Helmuth von Moltke, the son of a German father and an English-African mother, was born in Kreisau, Germany on 11th March 1907. He was the great-grandnephrew of Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891), whose generalship had helped Otto von Bismark in the foundation of the Second Reich. (1)
His mother helped him develop a preference for Christian, democratic, and international institutions. At the age of 14 he became confirmed in the Evangelical Church of Prussia. He later wrote: "I have struggled all my life - beginning in my school days - against the narrow-mindedness and arrogance, the penchant for violence, the merciless consistency and the love of the absolute, that seems to be inherent in the Germans... I have also done what I could do to ensure that this spirit - with its excessive nationalism, persecution of other races, agnosticism, and materialism - is defeated." (2)
Moltke studied law and political sciences in Breslau, Vienna, Heidelberg, and Berlin between 1927 to 1929. The following year, at the age of twenty-three, Von Moltke took over the management of the family estate at Kreisau. "He was a very tall man... at six foot seven. He enjoyed cooking, and he shared cultural interests with the friends he made in Berlin before the Nazis came to power." This included the Marxist playwright, Bertolt Brecht. (3)
Moltke became involved in a scheme where unemployed young workers and young farmers were brought together with students so that they could learn from one another. In 1931, he married Freya Deichmann, also a lawyer and someone who shared his progressive political opinions. Moltke was an early opponent of Adolf Hitler and detested his racial theories and was "free from the anti-Semitic prejudice so common among his class." (4)
In 1935, Moltke declined the chance to become a judge to avoid having to join the Nazi Party. Instead, he opened a law practice in Berlin. As a lawyer dealing in international law, he helped victims of Hitler's régime emigrate. (5) During this period he spent time in London where he made important contacts with the government. In a letter he wrote in October 1938 he spoke of his fears that Britain might turn fascist. (6)
Moltke was especially worried by the appeasement policies of the British government. Moltke, along with other anti-Nazi lawyers, such as Adam von Trott and Fabian Schlabrendorff, advised Neville Chamberlain on how to deal with Hitler. They suggested to Chamberlain to make it clear that Britain was willing to go to war in order to halt Hitler's aggression. However, it did not "lead to any readiness on the part of the British government to cooperate with the German resistance movement." (7)
It was through his work, Von Moltke met Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg, also a lawyer, and his cousin, Claus von Stauffenberg. All three men were opposed to the policies of Hitler's government. In 1936 Wartenburg was appointed as assistant secretary to the Reich Price Commission in Berlin. He refused to join the Nazi Party and therefore never received any further promotions. Both men's opposition to fascism increased after Kristallnacht (9-10 November 1938). (8)
Moltke continued to write to his friends in Britain. In one letter to Lionel Curtis he told him that he was faced with a choice: either to return to Kreisau and tend his estate, "with all the benefits and disadvantages of the rural life" or join forces with like-minded people in Britain and do everything in his power "to defend the faith of Europe against the Caesars and perhaps to give it new expression". In another letter that it was his "duty and obligation to make the attempt to be on the right side, whatever troubles, difficulties or sacrifices this may entail". (9)
On the outbreak of the Second World War Moltke joined Abwehr, the High Command of the Armed Forces, Counter-Intelligence Service, Foreign Division, under Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, as an expert in martial law and international public law. Canaris was growing increasingly disillusioned with Hitler and so were two of his senior officers, Hans Gisevius and Hans Oster. Gisevius later commented: "Canaris was one of the profoundest and most perplexing personalities among the oppositionists." (10)
Moltke's work for the Abwehr mainly involved gathering insights from abroad, from military attachés and foreign newspapers, and news of military-political importance, and relaying this information to the Wehrmacht. Over the next few years he wrote regularly, almost daily, to his wife Freya von Moltke. "The correspondence, saved by a miracle from the Gestapo, now forms one of the most delightful and interesting records of that time." (11)
Unlike most of his colleagues he did not celebrate the successes of the German Army. On 17th June, 1940, three days after the fall of Paris, while everyone around him was rejoicing at the extraordinary victory of the German Army, Moltke spoke in a letter to a friend about the "triumph of evil". Moltke admitted that he would have to wade through a "swamp of outward success, ease, and well-being" and suggested that defeat on the battlefield would have been preferable to "this progressive corruption of the national soul". (12)
