On Armistice day we remember those who are not normally remembered for sacrificing their lives, and Esther Freeman, tells the story of her personal hero.
At 11am on 11th November, 1918 the guns fell silent on the Western Front. The moment would be forever marked as people said ‘never forget’ and ‘never again’.
Yet just over 20 years later we were once more at war. And since then we haven’t stopped either.
While I would never wish to take away from the bravery of those who lost their lives, the narrative around Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day has changed. People now talk of “those who have their lost lives for their country”. This is a problematic statement when many consider our most recent wars as unjustified (remember those non-existent WMDs) and even possibly illegal. This is why I, along with other war veterans, choose not to wear a poppy.
The other reason I won’t wear a poppy is because of the people we are supposed to remember. British Legion adverts mainly show women as victims – wives and mothers who have lost their sons. Where are the representations of women who gave their lives, often using great courage and intelligence?
One of my greatest war heroes is Sophie Scholl. I’m not surprised that you haven’t heard of her because not only was she a woman, but she was also a pacifist and a German.
Yet she has been attributed with one of the greatest acts of non-violent civil disobedience against the Nazi party in Germany. And she paid for it with her life.
Sophie Scholl, along with her brother Peter, were part of the White Rose Movement, a student resistance group in Berlin during WW2. They were caught distributing anti-Nazi leaflets and were executed.
At her trial Sophie said: “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”
She was said to have faced her execution with unrelenting courage. Her final words were: “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
After her death the leaflet she had been caught with was smuggled out of the country and ended up in Allied hands. Copies of the leaflet were then dropped over Germany in their millions.
Women like this should be remembered, not only for their bravery but also because they acted without violence. The contribution the White Rose movement made in destabilising the Nazi has been described as “significant” by many social commentators.
The world is certainly a better place for people like Sophie. Today we will remember her in quiet contemplation.