If you knew that your nation was savagely butchering its own people in semi-secret camps; if you thought your leader was a madman whose decisions would inevitably ruin your country and threaten all of civilization; would you sit still or would you try to do something? That was the dilemma Helmuth James von Moltke faced.
A lawyer, he was highly placed in the German government. He put two and two together and recognized what Hitler was doing to unwanted population groups such as the Jews. From his vantage, he saw National Socialism as the enemy of civilization. In letters to his wife, Freya, he bared his heart. "...hunger, disease and fear are spreading under our rule. Nobody knows what the consequences will be or how soon they will set in. But one thing is quite certain: the Apocalyptic Horsemen are beginners compared to what is ahead of us..."
Moltke used his influential position to warn the outside world of what was going on in Germany. He also helped Jews to escape from the Nazis and mobilized opponents of the violent regime.
Eventually someone betrayed him. He was brought to trial before Judge Friesler. Friesler told him Nazism and Christianity were alike in one thing: both systems demanded the whole man.
In his last letter to Freya, dated on this day, January 11, 1945, Moltke wrote that he had stood before Judge Friesler "not as a Protestant, not as a big landowner, not as a nobleman, not as a Prussian, not as a German, but as a Christian and nothing else."
He admitted that he expected to die. Nonetheless, he wanted to go on living if he could. "The task for which God made me is done. If he has another task for me, we shall hear of it. Therefore by all means continue your efforts to save my life, if I survive this day. Perhaps there is another task."
Moltke believed that the hand of God had been at work throughout his life to bring him to the moment when his life must be sacrificed in opposition to evil. Evidently he was right. The Nazis executed him later that month.
- Balfour, Michael Leonard Graham and Julian Frisby.Helmuth von Moltke; a leader against Hitler, by Michael Balfour and Julian Frisby. London: Macmillan, 1972.
- Moltke, Helmuth James, Graf von, 1907-1945. Letters to Freya : 1939-1945; edited and translated from the German by Beate Ruhm von Oppen. New York : Knopf, 1990.
Last updated May, 2007.