In 1940 Moltke and Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg joined forces to establish the Kreisau Circle, a small group of intellectuals who were ideologically opposed fascism. Other people who joined included Adam von Trott, Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg, Wilhelm Leuschner, Julius Leber, Adolf Reichwein, Carlo Mierendorff, Ulrich-Wilhelm Graf von Schwerin, Alfred Delp, Eugen Gerstenmaier, Harald Poelchau, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Jakob Kaiser. "Rather than a group of conspirators, these men were more of a discussion group looking for an exchange of ideas on the sort of Germany would arise from the detritus of the Third Reich, which they confidently expected ultimately to fail." (13)
The group represented a broad spectrum of social, political, and economic views, they were best described as Christian and Socialist. A. J. Ryder has pointed out that the Kreisau Circle "brought together a fascinating collection of gifted men from the most diverse backgrounds: noblemen, officers, lawyers, socialists, trade unionists, churchmen." (14) Joachim Fest argues that the "strong religious leanings" of this group, together with its ability to attract "devoted but undogmatic socialists," and has been described as its "most striking characteristic." (15) Hans Gisevius suggested that Moltke was "the most vigorous militant among the socialistic conservatives". (16)
Members of the group came mainly from the young landowning aristocracy, the Foreign Office, the Civil Service, the outlawed Social Democratic Party and the Church. "There were perhaps twenty core members of the circle, and they were all relatively young men. Half were under thirty-six and only two were over fifty. The young landowning aristocrats had left-wing ideals and sympathies and created a welcome haven for leading Social Democrats who had elected to stay like the journalist-turned-politician Carlo Mierendorff, and... Julius Leber, were the political leaders of the group, and their ideas struck lively sparks off older members of the Resistance like Goerdeler." (17)
Adam von Trott became a very important member of the group. During the first winter of the war he began to think about the long-time future of Europe. He suggested that a European tariff and currency union, the setting up of a European Supreme Court and single European citizenship, as the basis for a future administrative unification of Europe. Moltke agreed and called for the setting up of a "supreme European legislature", which would be answerable, not to the national self-governing bodies, but to the individual citizens, by whom it would be elected. In other words, an European Parliament. (18)
Peter Hoffmann, the author of The History of German Resistance (1977) has argued that one of strengths of the Kreisau Circle was that it had no established leader: "It consisted of highly independent personalities holding views of their own. They were both able and willing to compromise, for they knew that politics without compromise was impossible. In the discussion phase, however, they clung to their own views." (19) Although the Kreisau Circle did not have a leader, Moltke and Wartenburg were the two most important figures in the group. Joachim Fest, the author of Plotting Hitler's Death (1997) has pointed out the Moltke has been described as the "engine" of the group, Yorck von Wartenburg was its "heart". (20)
The group disagreed about several different issues. Whereas Moltke and Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg were strongly anti-racist, others such as Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg, believed that Jews should be eliminated from public service and evinced unmistakably anti-Semitic prejudice. "As late as 1938 he repeated his call for the removal of Jews from government and the civil service. His biographer, Albert Krebs, attests that he 'was never able to rid himself of feelings of alienation toward the intellectual and material world of Jewry.' He was appalled to learn of the crimes perpetrated against the Jewish population in the occupied Soviet Union, but this was not a major factor in his determination to see Hitler removed." (21)
In June, 1940, Moltke wrote to his wife, Freya von Moltke: "It is our duty to recognize what is repugnant, to analyse it, to defeat it through a superior synthesis and thus make it serve our purpose." At the same time his thoughts were revolving around the question of whether he would be lucky enough to survive the stage "between intellectual triumph and actual revolution", and he comforted himself by pointing out that in retrospect the "time span between Voltaire's heralding of the French Revolution and its arrival had been short." (22)
