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German Readers Dub Nazi Opponent As Century’s Most Important Woman

January 19, 2000
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Readers of a German magazine for teen-aged girls have chosen a young woman who was executed for criticizing the Nazi regime as the most important woman of the 20th century.

Sophie Scholl — a member of the White Rose student resistance movement — was overwhelmingly chosen for the honor, according to the results of a questionnaire announced in the Jan. 12 issue of Brigitte magazine, which comes out twice monthly and has about 1 million subscribers.

The White Rose was a small group of Munich university students who, from the summer of 1942 until they were caught by the Gestapo in February 1943, disseminated anti-Nazi leaflets urging Germans to oppose the war.

It may be the only German resistance group that mentioned the mass murder of European Jewry.

Seven members of the group, including Sophie, who was not quite 22, and her brother, Hans, 24, were guillotined after their clandestine activities were uncovered.

The fact that Sophie Scholl was honored by so many readers shows that they “find it good when women are courageous and politically active,” said magazine staff member Marina Meyer-Bungert, who answers readers questions. “It shows that young women who read our magazine want a bit more than just to be good looking.”

Franz Mueller, who was associated with the White Rose and had served a prison sentence for his activities, was excited by the magazine’s poll.

Mueller, 75, volunteers at the White Rose memorial and archive at Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilians University, which the Scholl siblings attended.

During her trial on Feb. 22, 1943, Sophie told the famous “hanging” Judge Roland Freisler, “Somebody had to make a start. What we said and wrote are what many people are thinking. They just don’t dare say it out loud.”

“We have lost the war,” she added. “Everyone knows it. Why are you are so cowardly as to not recognize that?”

The brother and sister, along with fellow activist Christof Probst, were sentenced to death and executed the same day.

Readers did not pick Sophie Scholl out of the blue. They were given a choice of ten women, said editor Angela Wittmann.

“We wanted a mix, including politics, fashion, theater and so on — our classic themes.”

About 10,000 readers responded, with more than a quarter choosing Scholl.

Also on the list, in descending order, were executed revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg; French scientist Marie Curie; German journalist Marion Graefin Doenhoff; French author and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir; actress Marlene Dietrich, who left Nazi Germany for America; U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; French fashion designer Coco Chanel; and British author Virginia Woolf.

Pop icon Madonna won the 10th spot.

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