The White Rose: An Anniversary of Three Executions
February 22, 1943: Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and Christoph Probst were executed by guillotine in Munich, Germany.
February 22, 2011 - 6:31 am
In March 2001, Justice Clarence Thomas spoke at James Madison University. He said he was fascinated by the history of German resistors. Thomas’ concurrence in the McDonald gun rights case most certainly was informed by a deep appreciation of what recourse free men have when mayhem, evil, and oppression rule. Thomas’ tour de force describes the plight of recently freed slaves reliant on guns to protect their new freedoms. He recalled the Massacre of 1876:
There, a white citizen militia sought out and murdered a troop of black militiamen for no other reason than that they had dared to conduct a celebratory Fourth of July parade through their mostly black town.
The lessons of the White Rose are not confined to Nazi Germany. We are not many generations removed in this nation from oppression, and in other places, a single generation. Our Constitution was designed first to prevent oppression, but also to resist it.
The fourth White Rose leaflet spoke of a need for a continuous watch, because we will never reach the End of History:
Everywhere and at all times, the demons have waited in darkness for the hour in which mankind is weak; in which he voluntarily abandons the position in the world order that is based on freedom and comes from God; in which he yields to the force of the Evil One, disengaging himself from the powers of a higher order.
Implicit in this assessment is that the world cannot escape a struggle between moral polarities in foreign affairs.
Today’s anniversary offers a multitude of other lessons. For starters, the power of language, truth, and courage are potent weapons to defend liberty. The central recognition of human dignity drew them to the active opposition to Hitler. The power of anonymous political speech also cannot be overlooked. In civilization’s darkest hours, anonymous political speech serves as a check on tyranny as our own founders presumed the right to bear arms also does.
So today, one might consider three young lives cut short in Stadelheim Prison in Munich and the courage they had to attack one of the most evil regimes of the 20th century. The courage to act and risk everything is a prerequisite for liberty to flourish. Remembering that they were not endowed with any particular human trait we don’t ourselves possess makes their sacrifice all the more extraordinary.