As early as 1941, Moltke expressed the expectation that "a great economic community would emerge from the demobilization of armed forces in Europe" and that it would be "managed by an internal European economic bureaucracy". Combined with this he hoped to see Europe divided up into self-governing territories of comparable size, which would break away from the principle of the nation-state. Although their domestic constitutions would be quite different from each other, he hoped that by the encouragement of "small communities" they would assume public duties. His idea was of a European community built up from below. (23)
Moltke had to travel through German-occupied Europe and observed many human rights abuses including the killing of civilians. In October 1941, Moltke wrote: "In one area in Serbia two villages have been reduced to ashes.... In Greece 220 men of one village have been shot.... In France there are extensive shootings while I write. Certainly more than a thousand people are murdered in this way every day and another thousand German men are habituated to murder... Since Saturday the Berlin Jews are being rounded up. Then they are sent off with what they can carry.... May I know this and yet sit at my table in my heated flat and have tea? What shall I say when I am asked: And what did you do during that time.... How can anyone know these things and still walk around free?" (24)
Moltke became aware that terrible things we taking place under the rule of Hitler. He encountered a nurse on the tram and she was very drunk. Moltke helped her off at her stop. She said to him, "I expect it horrifies you to see me like this." He replied, "No, not horrified; but I'm sorry to see someone like you in such a state." She told him, "I work in an SS hospital, and there the sick, the men who cannot shut out what they have done and seen, cry out all the time, 'I can't do it any more! I can't do it any more!' If you have to listen to that all day, you reach for the bottle at night." (25)
The atrocities increased after the invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa) on 22nd June, 1941. Von Moltke wrote a now-famous memo opposing the Nazi policy to ignore the Geneva and The Hague Conventions for Soviet prisoners, since Moscow was not a signatory. Von Moltke argued it was important to create a "tradition of compliance" with international law, and that good treatment of Soviet prisoners would offer ground for good treatment of German prisoners. The memo created a stir in the High Command of the German Army until Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel dismissed it, saying the Geneva Convention was "a product of a notion of chivalry of a bygone era." (26)
In April 1942, Helmuth von Moltke and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a member of the Kreisau Circle, travelled to Norway under the auspices of Abwehr work. Their purpose was to effect the release of Bishop Eivind Berggrav, who had managed to persuade Norwegian priests to resign en masse in protest at the German occupation and Nazi activities. Moltke and Bonhoeffer successfully persuaded the local authorities that if Berggrav was executed it would lead only to greater discontent among the population, making it harder to control. (27)
Moltke also made several attempts to negotiate with the British government. In May 1942 he arranged for Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans Schönfeld, a fellow clergyman, to meet Bishop George Bell in Stockholm. Bonhoeffer and Schönfeld asked Bell: "Would the Allies adopt a different stance toward a Germany that had liberated itself from Hitler than they would toward a Germany still under his rule? Bell reported back to the British Foreign Office, but Anthony Eden wrote back only to say he was "satisfied that it is not in the national interest to provide an answer of any kind." A few months later, Bell approached the British Foreign Office again, Eden noted in the margin of his reply, "I see no reason whatsoever to encourage this pestilent priest!" (28)
The following year Helmuth von Moltke went to Stockholm with the latest leaflets being distributed by the White Rose resistance group. Eugen Gerstenmaier and Adam von Trott also went to the city to try and negotiate with representatives of the British government. Trott told them: "We cannot afford to wait any longer. We are so weak that we will only achieve our goal if everything goes our way and we get outside help." However, they received no encouragement. "The Allies did not even trouble themselves to reject the various attempts to contact them; they simply closed their eyes to the German resistance, acting as if it did not exist." (29) Moltke was also in contact with Lionel Curtis, who was an influential figure in the British establishment. (30)
