Alarm as German anti-maskers co-opt Nazi resister Sophie Scholl

Sophie Scholl, the German resistance figure executed by the Nazis who was born 100 years ago on Sunday, has become an emblem of courage and a national hero for many.

Alarm as German anti-maskers co-opt Nazi resister Sophie Scholl
Hans and Sophie Scholl. Photo: DPA

But the legacy of the young woman sentenced to a brutal death for distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets has recently been co-opted by Germany’s anti-lockdown movement, to the dismay of historians and the Jewish community.

At a demonstration in April, one woman had a placard featuring a picture of Sophie Scholl draped on string around her shoulders.

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace,” it read — words famously pronounced by the resistance campaigner.

Even one of her nephews, Julian Aicher, has prominently spoken at corona skeptic demonstrations, including on a stage decorated with white roses — evoking the name of Scholl’s resistance group.

In a country where right-wing extremism is seen as the number one threat to security, and where a record number of xenophobic and anti-Semitic crimes were recorded in 2020, historians say the misappropriation of Scholl’s memory is deeply alarming.

Some also warn that democracy itself is being attacked at a time when living witnesses of World War II have dwindled significantly in numbers.

“By trivialising the Holocaust and dictatorship, these activists are endangering democracy,” said Ludwig Spaenle, Bavaria’s anti-Semitism

Fourth favourite German

On February 22, 1943, Scholl and her older brother Hans, both members of a small resistance group called the White Rose, were beheaded in the Stadelheim prison in Bavaria following a summary trial.

They had been found guilty of distributing pamphlets on the grounds of Munich University, having converted to the resistance after being exposed to the horrors of the Third Reich as members of Nazi organisations in their teens.

Sophie Scholl, born on May 9, 1921, has become the most famous face of the resistance movement, with surviving photos showing her distinctive cropped hair and determined smile.

Hundreds of schools and streets now bear her name, and in 2003 she was named the nation’s fourth favourite German behind Konrad Adenauer, Martin Luther and Karl Marx.

The country’s political class also like to evoke the memory of the young biology student who stood up to the Nazis.

Annalena Baerbock, the Green party’s candidate to become Germany’s next chancellor after Angela Merkel retires in the autumn, has named Scholl as one of her “heroes”.

READ MORE: 75 years since the White Rose siblings were killed for resisting Hitler

Carola Rackete, the former captain of the Sea-Watch 3 migrant rescue ship, has said if Scholl were still alive, she would be part of the Antifa left-wing political movement.

But at the other end of the political spectrum, the far-right AfD also claimed in 2017 that Scholl would have given them her vote.

And now the resistance campaigner’s image has been hijacked by protesters against coronavirus restrictions in Germany, who have often sought to compare themselves with victims of the Nazis.

‘Vaccination makes you free’

Some protesters have been seen wearing yellow stars similar to those Jews were forced to wear under the Nazis, carrying the words “not vaccinated”.

Others have worn concentration camp uniforms and carried placards with the words “Impfen macht frei” (“Vaccination makes you free”), a reference to the “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes you free”) inscription at the entrance to Auschwitz.

“I feel like Sophie Scholl, because I’ve been active in the resistance for months,” one protester told a rally against virus restrictions in Hanover in November, leading to widespread condemnation.

“Followers of conspiracy theories like to imagine themselves as victims, while demonising and delegitimising the democratic field,” Samuel Salzborn, the city of Berlin’s point man on anti-Semitism, told AFP.

According to Jens-Christian Wagner, a German historian who specialises in the Nazi era, the appropriation of Sophie Scholl by the anti-mask movement shows a loss of “historical awareness” among parts of the German population.

There are “almost no remaining witnesses” to the Nazi era, Wagner told AFP.

“They can no longer defend themselves when they are instrumentalised or when the far right rewrites history and the present by reversing guilt. It worries me,” he said.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has said it will monitor the “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers) movement, a particularly vocal anti-lockdown group, over concerns it poses a threat to democracy and has ties to right-wing extremism.

