Scholl: The Final Days
When I was growing up in Munich, I remember seeing director Michael
Verhoeven’s 1982 film The White Rose in school. The movie
tells the story of the anti-Nazi group of the same name, and devotes
only a few minutes at the end to the arrest, interrogation and execution
of White Rose members Sophie and Hans Scholl.
This sparked my interest on the final days of Sophie Scholl and I found
out much from researching and reading newspapers from the period. This
21-year-old woman spent four days in Gestapo headquarters and I learned
that there were supposed to be actual transcripts—unpublished
documents—of her time there.
Fast-forward 20 years. I called screenwriter Fred Breinersdorfer—with
whom I had previously collaborated—and asked whether he would
be interested in finding out more about the final days of the Scholls.
At first he was very reluctant, because he thought that Sophie Scholl
and the White Rose were already too well-known in Germany, and that
our film would end up being like an educational documentary.
In the end, I was so curious and interested in the emotional journey
of this young woman that I not only convinced Fred, but also found producers
passionate enough to fund the research and try to acquire these unpublished
documents. It was surprisingly easy to get these papers from the “Bundesarchiv”
(the national federal archive that keeps all German historical materials),
considering they are such rare documents. The Gestapo had, unsurprisingly,
destroyed almost all of them.
When I read the first pages of Sophie Scholl’s interrogation report,
it created such a strong emotional sensation in me. She was lying expertly,
fighting for her life, pretending she was innocent—having nothing
to do with the leaflets except for pushing paper from a balcony just
for fun. In a separate interrogation, her brother pretended in the same
way. Both of them knew it was a matter of life and death.
Although I knew the terrible end of their story, as I was reading how
they fought for their own and their friends’ lives, the material
became the most touching and exciting thing I had ever read. I also
learned about an authentic 14-page letter that was written by Sophie
Scholl’s cellmate to describe to Sophie’s parents how their
daughter spent her last days in her cell.
Sophie Scholl spent three days in a room being interrogated by a tough
44-year-old Gestapo interrogation officer. Sophie and her brother were
so mentally strong that after five hours of intensive interrogations
they made the Nazis believe that they were innocent. Unfortunately,
Hans Scholl forgot a handwritten note in his pocket that incriminated
himself, Sophie and their friend Christoph Probst.
We were extremely gratified to find that not only was it still possible
to shoot on original locations such as the University, the Palace of
Justice and the Scholl’s original house, but we also found Sophie
Scholl’s sister, who told us many intimate details of their family.
Even more amazing was that we found the son of the Gestapo interrogation
officer. He was very generous in helping us to get at the character
of his father. We also located the sister of executed White Rose member
Willi Graf, who was interrogated by the same officer in the same room
and on the same chair as Sophie Scholl. Many other White Rose members,
all of them in their eighties, helped us tremendously.
Many aspects of Sophie’s story obsessed me. There was the psychological
make-up of the Nazi who believed in Hitler but had not murdered anyone
personally. There were the executioners—Sophie Scholl’s
executioner was an eighth-generation German hangman. He killed 3,000
people, but was quoted as saying that he had never seen people going
to their death as free and upright as Sophie Scholl and the other members
of the White Rose had done. Then there was the life-affirming, positive-minded
Sophie Scholl, an extremely courageous young woman who had to come to
terms with her death in a very short time.
As filmmakers we decided to give our main focus to the authentic words
of record, and to the great actors Julia Jentsch, Fabian Hinrichs and
Alexander Held, who gave those words great life.