First Lines: The cars screech to a halt, officers pull us out by the arms, haul us inside and off to separate rooms, my heartbeat pounding all the while, boom-boom, boom-boom.
Now that I’ve taught books related to the Holocaust in my classroom for the last 5 years, I find myself very attuned to them. Like, I’m always finding a new one crossing my path, but I’m always reluctant to read them because, you know, darkness. (I tend to internalize a lot of that, so it’s hard to want to read books I know will make me sad.) Still, this one about a German organization standing up to Hitler–and based on the very true story–caught my attention.
Sophie Scholl is a young German college student disillusioned by the Nazi propaganda machine. With her brother and some of his friends, they start a secret organization called the White Rose to write and distribute pamphlets criticizing Hitler and demanding action. But when Sophie and her brother are arrested and accused of treason, how long can they hold out against the government they despise?
Not knowing about the White Rose, beyond their name at least, was a definite bonus while reading this because I was in suspense practically the whole time. Sophie, our narrator, sees that what Hitler is doing is wrong and she can’t stand that people are being hurt–and later killed–under his leadership. But everyone’s so afraid of saying something that they sit back. Sophie’s tired of it.
It is a remarkably timely story of complicity through silence. There were times reading this where I immediately connected it with what’s happening in the news or something that I’ve seen recently in day-to-day life. It’s a universal feeling, seeing that something’s wrong and wanting to do something about it. But do you act on that or do you just keep your head down?
The story is told in verse, which makes it an incredibly fast read. I did enjoy getting through a book that quickly again. But the verse also allows Sophie to highlight what’s actually going on without us getting bogged down by descriptions and details. We’re kept simply to her letters, her perceptions, and the very limited verses of other minor characters who impacted her life. You get it. You see everyone’s perspectives, no matter how short, and you just…understand.
As with most stories about the Holocaust, it has its moments where it gets hard to read because of what the Nazis are doing, what the normal Germans are doing (or aren’t doing), war, concentration camps, and Jewish persecution. It’s a heavy topic, but the verse keeps it a little lighter, at least.
It really is a touching story. I’m definitely going to be taking a closer look at the White Rose in the future.