Knoop-Graf and Jens: Willi Graf Briefe und Aufzeichnungen

Knoop-Graf, Anneliese and Inge Jens (Eds.). Willi Graf: Briefe und Aufzeichnungen. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH, 1994.

Initial review from 1999-2000:

If you have already read Jens' edition of the letters and diary entries of Hans and Sophie Scholl, you will be in for a surprise when you pick up this book. Willi Graf's life is put out on the table, complete with flaws and doubts.

Anneliese Knoop-Graf made no effort to hide anything about her brother. According to Jens, Knoop-Graf told her that if she uncovered anything that Willi had done wrong, she was supposed to publish it. This results in a more complete picture of Willi's life than of anyone else's. When you finish this book, you feel like you know Willi, weaknesses and all. You cannot help but admire and respect him for his transparent goodness.

The only thing I would change about Jens' book? I would like to see her thoroughly researched footnotes appear as sidebars or footnotes. It can be disconcerting to continually flip back and forth to the endnotes to figure out who or what is referenced in a specific statement.

Updated 2023:

This excellent book does what the edition of letters and diary entries from Hans and Sophie Scholl should have done – it presents Willi Graf’s words without censorship. If there’s ellipses in a text, it's not because Knoop-Graf gave Jens a censored, trascribed document. It's because the material is repeated in other letters and "adds nothing" to understanding the life of Willi and his friends. The ellipses came from Jens, not Knoop-Graf.

Dr. Inge Jens told me in April 1995 that Anneliese Knoop-Graf flung open her archives with the words, 'If you find anything negative about Willi, publish it!' And Jens did so.

This is the most beat-up and used book in my library. Not only are the letters priceless, but we learn from them the agony that Willi knew upon his arrival in Munich. The horrors of war, the brutality of the German war machine, Warsaw before the wall enclosed the nightmare of the ghetto – he poured his heart out to friends in Bonn and Saarbrücken, convinced he would never find friends in Munich who could understand.

Although the diary entries begin with June 1942, a couple of days before Willi Graf met Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell, the letters open with 1940 correspondence to Gustel Sahm, his best friend. We are introduced to Fritz Leist and Hermann Krings. Willi was stationed in the Black Forest and would soon meet Hubert Furtwängler, to whom he would become very close.

From the letters dated May 8, 1941 through May 28, 1942, we see the war zones in Poland and Russia clearly through Willi Graf's eyes. Burning villages, rough treatment of citizens, abusive behavior, bodies in ditches, long long roads full of bodies in ditches - when people in his unit debated the morality of slaughtering a horse to eat, Willi Graf can hardly contain his disdain. After what he has seen (he was a medic), after what he knows has been done, and they worried about the morality of slaughtering a horse?

Yet, despite the nightmares that prevented sleep, despite overwhelming feelings of aloneness, despite feeling something was wrong as he enjoyed beautiful springtime flowers and a nice room, when his younger sister Anneliese wrote him a letter telling him about her predicament regarding university studies, he did not denigrate her or tell her she did not know how good she had it. He embraced her worries and brainstormed for solutions.

Jens’ endnotes, explaining context and details, came chiefly from her research, not from propaganda shoved down her throat by the sibling of the featured person. When she did rely on Knoop-Graf to clarify a person or place referenced in Willi’s letters, there’s no camouflage that tries to transform them into anti-Nazis. The family is who the family was. This opens up the complexity and difficulty of life during the Third Reich, where beloved family members stood outside one’s circle of confidantes, because they chose to follow Hitler.

His prison letters especially demonstrated this principle. Willi Graf did not reproach his very-Nazi father for having adhered to evil political ideology. Even when he rejected the assistance his well-connected father's friends provided him - offering him opportunity to recant - he turned down their help without scorning their politics. Willi Graf was anything but apolitical, but he knew how to recognize a loved one's humanity.

A valuable aspect of this book lies in the completeness of Willi Graf's diary entries. While his letters were usually long and heartfelt, his journal contained terse statements regarding the day's activities. Most entries were one or two sentences long. My copy of this book is so beat up because those entries provided priceless markers for dates.

When I printed out the data dump of our Microsoft Access database in preparation for writing White Rose Histories 1, 2, and 3, Willi Graf's dates ruled. If -- when! -- there were conflicts between dates in letters, diary entries, Protokolle of all other White Rose friends, I assumed Willi Graf's diary was right. It was written (mostly) on the same day the events occurred, at most one or two days later.

Anyone who is interested in getting dates right cannot ignore this book.

If I have any "complaints," they would merely be:

  • Diary entries should start from the beginning, not June 1942.
  • When Knoop-Graf and Jens asked Willi Graf's friends for whatever they had in their archives, those friends sent them 203 letters. All 203 letters should have been published, not just 49. Because it's Knoop-Graf and Jens, I believe them when they stated their reasons for limiting and editing. But I would have preferred to read everything.
  • Similar to above, I would have preferred no ellipses. If it's repetitious, then it must have been important to Willi Graf.

I would also like to ask S. Fischer Verlag one question: How is it possible that your editors could publish something this good, and not demand the same level of scholarship and historical process from Inge Scholl? Because the edition of Scholl letters perpetuates false history. It's not too late to reissue the Scholl letters, but done right. Think about it!

Prof. Dr. Inge Jens -- thank you for the lovely inscription on my copy of Willi Graf's letters and diary entries. Yes, that afternoon in your home was "anregend" - and unforgettable. I love Thomas Mann experts who let me vent about the reasons I hate Thomas Mann! Your memory will forever be for a blessing. Thank you, dankeschön, todah rabah!

And Anneliese Knoop-Graf... no matter how strongly you argued, you were forerunner for smart, young women who broke free from a world where women's contributions were obscured. I wish you could have seen that in your life. Your memory also will be for a blessing.

© 1999-2000, 2023 Denise Heap. Please contact Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.