LAST LETTERS by Helmuth James von Moltke


The Prison Correspondence Between Helmuth James and Freya von Moltke, 1944-45
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The son and grandchildren of Helmuth and Freya von Moltke, anti-Nazi leaders, present the last letters their parents exchanged as he was awaiting trial in Berlin in 1944.

Their letters and the explanatory footnotes reveal a deep love bolstered by a building religious devotion. “These are love letters in extremis,” write the editors. “They testify to the profound openness with which Helmuth and Freya confront their fears, declare their love, articulate their hopes, and find faith.” Helmuth consistently demonstrated unwavering trust in Freya’s abilities, and their mental, physical, and spiritual devotion only increased as the letters continued. Both were attorneys, and Helmuth was conscripted as an attorney for the Wehrmacht in 1940. Both opposed Hitler from the very beginning, and their active resistance became known as the Kreisau Circle, a dedicated faction of Germans working to break with top-heavy authoritarian political tradition. They devised detailed political and economic plans for a postwar democratic Germany. In early 1944, Helmuth was unexpectedly arrested for alerting a friend that Gestapo had infiltrated secret meetings. At first, they expected him to be released—until the failed attempt on Hitler’s life that summer. Some of Helmuth’s co-conspirators were arrested in that plot, and the Nazis worked tirelessly to find a connection to him. Helmuth’s and Freya’s letters show their remarkable optimism and unvarnished grasp on the reality of the outcome of the trial. Eventually, Helmuth was transferred from Ravensbrück to Berlin’s Tegel prison. The chaplain at the prison, Harald Poelchau, was a Kreisau member, and he smuggled the letters contained in this book. Knowing the trial would likely end in a death sentence, Helmuth and Freya exhausted every political and social connection to find help. His family, descended from one of Prussia’s greatest heroes, was their strongest weapon as they worked toward a clemency plea. On Jan. 23, 1945, Helmuth was executed.

A compelling, profoundly emotional Nazi-era story that also serves as a reminder of the power of letter writing.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-68137-381-2
Page count: 380pp
Publisher: New York Review Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2019


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