Friday, August 13, 2010

Letters To Freya: The Trial of Helmuth James von Moltke

Helmuth James von Moltke on trial for his life in 1944

The passage below is excerpted from Letters To Freya and requires some background. I wrote briefly about Freya von Moltke here.  Her husband, Count Helmuth James von Moltke, was a German lawyer secretly active in anti-Nazi resistance. He managed to stay undetected until near the end but after the last attempt on Hitler's life he was betrayed and arrested. In this passage, written shortly before his execution, von Moltke describes the trial, a psychological battle between himself and Roland Freisler, the Nazi judge who tried and condemned him. Freisler was the same judge who had tried and convicted Sophie Scholl and the other members of the White Rose resistance group. There is actual archive film of Freisler presiding over trials here. Von Moltke wrote:
In one of his tirades Freisler said to me: 
Only in one respect are we and Christianity alike: we demand the whole man!   
I don't know if the others sitting there took it all in, for it was sort of a dialogue--a spiritual one between Freisler and myself, for I could not utter many words--in which we two got to know each other through and through. Of the whole gang Freisler was the only one who recognized me, and of the whole gang he is the only one who knows why he has to kill me. There was nothing about a 'complicated man' or 'complicated thoughts' or 'ideology', but 'the fig leaf is off'. But only for Herr Freisler.  We talked, as it were in a vacuum. He made not a single joke at my expense, as he had done with Delp and Eugen. No, this was grim earnest: 
From whom do you take your orders? From the Beyond or from Adolf Hitler? Who commands your loyalty and your faith?   
All rhetorical questions, of course.--Anyhow, Freisler is the first National Socialist who has grasped who I am, and the good Mueller* is a simpleton.
*Heinrich Müller, Gestapo chief, last seen in the bunker the day after Hitler committed suicide. Müller eluded capture and his whereabouts after the war were never positively determined.

I selected this particular passage because it reminds me of the psychological dynamics of The Grand Inquisitor within Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov with Freisler playing the role of the Grand Inquisitor and von Moltke the Christ-like figure. The difference of course is that Dostoevsky was writing 19th century fiction while von Moltke's trial really occurred 75 years ago.