By Adam Gnade
It’s a quiet night on the farm and I’m thinking of Sophie Scholl. Sophie was part of an anti-Nazi non-violent resistance group called The White Rose. She did the same sort of thing a lot of my friends do (publishing, activism, distribution) and she was put to death because of it. And while I’d like to think the stuff I’m involved in has the power to change lives, Sophie’s actually did. Sophie and her brother Hans and their friend Christoph Probst were convicted of high treason for printing and distributing leaflets instructing Germans on passive resistance and they were executed by guillotine on February 22nd, 1943. She was 21 years old. She was the girl who volunteers at your local info-shop; the kid serving up Food Not Bombs every week in every city; the zine distro owner; the quiet one in the first row of your poli-sci class.
In the months following her death, millions of copies of the final White Rose pamphlet were dropped over Nazi Germany by allied forces. In 1993, on the 50th anniversary of the execution, the playwright Lillian Garrett-Groag told Newsday: “It is possibly the most spectacular moment of resistance that I can think of in the twentieth century … The fact that five little kids, in the mouth of the wolf, where it really counted, had the tremendous courage to do what they did, is spectacular to me.”
“It is possibly the most spectacular moment of resistance that I can think of in the twentieth century … The fact that five little kids, in the mouth of the wolf, where it really counted, had the tremendous courage to do what they did, is spectacular to me.”
What really gets me about Sophie’s story is this quote I’m about to show you. I found this one through Jessie Duke, who writes the Hard Fifty Farm zine series and runs Pioneers Press. On New Year’s Eve she started a new family tradition of performing a piece of music or reading a poem or a story after supper; kind of a throwback Victorian thing.
I was around for the night and I read Hemingway’s “After the Storm.” Jessie read the Sophie Scholl quote and it tore me the hell up. It was one of the most powerful readings of anything I’ve ever heard. The words hit you like bricks and you wanted to put your arms up to stop them from coming but you knew if you did you’d be missing something vital and life-shaping and true.
Sometimes a quote is what you need to get through the day. Something you can write down and check back in with when you’re worn out by the struggle, when the future scares the shit out of you, and the easy exit starts sounding good. Because sometimes I don’t want to fight anymore. Done, quit it all, step through the black doorway and fall into the great nowhere.
It’s been a rough winter on the farm and spring hasn’t been much easier but this quote gives me the strength to push on and believe in what I’m doing despite all the mean bastards and (what seems like) hopeless odds.
So here it is, friends, the good Sophie Scholl on bravery in the midst of the shit-storm. It gives me chills every time.
“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”