Magdalena Müller was born in 1881. She became a nurse and served in a military hospital during the First World War. (1) She met Robert Scholl, who held pacifist views and despite the "patriotic frenzy and nationalist hysteria" of the First World War he refused combat duty and would serve only as a medical orderly. (2)
The couple married and over the next few years Magdalena gave birth to six children. This included Inge Scholl (b. 1917), Hans Scholl (b. 1918), Elisabeth Scholl (b. 1920), Sophie Scholl (b. 1921), Werner (b. 1922) and Thilde (b. 1925). (3)
They lived in the little town of Forchtenberg on the River Kocher. He was a man with strong opinions that he was not afraid to express. His wife, in contrast to her outgoing husband, was quiet and sensitive. "It was she who provided the calming influence in the Scholl household." (4)
In 1920 Robert Scholl was elected mayor of Forchtenberg. (6) Over the next few years he managed to get the railway extended to the town. He also had a community sports centre built in Forchtenberg but he was considered to be too progressive for some and in 1930 he was voted out of office. (6)
The family moved to Ulm in 1932. "Robert Scholl had lived in several small towns in Swabia, an area of south-west Germany known for its rural charms, thrifty people, and spirit of independence, before settling in Ulm, where he opened his own office as a tax and business consultant. He was a big, rather heavyset man, with strong opinions and an unwillingness, if not an inability, to keep those opinions to himself." (7)
Robert and Magdalena Scholl were both strong opponents of Adolf Hitler but could not prevent their children from joined the Hitler Youth and the German League of Girls. Elisabeth Scholl later pointed out why they rejected their father's advice: "We just dismissed it: 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." (8)
Hans Scholl, was chosen to be the flag bearer when his unit attended the Nuremberg Rally in 1936. Inge Scholl later recalled: "His joy was great. But when he returned, we could not believe our eyes. He looked tired and showed signs of a great disappointment. We did not expect any explanation from him, but gradually we found out that the image and model of the Hitler Youth which had been impressed upon him there was totally different from his own ideal... Hans underwent a remarkable change... This had nothing to do with Father's objections; he was able to close his ears to those. It was something else. The leaders had told him that his songs were not allowed... Why should he be forbidden to sing these songs that were so full of beauty? Merely because they had been created by other races?" (9)
Elisabeth Scholl has argued that during this period all the Scholl children gradually became hostile to the government. They were undoubtedly influenced by the views of their parents but had been disappointed by the reality of living in Nazi Germany: "First, we saw that one could no longer read what one wanted to, or sing certain songs. Then came the racial legislation. Jewish classmates had to leave school." (10)
Hans Scholl and some of his friends decided to form their own youth organization. Inge Scholl later recalled: "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." (11)
Six months of National Labour Service was followed by conscription into the German Army. Hans always loved horses and he volunteered and was accepted for a cavalry unit in 1937. A few months later he was arrested in his barracks by the Gestapo. Apparently, it had been reported that while living in Ulm he had been taking part in activities that were not part of the Hitler Youth program. Sophie, Inge and Werner Scholl were also arrested. (12)
As Sophie was only sixteen, she was released and allowed to go home the same day. One biographer has pointed out: "She seemed too young and girlish to be a menace to the state, but in releasing her the Gestapo was letting slip a potential enemy with whom it would later have to reckon in a far more serious situation. There is no way of establishing the precise moment when Sophie School decided to become an overt adversary of the National Socialist state. Her decision, when it came, doubtless resulted from the accretion of offences, small and large, against her conception of what was right, moral, and decent. But now something decisive had happened. The state had laid its hands on her and her family, and now there was no longer any possibility of reconciling herself to a system that had already begun to alienate her." (13)
The Gestapo searched the Scholl house and confiscated diaries, journals, poems, essays, folk song collections, and other evidence of being members of an illegal organisation. Inge and Werner were released after a week of confinement. Hans was detained three weeks longer while the Gestapo attempted to persuade him to give damaging information about his friends. Hans was eventually released after his commanding officer had ensured the police that he was a good and loyal soldier. (14)
