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Freya von Moltke

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Title: Freya von Moltke  
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Subject: Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, Krzyżowa, Świdnica County, Helen McCrory, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Norwich, Vermont
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Freya von Moltke

Freya von Moltke
Freya von Moltke in 2009.
Born Freya Deichmann
(1911-03-29)March 29, 1911
Cologne, Germany
Died January 1, 2010(2010-01-01) (aged 98)
Norwich, Vermont
Nationality Federal Republic of Germany, United States of America
Education Doctor of Law, Humboldt University of Berlin
Occupation scholar, author, speaker
Known for Chronicling her husband’s role in the Kreisau Circle’s non-violent resistance to Nazism during World War II.
Spouse(s) Helmuth James Ludwig Eugen Heinrich Graf von Moltke [1]
Children Helmuth Caspar, Konrad
Parent(s) Ada & Carl Theodor Deichmann
Relatives Hans Deichmann, Carl Deichmann

Freya von Moltke (March 29, 1911 – January 1, 2010) was a participant in the anti-Nazi resistance group, the Kreisau Circle, with her husband, Helmuth James Graf von Moltke. During World War II, her husband acted to subvert German human-rights abuses of people in territories occupied by Germany and became a founding member of the Kreisau Circle, whose members opposed the government of Adolf Hitler. The Nazi government executed her husband for treason, he having discussed with the Kreisau Circle group the prospects for a Germany based on moral and democratic principles that could develop after Hitler. Von Moltke preserved her husband’s letters that detailed his activities during the war and she also chronicled events of that period from her perspective. She supported the founding of a center for international understanding at the former von Moltke estate in Krzyżowa (former Kreisau) in Poland. [2]


  • Early life 1
  • Pre-war Kreisau 2
  • Wartime Kreisau 3
  • Leaving Kreisau 4
  • Transitions 5
  • Legacy 6
    • Recognition 6.1
  • Notes and references 7
  • Further reading 8
    • In English 8.1
    • In German 8.2
  • External links 9

Early life

Freya and Helmuth James von Moltke, October 1931

Von Moltke was born Freya Deichmann in Cologne, Germany, the daughter of banker Carl Theodor Deichmann and his wife, Ada (née Ada von Schnitzler). In 1930, she began studying law at the University of Bonn and attended seminars at the University of Breslau, where she worked as a researcher for her future husband. On 18 October 1931, she married Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, in Cologne, Germany. The couple resided initially in a modest house at the von Moltke Kreisau estate, in Silesia (German: Schlesien), then in Germany but now part of Poland. They moved to Berlin so that he could complete his legal training. She also studied law in Berlin and received a Juris Doctor degree from Humboldt University of Berlin in 1935.[3]

Pre-war Kreisau

The main house of the von Moltke estate at Kreisau.

Following her law studies, she visited summers at the von Moltke estate at Kreisau where her husband, a Graf (count), had actively managed the farming activities—a pursuit atypical of a German nobleman—before retaining an overseer.[4] There von Moltke actively worked on the farm, while her husband started an international law practice in Berlin and studied to become an English barrister.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party, obtained the chancellorship of Germany, an event that von Moltke’s husband foresaw would be a disaster for Germany, not the transitory figure that others expected.[3][5] The Nazis immediately revoked the rights of individuals by the emergency Reichstag Fire Decree and abolished the constitution with the Enabling Act of 1933, by manipulating the Reichstag. The von Moltkes encouraged their overseer to join the Nazi Party to shield the community of Kreisau from government interference.[3]

In 1937 she gave birth to their first son, Helmuth Caspar. Thereafter, she lived at Kreisau year-round. Her husband inherited the Kreisau estate in 1939.[3]

Wartime Kreisau

In 1939, World War II began with the German invasion of Poland. Von Moltke’s husband was immediately “drafted at the beginning of the Polish campaign by the High Command of the Armed Forces, Counter-Intelligence Service, Foreign Division, as an expert in martial law and international public law.”[6] In his travels through German-occupied countries, her husband observed many human rights abuses, which he attempted to thwart by insisting that Germany observe the Geneva Convention (it continued not to) and through local actions in creating more benign outcomes for local inhabitants, citing legal principles.[6] In October, 1941, her husband wrote, "Certainly more than a thousand people are murdered in this way every day, and another thousand German men are habituated to murder... What shall I say when I am asked: And what did you do during that time?" In the same letter he said, "Since Saturday the Berlin Jews are being rounded up. Then they are sent off with what they can carry.... How can anyone know these things and walk around free?"[6]

In 1941 von Moltke gave birth to their second son, Konrad, at Kreisau.

