A Resister

One day in early January 1945, Freya von Moltke walked through bomb-gutted Berlin to visit Roland Freisler, the judge presiding at the show trials set up after the July 1944 failed attempt on Hitler’s life. At the trials, the defendants had to stand before Freisler—some holding up their pants because their suspenders and belts had been removed—while he mocked and humiliated them.

Frau von Moltke’s mission was to request a chair for her husband, Helmuth, who was coming up for trial, and who had been suffering from sciatica after a year in prison. Freisler politely agreed to her request, but during the trial a few days later he poured the same invective on the seated Moltke as he had done on the others. Finding nothing specific on which to condemn in him, Freisler decided that Moltke was guilty of treasonous thoughts against the Third Reich. The sentence was swift. Moltke was executed by hanging on January 23, 1945.

On New Year’s Day this year, Freya von Moltke died at the age of ninety-eight. She and Helmuth, an international lawyer who was four years her senior, had married in 1931. He was from an aristocratic family in Kreisau, Silesia (now part of Poland). An early opponent of the Nazis, in 1941 he drew together a group including three Jesuits to begin planning a post-Hitler Germany. Freya, also a lawyer by training, became part of the group, later known as the “Kreisau Circle.” At the same time, she ran the family estate and cared for two young sons. The...

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About the Author

Mary Frances Coady is the author of Georges and Pauline Vanier: Mercy within Mercy, a spiritual biography about the parents of Jean Vanier and his Trappist brother Benedict. It will be published by Liturgical Press later this year.