In Memoriam: Anneliese Knoop-Graf

Anneliese Knoop-Graf, born January 30, 1921, younger sister of Willi Graf, died on August 27, 2009. She was 88 years old. Hers is a complex, complicated legacy.
     On the one hand, unlike others, she never insinuated herself into White Rose heroism. She honored their collective memories as few before and after her did, refusing to turn her incarceration into anything more than Nazi thoroughness. She even brushed off my interview questions about what I perceived to be a youthful feminist streak, a trait terribly un-Nazi. No, she insisted, she was a product of her generation.
     And any of us involved in real White Rose research are grateful for the latitude she granted Dr. Inge Jens as Jens edited the edition of Will Graf’s letters and diary entries. If you find anything negative about my brother, she told Jens, print it. After decades of Scholl censorship, that openness provided much-needed fresh air.
     She was also generous with her time and resources. She gave me a full afternoon of her busy schedule back in 1995. When I followed up with a page full of questions a few months later, she graciously photocopied reams of documents in response to seemingly trivial questions, and those documents (Willi Graf’s report card, pre-White Rose, unpublished correspondence) answered questions I’d not even thought of asking.
     On the other hand, when the White Rose families left the Weiße-Rose-Stiftung en masse in late 2002, forming the Weisse Rose Institut e.V. in May 2003, Anneliese Knoop-Graf alone stayed with the Stiftung. Though she wished for transparency in the narration of her brother’s life story, she accepted the heavy-handed censorship (and the financial irregularities) perpetrated by the Stiftung. Unlike the other families, she refused to fight the Scholl-centric version of the story that marginalized Christoph Probst and Alex Schmorell, and ignored Wilhelm Geyer, Lilo Ramdohr, Eugen Grimminger, Traute Lafrenz, and the rest.
     Additionally, those of us who spoke with her in person were aware of her distaste and disdain for the Roman Catholic Church. One reads her youthful words in letters to her brother. Willi’s dismay at her rejection of “his” faith is palpable. His dissertations about Karl Jaspers and Michael Schmaus fell on deaf ears. In postwar conversations, she made no secret of her continued contempt for the faith she was raised in, along with religion in general.
     Yet in public interviews, she wore a religious façade that confused the issue. And contradicted the open persona she otherwise projected.
     Finally, another Knoop-Graf mystery centered on the leadership she and her husband Bernhard Knoop gave the boarding school in Marienau:
     That Internat had been founded by the German-Jewish educator Max Bondy and his wife Gertrud, an Austrian-Jewish psychoanalyst and friend of Sigmund Freud.
     Knoop had assumed Bondy’s position under National Socialism, after the Bondys had been forced into exile in America. In fact, Angelika Probst (Knoop’s first wife) wrote of Christl’s visits to Marienau and the long conversations they had, conversations that alarmed her for the convictions he expressed out loud. Angelika worried that his words would cost him his life, though she evidently trusted her then-husband Bernhard.
     After the war, Knoop and his new wife Anneliese Graf remained at Marienau. Despite Anneliese’s connection to the White Rose and German resistance through her brother Willi, she did nothing to memorialize the lives of Max and Gertrud Bondy as founders of the school. More than one Marienau historian noted that the Knoops seemed to go out of their way to keep the school as ‘Prussian’ as it had been during the Third Reich, not even restoring the camaraderie between students and teachers that had characterized Marienau under the Bondys. Much less acknowledging or celebrating the school’s German-Jewish roots.
     That paradox was explained by recent revelations that Bernhard Knoop had (unsurprisingly) been a member of the National Socialist Party. His level of involvement, his enthusiasm for ‘the movement’, has yet to be documented, so it’s unclear whether it was a membership born of necessity or of free will.
     Yet the paradox underscores the part of Anneliese Knoop-Graf’s legacy that remains most troubling. While she clearly and unequivocally did not belong to the National Socialist camp, she steadfastly refused to speak out regarding the parts of her youth that could have shed much-needed light on the upper classes who were passionate Party members, or happy Mitläufer.
     Not only was Bernhard Knoop in that camp. Anneliese’s father Gerhard Graf was too. Gerhard Graf’s Nazi fervor earned him the distinction of being included in a League of Nations lawsuit against the NSDAP, for a Watergate-type conspiracy.
     If Anneliese Knoop-Graf would have broken her silence about her father and husband, she could have truly been the torchbearer for her brother’s work. We who research and write about that era without having lived through it could have gained a better understanding of what caused smart people to fall for such obvious lies and misanthropy. We could perhaps get a handle on how fringe groups attract intelligentsia and brainy business people to join their cause.
     Because these issues are not limited to Germany under the Third Reich. We have our own Henry Fords and Joseph Kennedys to deal with. Not to mention the creeping rise of right-wing extremism we are witnessing in this country. And abroad. Among people who are bright enough to know better.
     Until we can comprehend how twisted words can be perceived as truth, we will not have learned all there is to learn from the Third Reich and the hate and genocide that accompanied it.
     So, rest in peace, Anneliese Knoop-Graf. May those who come after you take up your tradition of candidness and truth – reinforced with the courage to shine that light into dark and uncomfortable corners, so that the horror of your youth may never be repeated. Rest in peace.

© 2009 Center for White Rose Studies and Exclamation! Publishers. All rights reserved. Please contact Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.