As the credits rolled, the audience sat in stunned silence as if they
had lost the ability to speak or move. I felt as if I had been punched
in my solar plexus, such was the impact of Marc Rothemund's chronicle
of courage and quiet heroism, Sophie Scholl, The Final Days.
For two hours we had followed a few days in the life of a young German student who, in 1943, distributed a few anti-Nazi leaflets in Munich University and found herself interrogated and charged by the Gestapo who had the might of the desperate Third Reich behind them. We watched with awe as this 21 year old girl grew in courage and stature under the pressure, replacing her initial protestations of innocence with affirmations of her abhorrence at everything the fascists stood for. Scholl enhances her strong political conviction with a humble strength of faith in the righteousness of her cause.
As Scholl's burgeoning bravery allowed her to speak with courage, honesty and passion, I grew with her knowing that next time I was tempted to compromise my views, I would hold the picture of Sophie Scholl's quiet stoicism in my heart.
This true story, based on the interrogation and trial records of Sophie Scholl, was made all the more authentic and poignant by the brilliantly controlled performance of Julia Jentsch as Scholl. Gerald Alexander Held also won acclaim as the punctilious criminologist whose respect for Scholl develops during his claustrophobic inquisition.
This low budget, compelling and inspiring portrayal of the power of passive resistance, stands up there with the big budget Schlinders List. It has won 15 awards and received nine nominations including the Academy Award's nomination for best Foreign Film.
For more information go to sophieschollmovie.com
WARNING - Plot and ending details follow!
In student lodgings in Munich, Sophie Scholl and a close friend, Gisela Schertling, are bent over a radio. They sing along softly as Billie Holiday sings "Sugar". Sophie announces that she must go. She walks through darkened streets and quietly steps in a door. In a cellar studio, members of the White Rose student organization, including Sophie's brother Hans, are preparing copies of their sixth leaflet. They have mimeographed more than they can distribute through the mail. Hans hits on the idea of distributing the extras at university on the morrow. Willi argues that the risks are unacceptable. Hans announces that he will take full responsibility. Trying to reassure the others, Sophie volunteers to assist Hans, explaining that a female is less likely to attract the attention of any security personnel.
The next day, Sophie carries a small suitcase as she and Hans walk to the main building of Munich University. They cross the square that now bears their name (Geschwister-Scholl-Platz, "Scholl Siblings Square"). In the building, where classes are in session, they set about putting down stacks of leaflets near the doors of lecture rooms. With only minutes left until the period ends, they start to leave, but Sophie tells Hans she still has some copies left over. Running to the top (third) floor, she sets a stack of leaflets on the balustrade, then impulsively pushes them over the edge. The mass of sheets flutters to the floor of the great atrium. Descending the stairs, Hans and Sophie seem safely enveloped in the anonymous throng of students emerging from lecture rooms. However a janitor who saw Sophie scatter the leaflets shouts at them to stop, detains them until police come (quickly) and arrest them. The Gestapo orders that the building be sealed.
The siblings are taken to the Munich Stadelheim Prison, where Sophie is interrogated by Gestapo investigator Robert Mohr. Claiming initially to be apolitical, she presents an elaborate alibi; she and her brother had nothing to do with the flyers, she merely noticed them in the hall and pushed a stack off the railing because it is in her nature to play pranks; she had an empty suitcase because she was going to visit her parents in Ulm and planned to bring back some clothes. Her deception seems to be working; she is dismissed. As her release form is about to be approved, though, the order comes not to let her go. She is placed in a prison cell with fellow prisoner Else Gebel.
The investigation has found incontrovertible evidence that Sophie and Hans were indeed responsible for the distribution of anti-Nazi leaflets. Sophie concedes her involvement (as has Hans) but, determined to protect the others, steadfastly maintains that the production and distribution of (thousands of) copies of leaflets in cities throughout the region were entirely the work of Hans and herself. Mohr admonishes her to support the laws that preserve order in a society that has funded her education (and the educations of her friends); Scholl counters that before 1933 the laws preserved the right of free speech. She has seen police spit in the face of her Jewish schoolteacher, seen mentally disabled children taken away in trucks to be euthanized, learned about the Jewish extermination camps from soldiers returned from the eastern front. Some lives are unworthy, Mohr suggests; every life is precious, counters Sophie, final judgments are not for humans to make. Mohr cannot understand how conscience can be a reliable basis for action and is affronted by her frank dismissal of Hitler. When she says that she is willing to accept all blame, and refuses to name accomplices, he ends the interrogation.
Sophie, her brother, and a married friend with three young children, Christoph Probst, are charged with treason, troop demoralization and abetting the enemy. In the subsequent show trial, Probst is the first to be examined by President of the "People's Court" Roland Freisler, who prosecutorial zeal makes the nominal prosecutor superfluous. Freisler contemptuously dismisses Probst's appeals to spare his life so that his children can have a father. Hans maintains a taut composure in the face of Freisler's increasingly impatient questioning. Declining to answer only what he is asked, he avers that the defeat of the Nazi state has been made inevitable by the alliance of Russia, Britain and the United States; all Hitler can do is prolong the war. He has seen the conditions on the eastern front; the judge has not. In her own examination, Sophie declares that, what we have said and written, many people think, but they dare not express such thoughts. Freisler pronounces the three defendants guilty and calls on each to make his (brief) final statement. Sophie tells the court that, where we stand today, you will stand soon.
Sophie, who had been told that legal practice was that execution was not earlier than 99 days after conviction, learns that she is to be executed that very day. She is visited by her parents, who express their approval of what she has done. She assures her mother they will meet again in heaven. The prison chaplain comes and she receives his blessing. He tells her that she has the greatest love of all—to give up one's life for one's friends. She is led into a cell where Christoph Probst and Hans await. They quietly share a cigarette, then embrace. Probst remarks that what they did was not in vain. As Sophie is led into a courtyard, she cries "The sun is still shining!" She is brought to the execution chamber and placed in a guillotine. The blade falls and the picture goes black. Footsteps are heard, then Hans's voice exclaiming "Es lebe die Freiheit!" ("Long live freedom!"). Another shudder as the blade closes. More footsteps, a third fall of the blade (Probst).
In the closing shot, thousands of leaflets fall from the sky over Munich. A title explains that copies of the White Rose manifesto were smuggled to Scandinavia and thence to England, where the Allies printed millions of copies of the "Manifesto of the Students of Munich" that were subsequently dropped on German cities. The first frames of the credits list the names of the seven members of the White Rose group who were executed, more than a dozen who were imprisoned, and supporters and sympathizers who received draconian punishments.
German Film Prize, 2005
"Best Film", Silver Prize
"Best acting performance (female main role)": Julia Jentsch
78th Academy Awards
Nominated for "Best Foreign Language Film"
(German) Sophie Scholl: Biography and Film