1 Seeking European Understanding: A Visit to Kreisau / Krzyżowa

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1 Seeking European Understanding: A Visit to Kreisau / Krzyżowa
Seeking European Understanding: A Visit to Kreisau / Krzyżowa
I was invited in April 2011 to accompany a group from Helmut-Schmidt-Universität
(University of the German Armed Forces, Hamburg) to the Center for Understanding in
Krzyżowa, Poland for a five-day seminar in ethics. This small town in Silesia belonged to
Germany and was known as Kreisau until 1945. The estate on which the Center is located has
the distinction of having belonged to members of the Moltke family, from Field Marshal
Helmuth Carl Bernhard von Moltke, the architect of the victories over Austria in 1866 and
France in 1870, to his great-great-nephew, Helmuth James von Moltke (1907-1945), who held
meetings in Kreisau in order to establish a new democratic government after the anticipated
collapse of the Nazi dictatorship. A visitor to this center cannot fail to be struck by the
significance of the site on many levels, not the least of which is the upheaval caused by the
transfer of Lower Silesia from Germany to Poland after the Second World War, placing Kreisau
at a historical and geographic confluence of European events of the last 150 years.
The seminar, led by Prof. Thomas Hoppe of HSU, benefitted from Kreisau’s significance
as a point of departure for a discussion of German-Polish relations since 1945, but also used the
excursion to Poland as an opportunity to confront the horrors of the Holocaust by scheduling a
day-long trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau. This visit, combined with the discussion afterwards,
allowed me not only to absorb the significance of a Nazi death camp, but also to work through
some of the emotions expressed by the young German military officers who formed our group.
Several presentations were made which touched on the issues that confront Germany and Poland
today and these were greatly enhanced by our visits to actual sites that we were able to
experience first-hand. Framing the activities at Kreisau / Krzyżowa helped bring together past,
present and future for our efforts to appreciate the legacy of political oppression and inhumanity
while celebrating those who opposed it. This served as the backdrop for the continuing search
for European understanding. And as Helmuth James and Freya von Moltke knew very well, this
is a constant occupation and requires daily effort, but it needs a venue which is dedicated to this
effort. For them it was nothing abstract; Helmuth James traveled all over Europe to find support
for the Resistance and Freya dealt with Russians, Poles and Czechs in Kreisau after the war’s
Kreisau is a place which can claim, perhaps more than any other in Europe, to represent the
triumph of faith, patience and conscience over totalitarianism and political paralysis. In spite of
its association with Prussian militarism from the time of Field Marshal von Moltke, the
lawlessness1 represented by Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, and its transfer to the Communist
government of Poland - only to be rejuvenated after democracy took root in the Eastern Bloc –
Kreisau is an excellent site for the study of courageous opposition to Hitler and the desire for
European reconciliation.
Because Kreisau represents the recent relations between Germany and Poland in microcosm,
I intend to compare the work of the Kreisau Circle, which opposed Hitler while promoting
democracy in Germany, to the central efforts between the two countries which have continued
this spirit of religious and intellectual initiative in the face of political failure and have borne the
fruit of reconciliation. The main points in common among these courageous expressions of
human dignity are:
The strength to face both difficult political situations and the admonitions of a totalitarian
government that “practicing politics” should be left to the state
A firm concept of the basis of democracy which is informed by profound convictions
such as religious faith
Belief in a united Europe founded on basic human rights, not by military force
Kreisau is indeed where all of the issues facing Germany and Poland come together, from the
post-Nazi planning of the Kreisau Circle to nuclear weapons to the questions of borders and
resettlement. One might well ask what either Moltke, the field marshal or the resistance leader,
would have had to say in the discussions of potential Cold War confrontations or the challenges
facing a united Germany and a democratic Poland.
The Moltke family has roots in Kreisau (spelled “Creisau” before 1930) dating back to
1867, when Generalfeldmarschall Helmuth Carl Bernhard von Moltke (1800-1891, also known
as “Moltke the Elder”) received a bounty from the King of Prussia and purchased the estate. His
English-born wife died soon thereafter; they had no children, so the property passed to Wilhelm,
who was to be the grandfather of Helmuth James.
In die Geschichte ging Creisau erstmals mit Helmuth von Moltke ein. Diesem
Urgroßonkel und Namensvetter von Helmuth James von Moltke hatte der preußische
König Wilhelm I. 250 000 Taler als Dotation für seine Verdienste im preußischösterreichischen Krieg von 1866 gewährt. Dafür kaufte Helmuth von Moltke am 1.
