Monday, August 25, 2008

The sun still shines: Sophie Scholl: The Last Days

If you have the time to look beyond the usual Hollywood dishes, Metrowalk can spring DVD surprises for viewing on Gloria's three day weekends. I found a copy of the award winning 2005 German film "Sophie Scholl - Die letzten Tage " that features the story of the Scholl siblings Hans and Sophie who founded the resistance movement White Rose. The White Rose distributed thousands of anti-Nazi mimeographed leaflets in Bavaria and other parts of Germany.

The Scholls were arrested on 18 February 1943 when Sophie Scholl caught by the Munich university porter scattering the leaflets in Munich University hall. After a spurious show trial by the Nazi "people's" court presided by Roland Friesler, the Scholls were convicted of treason and executed on 22 February.

The film is based on trial depositions and transcripts that were held in East Germany. After German reunification these were made public.

The actors played their roles magnificently. Noted German actress Julia Jentsch essayed her role superbly and she does look the part. The Scholls were part of German intelligentsia and read philsophy and theology. It is not easy to essay these roles and the dignity and toughness that Jentsch showed does justice to the memory of Sophie Scholl. Fabian Hinrichs also essayed his Hans character very well. But of course the movie focuses on Sophie.

Of course the film needs its Nazi villains. But unlike past films about the Nazi period, the characters in the movie goes beyond the Heil Hitler stereotype and betrays a bit of humanity.This approach is now common in German films that deal with the Nazi period. Even the Fuhrer himself is dealt this treatment. In the 2004 film Der Untergang, Hitler is shown as a more human figure and this generated controversy in and out of Germany (in Israel, the film seems to have generated less comment). As the generation that lived through World War II passes on, Germany can now deal with its past in a more reflective manner.

Gerald-Alexander Held excellently played the role of Police Commissioner Robert Mohr,whose interrogation transcripts provided much of the historical basis of the film. In witness testimonies, Mohr had symphaties for the Scholls. But in the film. Mohr's character is painted by explaining his background and how the Nazi Party made him into what he was now. This is something that is often missed out in ealier Nazi era films.

The "Last Days" deals with the primacy and inviolability of conscience.These is exactly the theme of Robert Bolt's film on Thomas More "A Man for all Seasons". But unlike More who occupied the highest government post of Lord Chancellor , the Scholls were students and had no power. Students are both powerless and powerful at the same time. They occupy no post of political authority but have the ideas that possess political authority and at times can defiantly challenge it.

But the Scholls were students of Germany's top university. It was and still is to Germany what UP is to the Philippines. Munich's students end up in the elite. In Germany getting into any university is difficult and Munich is no exception. It's most famous alum that makes the news today is none other than Pope Benedict XVI.

So the film's line that comes from Mohr's questioning of Sophie Scholl "You are gifted, Why not become one of us?" resonates even now. It was and still easy to park your conscience for immediate gain. This is in contrast to Mohr's own background. He did not attend university and was a tailor before Hitler came to power.

The eternal questions still haunt us as the IMDB movie reviewer writes

Would I be so strong like Sophie? Could I fight with my life for my ideals? Would I have the courage like this young woman?"

Would we stand up and say "This is wrong!", even when our life is at stake?

It seems answering Mohr's question is the easy part.

To which the Scholls decided to offer their lives. Sophie's last words are "The sun still shines!"

But they were so young!


Ruth Hanna Sachs said...

We're always glad to see people discovering the story of the White Rose.

But please be aware that the Sophie Scholl movie referred to here is largely fiction. It's only *loosely* based on Gestapo interrogation transcripts. The screenwriter left out the parts that did not go along with established "legend" and his idea for his movie.

The real story is far more gripping and believable, as it features a group of around 30 students and adults in Munich, probably 50+ in all of Germany, who were bound together by their desire to DO something to overthrow the Nazi regime. They were flawed humans, just like you and I.

Hans and Sophie Scholl were NOT the leaders of this group, much less its founders. That's a fiction created by Inge Scholl, their oldest sister, who was a diehard Nazi (and they kept her far, far away from their work). She didn't "get religion" until after the war when Marshall and McCloy funds made it profitable never to have been a Nazi. Suddenly White Rose became her full-time job, and she reinvented her own life story in the process.

Instead, the story should focus on Willi Graf, the only student in the group who saw the atrocities in the Lodz and Warsaw Ghettos up close and personal. Or on Alexander Schmorell and Christoph Probst, the two best friends who talked about resisting long before Hans Scholl came to Munich.

Or Traute Lafrenz, the spitfire who kicked them in the rear when she arrived on the scene in 1941(she had been involved in resistance work since 1937) and got them moving. Or Katharina Schueddekopf, the only person brave enough to save copies of one of the first four leaflets, enabling them to recruit. Or Lilo Ramdohr, whose home provided safe haven and storage.

Or Eugen Grimminger, who funded their operations (personally contributing around $40,000 and rounding up even more money), and whose Jewish wife Jenny was murdered in Auschwitz as retaliation for his resistance.

Or Wilhelm Geyer, the artist who inspired them, taught them how to make the tin stencil used in the graffiti operation (painting "Down with Hitler" and "Freedom" in seventy places throughout the city), and who likely participated in one night's "scattering" operation.


Read more:

Best regards,

Ruth Hanna Sachs
Center for White Rose Studies
Lehi, Utah USA

blackshama said...

Hi Ruth

Thanks for your comment. I first learned about the White Rose in high school world history class. When I visted the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC,I learned more about her.

As like anything about heroes, the story does get embellished. But the movie doesn't really deal with the White Rose, but Sophie Scholl after her arrest. But I suppose the movie's message gets through to us.

Very little in film has been done on the Scholls and the White Rose. Perhaps Hollywood can take cue. Such retelling of heroic deeds that transcend race,gender and time is sorely needed today.