Helmuth James Graf von Moltke before the People's Court in 1945

In Berlin von Moltke’s husband had a circle of acquaintances who opposed European Union. The third meeting in June, 1943 addressed how to handle the legacy of Nazi war crimes after the fall of the dictatorship. These and other meetings resulted in “Principles for the New [Post-Nazi] Order” and “Directions to Regional Commissioners” that her husband asked von Moltke to hide in a place that not even he knew.[3]

On January 19, 1944 the Gestapo arrested von Moltke’s husband for warning an acquaintance of that person’s impending arrest. She was allowed to visit him under benign conditions and found that he could continue to work and receive papers. On July 20, 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 January 1945, Helmuth von Moltke was tried, convicted, and executed by a Gestapo “People’s Court” for treason, having discussed with the Kreisau Circle group the prospects for a Germany based on moral and democratic principles that could develop after Hitler. [3]

Leaving Kreisau

In the spring of 1945 von Moltke and another Kreisau widow had evacuated their families to Czechoslovakia to avoid the Russian offensive, which ultimately bypassed Kreisau. After the fall of Berlin on May 2, 1945, the Russians sent a small detachment to occupy Kreisau. Using improvised notes in Russian and Czech, she obtained safe passage for both families to return to Kreisau from hiding. A Russian company was billeted at the von Moltke estate to “supervise the harvest" during the summer of 1945. When the Poles began to occupy the small farms, vacated by Germans, the Russians became protectors of the occupants of the von Moltke estate.[3]

After a trip to Berlin, where she met Allen Dulles and received American rations for a difficult return trip to Silesia to retrieve her children, von Moltke followed the advice of Gero von Schulze-Gaevernitz to leave Kreisau. Gaevernitz was an American officer, who came to inspect conditions in Silesia. Von Moltke gave him for safekeeping the letters that her husband had written to her, which she had hidden from the Nazis in her beehives. Thanks to British friends of her husband, emissaries from the British Embassy in Poland arranged for her evacuation from Poland.[3]


After her escape from Silesia, von Moltke moved to South Africa, where she settled with the couple's two young sons, Caspar and Konrad. There she worked as a social worker and a therapist for disabilities. In 1956, unable to further tolerate Apartheid, she returned to Berlin where she commenced her work in publicizing the Kreisau Circle. There she received support in this effort from Eugen Gerstenmeier, then president of the Bundestag, among others.[4] In 1960 she moved to Norwich, Vermont, to join the social philosopher, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, who died in 1973. At the age of 75, von Moltke became an United States citizen in order to pursue her interest in participating in the U.S. political system.[7]

She died in Norwich, Vermont on January 1, 2010 at the age of 98.[2]


Von Moltke pictured in a 1949 brochure[8] for a speaking tour in the United States.

After World War II, Von Moltke was active in publicizing her husband's ideas and actions during the war, to serve as an example of principled resistance. As early as 1949 she traveled to the United States to lecture on "Germany: Past and present," "Germany: Totalitarianism versus democracy,""German youth and the new education," and "Women’s position in the new Germany."[9]

Von Moltke has been a subject of many interviews and articles. She told interviewer, Owings: "People who lived through the Nazi time, and who still live, who did not lose their lives because they were opposed, all had to make compromises."[10]

With the reunification of Germany, von Moltke was supportive of transforming the former von Moltke estate in Kreisau into a meeting place to promote German-Polish and European mutual understanding. Poland and Germany invested 30 million DM in renovating the venue. It opened in 1998 as the Internationale Jugendbegegnungsstätte Kreisau (Kreisau International Youth Center). In 2004, a fund was established, the Freya von Moltke Stiftung für das Neue Kreisau (Freya von Moltke Foundation for the New Kreisau), to promote the long-term support of the meeting place and further the work done there. As of 2007, von Moltke actively supported this initiative as the honorary chair of the board of trustees of the Kreisau Foundation for European Understanding (the supporting entity for the Kreisau meeting site) and the Institute for Cultural Infrastructure, Sachsen in Görlitz.[11]

Her life served as the basis of a play by Marc Smith titled A Journey to Kreisau.[12]

Director Rachel Freudenburg's documentary film on the life of Freya von Moltke, including her last interview in English, premiered at Goethe-Institut Boston on January 23, 2011.[13]


In 1999, Dartmouth College awarded von Moltke an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for her writings on the German resistance during World War II.[14] In same year, she accepted the Bruecke Prize from the city of Görlitz, Germany, in recognition of her life’s work.[15]

Von Moltke met with three German Chancellors in connection with her life's work, Helmut Kohl in 1998 to introduce him to the Kreisau International Youth Center built in Krzyżowa, Gerhard Schroeder in 2004 at a wreath-laying ceremony to honor Nazi resisters, and Angela Merkel in 2007 at a commemoration of the birth centenary of her husband, Helmuth von Moltke.[2][16] At the March 11, 2007 commemoration in Berlin, Merkel described Helmuth von Moltke as a symbol of "European courage".[17]

