The story of Hans and Sophie Scholl is a powerful story of faith and courage. Initially supporters of Hitler as teenagers, the Scholl siblings eventually repudiated his ideas by their early 20s and founded an anti-Nazi student group called The White Rose. The two siblings’ anti-fascist stance was deeply influenced by their Lutheran faith. They rightly understood Nazism to be counter to Christ.
As students at university in Munich, they secretly wrote, printed, and distributed six pamphlets encouraging resistance to the Nazi regime. During the distribution of the sixth pamphlet, they were caught by a custodian who reported them to the Gestapo. Not unlike the Egyptian midwives who bent the truth a bit to Pharaoh to keep the Hebrew babies alive, Sophie and Hans tried to protect the other members of White Rose by claiming that they were the only two. Unfortunately, a draft of a seventh pamphlet was in Hans’ pocket that exposed another member, Christoph Probst. Following a quick sham trial, the three of them were executed on February 22, 1943. Ultimately, other members were also subsequently discovered, arrested, and executed as well.
Sophie and Hans were martyrs for the faith. Martyr is Greek for witness. They witnessed to their deep and abiding faith in God by striving even unto death against the injustices that violated the image of God in their fellow humans. Apparently, they were calm as they faced their final days, knowing that this was in God’s hands, trusting that the work that they did had planted seeds that would grow and bloom to defeat this evil.
Their story is inspiring for us as we face injustice today. The witness of Hans and Sophie can give every Christian strength as we strive for justice and peace as promised at our baptism. But their story is particularly powerful for youth.
Sophie and Hans fought and organized others to fight injustice at such a young age. They accomplished more in their brief two decades than most of us have with several additional decades behind us. They had an impact that is still felt today.
Their story inspires me, but it also exposes my fear. I want my kids to have a robust faith. I want to them to love God and neighbor. I want them to honor the image of God in others. I want them to have courage to resist injustice. And yet I fear that for them as well, because I know that there might be consequences to that deep, brave faith, as the story of the Scholl siblings so profoundly demonstrates. I cannot imagine the pain that their parents endured.
This Sunday, we will hear of Jesus transfigured up on the mountain. And like many of us probably would—at least, I know I would—Peter wants to simply bask in the glory of that light. But Jesus will not allow it. He insists that they come off the mountain and turn toward Jerusalem. And so do we as we begin our Lenten journey that climaxes with the triumphant entrance into Jerusalem riding a donkey and the tragic exit carrying a cross.
Christ does not allow us to have a faith that simply basks in the glory, but insists that we get into the difficult, dirty, and dangerous parts of life. As Rowan Williams puts it in his book Being Christian, baptism “is a ceremony in which we are pushed into the middle of a human situation that may hurt us, and that will not leave us untouched or unsullied… you don’t go down into the waters of the Jordan without stirring up a great deal of mud!” Hans and Sophie got into the waters, stirred up some mud, and were martyred.
This is one of my greatest hopes and fears: that my children will embrace this faith, because I know that this faith gives life, but I also know that it demands that they march through Good Friday to get there. That doesn’t have to be martyrdom. Martyrdom is quite unlikely even, but there is a lot of challenge short of death. Give my family courage, O Lord, like you gave Sophie and Hans, to always do what is right.