August 1867 die Rittergüter Creisau, Nieder-Gräditz und Wierischau, die er 1868 zum
Familienfideikommiss Creisau machte. 1870 wurde er in den Grafenstand erhoben und
mit dem Titel eines Generalfeldmarschalls ausgezeichnet.2
[History records Creisau first and foremost as the property of Helmuth von Moltke. This
great-great-uncle and namesake of Helmuth James von Moltke earned a bounty of
250,000 taler from Wilhelm I, King of Prussia, for his service in the Austro-Prussian War
of 1866. With this reward Helmuth von Moltke purchased the estates of Creisau, NiederGräditz and Wierischau on August 1, 1867, which he made into the family trust of
Creisau in 1868. In 1870 he was granted the titles of “Graf” (count) and Field Marshal.]
The residence of the Field Marshal was, and still is, known by the somewhat ironic name of
“Schloss” (castle) which belies the spartan lifestyle of its first occupant. This building is now
used for exhibits and seminars and is part of the guided tour that is offered to today’s guests.
Otto Friedrich describes the paradox of Kreisau in his profile of the Moltke family, as it is
essential to understand the genius loci of the estate and its dual nature in order to fully appreciate
the efforts of the members of the Kreisau Circle who opposed Hitler.
Repairs are finally underway at the derelict Schloss, for the name of Moltke
resounds proudly through two centuries of German history, and the heirs to that legacy
are determined to honor it. But German history is divided against itself, and so is the
legacy of Kreisau. If the name of Moltke represents the field marshal’s successive
triumphs over the Danes, the Austrians, and the French, victories that made possible the
Prussian creation of the German empire of 1871, it also represents almost the exact
opposite. The last Moltke to own this estate at Kreisau was the field marshal’s greatgreat nephew, Count Helmuth James von Moltke, who was destined to witness the
terrible perversion of Prussian traditions under Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and who hated
what he saw. In an age when honorable men lived in fear of the concentration camps,
Helmuth James von Moltke began reaching out to form alliances with like-minded
patriots who would work for the replacement of the Nazi dictatorship. Three times, they
gathered here in Kreisau to chart the outlines of a post-Hitler Germany.3
Bringing a German military delegation to Poland requires a profound consideration for
the events of the 20th century, which was precisely the reason for our seminar. The records leave
no doubt; it can be stated with firm authority that Poland suffered more than any other country
under the Nazis. Once the Poles were conquered by Nazi Germany – by the beginning of
October 1939 – the dismemberment of the country, rent in two by the Germans and Soviets, was
completed. As Richard Lukas points out, the Nazis not only intended to wipe out the Jews of
Europe, but also to erase Poland and its people from the map. Important to note in this context is
the figure of 6 million, which is known to many as the approximate number of Jews killed during
the Holocaust, but because approximately 3 million of these Jewish victims were also Polish
nationals, when this figure is added to the 3 million Polish Gentiles who died during the war
(only 10% of whom were military casualties), we are forced to acknowledge that 6 million Poles
were killed by the Nazis.
As a result of almost six years of war, Poland lost 6,028,000 of its citizens, or 22 percent
of its total population, the highest ratio of losses to population of any country in Europe.
About 50 percent of these victims were Polish Christians and 50 percent were Polish
Jews. Approximately 5,384,000, or 89.9 percent, of Polish war losses (Jews and
Gentiles), were the victims of prisons, death camps, raids, executions, annihilation of
ghettoes, epidemics, starvation, excessive work, and ill treatment.4
It has also been pointed out that because the Second World War began with the invasion of
Poland that not only did its people suffer the most, but also the longest. The horrible “social
experiments” were concentrated in central Poland, a district of utter lawlessness known as the
General Government which was organized entirely for labor and death camps.
The network of Nazi concentration camps proliferated throughout the General
Government where the SS and the Gestapo could operate with total impunity, beyond the
law of the Reich and free from the influence of the Wehrmacht in the front-line military
zones. Apart from numerous prisoner-of-war camps, where mortality was high, there
were penal-investigation camps, labour camps of various kinds, and from 1941 onwards
the death camps. In this last category, one must include Maidaneck, Sobibor, Treblinka,
Dora, Plaschau, and above all Birkenau, the extension of nearby Auschwitz.5
Our group from Helmut-Schmidt-Universität made a trip to Auschwitz, where approximately 1.1
million people were put to death, among these an estimated 1 million Jews. Although I do not
intend to focus on the atrocities of Auschwitz or Birkenau extensively, it is sufficient for the
purposes of the Kreisau seminar to note the decorum and respect shown by my German friends
as we toured the camps. According to the statistics compiled at Auschwitz, 1,380,000 people
were given tours in 2010, which was a record. This included 530,600 from Poland and 68,900
from Germany.6 It is a matter of no small significance to me that I was counted as a German,
since I never presented a passport and took the tour with the members of the Bundeswehr in their
language – a rare distinction.
