Many brave soldiers on all sides fought in World War II, but among the most courageous warriors were the unarmed civilians who defied the Nazis by stirring up resistance, hiding Jews and speaking up for freedom.
If such defiance took great moral courage in occupied countries, it was an almost certain death sentence for resistors inside Germany, who were seen by their countrymen as backstabbing traitors in a patriotic war.
Among the few Germans on this honor roll were a handful of university students in Munich, the cradle of Nazism, who banded together in the resistance group known as the White Rose.
The only woman among them was Sophie Scholl, a 21-year-old Protestant psychology student. Her character and fate are dramatized in "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days," Germany's Oscar entry for best foreign-language film.
With her brother, Hans, and a few comrades, mostly former German soldiers, Sophie produced leaflets denouncing the Nazi euthanasia of the "unfit" and the killing of the Jews. The leaflets, printed in early 1943, shortly after the Wehrmacht defeat at Stalingrad, warned that Germany was heading for disaster by following a mad dictator.
As the film opens, Sophie and Hans Scholl are clandestinely planting the leaflets at the University of Munich. They are discovered by a janitor, interrogated by the Gestapo, quickly "judged" by a "People's Court" and immediately executed.
Director Marc Rothmund has drawn on the recently discovered transcripts of the Gestapo interrogation and the "trial" to convey the eerie sense of "you are there" to viewers.
Actress Julia Jentsch gives a shattering performance as Sophie, whose steady nerves and quick mind actually fool the veteran interrogator, until the cumulative evidence dooms her and her brother (Fabian Hinrichs).
At that point, the Scholl siblings assume all the responsibility, desperately trying to shield their comrades, and hurl the charges against them into the faces of the accusers.
"Sophie Scholl" screens at the American Film Institute Fest on Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 5 at 3:15 p.m. at the Arclight Theatre, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. For information call (866) 234-3378 or www.afi.com/afifest.
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