LONDON – Helmuth Caspar von Moltke likes to imagine that his father might have become a Supreme Court judge after World War II. However, instead of leading a court, Helmuth James von Moltke was dragged before one by the Nazi regime and charged with crimes of high treason. The German aristocrat was hanged on January 23, 1945, when his eldest son was just 6 years old.
The 82-year-old von Moltke, who goes by the name Caspar, was in London this week on a brief visit from his home in Montreal. The judiciary would have been a better fit for his father than politics, he muses, because the latter “is not a good profession for people of considerable principle. And he was a man of considerable principle.”
– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 58
Haaretz Weekly Ep. 58Haaretz
Helmuth von Moltke was from a prominent Prussian noble family – one that had provided the German Army with two field marshals and chiefs of staff in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like so many of those who lost their lives resisting the Nazis, Helmuth von Moltke, 38 at the time of his death, was never given a burial: his body was burnt and his ashes unceremoniously washed away.
But while he has no grave, he is increasingly receiving recognition for his principled life, and is today considered a key figure in German resistance against the Nazis. On the centenary of his birth, German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised him as a symbol of “European courage.”
Helmuth Caspar von Moltke.Danna Harman
He is best known for creating – together with Peter Yorck von Wartenburg – a small resistance group called the Kreisau Circle, which started meeting and plotting against the Nazi regime in 1940. It was a lofty and somewhat loose grouping of about 25 German intellectuals, theologians and aristocrats from different political and social standings.
Unlike those who gathered around a better-known contemporary, Claus von Stauffenberg – who tried to assassinate Hitler in July 1944 – the Kreisau Circle’s focus was never on how to remove Hitler. Instead, it focused on the kind of Germany that would arise after what the group hoped would be the inevitable fall of the Third Reich.
A lawyer by profession and living in Berlin as Hitler rose to power, Helmuth von Moltke declined the chance to become a judge in order to avoid joining the Nazi Party. Instead, he started a private international law practice, traveled widely and studied at Oxford for a while. Later, conscripted to work as a lawyer for the Abwehr (a military intelligence service in the German Army), he penned several controversial reports: One opposed the Nazi policy of ignoring the Geneva and Hague conventions; another was on the psychological disturbances of German soldiers forced to kill Eastern Europeans and Jews.