IN MANY STORIES about World War II, the German people are typically painted with broad strokes as a nation of committed Nazis. Not so well known on this side of the Atlantic are the stories of German soldiers and students who spoke out against Hitler. These were complicated heroes, challenging their country while being forced to serve it in a war they despised. They had to make difficult choices every day, juggling the demands of citizenship with those of living an ethical life. One of the most complex of these heroes was Hans Fritz Scholl.
Like many German children growing up in the 1930s, Hans Scholl (1918–1943) initially welcomed the rise of Hitler. He saw Hitler as a kind of savior who would lift Germany out of widespread poverty and unemployment. He and his siblings eagerly joined Hitler Youth, an organization that gave them opportunities to go camping and horseback riding, to participate in competitive sports, and to develop their leadership abilities. With his intelligence, charisma, and physical strength, Hans rose quickly up the ranks of Hitler Youth leadership.
But disillusionment would eventually set in. Hans and his friends were creative people who brazenly read banned books, and refused to be limited by the official Hitler Youth literature, symbols, and flags. So they organized, inventing their own name, making their own banners, and even printing their own stationery. And while these activities were clearly illegal, Hans and his friends were sufficiently protected by their middle-class “Aryan” status that they probably wouldn’t have got caught—if it weren’t for the fact that Hans fell in love.
Hans was sixteen when he began a relationship with fifteen-year-old Rolf Futterknecht during a camping trip in 1935. Raised as a Lutheran and deeply religious, Hans struggled with his feelings for his friend but found that he couldn’t resist them. Their sexual relationship lasted over a year, and after it ended, they remained close friends.
AnnMarie Kolakowski is an author and a children’s librarian. She is currently working on a graphic novel about Hans and Sophie Scholl.