Being a capricious, not to say precocious, young lady, I marched into my Leaving Cert German oral and talked to the examiner about Sophie Scholl. The phrase that specifically sticks in my memory is 'sie ist hingerichtet worden' - German for 'she was executed'. (No, I haven't had cause to use it since.) So who was Sophie Scholl, why was she executed and why was I, aged 18, preoccupied with these things?
As a student at Munich University in the early 1940s, Sophie became a member of the White Rose, an anti-Nazi student group. They clandestinely distributed leaflets urging Germans to passively resist the Nazis. The group was caught distributing the sixth of these leaflets - Sophie herself flinging some from the top of a staircase in the university (I can see this so clearly in my mind's eye: the leaflets fluttering down, beautiful and liberating and terrifying, all at the same time.) For this crime Sophie, her brother and other members of the group were beheaded. She was just 21 when she died.
Her last words, to her cellmate -
"Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?"
At 18, Sophie Scholl was my heroine. You can draw a direct line from her to the Lady Travellers who feature in these pages: all possessors of a crusading spirit.