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Saturday, November 23, 2019

White Rose, written by Kip Wilson. Versify, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 12 and up

"I have nothing
more to say,
Herr Mohr has nothing
more to ask,
and yet the next
time he summons
me, he throws
me a lifeline.

You can still save
yourself, Fraulein

I have written about the White Rose resistance against Hitler in an earlier post, We Will Not Be Silent Clarion, 2016). This new book is another compelling story, and heartbreaking. At its core, it is also a story about uncommon bravery and an unwavering belief in doing what is right.

A debut novel, written in verse, tells of a time in Germany between 1935 and 1943. We know from the first few pages that February 18, 1943 is a gruesome day in Sophie Scholl's life. For, it begins with "The End".

"They swing
the door shut, unlock
my handcuffs, order
me to sit, rush about with
coats, hats, cases, papers
as I try not
to give in to the
knowledge spreading through me:
the two of us are trapped
in this net because
of me." 

The scene quickly shifts to 1935 when Sophie is only 14. She is not Jewish, and lives a very comfortable life with a happy, supportive family. That changes with Hitler's decrees against anyone who doesn't comply with his political views. When Sophie's older brother Hans is arrested for disloyalty, and Hitler continues his egregious attacks on the Jewish people and other countries in Europe, Sophie cannot be silent. Her rage eventually leads to her working with Hans and others to rebel against the government, and to do whatever the resistance can do to disrupt the continued persecution. The distribution of pamphlets calling for resistance is considered an act of treason, and the search to find and punish those responsible lead to devastating results for the Scholl family.

Sophie's first person voice alternates between "Before":

"It aches
to be so far away
from the life
I once knew,
from the life
I hope to lead,
from the life
everyone around
us deserves.

Like the winter relief
collection, my role working
for this Reich is part of what
allows this regime
to continue.

Every day I serve it
makes me want to fight it
all the more."

Then, after her arrest, the shock of "The End":

"I pause then,
trying to suppress
the panic growing inside me,
hoping at the very least
that I've placed
of the blame
               on my brother and me.

His face hard, his eyes harder,
Herr Mohr asks
if I have anything to add.

I did the best I could 
for my country. I don't regret
what I did and I'm ready to accept 
the consequences for my actions.

With these words
I finally
Herr Mohr."

The poems provide a clear look at life in Germany at the time. They are emotional, and telling. These succinct passages allow readers to follow Sophie from early adolescence until she is faced with execution for her actions. The shifts that take readers back and forth in time have unrelenting emotional impact as they move from her early untroubled family life, through growing anguish and desperation, to activism and eventually to capture and interrogation.

Back matter enriches the story itself with a list of dramatis personae, a glossary of German words, an author's note and a extensive list of selected resources.

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