Inge Scholl later recalled: "We were living in a society where despotism, hate, and lies had become the normal state of affairs. Every day that you were not in jail was like a gift. No one was safe from arrest for the slightest unguarded remark, and some disappeared forever for no better reason... Hidden ears seemed to be listening to everything that was being spoken in Germany. The terror was at your elbow wherever you went." (16)
Sophie and Hans Scholl both attended the University of Munich. They helped to form the White Rose discussion group. Members included Alexander Schmorell, Jürgen Wittenstein, Christoph Probst, Willi Graf, Traute Lafrenz, Hans Leipelt, Lilo Ramdohr and Gisela Schertling. Inge Scholl, who lived in Ulm, also attended meetings whenever she was in Munich. "There was no set criterion for entry into the group that crystallized around Hans and Sophie Scholl... It was not an organization with rules and a membership list. Yet the group had a distinct identity, a definite personality, and it adhered to standards no less rigid for being undefined and unspoken. These standards involved intelligence, character, and especially political attitude." (17)
The group of friends had discovered a professor at the university who shared their dislike of the Nazi regime. Kurt Huber was Sophie's philosophy teacher. However, medical students also attended his lectures, which "were always packed, because he managed to introduce veiled criticism of the regime into them". (18) The 49 year-old professor, also joined in private discussions with what became known as the White Rose group. Hans told Inge, "though his hair was turning grey, he was one of them". (19)
In June 1942 the White Rose group began producing leaflets. They were typed single-spaced on both sides of a sheet of paper, duplicated, folded into envelopes with neatly typed names and addresses, and mailed as printed matter to people all over Munich. At least a couple of hundred were handed into the Gestapo. It soon became clear that most of the leaflets were received by academics, civil servants, restaurateurs and publicans. A small number were scattered around the University of Munich campus. As a result the authorities immediately suspected that students had produced the leaflets. (20)
On 18th February, 1943, Sophie and Hans Scholl went to the University of Munich with a suitcase packed with leaflets. According to Inge Scholl: "They arrived at the university, and since the lecture rooms were to open in a few minutes, they quickly decided to deposit the leaflets in the corridors. Then they disposed of the remainder by letting the sheets fall from the top level of the staircase down into the entrance hall. Relieved, they were about to go, but a pair of eyes had spotted them. It was as if these eyes (they belonged to the building superintendent) had been detached from the being of their owner and turned into automatic spyglasses of the dictatorship. The doors of the building were immediately locked, and the fate of brother and sister was sealed." (21)
Jakob Schmid, a member of the Nazi Party, saw them at the University of Munich, throwing leaflets from a window of the third floor into the courtyard below. He immediately told the Gestapo and they were both arrested. They were searched and the police found a handwritten draft of another leaflet. This they matched to a letter in Scholl's flat that had been signed by Christoph Probst. Following interrogation, they were all charged with treason. (22)
Sophie, Hans and Christoph were not allowed to select a defence lawyer. Inge Scholl claimed that the lawyer assigned by the authorities "was little more than a helpless puppet". Sophie told him: "If my brother is sentenced to die, you musn't let them give me a lighter sentence, for I am exactly as guilty as he." (23)
Sophie was interrogated all night long. She told her cell-mate, Else Gebel, that she denied her "complicity for a long time". But when she was told that the Gestapo had found evidence in her brother's room that proved she was guilty of drafting the leaflet. "Then the two of you knew that all was lost... We will take the blame for everything, so that no other person is put in danger." Sophie made a confession about her own activities but refused to give information about the rest of the group. (24)
Friends of Hans and Sophie had immediately telephoned Robert Scholl with news of the arrests. Robert and Magdalena went to Gestapo headquarters but they were told they were not allowed to visit them in prison over the weekend. They were not told that there trial was to begin on the Monday morning. However, Otl Aicher, Inge Scholl's boyfriend, telephoned them with the news. (25) They were met by Jürgen Wittenstein at the railway station: "We have very little time. The People's Court is in session, and the hearing is already under way. We must prepare ourselves for the worst." (26)
