Today 99 years ago Willi Graf was born. Willi was a member of the White Rose Society. This society was a Nazi resistance group. The core members were students Hans and Sophie Scholl, Alex Schmorrel, Christof Probst, and Willi Graf.
All of these core members had very interesting – if short – lives. Hans and Sophie were Lutheran, Schmorrel was Orthodox, (He is officially an Orthodox Saint) Willi was Catholic and Christof Probst became Catholic just before he died. I found all of these members to be inspirational. They got together through a connection to the University of Munich. Alex Hans and Willi were Medics and served together on the eastern front.
Left to right: Hubert Furtwangler, Hans Scholl, Willie Graf and Alexander Schmorell on the Eastern Front (1942)
Left to right: Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst.
They published leaflets trying to change germans’ minds about the Nazis. They would also spray paint “Down with Hitler” And “Freedom!” throughout the city. They would write and print out the leaflets and then they would mail them to people who they thought would be influential, or just leave them throughout different cities. Willi was not the author of the leaflets but instead he would form contacts in other cities. They would distribute the leaflets at the same time in different cities so it appeared to be larger than it was.
Before the white rose was even formed, Sophie and Hans Scholl were influenced by Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen. There was a transcript of one of his sermons condemning the Nazis pogrom against disabled people. They actually distributed his sermon just as they would later distribute their own work as the White Rose.
Here are some excerpts from the leaflets:
The first leaflet Said: “…Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism. Offer passive resistance – resistance – wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late,..”
The Second leaflet said “…Why tell you these things, since you are fully aware of them – or if not of these, then of other equally grave crimes committed by this frightful sub-humanity? Because here we touch on a problem which involves us deeply and forces us all to take thought. Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? Hardly anyone thinks about that. It is accepted as fact and put out of mind. The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so. Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencelessness from which they will never, never awake? It seems to be so, and will certainly be so, if the German does not at last start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminals, if he shows no sympathy for these hundreds of thousands of victims. He must evidence not only sympathy; no, much more: a sense of complicity in guilt. For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do; he tolerates this government which has taken upon itself such an infinitely great burden of guilt; indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all! Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!”
The third leaflet again tried to trigger the conscience of their fellow Germans ending with “We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”
The Fourth Leaflet said:
“…Every word that comes from Hitler’s mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war, and when he blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed. True, we must conduct a struggle against the National Socialist terrorist state with rational means; but whoever today still doubts the reality, the existence of demonic powers, has failed by a wide margin to understand the metaphysical background of this war. Behind the concrete, the visible events, behind all objective, logical considerations, we find the irrational element: The struggle against the demon, against the servants of the Antichrist. Everywhere and at all times demons have been lurking in the dark, waiting for the moment when man is weak; when of his own volition he leaves his place in the order of Creation as founded for him by God in freedom; when he yields to the force of evil, separates himself from the powers of a higher order; and after voluntarily taking the first step, he is driven on to the next and the next at a furiously accelerating rate. Everywhere and at all times of greatest trial men have appeared, prophets and saints who cherished their freedom, who preached the One God and who His help brought the people to a reversal of their downward course. Man is free, to be sure, but without the true God he is defenceless against the principle of evil. He is a like rudderless ship, at the mercy of the storm, an infant without his mother, a cloud dissolving into thin air….”
Here is a bit from the 6th Leaflet:
“…The Hitler Youth, the SA, the SS have tried to drug us, to revolutionise us, to regiment us in the most promising young years of our lives. “Philosophical training” is the name given to the despicable method by which our budding intellectual development is muffled in a fog of empty phrases. A system of selection of leaders at once unimaginably devilish and narrow-minded trains up its future party bigwigs in the “Castles of the Knightly Order” to become Godless, impudent, and conscienceless exploiters and executioners – blind, stupid hangers-on of the Fuhrer…”
Willi Graf in Particular:
One thing I found interesting about Willi Graf, is that he did not seem to have any authority figure or other adult to lead him to his courageous life.
