The life and legacy of Sophie Scholl for German resistance to Nazi Germany in the UK and beyond

Submitting Institution

Liverpool John Moores University

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

Download original


Summary of the impact

Research on the life of Sophie Scholl as a model of civil courage and its subsequent impact in the UK and beyond has led to:

  1. Enhanced public knowledge awareness and understanding in the UK of Sophie Scholl and the hitherto neglected subject of German resistance in World War II.
  2. Contribution to public educational activities, including public lectures for Unite against Fascism and the use of his biography on Sophie Scholl in adult education in Germany.

Underpinning research

Professor Frank McDonough's research project on Sophie Scholl and the White Rose was carried out between 2005 and 2009, while he was Reader in International History in the School of Humanities and Social Science at Liverpool John Moores University [in 2011 he was appointed Professor of International History].

The impetus to carry out this research began with McDonough's textbook: Opposition and Resistance in Nazi Germany, published by Cambridge University Press in the A/S Level History series Perspectives in History (2001). This book which has sold over 12,000 copies is standard reading on A/S level courses on the subject, and extracts from the book have appeared in A/S Level examinations.

McDonough was approached by several publishers in 2005 to write a biography of Sophie Scholl after a German film appeared entitled: Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, which covers the final four days of her life. It had a limited UK release. McDonough was next invited on to UK television (the programme Film 2005) to discuss the Sophie Scholl film. McDonough subsequently accepted an offer to publish a book on Sophie Scholl from a commercial publisher, namely The History Press. The aim of the research project was to produce a book that was first and foremost scholarly, but written in such a way so that it would also appeal to and reach the widest possible audience outside academia. He therefore turned down offers from several traditional academic publishers, most notably, Cambridge University Press and Palgrave MacMillan.

The project as a whole aimed to provide the first major original interpretation in the English language of the life of Sophie Scholl, and to explore her distinct role within the White Rose, a non-violent anti-Nazi resistance group which sent six anti-Nazi leaflets to the German population between May 1942 and February 1943. The research sought to answer what influenced Sophie Scholl to risk her life opposing the Nazi regime and to convey her story as a personal journey of discovery for the reader through original documents including letters and diaries and encounters with eye witnesses from the period and relatives of Sophie Scholl. The recollections of these witnesses helped to clarify Sophie's personality and to convey the passions that shaped her resistance. The second objective of the research was to explore in detail the tactics used by the Gestapo in investigating, interrogating and prosecuting the members of the White Rose through original sources.

Interviews with surviving eye witnesses, members of the White Rose group and relatives of the Scholl family provided a further source of original material that shed new light on the methods used by the group. The leaflets of the White Rose were translated in full as an appendix. The findings produced by the research corrected many errors in the existing scholarly literature on the White Rose group, laying to rest, for example, the common myth that the Scholls' were tortured after their arrest by the Gestapo on 18 February 1943 or that they yielded no information to their Gestapo questioners. The research also gave the first full account in the English language of the interrogation and court files surrounding a Gestapo investigation the youth group d.j.1.11 which Hans Scholl led during the 1930s. It also provided new information on the role of Else Gebel, Sophie's cellmate in the final days of her life. Further, it revealed how Sophie's journey towards resistance was shaped by the personal horror she felt over Hans Scholls treatment by the Gestapo in 1936-37 and the debt she owed to her Liberal minded father Robert in forming the fundamental non-violent values that guided the White Rose movement.

References to the research

McDonough, F. (2010). Sophie Scholl: The Women Who Defied Hitler, Stroud: The History Press. ISBN 978-0752455112 [this output is listed/supplied in REF2].

Evidence of quality:

- Cumulatively this book has sold over 8,000 copies in English-language editions across the world and was also published in hardback and Kindle editions

- A review of the Sophie Scholl book by one of the major scholars of the Third Reich was published in THE by Professor R.J. Evans: "Brutal Pruning of the White Rose", 2009, Review, Times Higher Education Supplement, 9-15 April, 2009, p.50 (weekly circulation figure of THE: 58,000)

- A review in a leading UK journal by D.Hall: Book Review of Sophie Scholl, English Historical Review, Volume CXXXVI, Issue 552 (2011), pp.1237-1238

- A review by an academic of German resistance in a noted Holocaust journal by S.Cohen, "An Iconic Figure", 2011, Book Review, AJR — Journal of the Association of Jewish Refugees, Volume 10, August, p.9

McDonough, F. (2001). Opposition and Resistance in Nazi Germany, New York:
Cambridge University Press, ISBN 052100358X

Cumulatively this book has sold over 12,000 copies in English-language editions across the world
[available from LJMU upon request].

McDonough, F. (2012) Resistance inside Nazi Germany, in A Companion to World War II, Volume I & II (eds Thomas W. Zeiler and Daniel M. DuBois, Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, pp.813-824, doi: 10.1002/9781118325018.ch47


A major edited volume featuring contributions from 58 scholars around the World [this output is listed/supplied in REF2].

Details of the impact

The Sophie Scholl biography reached a much wider public audience than traditional academic books (8,000 copies sold Worldwide). It was discussed widely in the media and was extensively reviewed. One key example was a two page news feature article (26 February 2009) in the Daily Mail entitled: "Braver than Valkyrie" which reached an audience of five million readers. The book was further discussed in the Catholic Herald, the Times Higher Educational Supplement and the Sunday Telegraph. It rose to number eight in the Amazon best-seller list (28th February 2009) and was listed in `Best Books of the Year' in 2009 by both the Sunday Telegraph and the London Evening Standard.

During the impact period, McDonough has sought to engage widely with the public, and especially with school children, using the example of Sophie Scholl not only to raise awareness of the activities of the White Rose movement but, importantly, to relate it to the modern day. Notable examples of his approach include over 25 public lectures, mostly to outside academic forums. This included an invitation to give the 2009 Richard Dimbleby public lecture at Mill Hill School which was attended by 200 people, the 2011 Chester Military Lecture at Chester Museum, ten educational conferences for A/S level students in Coleraine, Belfast, Manchester, Birmingham, and London and public lectures for Unite Against Fascism (UAF) in Liverpool, Manchester, Bolton and Barrow. The UAF praised McDonough for using Sophie Scholl as an example of the civic duty to oppose far right extremism, raising public awareness to combat the far right.

Other examples include, McDonough's 2012 Professorial public lecture on Sophie Scholl. This was attended by 160 members of the public and the video of the lecture has been viewed by 2,500 people on You Tube (as of July 2013). In February 2010, McDonough's Twitter account was launched to coincide with the release of Sophie Scholl in a paperback edition. It now has over 8,000 followers and is one of the most popular Twitter accounts among UK academic historians.

The book continues to attract media interest with a full page feature on McDonough in the German periodical "Young Freedom" in February 2013 and feature articles in periodicals in Brazil and Venezaula's leading newspaper Panorama.

McDonough's media appearances and contributions to historical programmes have increased dramatically directly as a result of the Sophie Scholl research. In 2010, McDonough's book was featured in a documentary on Resistance (France channels 2 and 3), reaching an audience of 5 million. In 2012, he was in a six-part series entitled: "Nazi Secrets", a co-production between German TV channel ZDF and National Geographic. McDonough's research featured in 3 episodes: "Hitler's Damned Women", "Hitler's Family Skeleton" and "Hitler's Millions"; it was broadcast in 153 countries. In 2013, McDonough was lead contributor to a new 10 part series called "The Rise of Hitler' which includes discussions of German resistance (to be broadcast on Discovery Channel [History] from January 2014).

The contribution of McDonough's research to secondary, tertiary and adult education can also be demonstrated:

  • "Sophie Scholl" is "essential reading" on numerous A/S Level and undergraduate courses on European History and the Third Reich
  • The director of adult educational services for the Munich White Rose Foundation commented: "McDonough's book has greatly raised awareness of Sophie Scholl in the UK and forms a key part of our educational activities on the White Rose in Bavarian adult education. McDonough's book is now used extensively in German schools
  • The work of McDonough in "Opposition and Resistance" forms part of the curriculum for the Oxford and Cambridge Examining Board A/S Level Paper- Europe 1890-1945
  • McDonough's book "Conflict and Communism: Europe, 1890-1945" is the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA exam board set text for the course which is used extensively in the south east of England and within public schools

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. The Educational Director of the White Rose Foundation can corroborate the claim that Professor McDonough's research has enhanced the educational activities of the White Rose Foundation in Germany and the UK.
  2. The Northwest Regional Organiser of Unite Against Fascism can corroborate that Professor McDonough has undertaken lectures for UAF and signify their importance in the educational activities of this organisation in combating far right extremism in the UK.
  3. Sovereign Education Ltd, Suite 99, Glenfield Park, Phillips Road, Blackburn BB1 5PF can corroborate the questionnaire statistics on McDonough's public lectures
  4. The Alliance for Audited Media can corroborate the circulation figures for the Daily Mail, The Times Higher Education Supplement and Catholic Herald:
  5. The History Press, The Mill, Brimscome Port, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL5 2QG can give details on the sales figures for Sophie Scholl.
  6. History Editor, Cambridge University Press, Shaftesbury Road, Cambridge Road, Cambridge, CB2 8BS can give sales figures for McDonough's CUP titles.
  7. Oxford, Cambridge and RAS examination board for corroboration that Conflict & Communism is a set text.