Sophie's parents tried to attend the trial and Magdalene told a guard: "I’m the mother of two of the accused." He responded: "You should have brought them up better." (27) Robert Scholl was forced his way past the guards at the door and managed to get to his children's defence attorney. "Go to the president of the court and tell him that the father is here and he wants to defend his children!" He spoke to Judge Roland Freisler who responded by ordering the Scholl family from the court. The guards dragged them out but at the door Robert was able to shout: "There is a higher justice! They will go down in history!" (28)
Later that day Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst were all found guilty. Judge Freisler told the court: "The accused have by means of leaflets in a time of war called for the sabotage of the war effort and armaments and for the overthrow of the National Socialist way of life of our people, have propagated defeatist ideas, and have most vulgarly defamed the Führer, thereby giving aid to the enemy of the Reich and weakening the armed security of the nation. On this account they are to be punished by death. Their honour and rights as citizens are forfeited for all time." (29)
Robert and Magdalena managed to see their children before they were executed. Inge Scholl later explained what happened: "First Hans was brought out. He wore a prison uniform, he walked upright and briskly, and he allowed nothing in the circumstances to becloud his spirit. His face was thin and drawn, as if after a difficult struggle, but now it beamed radiantly. He bent lovingly over the barrier and took his parents' hands... Then Hans asked them to take his greetings to all his friends. When at the end he mentioned one further name, a tear ran down his face; he bent low so that no one would see. And then he went out, without the slightest show of fear, borne along by a profound inner strength." (30)
Magdalena said to her 22 year-old daughter: "I'll never see you come through the door again." Sophie replied, "Oh mother, after all, it's only a few years' more life I'll miss." Sophie told her parents she and Hans were pleased and proud that they had betrayed no one, that they had taken all the responsibility on themselves. (31)
Else Gebel shared Sophie Scholl's cell and recorded her last words before being taken away to be executed. "How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause.... It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives. What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted. Among the student body there will certainly be a revolt." (32)
They were all beheaded by guillotine in Stadelheim Prison only a few hours after being found guilty. A prison guard later reported: "They bore themselves with marvelous bravery. The whole prison was impressed by them. That is why we risked bringing the three of them together once more-at the last moment before the execution. If our action had become known, the consequences for us would have been serious. We wanted to let them have a cigarette together before the end. It was just a few minutes that they had, but I believe that it meant a great deal to them." (33)
A few days after Sophie and Hans were executed, Robert and Magdalena Scholl and their children, Inge and Elisabeth were arrested. (34) They were put into solitary confinement and Inge came down with diphtheria. In August 1943, they were tried and although Robert received a two-year sentence, the women were found not guilty. (35) Elisabeth later recalled: "We were outcasts. Many of my father's clients - he was a tax accountant - wanted to have nothing more to do with the family. It was always nothing personal - just because of the business. Passers-by took to the other side of the road." (36)
With the arrival of Allied troops Robert Scholl was released and appointed mayor of Ulm. He was also a member of parliament of Württemberg-Baden. In 1952 he co-founded the All-German People's Party. It was a Christian, pacifist, left-wing party that opposed re-armament of Germany. His daughter, Inge Scholl, shared his political views and opened a progressive school founded on humanistic ideals. (38)
Magdalena Scholl died in 1958.
Life in the Third Reich had been a complex and ambivalent experience for the five Scholl children. Sophie, the fourth child and youngest daughter, had always known emotional and relative economic security; her parents were a harmonious and loving couple. Her father, Robert Scholl, had been mayor in several small towns in Swabia, an area of southwest Germany known for its rural charms, thrifty people, and spirit of independence, before settling in Ulm, where he opened his own office as a tax and business consultant. He was a big, rather heavyset man, with strong opinions and an unwillingness, if not an inability, to keep those opinions to himself. His views were never fashionable ones: he had worked as a medic in the First World War because of pacifist convictions, and during the war had met Magdalena, a Protestant nursing sister, who was to become his wife.
