I came across the story of Sophie Scholl completely by accident. She was an incredible, independent and brave and talented young lady with a sharp mind and a passionate conscience. In 1943, she was arrested by German Nazis for distributing anti-war literature at Munich University. Sophie was a member of the White Rose group — a collection of people who did not unthinkingly swallow Nazi party propaganda, people who had a moral conscience developed enough not to turn a blind eye to the horrors of German war time fascism and hearts brave enough to speak out and protest, despite the potentially fatal consequences of doing so.
On February 22nd, 1943, at the age of just 21, Sophie paid the price for her activism at Munich University — she was beheaded, executed by guillotine. Other arrested members of the White Rose group (including Sophie’s brother, Hans) were also executed (though they, at least, were shot rather than beheaded).
I was inspired by Sophie’s story, by her totally out there bravery in the face of political and social evil. Why did she do what she did? How could she be so brave?
The answer to those questions can be found in a short passage she wrote:
“Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves — or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, love small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe? From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”
Sophie believed in living ‘big’. She wanted to make waves, to be awkward and questioning, to shout and to protest and to live life to the full in all aspects. She understood that you cannot not take sides in life. She understood that you cannot afford to not have principles. She understood that in the face of tyranny there’s nothing to be gained by being a quiet mouse because tyranny crushes everyone eventually and ‘it’s better to burn out than fade away’.
To me, Sophie’s story (and the quote included here) are incredibly relevant to us, today.
Sophie lived in a time of great evil, she lived under the Third Reich. Our situation is no where near as difficult. But still…we do live in a time of great injustice, political and social, of illegal and brutal wars, of increasing chaos and insecurity where dark and disturbing people (psychopaths, in fact) have seized the heights of our political and economic spheres and are determined, whatever the cost, to consolidate that power; we live in a world on the brink of an extinction event ecological crisis — the result of our unthinking involvement in a consumption based society that necessitates the 24/7 rape of our planet. It’s our silence that allows these evils to grow — our living ‘small’ lives.
So, let’s all be like Sophie, let’s not live that small life— let’s live big lives! Wear your heart on your sleeve. Be brave. Be passionate. Be awkward. Be caring. Be involved. Be angry. Ask annoying questions. Have principles and beliefs. Take a side. Say ‘no, I won’t’ and ‘no, that’s unjust’ or (a la Peter Finch in ‘Network’) ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore’.
Do it. Don’t do it. But if you don’t do it then we’re all doomed; as Sophie Scholl knew, all those years ago, even if you do chose to live a restricted, limited, small life(in the hope that you’ll just be left alone) the bogeyman will still find you.
If you’ve had enough of being ruled by psychopaths like Hilary and wonder what the world would be like if bad people really got what they really deserved, you’ll enjoy my book of short stories (and the Kindle version is currently on sale at $0.99/£0.99!) ‘When Karma Bites…’: