Two definitions of a Hero are :1. a person admired for achievements and noble qualities. 2. one who shows great courage. Both definitions apply to Józef Cebula and Sophie Scholl.
The reason why I am remembering these 2 people is because of today’s date May 9. Sophie Scholl was born on May 9,1921, Józef Cebula was murdered on May 9 1941.
Józef Cebula Józef Cebula was born into a modest family of Polish origin on March 23, 1902, at Malnia in southern Poland. He suffered tuberculosis as a child, and was in fact declared incurable . After an unexpected recovery, he visited an Oblate shrine where he shared his story with an Oblate priest. The priest advised Józef to study with the Oblates at the newly-established Oblate minor seminary.
He was ordained as a priest on 5 June 1927 while still in a seminary. Father Cebula became a superior at the Oblate seminaries in 1931, and became novice master at Markowice in 1937.
When the Nazis occupied Poland during the Second World War, they declared loyalty to the Church illegal. All Church associations were forbidden, and many priests were arrested. On May 4, 1940, the Oblate novices at Markowice were arrested by the Nazis and sent to the concentration camp at Dachau, Germany.
Fr. Cebula was forbidden to exercise his priestly ministry and obliged to work in the fields. But at night, the zealous priest celebrated the Eucharist and administered the sacraments in the surrounding villages, until he was arrested on April 2, 1941. He was taken to a concentration camp at Mauthausen in Austria.
Fr. Cebula was known for his humility ,he was a man of quiet prayer with a deep spiritual life. He radiated peace in the very middle of the death camp, even when he was tormented by the Nazis.
Father Cebula was forced to carry 60-pound rocks from the quarry to a camp two miles away. He had to climb a 144-step staircase called the Death Stairs, while being beaten and insulted by his tormentors. The guards humiliated and mocked him by ordering him to sing the texts of the Mass while he worked.
On May 9th 1941 , Fr. Cebula summoned up his strength and courage and said, “It is not you who are in charge. God will judge you.” The Nazis ordered him to run, with a rock on his back, towards the camp’s barbed wire fence, where a guard shot him with a sub-machine gun and declared that Fr. Cebula “was shot while trying to escape”. He died in this volley of bullets. His body was taken to a crematorium and burned.
Sophie Scholl, was only 11 years-old when Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany Sophie, like her brothers and sisters, were influenced by the changes that took place in their school.
Growing up in Nazi Germany, Sophie Scholl had automatically become a member of the girl’s branch of Hitler Youth, the League of German Girls, at the age of twelve, and she was soon promoted to Squad Leader. She was an excited and happy follower of the National Socialist cult of youth. The teenager believed in the ideals propagated at the time, as did many of her peers.
However, as discrimination against the Jews grew, Sophie began to question what she was being told. When two of her Jewish friends were barred from joining the League, Sophie protested and as she grew older she became more and more disillusioned by the Nazi Party.
The strict rules opened her eyes to Nazi doctrine and their treatment of other peoples, and she became disillusioned with German education. She also served six months in the Auxiliary War Service, but this only strengthened her resolve against the Nazis.
She joined her brother, Hans and his Munich University friends when they formed a passive resistance group called ‘The White Rose’. Their actions against the regime included peaceful demonstrations, painting anti-Nazi slogans and distributing leaflets. It was the leaflet distribution that led to their arrest. They were observed by a university janitor collecting those which had not been taken, he denounced them.
The White Rose was a small endeavor with large consequences. At its core were siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, their fellow students Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, and a professor of philosophy and musicology at the University of Munich, Kurt Huber. Together they published and distributed six pamphlets, first typed on a typewriter, then multiplied via mimeograph. At first, they only distributed them via mail, sending them to professors, booksellers, authors, friends and others—going through phone books for addresses and hand-writing each envelope. In the end, they distributed thousands, reaching households all over Germany. Acquiring such large amounts of paper, envelopes, and stamps at a time of strict rationing without raising suspicion was problematic, but the students managed by engaging a wide-ranging network of supporters in cities and towns as far north as Hamburg, and as far south as Vienna. These networks were also activated to distribute the pamphlets, attempting to trick the Gestapo into believing the White Rose had locations all across the country.
The translated text of one of their pamphlets
“Our current ‘state’ is the dictatorship of evil. We know that already, I hear you object, and we don’t need you to reproach us for it yet again. But, I ask you, if you know that, then why don’t you act? Why do you tolerate these rulers gradually robbing you, in public and in private, of one right after another, until one day nothing, absolutely nothing, remains but the machinery of the state, under the command of criminals and drunkards?”
In January 1943, the group felt empowered and hopeful. Their activism seemed to be working, rattling the authorities and sparking discussions amongst their peers.
However ,on the 18th February 1943, Sophie and her brother Hans brought a suitcase full of leaflets to the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich main building. They hurriedly dropped stacks of copies in the empty corridors for students to find when they left the lecture rooms. Leaving before the lectures had ended, the Scholl siblings noticed that there were some left-over copies in the suitcase and decided to distribute them. Sophie flung the last remaining leaflets from the top floor down into the atrium. This spontaneous action was observed by the university maintenance man, Jakob Schmied.
Hans and Sophie Scholl were taken into Gestapo custody. A draft of a seventh pamphlet, written by Christoph Probst, was found in the possession of Hans Scholl at the time of his arrest by the Gestapo. While Sophie Scholl got rid of incriminating evidence before being taken into custody, Hans did try to destroy the draft of the last leaflet by tearing it apart and trying to swallow it down. But, the Gestapo recovered enough to match the handwriting with other writings from Probst, which they found when they searched Hans’s apartment. The main Gestapo interrogator was Robert Mohr, who initially thought Sophie was innocent.
But , after Hans had confessed, Sophie assumed full responsibility in an attempt to protect other members of the White Rose.
The Scholls and Probst were to stand trial before the Volksgerichtshof— the Nazi “People’s Court” infamous for its unfair political trials, which more often than not ended with a death sentence — on 22 February 1943. They were found guilty of treason. Roland Freisler, head judge of the court, sentenced them to death.
Sophie and the 2 others. were executed the same day by guillotine at Stadelheim Prison.
It takes real courage to stand up to evil, especially when you know it can result in death. It is this courage that make all these people real heroes.
Finishing up with a poem about courage by the American poet Edgar Albert Guest
Courage isn’t a brilliant dash,
A daring deed in a moment’s flash;
It isn’t an instantaneous thing
Born of despair with a sudden spring
It isn’t a creature of flickered hope
Or the final tug at a slipping rope;
But it’s something deep in the soul of man
That is working always to serve some plan.
Courage isn’t the last resort
In the work of life or the game of sport;
It isn’t a thing that a man can call
At some future time when he’s apt to fall;
If he hasn’t it now, he will have it not
When the strain is great and the pace is hot.
For who would strive for a distant goal
must always have courage within his soul.
Courage isn’t a dazzling light
that flashes and passes away from sight;
it’s a slow, unwavering, ingrained trait
with the patience to work and the strength to wait.
It’s part of a man when his skies are blue,
it’s part of him when he has work to do.
The brave man never is freed of it.
He has it when there is no need of it.
Courage was never designed for show;
it isn’t a thing that can come and go;
it’s written in victory and defeat
and every trial a man may meet.
It’s part of his hours, his days and his years,
Back of his smiles and behind his tears.
Courage is more than a daring deed:
It’s the breath of life and a strong man’s creed.