The most active of those seeking a negotiated peace agreement with the Allies was Carl Goerdeler. The former lord mayor of Leipzig, and an early supporter of the Nazi Party, he accepted the post as Reich Commissioner of Prices. He attempted without success to win Hitler's support for major reforms in local administration. In November 1936, while Goerdeler was abroad, the Nazi councillors of Leipzig removed the statue of the statue of the composer Felix Mendelssohn from its position opposite the Gewandhaus concert hall. On his return Goerdeler resigned in protest as mayor of the city. (31) He became financial adviser to the Stuttgart firm of Robert Bosch. This involved travelling abroad and before the outbreak of war he visited London and urged the British government to be tough and flexible in dealing with the Third Reich. (32)
On 8th January, 1943, a group of conspirators, including, Helmuth von Moltke, Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg, Johannes Popitz, Ulrich Hassell, Eugen Gerstenmaier, Adam von Trott, Ludwig Beck and Carl Goerdeler met at the home of Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg. Hassell was uneasy with the utopianism of the of the Kreisau Circle, but believed that the "different resistance groups should not waste their strength nursing differences when they were in such extreme danger". Wartenburg, Moltke and Hassell were all concerned by the suggestion that Goerdeler should become Chancellor if Adolf Hitler was overthrown as they feared that he could become a Alexander Kerensky type leader. (33)
Moltke and Goerdeler clashed over several different issues. According to Theodore S. Hamerow: "Goerdeler was the opposite of Moltke in temperament and outlook. Moltke, preoccupied with the moral dilemmas of power, could not deal with the practical problems of seizing and exercising it. He was overwhelmed by his own intellectuality. Goerdeler, by contrast, seemed to believe that most spiritual quandaries could be resolved through administrative expertise and managerial skill. He suffered from too much practicality. He objected to the policies more than the principles of National Socialism, to the methods more than the goals. He agreed in general that the Jews were an alien element in German national life, an element that should be isolated and removed. But there is no need for brutality or persecution. Would it not be better to try and solve the Jewish question by moderate, reasonable means?" (34)
Moltke and Wartenburg were free from the anti-Semitic prejudice. Unlike many members of the resistance, nationalistic motives were only of secondary importance. "Both men made their judgments from a Christian and universalist viewpoint, and regarded the defeat of Nazism not primarily as a German problem, but one which genuinely concerned the whole western world. Neither of them faced the problem of having to separate a supposedly beneficial policy of segregation from criminally violent treatment of the Jews. For them, Jewish persecution had become symptomatic of the long decline of the west." (35)
Some historians have defended Goerdeler from claims that he was an ultra-conservative: "Goerdeler has frequently been accused of being a reactionary. To some extent this results from the vehemence with which differing points of view were often argued between the various political tendencies in the opposition. In Goerdeler's case the accusation is unjustified. Admittedly he, like Popitz, wished to avoid the pitfalls of mass democracy; he was concerned to form an elite... and some stable form of authority. This he wished to achieve, however, through liberalism and decentralization; his stable authority should be so constructed that it guaranteed rather than suppressed freedom." (36)
When Goerdeler worked for Adolf Hitler as Reich Commissioner of Prices he argued against the persecution of Jews in order to develop a better relationship with the Allied powers: "I can well imagine that we will have to bring certain issues... into a greater degree of alignment with the imponderable attitudes of other peoples, not in substance, but in the manner of dealing with them". (37)
Goerdeler then went on to argue that "a new arrangement regarding the position of the Jews seems necessary throughout the world." Something had to be done. "That the Jewish people belong to a different race is common knowledge." Goerdeler believed that: "The world will have peace only when the Jewish people are given a real opportunity to establish and maintain their own state... perhaps... in parts of Canada or South America." Those left in Germany would be classed as "resident aliens" who would be barred from the civil service and the franchise. He was against the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws, but disapproved of "racial mixture" through intermarriage could be left to "the sound common sense of the people". (38)
Carl Goerdeler and Colonel-General Ludwig Beck had written an article in 1941 entitled The Goal. It began with a long analysis of German history and German political development. It looked to Britain with admiration for the way it had developed and run its Empire. At the same time it looked forward to a federation of European nations under German leadership "within ten or twenty years". It included a reference to the innate superiority of "the white race". In another essay three years later it still blamed the French for being too harsh in the negotiations following the First World War. (39)