Member comments

  1. Anyone who considers having to wear masks as being comparable to what happened to Jews in WW2 need to take a long, hard look at themselves. Absolutely disgusting.

  2. This article is excellent in showing how extremists, regardless of political label misappropriate and trivialize individual heroes and major historical events to serve their cause.

    I only regret that the title of this article actually shows bias in itself, since the text itself demonstrates that not only anti-maskers and other mostly conservatives are choosing Sophie and Hans Scholl to fly their extremist banner, but also the Green party and pro-Antifa extremists as well:

    Guilty as charged all, when most compassionate moderates and respectful of others, seeking compromise, remain obscured. I would like the title to reflect the more objective and “open minded” body of the text.

  3. I reread the article and found that after all the emphasis does remain true to its title. For some reason I
    I was relieved to see that both a green party member and a pro-Antifa individual would wrongly also “claim” Sophie Scholl as their hero thereby showing the misappropriation I mentioned in my first comment did exist on all sides: I believe it does. Yet the bulk of the article only targets conservatives.

    That AfD anti-Semite extremists would claim her is in my book the most awful part of it all. I have been a student of the Holocaust for many years. One thing I must say for many Holocaust survivors whose lives I have been reading or watching in interviews is that despite their suffering, most of them are far more objective in terms of judgment. Many of them were able to recognize when an enemy actually could be their friend–saving them–as when it was the opposite. I taped the life of a good friend of mine born in 1918 who died 11 years ago. He had escaped camp life, and managed to retain a sense of fairness that included not blaming the next generation for the sins of their fathers. I so agree with him.

    I am not an extremist of any kind.

     I think the Covid issue has been politicized from the get-go, a real shape-shifter in all decisions, yet I agree that even if one might be skeptical, one should follow an unselfish attitude in order to protect others. I am vaccinated and received my booster. 

    I am wearing masks and actually cannot blame solely conservatives for not wearing them as I live in a resort town where we have witnessed, especially in the thick of it, tourists disregarding safety rules that locals–including the fairly large elderly population–have followed:  Last year it led the town council to shut down the city for a few months. A number of these visitors come from the main city of our state which is extremely liberal including its leaders and has been “showcased” for its riots and violence. Anti-Fa extremists are definitely not a state of mind as some would have it.

    Yet the last paragraph of my previous comment remains true. If someone had told me w few decades ago that the silent majority existed I would have echoed the phrase said they were neither one nor the other, but in these days and times, I believe it does exist, that it is often silent for the fear instilled in them, yet a majority compared to the publicly advertised political factions.

    What distresses me though is that extremism can result in people who were not so to become extremists themselves, both under the misguided assumption that they are bringing the other side to the “right path:” theirs.

    I believe that journalism has lost its integrity and is as polarized as anything else, while the majority of citizens and unsung heroes do not cater to either faction and are actually the best ones to do daily random acts of kindness often at their own risk: It was true in world war II–or other wars– and those who did them were discovered long afterward, it is still true in times of “relative” peace.

    Dogmas do not exist only in religions.

    I suspect I only have about a decade left to live realistically speaking, although even tomorrow is only a fragile human hope. I love my country yet I am clear-eyed about things that should be changed yet do not need drastic measures with the few leading the masses. I haven’t walked in the shoes of friends of mine who were under such regimes regardless of their political dogmas, and I believe them when they say such regimes do not work–whether the dictator is a  Ceauscescu or a Pinochet. They make too many victims and only believe in their own aggrandizement.

    Call me an idealist, yet I think I’m one of many. I may be in some way “the nightmare of a hung jury” but I want a kindness that does exist from individual to individual regardless of their origins and lifestyles to be reinstated, not the hardcore extremism that seems to have overtaken our country and others in recent years–although I now realize that it already existed, and incubated over a few decades. I don’t want the ugly heads of extremism to be those of the proverbial Hydra–growing yet another one, once one is severed.

    “Every minute there is a war
    And the mourning dove in me

    Every minute there is a smile Of peace
    and unsung Kindness,
    And the lark in me
    Soars and sings.”


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