Throughout history, the maverick is a figure that tends to be romanticised. Someone who went against the grain and triumphed against the status quo. But what about the people who didn’t make it, falling victim to the very system they were resisting?
One such figure is Sophie Scholl, a German student and anti-Nazi activist. This past February marked the 74th anniversary of her execution at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Scholl was the only female member of the White Rose, a non-violent resistance group based at the University of Munich, who created a total of six pamphlets instructing Germans to resist the Nazi government. Three of these documents were created with Scholl’s involvement over the summer of 1942. She was involved with writing, copying, distributing, and mailing the leaflets, as well as being in charge of the White Rose’s finances.
Scholl and the rest of the group were arrested for distributing their sixth pamphlet in February 1943. She was convicted of high treason and executed, along with her brother, Hans, and their friend, Christoph Probst. She was 21 years old.
After her death, a copy of the sixth pamphlet was smuggled out of Germany, via Scandinavia, to the UK. It was used by the Allied Forces, who dropped millions of propaganda copies of the text over Germany in mid-1943.
With the recent global rise of far-right politics showing no sign of slowing down, the figure of the activist, of someone willing to resist, is still just as pertinent today. Scholl’s words in her final moments are particularly poignant: “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause?”
Because the legacy of Sophie Scholl proves that you don’t need to enact great, sweeping revolutionary gestures to make your mark on the world. Smaller, quieter acts of resistance can do just as much, if not more, to change the way people think.
Does the fact that the Allied Forces got hold of their pamphlets make the group any less “maverick”, by pushing their work from the margins to centre stage? Does the co-opting of their material by the mainstream diminish the effects of nonconformist figures? Perhaps. But, ultimately, the Allied Forces’ distribution of their material helped the White Rose to achieve their aims on a much larger scale than the confines of their university campus.
And after all, in Scholl’s own words: “What does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”