Moltke, as a socialist, disagreed with the Goerdeler group mover several different issues. However, he was determined to persuade all members of the German resistance to agree on a common programme. He "waged a continual battle to persuade his new-found partners to agree among themselves... to prevent them dropping out altogether". He spoke about a "fundamental danger-zone, where some people hope that by sacrificing principles they will make the boat more buoyant, forgetting that by doing so they make it impossible to steer." (40)
Over a period of time Goerdeler and his followers did move over certain issues. For example, at first Goerdeler had strong reservations about Kreisau Circle's radical plan for Europe, but by 1942 their positions became ever closer. In 1943, Goerdeler called for the dismantling of tariff barriers, "equality of economic rights" and "standardized transport arrangements". He also advocated the setting up of European ministries of economics and foreign affairs. Later he talked about the need for "a European federation of states". (41) In one memorandum he wrote that the war "must lead to a close union of the nations of Europe, if the sacrifices are to have any purpose". (42)
In October 1943, Moltke arrived in Copenhagen on official business. He worked through Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, an attaché for Nazi Germany in occupied Denmark, who had become disillusioned by fascism. Duckwitz helped to save most of the Danish Jews who were due to be taken to an extermination camp on the orders of Hitler by arranging for them to go to Sweden. It has been claimed that he managed to rescue 95% of Denmark's Jewish population. When he heard that the German Army was helping the SS in their anti-Jewish manhunt, he went to General Hermann von Hanneken, the Commander-in-Chief, and said to him: "You must have gone mad. You'll pay dearly for this one day. Don't you understand that?" (43)
Wilhelm Leuschner, Julius Leber, Adolf Reichwein, Alfred Delp, and Carlo Mierendorff supported Moltke's belief in the restoration of traditional trade unions in a post-war Germany. Goerdeler eventually agreed with this but disliked the idea of co-operative works councils. Both sides agreed in the matter of individual responsibility, but the Moltke group laid greater emphasis on the importance of the community and were far less nationalistic than Goerdeler and his followers. (44) Moltke argued that "the end of the war will offer an opportunity to reshape the world for the better, into something society has not seen since the disintegration of the medieval Church." (45)
Members of the Kreisau Circle spent a lot of time discussing the kind of society they wanted after the overthrow of Hitler. Their plan was loosely based on both Christian and socialist values. Primary schools were to be run mainly by the Church while higher education was to be independent. All adults over the age of twenty-one were to be given the vote and the head of each household would be given additional votes depending on how many children, under the age of twenty-one, he or she had. "Industry was to be nationalized and the group made provision for the involvement of both workers and management in the running of business. The collective wealth of the country was to be used for the benefit of all citizens and not just an elite few. The ultimate aim for Germany was that she should become a leading member of a community of European nations, which would also include the Soviet Union. These nations would have limited individual power but would, collectively, be a force for good and for peace." (46)
Moltke hoped that all European countries would create a series of "small communities". This included the family, neighbourhood, voluntary associations, study groups, housing associations, youth groups and cultural institutions of all kinds. Moltke hoped to see like-minded people joining forces across European frontiers and becoming the standard-bearers of the new beginning. This solidarity he hoped to be able to build the future Europe. He hoped this would be a constructive contribution to peace on the continent. "The idea of a personal socialism realized in sound forms of self-government", in which they saw "a general solution to Europe's social and economic problems". (47)
The Kreisau Circle were divided over the issue of assassinating of Adolf Hitler. Moltke was initially opposed to the idea, and told one friend that "Hitler must be kept alive and made to carry the entire responsibility for the catastrophe with his Party." Gradually even the deeply religious members of the group, including Alfred Delp, Eugen Gerstenmaier, Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, changed their mind on this issue. In September, 1943, Moltke told General Alexander von Falkenhausen: "Despite all our scruples we have no alternative but to eliminate Hitler physically." (48)
