Sophie Scholl–The Final Days: Rothemund’s Oscar Nominated German Drama of Resistance Member

Sophie Scholl–The Final Days, the German historical drama, is directed by Marc Rothemund and written by Fred Breinersdorfer.

It tells the story of the last days in the life of Sophie Scholl, a 21-year-old member of the anti-Nazi non-violent student resistance group the White Rose, part of the German Resistance movement.  Found guilty of high treason by the People’s Court, she was executed the same day, February 22, 1943.

World premiering at the 55th Berlin Film Fest in 2005, it won Silver Bear awards for Best Director and Best Actress (Julia Jentsch).

It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

The Film’s Focus

Marc Rothemund: Our film focuses on Sophie Scholl’s last six days, from the preparation of the leaflet operation at the university of Munich to her capture, interrogation, sentencing, and execution. It is an extreme situation in which we also become acquainted with her character, her past, and the ideas of the White Rose.

Differences from the movie White Rose

Michael Verhoeven’s film, The White Rose (Die Weisse Rose), describes the development of the entire resistance group. The dramatic events following the arrest of the members take up only a minor portion of the film. The movie ends with the arrest of Sophie Scholl. Our movie begins with this, and we accompany Sophie on her emotional turbulent journey to her death over the period of five days. We also show how Sophie grows under pressure as she assumes her duty.

Percy Adlon’s Film, Funf Letzte Tage:

Adlon’s Film, “Funf Letzte Tage,” devotes itself to this period of time, but it looks at the events through the perspective of Else Gebel, Sophie’s cellmate in the Gestapo prison. Adlon’s film ends when Sophie is led to the courthouse. Our film, in turn, is consistently narrated from Sophie’s Point-of-View, and it goes further.

Sophie’s Last Days

We have reconstructed the trial and brought to life the infamous “blood judge,” Roland Freisler. We also depict Sophie’s stay in Stadelheim prison, her last cigarette, her farewell to her parents, her last meal, her prayers, her execution. But perhaps what sets this film apart the most from the previous films on Sophie Scholl is that we were able to consult documents that were still inaccessible in the 1980s.

New Documentation

All the original minutes of the Gestapo interrogations were not available in the 1980s. These previously unpublished documents had been hidden in East-German archives for decades, and were only made accessible in 1990. Especially the interrogations of Sophie Scholl are tremendously exciting. What particularly fascinated me was the fact that the Gestapo official, Robert Mohr, an interrogation specialist with 26 years of experience, actually believed that Sophie was innocent after his first, five-hour-long questioning. For five hours, she listened to him, never batting an eyelash, never hesitating at the wrong moment. An incredible achievement.

Story’s Turning Point

Then, when incriminating evidence against Sophie is found after a search of her apartment, she continues to deny her involvement. It is not until she is confronted with the interrogation minutes of her brother, in which he confesses to everything and accepts full responsibility that she says: “Yes, I took part in this and am proud of it.” From them on, she tries to protect her friends and convince that the interrogation officer that the “White Rose,” whose leaflets always gave the impression of coming from a large organization, consisted solely of herself and her brother.

The Interrogation Officer

Before our film, hardly anyone had taken the trouble of conducting research on him. Robert Mohr was an interesting figure: an interrogation specialist who had already worked under two other governments; and a passive collaborator who upheld the laws, no matter who passed them. I found it thrilling to see how someone like that could be in denial of the horrible events transpiring at that time. For a long time, I asked myself, why, after the interrogating Sophie over several days, he offered her a chance to save her neck at the end. Then I found out that Mohr had a son of Sophie’s age, who had just been sent to the Eastern Front shortly before.

The Officer’s Son

We interviewed the son, Willy Mohr, who is now 83, for four hours, and won deep insights into Robert Mohr’s nature. We also conducted long interviews with Anneliese Knoop-Graf, the sister of the “White Rose” member Willi Graf. She was questioned by Mohr for four months and was able to describe both Mohr and the interrogation room very precisely. Moreover, she was in the same cell as Sophie during these four months, also with Else Gebel as cellmate. The two were good friends even after the war. She was thus able to provide valuable information on Else Gebel, too.

Other Witnesses

We also had the chance to speak to Else Gebel’s nephew. Another important witness was Elisabeth Hartnagel, Sophie’s younger sister, who later married Sophie’s fianc Fritz Hartnagel. Her conversation with us was her very first interview in front of the camera. She also opened up her private archives to us. All these witnesses gave us additional support in our endeavor to tell our story as authentically as possible.

The Inner World of the Characters

The emotional aspect was the most important one fro Fred Breinersdorfer and myself: The emotions of the characters, their viewpoints, their conflicts”this is what constitutes the red thread that runs through the story. I had already been astonished by the dialogues when reading the as yet unpublished interrogation protocol.

Julia Dentsch as Sophie Scholl

When you have such great actors at your disposal such as we did, an entirely new dimension comes into play: It is really incredible how Julia Dentsch threw herself into her role, how she empathized with Sophie’s emotional life and awakened it to life.