“He put the question to me explicitly — ‘The time is coming when something must be done,’ ” Freya von Moltke said. “ ‘I would like to have a hand in it, but I can only do so if you join in too,’ and I said, ‘Yes, it’s worth it.’ ”
So, with a wife’s assent, began a famous challenge to Hitler. At the height of the Nazi victories, Count Helmuth James von Moltke invited about two dozen foes of Nazism, many of them aristocrats like himself, to imagine a new, better postwar Germany.
For him, his wife’s participation was essential, as she remembered the conversation in “Courageous Hearts: Women and the Anti-Hitler Plot of 1944,” a 1997 book by Dorothee von Meding.
The dissidents met at the count’s ancestral estate, Kreisau, which Bismarck had given his legendary great-great-uncle, Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, for his victories over Austria and France.
It was a perilous act of resistance. As many as half of the dissidents were later executed, some for actively plotting to kill Hitler, others for thinking the unthinkable: they had marshaled logical, moral and religious arguments to question the legitimacy of the Third Reich. Their high-minded planning for a future without Nazis angered a regime that expected to endure 1,000 years.
Mrs. Moltke, who disdained the title of countess, was the last living active participant in the group. She died of a viral infection on Jan. 1 at her home in Norwich, Vt., her son Helmuth said. She was 98.
In his book “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” (1960), William L. Shirer said the Kreisau circle had provided “the intellectual, spiritual, ethical, philosophical and, to some extent, political ideas of the resistance to Hitler.”
It is easy to become frustrated with politics today, and grow weary of fighting for liberty. But some people risk death when they take up the banner of freedom. So it was with Freya von Moltke, whose husband, Count Helmuth James von Moltke, was executed by the Nazis, along with so many others.
Now, as then, “something must be done,” in Helmuth von Moltke’s words. But we have a far easier task than did those opposing Hitler, many of whom paid with their lives. We have no excuse for not carrying on.