It has been argued that Moltke and Bonhoeffer were the last of the group to accept the need to assassinate Hitler. Although they had argued for non-violence over many years, in this case it was justified. Harald Poelchau, a member of the Kreisau Circle, and a prison chaplain in Tegel Prison, claimed that Moltke gave his approval for the assassination attempt on Hitler, provided it be understood as the rarest of exceptions." (49)
Moltke went to Turkey in October 1943 and discussed a negotiated peace agreement with Professor Hans Wilbrandt and Professor Alexander Rüstow, who had close ties with the American secret service. Moltke was put in touch with General William Donovan, the head of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services). Donovan was keen to take part in these negotiations and sent his assistant, Emmy Rado, to take the message to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Donovan had advocated acceptance of the offer, but Roosevelt flatly declined to negotiate with "these East German Junkers". (50)
Moltke was also in contact with other resistance groups. This included a group that included Elisabeth von Thadden, a Christian educational reformer and Red Cross worker, Otto Kiep, a high official from the Foreign Office and Hanna Solf. The group helped victims of Nazi persecution to flee the country. Moltke discovered that their telephones were about to be tapped and so he warned them to be careful how they communicated to each other. Unfortunately, one of the members of this group, Paul Reckzeh, was a Nazi spy. He now told the authorities that Moltke was a member of the German resistance. (51)
Moltke was arrested by the Gestapo on 19th January 1944. As Hans Gisevius pointed out: "Thus the Kreisau circle lost its leader. What that meant we were to learn during the days before July 20. Moltke's balance and moderation undoubtedly had prevented many careless and improvised actions." (52) In a letter to his wife, Freya von Moltke he wrote: "I was removed at the very moment when there was a danger that I might have become involved in active putsch preparations... I therefore remain free of any association with the use of force." (53)
Peter Hoffmann has pointed out: "He (Moltke) was removed by a dispensation of providence in the form of the arrest; it seems certain that otherwise he would have played an active part. Providence enabled him to abide by his principles which otherwise he would have forsaken. At about the same time he had a last talk with Gerstenmaier, arranged for him by two warders in Tegel, and his attitude then was similar. He made no effort to counter Gerstenmaier's argument that in this case assassination was in accord with Christ's commandment to love and declared himself explicitly and unreservedly in agreement with the attitude of his friends of the Kreisau Circle." (54)
After the failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler on 2oth July, 1944. the Führer ordered Heinrich Himmler and Ernst Kaltenbrunner to arrest "every last person who had dared to plot against him". Hitler laid down the procedure for killing them: "This time the criminals will be given short shrift. No military tribunals. We'll hail them before the People's Court. No long speeches from them. The court will act with lightning speed. And two hours after the sentence it will be carried out. By hanging - without mercy." (55)
Members of the Kreisau Circle was arrested and the following were executed over the next few months: Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg (8th August, 1944), Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg (10th August, 1944), Adam von Trott (26th August, 1944), Ulrich-Wilhelm Graf von Schwerin (6th September, 1944), Wilhelm Leuschner (29th September, 1944), Adolf Reichwein (20th October, 1944), Julius Leber (5th January, 1945), Alfred Delp (2nd February, 1945) and Dietrich Bonhoffer (9th April, 1945).
Close associates of the group who were also executed included: Claus von Stauffenberg (21st July, 1944), Ludwig Beck (21st July, 1944), Friedrich Olbricht (21st July, 1944), Albrecht Metz von Quirnheim (21st July, 1944), Werner von Haeften (21st July, 1944), Erich Hoepner (8th August, 1944), Erwin von Witzleben (8th August, 1944), Paul von Hase (8th August, 1944), Helmuth Stieff (8th August, 1944), Wilhelm Canaris (9th April, 1945), Otto Kiep, (26th August, 1944), Wolf-Heinrich Helldorf (15th August, 1944), Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel (30th August, 1944), Erich Fellgiebel (4th September, 1944), Elisabeth von Thadden (8th September, 1944), Ulrich Hassell (8th September, 1944), Josef Wirmer (8th September, 1944), Carl Langbehn (12th October, 1944), Karl Freiherr von Thüngen (24th October, 1944), Carl Goerdeler (2nd February, 1945), Hans Oster (9th April, 1945), Hans Dohnanyi (9th April, 1945) and Johannes Popitz (2nd February, 1945).
