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‘Conscience Before Conformity’: What the White Rose Students Can Teach Today’s Young Scholars

A great deal of ink has been spilt recently about the culture wars on campus, where progressive ideologies are tolerated and even championed by both faculty and students. By contrast, advice about how to nurture young hearts and minds to withstand the prevailing climate has been in relatively short supply.

With the approach of another White Rose anniversary, I can think of no better example worth reflecting on than the lives of Hans and Sophie Scholl. These martyrs for truth and conscience illustrate how it is possible to survive, and indeed thrive, in a truly toxic academic atmosphere.

Eighty-one years ago, on Feb. 18, 1943, Hans and his sister Sophie were caught distributing anti-Nazi leaflets at Munich University. Five days later, they were tried and executed for high treason on Hitler’s direct orders. The Scholls belonged to a group of students who, using the nom de guerre of the White Rose, spoke out against National Socialism and circulated thousands of leaflets urging Germans to rise to their moral duty and resist Hitler and his “atheistic war machine.” They also condemned the persecution of Jews in the year when Hitler began to implement the Final Solution — and were among the few to speak publicly of the Holocaust while it was taking place.

The Scholls and their friends are household names in Germany. Sophie has nearly 200 schools named after her and was dubbed the greatest German woman of all time by a popular television series called Greatest Germans. After the conspirators of the failed July 20, 1944, attempt on Hitler’s life, the White Rose students are the best-known example of Germans who sought to resist the Nazis. That there were so few similar deeds shows just how difficult and dangerous resistance was and how successful Nazi tactics had been in desensitising consciences and eliminating whatever stood in their way. Even the effort to maintain some form of inner or passive resistance required great determination.

Hans and Sophie were the second and fourth of five children, all of whom were encouraged to read widely, play musical instruments, and enjoy the outdoor life. Both were initially enthusiastic members of the Hitler Youth, joining in 1933 when membership was optional and against their father’s wishes: They even became group leaders. They loved their country and wanted it to achieve greatness again after the ignominy of the Great War, but they became disillusioned by their experiences in the Hitler Youth and began to oppose virulently every manifestation of Nazism.

Read more at National Catholic Register 

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