Willi Graf, the son of the director of a wholesale wine business, was born in Kuchenheim, Germany, on 2nd January, 1918. Educated at the Humanistische Ludwigsgymnasium, he became interested in history and philosophy.
In 1934 Graf joined the Nazi youth movement, the Graue Orden. As a committed Roman Catholic he gradually became convinced that his Christian faith and National Socialism were incompatible. After refusing to join the Hitler Youth he was briefly arrested and imprisoned in 1938.
After six months in the German Labour Service he became a medical student at the University of Bonn. In the summer of 1940 Graf was sent as a member of the medical corps that went with the German Army invading France. Later he took part in the occupation of Yugoslavia.
In 1941 Graf returned to Germany where he joined with Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Christoph Probst, Kurt Huber, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf and Jugen Wittenstein to form the ant-Nazi group, White Rose. The group decided to adopt the strategy of passive resistance that was being used by students fighting against racial discrimination in the United States. This included publishing leaflets calling for the restoration of democracy and social justice.
In June, 1942, Graf, was called up as a medic during Operation Barbarossa. Graf was accompanied by three fellow students Alexander Schmorell, Hans Scholl and Jugen Wittenstein. While on duty Graf and his friends witnessed Jews being murdered by the Schutzstaffel (SS) in Poland and the Soviet Union.
When Graf returned to Germany in October, 1943, he and the White Rose began publishing leaflets about what he had seen while in duty. The leaflets were at first sent anonymously to people all over Germany. Taking the addresses from telephone directories, they tended to concentrate on mailing university lecturers and the owners of bars.
In Passive Resistance to National Socialism, published in 1943 the group explained the reasons why they had formed the White Rose group: "We want to try and show that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of the system. It can be done only by the cooperation of many convinced, energetic people - people who are agreed as to the means they must use. We have no great number of choices as to the means. The meaning and goal of passive resistance is to topple National Socialism, and in this struggle we must not recoil from our course, any action, whatever its nature. A victory of fascist Germany in this war would have immeasurable, frightful consequences."
The White Rose group believed that the young people of Germany had the potential to overthrow Adolf Hitler and the Nazi government. In one leaflet, Fellow Fighters in the Resistance, they wrote: "The name of Germany is dishonoured for all time if German youth does not finally rise, take revenge, smash its tormentors. Students! The German people look to us."
The White Rose group also began painting anti-Nazi slogans on the sides of houses. This included "Down With Hitler", "Hitler Mass Murderer" and "Freedom". They also painted crossed-out swastikas.
Members also began leaving piles of leaflets in public places. On 18th February, Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl began distributing the sixth leaflet produced by the White Rose group. Jakob Schmidt, a member of the Nazi Party, saw them at the University of Munich, throwing leaflets from a window of the third floor into the courtyard below. He immediately told the Gestapo and they were both arrested. They were searched and the police found a handwritten draft of another leaflet. This they matched to a letter in Scholl's flat that had been signed by Christoph Probst.
Inge Scholl and her parents were also arrested and imprisoned. Over the next few weeks Graf, Kurt Huber, Alexander Schmorell, and over eighty others suspected of being members of the White Rose group were taken into custody. Willi Graf was found guilty of sedition and was executed on 13th July, 1943.