Helmuth James von Moltke, martyred January 23, 1945

On this day, in 1945, Helmuth James von Moltke (b.1906) was excuted by the Nazi regime for being a Christian and refusing to acknowledge Adolf Hitler as his supreme commander in all things. Von Moltke was the son of an English woman and a wealthy German landowner, the latter was in turn the grand nephew of a famous German Field Marshall from the First World War. Throughout the 1930s Moltke had opposed Hitler and the Nazi regime, and regarded their accession to power as a catastrophe of the first magnitude. During the war years he actively opposed Hitler, but unlike some others he came to reject the idea that assassinating Hitler was the way to correct matters within Germany. He was a Christian who refused to behave as the Nazis did. In January 1944, though, he was arrested for his active resistance to Hitler. He was put on trial in January 1945 and he rejoiced in the fact that eventually his trial boiled down to one fact, that he, as a Christian refused to accept Hitler’s demand for total and absolute obedience.

At one point in his trial, his judge, Roland Freisler, shouted at him: “Only in one respect are we [i.e. the Nazis] and Christianity alike: we demand the whole man!” Freisler then asked Moltke: “From whom do you take your orders? From the Beyond or from Adolf Hitler?” “Who commands your loyalty and your faith?” Moltke rightly saw these questions as the decisive ones of his entire trial. As he told his wife in a farewell letter, he was on trial simply as Christian and nothing else. From the point of view of the Nazis, because as a Christian he refused to give total obedience to Hitler, he had to die.

Ever since I read some of his letters to his wife Freya in the 1970s, I have found his life to be a source of tremendous inspiration.