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Saturday, June 03, 2006

A Model of Dissent - Sophie Scholl - see the movie

How do we react when we are confronted with injustice? How far are we willing to go with our personal commitment? There is a film playing now in Austin and Houston that is a must-see for anyone working to make the world a better place, especially if their work involves challenging an unjust government. "Sophie Scholl - Die letzten Tage" tells the story of a group of students, including Sophie, her brother Hans and their friend Christoph Probst, who challenged the Nazi government by distributing leaflets criticizing the government in 1942-43. They were executed a few days after their arrest. No matter what issue people have chosen to take action on, if their goal is to make the world more just and more peaceful, they will be moved by the film to want to do more and to raise their voices louder.

Here is a website where you can read more about the story before seeing the film.

Something that is not widely known is that the same executioner who operated the guillotine to kill the Scholls was employed by the Americans after the war to execute both war criminals and common criminals. Johann Reichhart kept a tally of the executions he performed for the Nazis - a total of 3,165. He was one of ten executioners employed by the Nazis to carry out judicially ordered executions. In 1964, he gave an interview with Die Zeit newspaper in which he said he had changed his mind on capital punishment and now thought it was pointless. You can read about him in "Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany, 1600-1987" by Richard J. Evans.



The Austin Chronicle Review

There's no moment of release, no instant of sudden redemption in this powerful, moving, and altogether devastating film. It moves, instead, like some awful emotional dreadnought, slipped free of reality's moorings and adrift in an ocean of terrible and ever-darkening lunacy. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (an Oscar nominee from Germany for Best Foreign Film this year) chronicles the last desperate and desperately resolved hours of its Sophie Scholl, a real-life German university student who, in 1943 Munich, ran afoul of the gestapo while distributing anti-Nazi leaflets in the commons of her school yard. For her actions, Scholl (Jetsch), her brother Hans (Hinrichs), and their friend Christoph Probst (Stetter) were found guilty of sedition and executed. Scholl is a national hero in the reunified Germany, and – thanks in large part to a recently declassified and as-yet-unpublished series of transcripts of her grueling, three-day questioning by gestapo interrogator Robert Mohr (an icy, utterly believable Held) – what's most disturbing about Scholl's final days isn't her predicament (which, by that time, was commonplace all over Germany), but how closely the words of Mohr and Judge Roland Freisler (Hennicke), who pronounced the death sentence against Scholl and her compatriots, seem to echo current political barbs aimed at painting dissent as unpatriotic and damaging to our men and women on the front lines of the war on terror. Chillingly, these real-life, fully documented statements by histrionic, card-carrying Nazis literally echo what has passed for political discussion on the conservative end of the spectrum. At one point the seethingly unhinged Judge Freisler goes so far as to refer to Hans as a "terrorist," a moment that carries its own peculiar, time-warping frisson. That's shocking enough in its own right but it's unlikely it was the main concern of director Rothemund or his bracingly, uniformly fine cast, all of whom seem far more concerned, understandably so, with telling the day-by-day; hour-by-hour; and, finally, second-by-second end of the life of Scholl, who, as embodied by Jentsch, is clearly the sanest, most human being in the entire film, a committed Christian aflame with the righteous, unbending idealism that only youth can fully provide. This is an unapologetically distressing film, but neither Rothemund nor Jentsch allow themselves or their film to devolve into hysterics. Instead, Sophie Scholl plods along inexorably, one step after another, to its grim, sad end. It's almost unbearable.

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