator, who seems to want to find a way to safe this bold young woman – even as he rejects and despises her convictions. In the face of insulting statements by the presiding judge at her trial, Scholl speaks out boldly in defense of freedom of conscience and against the murderous policies of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi state. For this she earns only more abuse from the judge, but the viewer recognizes who in the courtroom occupies the morally superior position.

I am not a film critic, but I found the style of the film very powerful as well. Although filmed in color, shades of grey dominate the film's scenes. The only real splashes of color are the red of the Nazi flag and paraphernalia, the red tones of Scholl's clothing and the blue sky that brings a smile to Scholl's face whenever she gets a glimpse of it from the jail and prison. I felt that the Scholl's colored clothing stood out against the dark, dim grey of the Nazi surroundings, visually depicting where the light truly radiated in that dark place.

The film has little action as the majority of scenes take place in the office of the Gestapo investigator or in the jail or prison. The limited action allows for powerful confrontations between the forces of the Nazi state, advocating for their vision of a glorious future, and the stalwart Scholl, who refuses to recant her convictions or violate her conscience.

While depicting very clearly Scholl's strong character, the film does not idealize her. She remains human and we see scenes of her fretting over her family and friends, worrying about how her actions may affect them. We see her uttering prayers to God, asking him to be with her through her trials. According to other sources, Scholl's Christian faith played a definite role in shaping her convictions and giving her the courage to stand for them. In one moving scene after she has been convicted and is in prison awaiting her execution (which occurred the same day as the trial), she has one final opportunity to briefly see her parents. She grieves for the pain they are experiencing but asserts that she would not do anything differently had she to do it over again. To this her father responds that he is very proud of her and her brother. I would hope that such words of affirmation helped carry her to her execution with a greater sense of peace and certainty.

I read on Wikipedia that in a competition held in 2003 by the German television station ZDF, Scholl and her brother (and co-conspirator) Hans placed fourth in a listing of the most important Germans of all time, beating out Bach, Gutenberg, Einstein and others. Among the youngest voters the Scholl siblings placed first. I applaud this affirmation of these two valiant youth. I wish American culture would choose to honor people of character like this more than our sports and music stars. In our culture, which so often upholds women only for their physical beauty or occasionally for their athletic skill, we should celebrate women like Sophie Scholl. She (and many other women of valor – see Rachel Held Evan's series for many such stories) represents the best of human nature and all of us, women and men, can be inspired and encouraged by her testimony. If you haven't heard about Sophie Scholl, I wholeheartedly encourage you to see the film. You won't regret it.

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