Dying for Freedom

Neda Agha Soltan’s path is not well trod, but it’s clear. These days the names Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King are rolling off of everyone’s tongues. MLK and Ghandi are indeed the stars of nonviolent resistance, but a more apt comparison might be Nazi Germany’s Sophie Scholl.

Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” That worked for India, but by the 1940s the British Empire was on its last legs, and those in power knew it.

Nonviolent resistance worked for civil rights leader Martin Luther King inside a Jim Crow South. But Americans had already spilled rivers of blood founding the country and, later, abolishing slavery.

The strategy did not work so well for The White Rose, a pacifist group in Nazi Germany.

Young Sophie Scholl was not Jewish. She and her brother Hans were under no threat in Nazi Germany when they, together with a handful of students and professors, formed The White Rose. They began writing and secretly distributing pamphlets urging civil disobedience against the Nazis.

Sophie knew that what she was doing was dangerous. But some of her friends and classmates had given their lives at the Russian front. “So many young people have died for this regime,” she told a friend. “Maybe it’s time someone died against it.”

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, scholars finally discovered what happened after Sophie’s arrest in 1943. Several times her interrogator gave Sophie an opening. Wasn’t she drawn into the movement by her older brother Hans? She didn’t really understand what she was doing, did she?

The interrogator’s (presumed) sympathy for this brave 21-year-old in fact sealed her doom. Instead of blaming her brother, Sophie dropped her cover story and defiantly – perhaps proudly – admitted the truth. Five days later she, along with her brother and her friend Christoph Probst, were beheaded.

Sophie Scholl had believed that a massive student resistance would ultimately triumph. With hindsight, we know she never had a chance against the Gestapo and a machine as ruthless, efficient and determined as the Nazis.

Those who sing the (very deserved) praises of Neda Soltan might spare a prayer for the young woman who came before. Different faith, different country, different dictator, but Sophie Scholl was just as courageous. And, ultimately, just as dead.

In 2005, the German film “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days” was nominated for an Academy Award. But she’s not a household name in America. It’s a different story in Germany, where monuments all over the country pay homage to her sacrifice. I suspect that these tributes were cold comfort to Sophie’s friends and family.

I prefer to imagine what it must be like inside the skin of someone as optimistic and generous as Sophie Scholl or Neda Agha Soltan. For 26 years Neda lived a utopia of the mind. Now, that’s Heaven.

[originally published by Politics Daily in 2009]

Trailer for the 2005 German film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days:

Last words of Sophie’s brother Hans Scholl (1918-1943) “Long live freedom!”

Es lebe die Freiheit!
Sophie erinnern daran erinnern Neda

طولانی آزادی زندگی

به یاد داشته باشید سوفی ندا به یاد داشته باشید


About Quixotic Chick

I write. I take pictures. I survived cancer.
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2 Responses to Dying for Freedom

  1. re: turn on says:

    I’m deeply affected by the death of Neda on video. On the one hand I feel like a voyeur to a moment most intimate. On the other hand this video may be the most effective means of conveying the black heart of the so-called Islamic Republic of Iran.

    I’ve seen death in real life, yet this is almost too much to bear. The way she looks at the camera makes me feel like she’s looking me in the eye. Like she’s imploring me to do something. Or imploring me to look away.

    The death of Neda is now film as history, like Zapruder’s film of the JFK assassination. Its more than just a record of history, it will define history. Irrespective of whether the protesters succeed or not, she’ll always remain emblematic of the struggle. The West will either see her as a martyr to change or fascism.

  2. I think she’s looking at the camera because it’s held by someone she doesn’t recognize. When you’ve been seriously injured, you’ve got adrenaline pumping through your veins, and your only thought is “friend or foe?” We can’t know for sure, but I suspect it all happened too fast for her to realize she was dying.

    Neda is one of many Iranians who have suffered this past week, but a more potent symbol of brutality towards unarmed civilians, Iran will never find. This historic event is only beginning.

    Here’s hoping her face launches a thousand ships. Germany, ya listening? Germans have never gotten over Hitler and the Holocaust. Protecting Iranians from the Basij can be their penance to the world.

    Thank you for your perceptive comments.

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