Monday, June 7, 2010

Freya von Moltke Never Went Back To Poland

Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Freya von Moltke (1911-2010)
Freya von Moltke passed away almost unnoticed early this year.  I was twittering around late one night last spring and came across her book, Memories of Kreisau and the German Resistance. I was interested in her husband, Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, after having watched Sophie Scholl: Die Letzten Tage

Memories of Kreisau & The German Resistance is a slim volume which I read through in a weekend. I marked a couple passages with yellow stickies that I thought might be worth remembering.  Here she writes about what motivated her husband and his friends:
However, questions of faith were also, or became, personally vital for almost all the members of the group.  Even if they were not churchgoing Christians, it was their faith in divine work, and, in fact, the faith rooted in Christian heritage, that gave them their foundation and their courage.  Their faith also imposed upon them the duty to act against the destruction of fundamental humanity (evolved from Christianity) by National Socialism and to risk their lives for this. However, for them it was not only a matter of great heritage, out of which our western treasures had grown, in spite of all atrocities committed by the church and by Christians throughout the centuries; rather, they also believed in the future of Christianity.  Christianity has a way--just when it appears bankrupt--of becoming alive again in a new and different manner. They believed that. Faith is tested by one's actions. People attach themselves to many gods and are always in danger of being led astray by false gods--as was the case then with the false gods of National Socialism.
Her husband, Helmuth James von Moltke, was one of Germany's best legal minds of his generation.  He was arrested, charged with conspiracy, and executed just months before the end of the war.  Freya said of her husband:
Whoever wants to become acquainted with Helmuth, must read his letters. He is not easy to describe, especially not for me. 
Helmuth James von Moltke's  Letters To Freya (1939-45) is over 400 pages long and set in extremely small type font. He details in an unbroken series of letters to his wife the minutia of his thoughts on all matters as seen from someone inside the Third Reich on the other side.  The diarist narrative gets a bit bogged down in places and I admit that I skipped around, unlike Memories of Kreisau.

Imprisoned for a year, then tried and summarily executed, von Moltke wrote to his sons from prison (then aged just 3 and 6) calling their mother by her name and choosing words which they could not possibly have understood then:
...Ever since National Socialism came to power, I have done my best to mitigate the consequences for its victims and to prepare for a change. I was driven to it by my conscience, and, after all, it is a task for a man. From 1933 on, I have therefore had to make material sacrifices and to run personal risks. In all these years Freya, who was the one who suffered most from these sacrifices and who always had to be concerned that I would be arrested, imprisoned, or killed, never hindered me in what I considered necessary, or made it harder in any way. She was always ready to accept everything; she was always ready to make sacrifices if it was necessary. And I tell you: that is much more than I did. For running risks oneself, which one knows, is nothing compared with the readiness to let the person with whom one's life is joined run risks one cannot gauge. And it is much more, too, than the wife of a warrior accepts, for she has no choice; one word from Freya might have held me back from many an undertaking.
The very last two letters in Letters To Freya (written after he had been condemned and just days before his execution) are particularly moving and read in part like lyrics--as if written by a man graced with resolve and contentment.   Freya wrote in her book:
I carried Helmuth's commitment with him from the beginning, and therefore, I wanted him to continue....I never advised him to stop, but rather encouraged him, because I was convinced that that was the right way for him to fulfill his life.
It sounds to me like they had a perfect marriage.


  1. Great post on what sounds like a great book. And quite timely considering the Helen Thomas brouhaha.

  2. I've nearly finished Freya's slim book. One thing that struck me is that she couldn't get over how polite the Nazis were to her. That seems to have confused her. I suspect the Nazis just couldn't shake the deeply ingrained habit of deference to aristocrats.

  3. I suspect the Nazis just couldn't shake the deeply ingrained habit of deference to aristocrats.

    Are you referring to how they treated her when she went to visit him in prison? Moltke wasn't just an aristocrat, but the great-grand nephew of a national hero. Von Moltke the elder had decisively won the Franco-Prussian war. There's a bridge named after him crossing the Spree from the Reichstag (that bridge became somewhat famous during the battle for Berlin).

    Still, I suspect you're right.