(2 January 1918 - 12 October 1943)
Willi Graf was the third child (of four) born to his parents, Gerhard and Anna Graf, though his only brother had died at age two, a year and a half before Willi was born. His family moved from Kuchenheim, where he was born, to Saarbrücken in 1922. Even as a child was very interested in and devoted to his Roman Catholic faith.
In 1929, Willi Graf joined a Roman Catholic organization for children called Neudeutschland. In 1933, at the age of fifteen, he became a leader in this organization. 1933 was also the year when Hitler's regime came to power, and restrictions were first being put on youth organizations that weren't associated with the Nazis. At a time when most of Germany's young men were joining the Hitler Youth, Willi wanted no part of it, going so far as to stop associating with his friends who did. In 1934, he also joined the "Grauer Orden", another Catholic youth group. In 1936, the Nazis enacted a law forbidding any youth groups, even religious ones, except for those religious groups which only did things directly pertaining to the church and religion. However, Willi Graf continued to participate, and in 1938, he and 17 others from the Grauer Ordnen were jailed for this. He was pardoned due to the amnesty celebrating the annexation of Austria in May of that year.
He achieved his Abitur in 1937, and began studying medicine in Bonn in that same year. The university in Bonn was closed in 1939 due to the war, and so Willi Graf transferred to the university in Munich.
Young men were required to serve the Fatherland, university studies or no, and being a medical student during a war was a perfect opportunity to help train these future doctors. In 1940, Willi Graf was sent to serve in Belgium and France, then, in 1941, first to Serbia, then, in May, to Poland, where he was stationed for two months, and then directly on to Russia. He would not return to Germany until April of 1942. He wrote his sister Anneliese in the beginning of 1942, "Since my last letter to you, a lot of things have taken place, and I wish I hadn't had to have seen them. Yet one must not wish that, for in the end, everything we live through has its reason, which we must bear. I don't want to tell you the specifics..." In doing research for the movie "Die Weiße Rose", Mario Krebs found out that Willi Graf was there as the Nazi army encircled the Soviet army. Between July of 1941, and January/February of 1942, about 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war were taken. These prisoners were kept in such terrible conditions that over 2 million of them died there in captivity.
After two years' pause, Willi Graf was able to resume his studies in Munich. It was at this time that he made his acquaintance with Hans Scholl and the other members of the White Rose. He was always somewhat of a loner, and oftentimes lonely, though between his friends from his Catholic activities, the people of the White Rose, studies, and plenty of culture and activities in Munich, life was looking somewhat better.
Then, in the summer of 1942, the student company that Willi was now in was called out to serve in Russia. Thankfully, there were a couple of things to make the experience a little more bearable. First of all, Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, and Hubert Furtwängler would be there. Secondly, Alex was half-Russian, and spoke Russian fluently, thus making for a lot more understanding of Russia and the Russians. Thirdly, this trip out there was only to last three months.
In all probability, it was during this time that Willi decided to join the actions of the White Rose. Although his Roman Catholic friends were very anti-Nazi, most of them were unwilling to partake in any resistance, passive or otherwise. This was not a decision that Willi took lightly, but he felt that he couldn't stand around and do nothing while so much evil was being perpetrated. Many of his friends thought that any sort of resistance was futile.
Back in Munich, the members of the White Rose worked on fliers, and the young men also did things such as paint walls with slogans such as "Down with Hitler" at night. The days were filled with classes, and military training, events, and get-togethers of like-minded people. Willi's little sister Anneliese was now also studying in Munich, and so they shared an apartment.
On the morning that Hans and Sophie Scholl would be arrested, Willi Graf and Traute Lafrenz were leaving a lecture early and saw the Scholl siblings with their suitcase of fliers. They were concerned, though they spent most of the rest of the day at the clinic that they had left their lecture early to go to. Willi and Anneliese then went to visit relatives of theirs, and were arrested around midnight at their apartment, where Willi had hoped he could still manage to get his uniform. Unfortunately, the Gestapo was waiting for them.
Willi Graf was sentenced to death in the same trial as Alexander Schmorell and Professor Kurt Huber. However, when the directive was issued concerning the executions connected with this trial, Willi Graf's name was not there along with Huber's and Schmorell's. Undoubtedly, the Nazis believed that they could get some important information from him regarding people and "contacts" of his that he had seen on his last university break. However, knowing that Hans Scholl was already dead, Willi Graf was able to play a strategy that put more of the "blame" on Hans, in order to protect his friends who were still living, regardless of their level of enthusiasm for the plan. The strategy worked, and none of the people that he had met with "went down" with the White Rose.
However, just because Willi had escaped death in July of 1943, didn't mean that the Nazis would be any less cruel to him. He was executed on 12 October 1943. His family was not notified. They found out of his death when a letter they had sent to him came back labeled "deceased".
Anneliese Graf, although she had no involvement with the White Rose, was also arrested and imprisoned until sometime in June of 1943. At one point, she shared a cell with Angelika Probst, Christoph's sister. In his last letter, which was smuggled out of prison, Willi left many of his things to Anneliese, and tells her not to think that what they had done were just stupid, impetuous actions. He also asks her to carry on with the cause of the White Rose. She continued to do this until her death in 2009.