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Happy Birthday, Sophie Scholl

In honor of Sophie Scholl's birthday, I'm sharing an excerpt from Resist. Sophie has just arrived in Munich to study at the university. It's her 21st birthday and her older brother, Hans, has invited his friends over to meet his sister and celebrate what would be her last birthday.

I stood beside a teetering tower of my medical texts, watching as Sophie gazed up at the French Impressionist paintings pinned all over my walls. It wasn’t so unlike my bedroom at home. I was always a great adorer of books, and yet, I let them lie where they might. I was certainly not a great adorer of bookshelves and didn’t pretend to be.
“I’m so eager to meet your friends. I feel like I already know them from all your letters.” Sophie sat on the edge of my bed, the only clear seating in my apartment. I was attempting to clear off my chairs, but it wasn’t an easy feat. I picked up a stack of thick tomes and peered around for a place to set them. Finding none, I set them back down with a heavy sigh.
My friends would just have to stand.
“I’m sure they feel the same way. I’ve told them all about you.” I drummed my fingers on the book covers thoughtfully, wondering how much space was in my closet. I dismissed the thought. There were more books in there.
“Only good things I hope?”
I gave her a mischievous grin. Before Sophie could question me, a rapping sounded at the door. “Come in, Alex.”
Alex entered, nearly bumping his head on the door frame. I was still preoccupied with finding seating space, so I made a half-hearted introduction while lifting my blankets to peer under my bed. Suitcases, shoes, a bit of dust—no space whatsoever.  
“Sophie, this is my friend from the university, Alexander Schmorell. Alex, this is my little sister, Sophie.”
Sophie stood up, extending a hand shyly. She was withdrawn and contemplative before knowing a person, but once you had her friendship, she was lively and cheerful. “I’m pleased to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you that I rather feel like we’re old friends.”
“Exactly my feelings. Hans can go on for ages discussing his family back in Ulm. Let’s see if I can get the Scholl siblings straight.” He scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Inge, Hans, Elizabeth, Sophie, and … Werner.” He glanced from Sophie to me. “Did I get everyone in the correct order?”
“I’m impressed,” Sophie grinned.
“Heaven be praised, is that cake?” Alex hurried over to the desk where I was now unpacking the dense cake onto a pile of papers. Mother would have a fit if she knew her cake was being placed on a pile of school assignments.
“What would a birthday party be without cake and wine?” Sophie raised a brow.
“It’d be duller than Mein Kampf.” I handed Sophie a knife. “Would you slice it? I’m not confident when it comes to culinary matters, unfortunately.”
“What on earth do you mean? Don’t you remember that time you baked a cake for mother’s birthday?”
“Hans baked?” Alex’s mouth dropped open. “Any more secret talents you haven’t shared with your friends, Hans?”
“Yes, I baked a cake. Inge and Elizabeth refused to help me. I suppose they wished to see me left to my own devices.”
“So I helped him,” Sophie said. “But the trouble is, I’m not very good in the kitchen now, let alone when I was twelve.”
“Well? How did it turn out?”
I exchanged a glance with Sophie, and we both grinned. “We had to leave the windows open for two days to allow ventilation throughout our house,” I said. “I burned it beyond the scope of imagination.”
“But don’t worry,” Sophie said. “Mother knows how to bake divine cakes.” She sunk the blade into the white cake, setting a large slice onto a plate.
“Ah! I heartily approve of the way your sister slices cake.” Alex cheered as Sophie handed him the plate.
Another knock sounded at the door, bringing in Christl. He was smoking a pipe and donning a cap which he promptly took off upon entering the room.
“Christl, good to see you.” I slapped my friend’s shoulder. “Sophie, this is Christoph Probst. How are your boys, Christl?”
“Good as gold. Well, except for Vincent. He’s teething unfortunately. Cries a fit,” Christl spoke between the pipe clenched in his teeth. His blue eyes fell on Sophie. “Pleased to meet you, Sophie. My! You two are the spitting image of each other. Remarkable.”
“Oh, poor girl,” I teased. “I’m sorry, Sophie.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Christl. May I call you Christl?” Sophie gave me a shove in response to my jesting.
“Of course. No one has called me Christoph since my mother did when I was a child. Say ‘Christoph,’ and I’ll be under the impression that I’m to whitewash the house as punishment for something.”
“There’s no fear of whitewashing anything, Christl. Care for a slice of cake?”
“Sounds splendid.”
Sophie set a generous slice on a plate for him. His eyes widened, and he gazed at her in awe. “Is there a war going on? I can hardly tell from such delicacies.”
“Our mother is an angel. I don’t know how she manages to save enough rations.” I glanced at my watch impatiently. “If Willi is any later, he won’t get a slice of cake. Three-fourths of it have already vanished before our very eyes. Ah, is that him at the door now?”
Willi strolled in, his round face ruddy from the brisk evening. He wasn’t nearly as outgoing as Alex or as laidback as Christl. He was quiet, with pensive eyes. “Willi Graf, it’s about time you arrived. Sophie’s birthday cake is all but gone.” I pointed to what was left of the cake.
Willi nodded toward Sophie. “Happy birthday, Miss Scholl.”
“Oh, I’m Sophie. Please call me Sophie. We’re all good friends here, and I certainly don’t intend to call you Mr. Graf.”
Willi grinned. “Sophie, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“How about a game?” Alex asked after he had finished off his cake. He took a long sip of water, wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve. “We each provide a bit of poetry, and the rest of us must guess who authored it.”
“All right. Who’ll go first?” I turned toward my sister. “Sophie?”
“This is hardly fair. Hans is so well versed in all the great poets I adore. He’ll win on the spot.”
“I don’t mind,” I shrugged.
“Oh, come. Surely there must be a poem even Hans Scholl can’t place,” Alex reclined in a chair he had cleared off, a pipe wedged in the corner of his mouth.
Sophie was silent for a long moment, strumming her fingers along the desk. “All right. I have one. ‘A single fir-tree, lonely, on a northern mountain height, sleeps in a white blanket, draped in snow and ice. His dreams are of a palm-tree, who, far in eastern lands, weeps, all alone and silent, among the burning sands.’”
I was about to blurt out the poet, but stopped myself. I really ought to let everyone ponder it a moment and not spoil the fun. Willi’s head was bent. Alex peered up at the ceiling. Christl was leaning forward in his seat, and I was grinning like a school boy who just got away with inflicting an antic upon my teacher.
“Heinrich Heine, naturally.” I finally let my words break the silence.
“Oh, Hans!” Sophie thrust a book at me, and I dodged it with a gale of laughter.
“Now, may I present one, or are you all angry with me?” I peered around for an answer.
“Go on,” Christl waved a hand at me.
I opened my wallet and pulled out a typewritten page. “This one will surely baffle you. Are you all ready?”
Four heads nodded. I cleared my throat. “‘From his dark den there comes a robber to waylay us; He wants to snatch our purses, but finds a better booty; a quarrel over nothing, confused and ignorant rant, a nation's banner torn, a people dull and stupid. Wherever he goes he finds the times are lean and empty, so he can step forth brazenly and play the role of prophet. He boldly plants his foot on the rubbish heap around him and hisses his venal message to an astonished world. Cloaked in deceit and malice, that wraps him like a cloud, he stands before the people, the mightiest in the land. The hands of many helpers of low and high degree, espying their advantage, bring service to his will. They carry forth his message as formerly the angels had done with the five loaves. It rattles on and on! Where once but one man lied, today they come by thousands; and roaring like the storm, his gold draws interest now. It grows to a great harvest, the social order overthrown, the masses live in infamy and laugh at every scurvy deed. It turns out to be true, what first was fabrication: the good have disappeared, the bad come out in crowds! When one day this trouble will melt like winter’s ice, the people will recall it like the very Plague itself. They’ll raise an effigy of straw; let children on the hearth burn joy from out of sorrow, and light from ancient woe.’”
The room was cast in a spell from the heady words, and no one broke the silence for a long moment.
“That was brilliant.” Christl leaned back with a sigh. “I’m sure I don’t know who penned it.”
Alex slapped his knee. “Let us mimeograph this splendid piece of literature and drop it all over Germany from the sky.”
“We’ll naturally dedicate it to our great F├╝hrer,” Willi gleamed.
The room erupted in light-hearted laughter until I finally held a finger to my lips to silence them. “There are other people living in this building, you know.”
“You wrote it, I’ll wager,” Alex pointed a finger at me. “It sounds like something you’d write.”
“No, I didn’t. It was penned in 1878 by Gottfried Keller. It’s terribly ironic that the verses don’t have anything to do with Germany. They are about a conflict in Switzerland.”
“They suit the current situation of the Fatherland perfectly,” Christl said. “Amazing.”
“Well,” Alex stood up, stretching his arms over his head. “This has been fun, but shouldn't we stroll outdoors now? We could chill the wine in the English Garden. What do you all say to that?”
The outdoors constantly beckoned me, and I could only resist its plea for so long. Sophie must have felt the same way, for she jumped up enthusiastically, a broad smile on her face. “Yes, let’s. Hans, bring your guitar, won’t you?”’
“All right, though it’s been ages since I’ve played.” I snatched my instrument from where it lay in the corner of my room, dusted it off then followed the party outside. The cool spring evening was exhilarating. The full moon battled with the clouds, struggling to bring its light to the world below.
“Do you approve of Hans’ choice of friends?” Alex turned to Sophie, as we strolled down the damp road. Flower petals stuck to the brick, and the air smelled musky.   
“He couldn’t find nicer anywhere in the world.”
“Hans, I dearly like your sister.” Alex’s voice was light, as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
But I knew better. We all had cares—an extremely perilous one in particular.
We arrived at the English Garden, and I tied a thick string around the bottle of wine, gently placing it in the brisk water of the Isar river. I sank onto the damp grass and ran my fingers along the guitar strings. “It’s your birthday, Sophie. What shall we sing?”
“How about … Die Gedanken Sind Frei.
“Excellent choice,” Christl leaned his back against a tree. “Go on, Hans. Serenade us.”
I began to play, the music drifting into the night air where it mingled with the cosmos.

Die Gedanken Sind Frei, my thoughts freely flower,
Die Gedanken Sind Frei, my thoughts give me power,
No scholar can map them, no hunter can trap them,
No man can deny, Die Gedanken Sind Frei.

Find out what happens next:



  1. Emily, this is lovely!! It's amazing how real and lively the characters all seem . . . and it's so sad to think about how they died not so long afterwards. Poor Hans, poor Sophie. But you've done a great job bringing their story to life again! Thanks so much for sharing this excerpt with us :-)

  2. Nice excerpt! This was well done, Emily! I like it. :) The reactions and words of the characters are pretty realistic...what people would really say in the situation. Thanks for sharing! <3

  3. Sophie is my inspiration and so are you! This is amazing.