Hans and Sophie had their father who was a conscientious objector to fighting in WWI. He did not want them participate in anything Nazi. Hans however was initially beguiled by the Nazis and became a leader in the Hitler Youth. Sophie, also initially joined a nazi girl’s group. However their father seemed to have a clear head and did push them in the other direction. Their sister Inge Scholl wrote of this later:
“But there was something else that drew us with mysterious power and swept us along: the closed ranks of marching youth with banners waving, eyes fixed straight ahead, keeping time to drumbeat and song. Was not this sense of fellowship overpowering? It is not surprising that all of us, Hans and Sophie and the others, joined the Hitler Youth? We entered into it with body and soul, and we could not understand why our father did not approve, why he was not happy and proud. On the contrary, he was quite displeased with us.”
— Inge Scholl, The White Rose
Alexander Shmorrel was half Russian and so it is no surprise he came to find Nazis revolting – considering he spent time on the Eastern front. And Probst’s stepmother was Jewish so he presumably would have a strong counterinfluence at home as well.
But Willi’s youth seemed a bit different. It appeared that his anti-nazi views came solely from his belief that it was inconsistent with his faith. He joined catholic youth organizations and remained with them even when they were illegal. He also refused to join Hitler youth when it was mandatory. Not only that but he would cross his acquaintances names out of his personal address book if they joined the Hitler Youth. In some of my reading it seemed as though his actions went against his parents wishes. Not that his parents were Nazis but that they just wanted the best for him and wanted him to get along. I should point out that one source says his father was a Nazi leader but I was not able to verify this or get the fuller story.
When Willi was seventeen he marched in a Mayday parade. But whereas there was a sea of brown marching in step giving “heil Hitler’s” and carrying Swastika flags, he and his friends marched purposely out of step, did not wear brown, and carried their tattered school flag.
A friend commented: “Willie Graf… was one of those young people who have always found it impossible to remain indifferent in the face of injustice.” This obstinate refusal to comply would lead to fights where it was said Willi would give as good as he would get.
And all of this was before he witnessed the horrors on the eastern front.
To his sister he wrote from the Eastern front “The war here in the East leads to things so terrible I would never have thought them possible… Some things have occurred… that have disturbed me deeply… I can’t begin to give you the details… It is simply unthinkable that such things exist… I wish I hadn’t had to see what I have seen…. I could tell you much more but do not want to trust it to a letter.”
Even though I live at a time where it is much easier to live a good Christian life I still can relate to him when he wrote in his journal: “To be a Christian, is perhaps the hardest thing to ever become in life.” He was devoutly Catholic and it was said he would attend mass every Sunday even as a college student. He was interested in the liturgy and composed some alternate liturgies that could be used at mass. He was also chess player and philosopher.
But perhaps what I admire most about him is that despite harboring doubts he made a decision as to how to live and stuck to it even when it meant death. He wrote in his journal: “Sometimes, I am certain of the rightness of my course. Sometimes I doubt it. But I take it upon myself nevertheless, no matter how burdensome it may be.”, and “Sometimes you can’t just go where favoring winds send you. Sometimes one must take a direction which isn’t that easy. You can’t allow yourself to be continually blown about.”
He was not as eloquent at his trial as Sophie or Hans Scholl. However, despite being interrogated the longest he never gave additional names of any his contacts. All of the members of the white rose remained loyal to each other throughout their interrogations. This reminds me of John 15:13 “ There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
In the movie Sophie Scholl last days they make it appear that Willi was very vocal against the actions Sophie and Hans took, which lead to all the arrests. But even, if this is true, nothing I have read suggests he ever held it against them. I think they all decided it was just a matter of time before they were caught and killed.
We must remember that Willi and his friends were still quite young during this time. They died at ages ranging from 21 to 25. I think as I am older and wiser, not only from an age perspective but a historical one, I can see how what they did was necessary. But when I consider the inevitable doubts of the moment to go against all of society, at such a young age, and with full knowledge of the dire consequences, I can only marvel at the dedication of these young men and women.
I have been pondering their lives for a few months now and I am still looking for more information – especially on Willi Graf. I know there has been a book written on him but it is in German. I would love to get a translation.
My thoughts here were based on a 2 books, “A Noble treason” by Richard Hasner and “At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl” Hardcover – August, 1987 by Hans Scholl (Author), Sophie Scholl (Author), as well as the movie The last days of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose.
There are also numerouse webpages that I read as well including the following: