Moltke, Helmuth James Graf von, born on 11-03-1907 in Kreisau, was a German jurist, a member of the opposition against Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, and a founding member of the Kreisau Circle resistance group. He was the great-grandnephew of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, here with Otto von Bismarck on the left, the victorious commander in the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars, and the owner of the Kreisau Estate in Prussian Silesia.
His mother, Dorothy (née Rose Innes), was a South African of British descent, the daughter of Sir James Rose Innes, Chief Justice of the Union of South Africa from 1914 to 1927. Moltke’s parents were Christian Scientists, his mother adopting his father’s religion after marriage. His father became a Christian Science practitioner and teacher and both parents were in the group that translated the first German edition of the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. For reasons of family tradition, Moltke decided to become confirmed Evangelical when he was 14.
From 1927 to 1929, Moltke studied law and political sciences in Breslau, Vienna, Heidelberg, and Berlin. In 1931 he married Freya Deichmann, whom he met in Austria.
In 1928 Moltke became involved with college teachers and youth movement leaders in the organization of the Löwenberger Arbeitsgemeinschaften (Löwenberg working groups) in which unemployed young workers and young farmers were brought together with students so that they could learn from one another. They also discussed civics, obligations, and rights. In Kreisau, Moltke set aside an unused part of the estate for farming startups, which earned him harsh criticism from neighbouring landowners.
In 1934, Moltke took his junior law examination. In 1935, he 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 and traveled abroad to maintain contacts. Between 1935 and 1938, Moltke regularly visited Great Britain, where he completed English legal training in London and Oxford.
In 1939, World War II began with the German invasion of Poland. Moltke was immediately drafted at the beginning of the Polish campaign by the Abwehr, the High Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht), Counter-Intelligence Service, Foreign Division, under Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, as an expert in martial law and international public law. 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. He maintained the connection between the OKW and the Foreign Office, but above all to provide appraisals of questions of the international laws of war. Unusually, he chose not to wear a uniform
Moltke opposed the assassination of Hitler very much. He warned that if one succeeded, Hitler would become a martyr, whereas if one were to fail, it would expose those few individuals among the German leadership who could be counted on to build a democratic state after the collapse of the Third Reich. On 20-07-1944 there was an attempt on Hitler’s life, which the Gestapo used as a pretext to eliminate perceived opponents to the Nazi regime. In the aftermath of the plot some 5,000 of Adolf Hitler’s (did you know) opponents were executed. Moltke’s mindset and his objections to orders that were at odds with international law both put him at risk of arrest. Indeed, the Gestapo arrested him in January 1944. A year later, in January 1945, he stood, along with several of his fellow régime opponents, before the People’s Court (Volksgerichtshof), presided over by Roland Freisler. Because no evidence could be found that Moltke had participated in any conspiracy to bring about a coup d’état, Freisler had to invent a charge de novo
Death and burial ground of Moltke, Helmuth James Graf von.
Moltke was sentenced to death on 11-01-1945 and executed twelve days later at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin. In a letter written while in custody, he revealed his motivation for resistance to his two sons: “Since National Socialism came to power, I have striven to make its consequences milder for its victims and to prepare the way for a change. In that, my conscience drove me – and in the end, that is a man’s duty.” In 1989, Moltke was posthumously awarded the Geschwister-Scholl-Preis Hans and Sophie Scholl
for his work. Moltke is buried on the cemetery Wandsbek, in Hamburg. And a remembrance stone for the brothers Helmuth James and Carl Bernhard von Moltke in Kapellenberg in Kreisau