Moral legacy of Nazi resister takes root in Germany – and abroad
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According to media reports on the files, British officials first confused him with his uncle, ambassador to Spain, and the meeting was called off. The second time, MI5 chief David Petrie described it of "enormous psychological interest" but said he needed to see "deeds" rather than "talk," from the German legal official.Skip to next paragraph
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In January 1944 Von Moltke was arrested, and executed a year later.
Sunday's commemoration was a triumph for Mrs. von Moltke in her long efforts to have her husband's life and ideas better understood. She and former German president Richard von Weizsacker sat together in the front row of a moving service at the French Huguenot church in Berlin. After the service, a young German, Jens Fischer, said he felt Von Moltke's life showed that "resistance to evil things and having a deeper sense of faith aren't separate but actually the same thing, something mutual."
In recent years, Von Moltke's legacy as a legal thinker has risen – especially in Pentagon debates over whether Afghan combatants should receive POW status. As Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, Von Moltke wrote a now-famous memo opposing the Nazi policy to ignore the Geneva and The Hague Conventions for Soviet prisoners, since Moscow was not a signatory. Von Moltke argued it was important to create a "tradition of compliance" with international law, and that good treatment of Soviet prisoners would offer ground for good treatment of German prisoners.
The memo created such a stir in old-line German Army circles, as distinct to Nazi and SS circles, that it required Field Marshal Keitel to finally dismiss it, saying the Geneva Convention was "a product of a notion of chivalry of a bygone era."
"Von Moltke is someone who had a profoundly ethical sense of the lawyer's responsibility to society and to mankind," argues Scott Horton, chair of the New York City bar committee on international law. "The arguments in his memorandum are close to identical to the arguments that are made by Gen. Colin Powell, in the letter he sent to [Attorney General] Alberto Gonzales," in 2002 regarding POWs in the war on terror.
A more detailed look at Nazi dissent has brought the Christian dimension of Von Moltke and the Kreisau circle into fuller view. The Kreisau group was made up of theologians, Jesuits, Protestants, and other religious thinkers.
Von Moltke's parents were Christian Scientists; his father was a principal translator of the German-language edition of the sect's "textbook," Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.
A new biography released last week by scholar Gunter Brakelmann includes new letters by Von Moltke, a diary, and other papers shared for the first time by Freya Von Moltke. Like Dietrich Bonhöffer, the German Lutheran whose famous "Letters from Prison" are now a classic on ethics, faith, and responsibility, Von Moltke's last year, spent at Tegel prison, deepened his sense of the New Testament. The biography shows "how intensively [Von Moltke] devoted himself to the Bible, and what power he drew from it...turning to religion really took place ... in an existential sense," notes a recent review in Die Zeit.
In the 1992 Oscar-nominated documentary film, "Restless Conscience" Von Moltke writes that after his epic trial in January 1945 it was clear to him that the battle he was involved in was between "deeper Christianity" and the "Fuhrerprincip" of National Socialism.
He wrote his wife, "The trial proved all concrete accusations to be untenable, and they were dropped accordingly.... But what the Third Reich is so terrified of ... is ultimately the following: a private individual, your husband, of whom it is established that he discussed with 2 clergymen of both denominations [Protestant and Catholic] ... questions of the practical, ethical demands of Christianity. Nothing else; for that alone we are condemned.... I just wept a little, not because I was sad or melancholy ... but because I am thankful and moved by this proof of God's presence."