Fritz Lindemann died from his injuries while he was being arrested whereas several people committed suicide rather than being tortured and executed. This included General-Major Henning von Tresckow (21st July, 1944), Major Hans Ulrich von Oertzen (21st July, 1944), Field Marshal Günther von Kluge (19th August, 1944) and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (14th October, 1944).
Helmuth von Moltke was in prison at the time and was not involved in the July Plot, but he was charged with treason, especially for failing to report the early activities of his associates. He was condemned to death on 11th January, 1945 and in his last letter to his wife he wrote that he did not aim at martyrdom but regarded it as "an inestimable to die for something which... is worthwhile." He added that he was to be killed not for what he had done but what he had thought. Moltke was executed at Ploetzensee Prison on 23rd January, 1945. (56)
It was founded and held together by Helmuth von Moltke, a great-grandnephew of the celebrated army commander of the Franco-Prussian War, who worked in the Wehrmacht dubbed the Kreisau Circle after the estate owned by the Moltke family in Silesia, although it met there only two or three times. Its intense discussions, conducted in working groups, took place more frequently in various locations in Berlin; beginning in early 1943 most were held on Hortensienstrasse in Lichterfelde, at the home of Peter Yorck von Wartenburg, another bearer of a famous name in Prussian history... While Moltke has been described as the "engine" of the group, Yorck von Wartenburg was its "heart".
Around Moltke and Yorck gathered what at first glance appeared to be a motley array of strong-willed individuals with markedly different origins, temperaments, and convictions... The most striking characteristic of this group, apart from its strong religious leanings, was its earnest and quite successful attempt to attract a number of devoted but undogmatic socialists...
A number of figures from the Christian resistance also joined the Kreisau Circle, including the Jesuits Alfred Delp and Augustin Rösch, as well as prominent Protestants like the theologian Eugen Gerstenmaier and the prison chaplain Harald Poelchau. Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg and Julius Leber were also loosely affiliated with this group...
There was a strong utopian streak in their thought and planning, which was infused with Christian and socialist ideals, as well as remnants from the youth movement of a romantic belief in the dawning of a new era. They basically believed that all social and political systems were reaching a dead end and that capitalism and Communism, no less than Nazism, were symptomatic of the crisis deep and all encompassing in modern mass society.
Although the Kreisau Circle was at one on a number of principles, these were so broadly stated that much was left in the air, primary for the sake of agreement. The Circle was so named after Graf von Moltke's estate where the group frequently met. It had no established leader, however, and more often met in Berlin, though not in full conclave; it consisted of of highly independent personalities holding views of their own. They were both able and willing to compromise, for they knew that politics without compromise was impossible. In the discussion phase, however, they clung to their own views.
In one area in Serbia two villages have been reduced to ashes.... In Greece 220 men of one village have been shot.... In France there are extensive shootings while I write. Certainly more than a thousand people are murdered in this way every day and another thousand German men are habituated to murder... Since Saturday the Berlin Jews are being rounded up. Then they are sent off with what they can carry. A female acquaintance of Karl Otto Kiep saw a Jew collapse on the street. As she went to help him, a policeman stopped her, gave the prone body a kick, so that he rolled into the gutter... May I know this and yet sit at my table in my heated flat and have tea? What shall I say when I am asked: And what did you do during that time.... How can anyone know these things and still walk around free?
As Germany's long, often-praised reconciliation with its Nazi past digs deeper, it brings forward characters such as Christian Nazi resister Helmuth James von Moltke.
On his centenary anniversary Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised him as a symbol of "European courage" and for having a vision of a democratic Europe far ahead of its time.
Mr. Von Moltke, descendant of one of Germany's greatest military generals, was executed in 1945 for collaborating against Hitler, partly as the guiding spirit of the Kreisau Circle, a collection of German intellectuals, theologians, and aristocrats committed to ending Hitler's rule and rebuilding Germany.
