Helmuth James Graf von Moltke – Learning to Number His Days

Helmuth James Graf von Moltke – Learning to Number His Days

The epistolary exchange between Helmuth and Freya is one of the most moving in history. Studded with Scriptures and with honest reflections on God’s work in their lives, they are also an invaluable testimony of how Christians can come to grips with the prospect of imminent death. Most of the time, Helmuth found it impossible to focus entirely on either death or life. As long as there was a possibility for him to present his side of the story, he kept developing his line of defense. At the same time, both he and Freya learned to say, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). 

“One thing Christianity and we National Socialists have in common, and only one: we demand the whole man.” These words, pronounced by Roland Freisler, State Secretary of the Reich, at the time of the trial of Helmuth von Moltke, were jarring.

“I wonder if he realized what he was saying?” Moltke wrote later. “This was grim earnest. ‘From whom do you take your orders? From the Beyond or from Adolf Hitler?’ ‘Who commands your loyalty and your faith?’ All rhetorical questions, of course. Anyhow, Freisler is the first National Socialist who has grasped who I am.”[1]

Every political accusation the party had leveled against Moltke – accusations he was well-prepared to disprove – were suddenly brushed aside to reveal the crux of the matter: Moltke’s loyalty to Christ.

Now, with the cards laid clearly on the table, Moltke felt thankful and energized. “Just think how wonderfully God prepared this, his unworthy vessel,” he wrote to his wife Freya.

He then went on to list many instances of God’s providence in his life.

Chosen and Molded

Born in March 1907 in Kreisau (now Krzyżowa, Poland) to a reputable Prussian family, at age 14 he left the Christian Science his parents had firmly embraced and became confirmed in the Evangelical Church of Prussia.

He later studied law and political sciences in Breslau, Vienna, Heidelberg, and Berlin. In 1931, he married Freya Deichman, who became his greatest earthly source of strength in this life. Four years later, he declined the chance to become a judge because the position would require him to join a party which had already reared its ugly head: the National Socialist German Party. Instead, he opened a law practice in Berlin, where he helped victims of Hitler’s régime t.

In spite of this, he was drafted in 1939 by the German military intelligence – an experience that confirmed in his mind the horrors of war. He learned of villages destroyed and thousands of people executed in senseless revenge. “Certainly more than a thousand people are murdered in this way every day, and another thousand German men are habituated to murder,” he wrote in 1941. “May I know this and yet sit at my table in my heated flat and have tea? Don’t I thereby become guilty too? What shall I say when I am asked: And what did you do during that time?”[2]

He joined a group of friends equally opposed to Nazism. Their three meetings in Kreisau led them to be known as the “Kreisau Circle.” Believing that Germany would be defeated in the war, they focused on post-war reconstruction.

Moltke opposed the assassination of Hitler. Regardless, he was arrested on the evening of January 19, 1944. Looking back, he recognized God’s hand in taking him out of the picture just as he was in danger of “being drawn into active participation for a putsch” – a violent attempt, which was actually brought to action in July of the same year. “I was pulled away,” he said, “and thus I am, and remain, free of any connection to the use of violence.”[3]

He gratefully recognized God’s hand in bringing him to Himself, after years of nominal Christianity. “He humbled me as I have never been humbled before, so that I had to lose all pride, so that at last I understand my sinfulness after 38 years, so that I learn to beg for his forgiveness and to trust to his mercy.”[4]

He recounted all of God’s mercies since he had been in prison: God had allowed him to communicate with Freya and prepare for his death; he had let him “experience to their utmost depth the pain of parting and the terror of death and the fear of hell, so that all that should be over too;” and had endowed him “with faith, hope, and love, with a wealth of these that is truly overwhelming.”[5]

The last realization was the cherry on the cake, as he stood before Freisler “as a Christian and nothing else.” To him, this was the greatest honor. “For what a mighty task your husband was chosen,” he wrote to Freya, “all the trouble the Lord took with him, the infinite detours, the intricate zigzag curves, all suddenly find their explanation in one hour on the 10th of January 1945. Everything acquires its meaning in retrospect, which was hidden.”

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