Mrs. Scholl was a gentle and soft-spoken woman who made her husband, home, and children the center and purpose of her life. In traditional style, she was the serene foil to her dynamic and strong willed husband. She tried to soothe troubled waters and maintain the peace; Robert Scholl was not a man who adopted the prejudices or values of the rural and small-town folk among whom he happened to live. Even when he was Burgermeister in the twenties, he did not find it necessary to visit the local pubs and have desultory chats with farmers and shopkeepers over a glass of wine or beer. When the political climate became increasingly conservative toward the end of the decade, he lost his mayoral post for advocating too liberal a position. Later, in Ulm, he would maintain some contact with Jewish friends and business associates despite the pressures around him, as well as with young artists who, like him, despised the new regime.
Meanwhile my parents had the miraculous good fortune of being able to visit their children once more. It was almost impossible to obtain such permission. Between four and five o'clock they hurried to the prison. They still did not know that their children's last hour was so near.
First Hans was brought out. He wore a prison uniform, he walked upright and briskly, and he allowed nothing in the circumstances to becloud his spirit. His face was thin and drawn, as if after a difficult struggle, but now it beamed radiantly. He bent lovingly over the barrier and took his parents' hands. "I have no hatred. I have put everything, everything behind me." My father embraced him and said, "You will go down in history - there is such a thing as justice in spite of all this." Then Hans asked them to take his greetings to all his friends. When at the end he mentioned one further name, a tear ran down his face; he bent low so that no one would see. And then he went out, without the slightest show of fear, borne along by a profound inner strength.
Then Sophie was brought in by a woman warden. She wore her regular clothes and walked slowly, relaxedly, and very upright. (Nowhere does one learn to bear oneself so proudly as in prison.) Her face bore a smile like that of a person looking into the sun. Willingly and cheerfully she accepted the candy that Hans had refused: "Oh yes, of course, I didn't have any lunch." It was an indescribable affirmation of life to the end, to the very last moment. She too was noticeably thinner, but her face revealed a marvelous sense of triumph. Her skin was rosy and fresh - this struck her mother as never before - and her lips were a glowing deep red. "So now you will never again set foot in our house," said Mother. "Oh, what do these few short years matter, Mother," she answered. Then she remarked, as had Hans, firmly, with conviction, and in triumph, "We took all the blame, for everything." And she added, "That is bound to have its effect in time to come."
Sophie had been chiefly concerned in those days whether her mother would be able to bear the ordeal of losing two children at the same moment. But now, as Mother stood there, so brave and good, Sophie had a feeling of sudden release from anxiety. Again her mother spoke; she wanted to give her daughter something she might hold fast to: "You know, Sophie-Jesus." Earnestly, firmly, almost imperiously Sophie replied, "Yes, but you too." Then she left-free, fearless, and calm. She was still smiling.
Christl was not able to see any of his family. His wife was not yet out of the hospital after the birth of their third child. She did not learn of her husband's fate until after the execution.
The prison guards reported: "They bore themselves with marvelous bravery. The whole prison was impressed by them. That is why we risked bringing the three of them together once more-at the last moment before the execution. If our action had become known, the consequences for us would have been serious. We wanted to let them have a cigarette together before the end. It was just a few minutes that they had, but I believe that it meant a great deal to them. "I didn't know that dying can be so easy,' said Christl Probst, adding, "In a few minutes we will meet in eternity."
"Then they were led off, the girl first. She went without the flicker of an eyelash. None of us understood how this was possible. The executioner said he had never seen anyone meet his end as she did."
And Hans, before he placed his head on the block Hans called out so that the words rang through the huge prison: "Long live freedom!"
At first it seemed as if the matter was ended with the death of these three. They disappeared silently and in virtual secrecy into the earth of the Perlach cemetery, just as the bright sun of late winter was setting. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends," said the prison chaplain, who revealed himself as one of them and who ministered to them with complete understanding. He shook their hands and pointed to the setting sun, saying, "It will rise again."