Notes and references

  1. ^ Note: Regarding personal names: Graf was a title before 1919, but now is regarded as part of the surname. It is translated as Count. Before the August 1919 abolition of nobility as a legal class, titles preceded the full name when given (Graf Helmuth James von Moltke). Since 1919, these titles, along with any nobiliary prefix (von, zu, etc.), can be used, but are regarded as a dependent part of the surname, and thus come after any given names (Helmuth James Graf von Moltke). Titles and all dependent parts of surnames are ignored in alphabetical sorting. The feminine form is Gräfin.
  2. ^ a b c Ryan, Katie Beth (3 January 2010), "Norwich Resident, Nazi Resister, Dies at 98", Valley News: 1, 8 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i von Moltke, Freya (2003), Translator: Winter, Julie M., ed., Memories of Kreisau & The German Resistance, Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press,  
  4. ^ a b Bavarian Radio Online, (Bayerische Rundfunk—Online) (February 2007), Meine Geschichte–2. Frauen im Widerstand: Freya von Moltke, retrieved 2007-11-11 
  5. ^ von Moltke, Freya (1998), Erinnerungen an Kreisau—1930-1945, Munich: C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung 
  6. ^ a b c von Moltke, Helmuth James (1990), Translator: von Oppen, Beata Ruhm, ed., Letters to Freya—1939–1945, New York: Alfred A. Knopf,  
  7. ^ Interview from Open Museum "Faces of Norwich 2007: Freya Von Moltke" . Norwich Historical Society. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  8. ^ University of Iowa Libraries: "Countess Freya von Moltke", accessed January 28, 2011
  9. ^ Truman, H. F. (1949), A German of the Nazi Resistance, retrieved 2007-11-22 
  10. ^ Owings, Alison (1995), Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich, Piscataway, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press,  
  11. ^ Freya von Moltke Foundation, (Freya von Moltke Stiftung) (February 2007), Freya von Moltke Foundation for the New Kreisau, retrieved 2010-01-06 
  12. ^ The Kreisau Project
  13. ^ Goethe-Institut Boston: "Tribute to Freya von Moltke, accessed January 28, 2011
  14. ^ "Sen. George Mitchell to deliver main address at Commencement". 1999-04-22. Retrieved 2007-12-10. 
  15. ^ "Freya von Moltke". Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  16. ^ Miller, Stephen (January 5, 2010), "In Hitler's Wartime Germany, She Planted Seeds of Peace", Wall Street Journal 
  17. ^ Marquand, Robert (2007-03-12). "Moral legacy of Nazi resister takes root in Germany - and abroad". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2010-01-06. 

Further reading

In English

  • Balfour, Michael; Frisbee, Julian (1972), Helmuth von Moltke—A Leader against Hitler, London: MacMillan London Limited 
  • Grose, Peter (1996), Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles, Amherst, Massachusetts: .  
  • Marquand, Robert (2007-03-12). "Moral legacy of Nazi resister takes root in Germany—and abroad". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2010-01-06. 
  • von Moltke, Freya (2003). Memories of Kreisau & The German Resistance. Winter, Julie M. (translator and editor). Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.  
  • von Moltke, Helmuth James (1990). Letters to Freya: 1939–1945. von Oppen, Beata Ruhm (translator and editor). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.  
  • Owings, Alison (1995), Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich, Piscataway, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, .  
  • Von Meding, Dorothee; Translator: Balfour, Michael; Translator: Berghahn, Volker R. (1997), Courageous Hearts: Women and the Anti-Hitler Plot of 1944, Oxford & New York: Berghahn Books, .  

In German

  • Appenzeller, Gerd (January 5, 2010), "Eine Frau mit einem unbeugsamen Willen", Die Zeit ( .
  • Leber, Annedore; von Moltke, Freya (1961), Für und wider—Entscheidungen in Deutschland 1918-1945, Frankfurt-am-Main: Mosaik Verlag .
  • Moltmann-Wendel, Elisabeth; Moltmann- Wendel, Elisabeth (2005), Das Leben lieben - mehr als den Himmel. Frauenporträts, Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, .  
  • von Moltke, Freya; Hoffmann, Eva (1996), Die Kreisauerin, Göttingen: Lamuv Verlag, .  
  • von Moltke, Helmuth James (1988), Briefe an Freya—1939-1945, Munich: C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung 
  • von Moltke, Freya (2004), "Die Verteidigung europäischer Menschlichkeit", Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte (London), § 139 GG (B27): 3, 4, 48 

External links

  • FemBiography
  • Website of the Freya von Moltke Foundation
  • Kreisau-Initiative Berlin e.V.Website of the
  • Website of the Kreisau Foundation
  • on August 22, 1994Junge FreiheitFreya von Moltke interview,
  • Geschwister-Scholl-Preis ) and the achievements of Helmuth von Moltke.Letters to Freya (Briefe an Freyarecognition for
  • Bruecke Prize recognition of von Moltke's life work.
  • obituaryThe Independent"Freya Gräfin von Moltke" -
  • obituaryDaily Telegraph"Freya von Moltke" -
  • obituaryHamburger Abendblatt"Freya von Moltke" -
  • obituaryWienerzeitung"Freya von Moltke" -
  • obituaryDie Zeit"Freya von Moltke" -
  • obituaryStern"Freya von Moltke" -
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