His commemoration signifies Germany's persistent efforts to face its Nazi past, an effort now praised as a model of reconciliation at a time when Germany holds the EU presidency. The tribute showed a deeper phase of that reconciliation by highlighting the life of a Christian dissenter whose hidden role and clear thinking in the midst of Nazi atrocities is getting more attention in historical, legal, and religious circles...
Working from the midst of military intelligence in Berlin, Von Moltke took great risks by being at the center of intense debates over how and whether to kill Hitler. After the war, Germans found courage in those who carried out the failed July 20, 1944, coup plot to kill Hitler.
"After the war, the coup was something to build on," says a German foreign ministry source, though it was only in 2004 that Germany recognized the coup attempt.
But Von Moltke represented a different path. He warned that the plot would make a martyr of Hitler if it succeeded. And if it failed, it would expose the tiny band of anti-Nazis at a time when the war was already lost – robbing Germany of those individuals best able to rebuild the state.
His warnings were prescient; some 5,000 dissidents were rounded up by the Gestapo and executed after the failed coup led by Klaus von Stauffenberg on Hitler.
Von Moltke focused instead on opportunities to undermine the Nazi apparatus from within. As legal counsel for the Abwehr, a military intelligence office, Von Moltke was in a position to early inform trusted friends about the dimensions of the war and the Jewish extermination camps. He got Jews safely deported through legal channels. He wrote some of the few reports on the psychological disturbances of German soldiers forced to kill Jews and Eastern Europeans en masse...
Dissent in Nazi Germany required enormous discipline, notes Mrs. Von Moltke, now 96. On trips inside Nazi-occupied Europe, her husband pursued contacts with resistance figures. Britain's recently declassified files show that Von Moltke tried twice to contact "trusted Britishers" during the war. He reached out to friends from his days at Oxford, stating he would "go to any length" to assist Allied authorities.
According to media reports on the files, British officials first confused him with his uncle, ambassador to Spain, and the meeting was called off. The second time, MI5 chief David Petrie described it of "enormous psychological interest" but said he needed to see "deeds" rather than "talk," from the German legal official.
Sunday's commemoration was a triumph for Mrs. von Moltke in her long efforts to have her husband's life and ideas better understood. She and former German president Richard von Weizsacker sat together in the front row of a moving service at the French Huguenot church in Berlin. After the service, a young German, Jens Fischer, said he felt Von Moltke's life showed that "resistance to evil things and having a deeper sense of faith aren't separate but actually the same thing, something mutual."
In recent years, Von Moltke's legacy as a legal thinker has risen – especially in Pentagon debates over whether Afghan combatants should receive POW status. As Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, Von Moltke wrote a now-famous memo opposing the Nazi policy to ignore the Geneva and The Hague Conventions for Soviet prisoners, since Moscow was not a signatory. Von Moltke argued it was important to create a "tradition of compliance" with international law, and that good treatment of Soviet prisoners would offer ground for good treatment of German prisoners.
The memo created such a stir in old-line German Army circles, as distinct to Nazi and SS circles, that it required Field Marshal Keitel to finally dismiss it, saying the Geneva Convention was "a product of a notion of chivalry of a bygone era."
He wrote his wife, "The trial proved all concrete accusations to be untenable, and they were dropped accordingly.... But what the Third Reich is so terrified of ... is ultimately the following: a private individual, your husband, of whom it is established that he discussed with 2 clergymen of both denominations [Protestant and Catholic] ... questions of the practical, ethical demands of Christianity. Nothing else; for that alone we are condemned.... I just wept a little, not because I was sad or melancholy ... but because I am thankful and moved by this proof of God's presence."
I have struggled all my life - beginning in my school days - against the narrow-mindedness and arrogance, the penchant for violence, the merciless consistency and the love of the absolute, that seems to be inherent in the Germans... I have also done what I could do to ensure that this spirit - with its excessive nationalism, persecution of other races, agnosticism, and materialism - is defeated.