Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is a simply made but powerful German film (with English subtitles) about a young woman arrested for treason after distributing some anti-Nazi leaflets.  Don't expect a happy ending; the setting is Nazi Germany, where happy endings were few.  Nonetheless I recommend the movie highly.  Such depictions of goodness and heroism are rare—much less without resorting to graphic violence or sentimentalism.

Four things struck me in particular:

Sophie's courage, while lamentably rare, was of an everyday kind.  She is no saint, no Mother Teresa, no doer of grand deeds.  Initially, she seems less like a serious member of an underground resistance movement and more like a young college activist with no serious understanding of the dangers of the game she is playing.  Indeed, as the scenario works out, she is often dazed, as if she can't believe what is happening.  Yet this is where her courage shines:  she is calmly, grimly, and articulately faithful to her beliefs.  Whether or not Sophie Scholl's actions made a bit of difference in ending the Nazi insanity is debatable; what is clear is that her kind of heroism is within reach of everyone, and comes not from being especially saintly, but from character established and nourished over the years, resulting in a well-ingrained habit of doing the right thing despite the cost.

The horror that was Nazi Germany did not happen overnight. Ordinary people, attempting to live ordinary lives—working, playing, learning, raising families—found themselves gradually entrapped by a system which multiplied minor evils into great obscenities, rewarded playground bullies with power and authority, and convinced normal folks that compromise and complicity were necessary for survival.

One reviewer (I don't remember who deserves the credit, or the blame) noted that Sophie Scholl:  Die letzten Tage is a German film, and remarked with pleasure that it was good to see Germany dealing with its darker history.  I'm not so sure.  It's awfully easy to repent of other people's sins.  Sophie Scholl is now a hero in Germany, especially among young people.  From the Wikipedia article[I]n 2003, Germans were invited by ZDF Television to participate in a nation-wide competition to choose the top ten most important Germans of all time. Voters under the age of 40 helped catapult Sophie and her brother Hans Scholl into fourth place, winning over Bach, Goethe, Gutenberg, Bismarck, Willy Brandt and Albert Einstein. If the votes of young viewers alone had been counted, Sophie and Hans Scholl would have be[en] ranked first. No one under 40 could have participated in the Nazi terrors, and it's quite unlikely that their parents did.  Repentance is a grand thing, but it's important not to let our horror at a past regime distract us from similar evils, extant or potential, in our present lives.

Without negating one bit of the evil that Hitler perpetrated, it's hard not to detect a bit of racism in our treatment of Nazi Germany.  The 20th century alone is filled with insane dictators and horrific blood baths:  Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Nicolae Ceausescu....  You can add plenty more to the list, yet Adolf Hitler, Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust are put forth again and again as the ultimate evil. It is almost as if we look at Asians, Africans, and even Eastern Europeans and expect them to be uncivilized...but Germany?  How could such horrors arise in Western Europe?  I know, it doesn't take much knowledge of European history to find plenty of evil in the West—which is why it smacks of racism to give Hitler such prominence.

Perhaps one reason we are so shaken by Nazi Germany is that much of the harm that was done was within the law.  The purpose and the glory of the law is to protect the people; when ideologues use it instead as a weapon against a country's own citizens, we are right to be frightened.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 29, 2008 at 10:42 am | Edit
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