BY SIMON CALDWELL
A LEADING Second World War historian has updated his biography of the German resistance heroine Sophie Scholl to show that she was inspired to oppose the Nazis after reading the works of Cardinal John Henry Newman.
Frank McDonough has added extra material to his acclaimed biography of Scholl to show that she was encouraged to take a stand against Adolf Hitler after studying the “theology of conscience” of the Victorian convert to Catholicism, who will be beatified during a papal visit to Britain in September.
Mr McDonough has incorpo rated the new material on Newman into Sophie Scholl: The Real Story of the Woman Who Defied Hitler, a book hailed by one historian on its publication last year as “undoubtedly the standard work on its subject”.
He has included the findings of German historian Jakob Knab, to explain the influence of Newman on the Munich University student beheaded by the Nazis on February 22 1943 aged just 21. The material was published in Germany in October last year. “Thanks to his [Knab’s] valuable input I feel this version now gives proper emphasis to the religious nature of Sophie’s journey,” wrote Mr McDonough, a Reader in International History at Liverpool John Moores University and an expert on the Third Reich.
He explains that the White Rose, the small anti-Nazi group to which Scholl belonged, was befriended and influenced by Theodor Haecker, a German scholar who converted to Catholicism from Lutheranism in 1921 after translating Newman’s Grammar of Assent.
He introduces Haecker as a man “known for his consistent opposition to the Nazi regime, which took steps to silence him”.
“Haecker’s theological influence on the White Rose was crucial,” wrote Mr McDonough, adding that the “most important aspect” of the new research was that Scholl and her army officer boyfriend Fritz Hartnagel “were increasingly drawing inspiration from the writings of Cardinal Newman” during the period when the White Rose was evolving into a resistance group.
“When Sophie met Fritz for the last time on May 20 1942 she gave him a farewell present of, among other things, two volumes of sermons by Newman,” he said.
“In a letter from Fritz on June 26 1942 he told Sophie that after reading these he too had discovered what he called the ‘wonderful world’ of John Henry Newman.
“Fritz said he had absorbed every line like ‘drops of precious wine’.” Lieutenant Hartnagel left the sermons in Stalingrad as he was evacuated, wounded, on the last flight out in January 1943 at the end of a battle that marked a turning point in the war.
But when he arrived in Germany a month later his girlfriend was already dead.
Following a religious conversion on Good Friday 1941 Sophie had been helping the White Rose to turn Germans against the Nazi regime by circulating leaflets criticising Hitler.
The leaflets had denounced the Nazi persecution of the Jews and some contained explicit religious references that echoed Cardinal Newman’s reflections a century earlier of a looming age of apostasy. One leaflet described Hitler as a “messenger of the Antichrist”.
Scholl was arrested after she and her brother Hans, also a member of the White Rose, were caught flooding Munich University with leaflets urging students to rise up against “Nazi terror”.
Along with Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst, another member of the group, she was guillotined just five days later after a humiliating show trial presided over by Roland Freisner, Hitler’s “hanging judge”.
Probst was received into the Catholic Church in articulo mortis at the point of death. According to the memoirs of Susanne Hirzel, a friend of the White Rose, the Scholls also asked to be received but were talked out of conversion by Lutheran pastor Karl Alt, who warned them that such a move would further upset their griefstricken mother.
After her death Sophie Scholl became the most famous female member of the German resistance with two films made about her life, hundreds of schools named after her and her face featuring on German postage stamps.
Cardinal Newman, who died in Birmingham in 1890, believed that conscience was an echo of the voice of God that reflected the natural moral law written on the heart of every human being and expounded in the Ten Commandments.