Scholl came from a peasant background but his intelligence and his ability to learn attracted the attention of the local pastor who arranged for him to have a good education.
During the war he met and married Magdalena Müller, a nurse, who worked with him at the military hospital. Over the next few years the couple had 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). (2)
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." (3)
In 1920 Robert Scholl was elected mayor of Forchtenberg. (4) 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. (5)
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." (6)
Robert Scholl was a strong opponent of Adolf Hitler and was very upset when Hans joined the Hitler Youth and Inge and Sophie became members of the German League of Girls. He argued against Hitler and the Nazi Party and disagreed with his children's views that he would reduce unemployment: "Have you considered how he's going to manage it? He's expanding the armaments industry, and building barracks. Do you know where that's all going to end." (7)
Robert Scholl told his children about the establishment of the concentration camps: "This is war. War in the midst of peace and within our own people. War against the defenceless individual. War against human happiness and the freedom of its children. It is a frightful crime." (8)
Scholl held liberal opinions and allowed his children to make their own choices. According to Richard F. Hanser: "They could say whatever they wished, and they all had opinions. This was far from customary practice in German households, where, by long tradition, the authority of the father was seldom questioned or his statements challenged... His aversion to mindless nationalism was not only unchanged but stronger than before. In his dinner-table discussions with his children, he could interpret events for them with an insight unblurred by current prejudices or official pronouncements." (9)
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." (10)
Susanne Hirzel was a regular visitor to the Scholl family home. Hirzel also became more critical of the Nazi government. She claimed that Robert Scholl was an important factor in this. Hirzel later recalled: "Sophie's father Robert Scholl was a determined... pacifist and a sincere Christian. He told us about his experiences and that influenced my thinking." (11)
Sophie Scholl joining of the German League of Girls (BDM) caused problems for her father but she remained close to him: "Sophie's relationship with Robert Scholl held a depth of mutual understanding... it continued to exist despite the pain she caused her father by joining the BDM - she could observe his distress when he watched Party displays on the cathedral square outside their Ulm window, or when he argued with Hans - her father had not tried to prevent her from joining. He knew that opponents to tyranny could never be created by force, only by personal experience." (12)
On the outbreak of the Second World War, Robert Scholl's pacifism meant that he was an enemy of the Nazi state. In August 1942 he was arrested by the Gestapo. (13) He was reported by a young woman in his office as saying in reply to a question about the progress of the war: "The war! It is already lost. This Hitler is God's scourge on mankind, and if the war doesn't end soon, the Russians will be sitting in Berlin."
The woman was asked by a friend what she against Robert Scholl she replied: "Nothing. I liked him. I had to suppress my personal feelings. I was fond of Herr Scholl, and I was grateful to him, but when he said those things about the Führer and the war, I knew I couldn't let it pass." (14) Scholl was eventually sentenced to four months in prison. (15)
Magdalena Scholl was shattered by her husband's arrest. The family was allowed to send Robert Scholl a letter every fourteen days but he could only write once a month. Sophie Scholl, who was working in a local factory as part of her Labour Service, Sometimes in the evenings she would go out to the grounds of the prison, as close as possible to the barred windows where she hoped her father might be. She took her flute along and played the popular German folk song, Your Thoughts are Free. (16)
Hans Scholl was serving with the medical corps that went with the German Army during the invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa). When he heard the news he considered submitting a plea for clemency for his father. At first he thought that the fact he was on the front-line might have some influence on the judicial authorities. After talking to his commanding officer he decided against this action. He wrote to his mother: "Here I think so much about father, and in the way it can only happen in Russia, I shoot up the whole tone-scale of my personality to the highest tone of rage." (17)
On 18th February, 1943, Sophie Scholl and Hans Scholl began distributing the sixth leaflet produced by the White Rose group. It included the following: "The day of reckoning has come - the reckoning of German youth with the most abominable tyrant our people have ever been forced to endure. We grew up in a state in which all free expression of opinion is ruthlessly suppressed. The Hitler Youth, the SA, the SS, have tried to drug us, to regiment us in the most promising years of our lives. For us there is but one slogan: fight against the party! The name of Germany is dishonoured for all time if German youth does not finally rise, take revenge, smash its tormentors." (18)
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. (19)
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, another friend, Otl Aicher, telephoned them with the news. (20) They were met by Jugen 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." (21)
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!" (22)
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." (23)
Robert and Magdalena managed to see their children before they were executed. Their daughter, 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." (24)
Magdalena Scholl said to Sophie "I'll never see you come through the door again." She 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. (25)
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." (26)
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." (27)
A few days after Sophie and Hans were executed, Robert and Magdalena Scholl and their children, Inge Scholl and Elisabeth Scholl were arrested. 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. (28) 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." (29)
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, shared his political views and opened a progressive school founded on humanistic ideals. (31)
Robert Scholl died in Stuttgart, on 25th October 1973.
Robert Scholl's intelligence and his avidity to learn had attracted the attention of the local pastor, who saw to it that the boy could advance beyond the backwoods schooling and acquire a higher education. Robert Scholl's moral sturdiness was such that during the First World War, despite the patriotic frenzy and nationalist hysteria, which only the rarest spirits could withstand, he refused combat duty and would serve only as a medic...
In the evening, at the dinner table, political events were often discussed, with Robert Scholl clarifying for his children what the newspapers and radio concealed or distorted. He allowed his children full freedom of expression in these family forums. They could say whatever they wished, and they all had opinions. This was far from customary practice in German households, where, by long tradition, the authority of the father was seldom questioned or his statements challenged... His aversion to mindless nationalism was not only unchanged but stronger than before. In his dinner-table discussions with his children, he could interpret events for them with an insight unblurred by current prejudices or official pronouncements.
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."