Just as religion played an important role for the victims and opponents of the Nazis, it
framed our visit to Auschwitz as well. As we toured the concentration camp, our group followed
an American Jewish group whose rabbi finished their experience with a brief, but very profound
remembrance service in the gas chamber. Prof. Hoppe arranged for a short religious service after
the tour in the town of Oswiecim during which we offered prayers for both the victims and their
executioners. After we returned to Kreisau we were shown the Soviet-produced film of the
liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945 (ironically, this occurred within a week of Helmuth
James von Moltke’s execution). If the tour of Auschwitz had been difficult, even more emotions
were stirred by seeing evidence on film of the atrocities committed there. Why would the
Bundeswehr officers react strongly to Nazi atrocities? What would they have in common with
the Jews and other Polish nationals who perished in such large numbers at the hands of those
who controlled the vast machinery of death? It stems from the fact that the same events and
history hang heavy on their shoulders.
Although the great majority of people during the Second World War did not want to
know about the emerging evidence of the horrors of the Holocaust, a certain ignorance by the
Nazis of the invisible efforts of the Resistance was crucial. Helmuth James von Moltke, in his
capacity as a Kriegsverwaltungsrat (expert on international law, especially with respect to the
occupied territories) in the counter-intelligence section of the military high command –
henceforth Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW – faced numerous challenges in his efforts
to prevent mass murder in Poland and in other conquered lands – this was particularly acute in
Poland, however, for the reasons stated above and the Nazis’ clear intentions for the Polish
people. What could have been done to stop the atrocities? Norman Davies finds the question
naïve and even ignorant, since the Nazi control over Poland, especially in the General
Government (GG), was complete.7 Resistance fighters such as Moltke could only hope to bring
Polish civilians under the protection of the Wehrmacht, which meant that at least a glimmer of
hope remained as opposed to the certain death that awaited them at the hands of the SSEinsatzgruppen or deportation to the GG. Beate Ruhm von Oppen states in her introduction to
Moltke’s letters to Freya:
In the early phase of the war, Moltke concentrated on the prevention of breaches of
international law and the protection of neutrals. It was very hard, almost impossible, to
affect strategic planning. But he was clearly involved in the efforts to get Hitler to cancel
or at least postpone plans for a campaign in the West after the defeat and partition of
Poland. There was little that could be done by the Wehrmacht to stop the atrocities
committed by the SS against the Polish leadership, clergy, and Jews. He did, however,
fight for the recognition of Polish prisoners of war as such and of the Poles who fought
on with the French and British after escaping abroad, as combatants. Throughout,
Moltke’s endeavor was to extend the protection of the Wehrmacht to people who would
otherwise fall prey to the SS.8
It is regrettable that more Americans could neither learn of Moltke’s efforts to oppose
Hitler, let alone support him and the Kreisauers’ work towards their proposed Neuordnung (new
order) which represented a concept for a new Germany within a new Europe. Moltke’s firm
belief in human decency and his actions in support of this proposed democratic state resulted in
his imprisonment by the Gestapo in January 1944. After the assassination attempt by Col. Claus
von Stauffenberg on 20 July 1944, Nazi efforts to find opposition activity were greatly increased
and Moltke was transferred to the Tegel prison in Berlin, then sentenced to death in January
1945. No crisis of spirit is evident in his letters to Freya, however. These show an abundance of
conviction in his plans for democracy, a firm Christian faith, and even occasional humor and
irony. This is borne out by his remark that he had reached an „agreement“ with Roland Freisler,
the notorious presiding judge of the Volksgericht (lit. “people’s court”, though only Nazi
viewpoints were tolerated) that both Nazism and Christianity demanded „the whole man“. I
would like to add that Americans in particular have to make an effort to understand the
prohibitive constraints on Moltke and his friends of the Kreisau Circle as well as the difficulty in
bringing any opposition group together for a thorough planning session; there were three
meetings in Kreisau and still several more at the home of Peter and Marion Yorck von
Wartenburg in Berlin. The nature of Moltke’s service to his country can and should be
recognized along with the conspirators who worked with Stauffenberg to assassinate Hitler and
take over the government. Moltke was not privileged to live in a democracy and there was no
security in his country for its citizens. Therefore every action he undertook, either at the OKW in
Berlin or in his home at Kreisau, was threatened by the Nazi police state. He nevertheless
struggled tirelessly for human rights and dignity and paid for his efforts with his life.
There is general agreement that the resistance cannot be measured by the criteria of its
outward success. Rather, our own experience of dictatorships, as well as the more
detailed knowledge we now have of the conditions under which the plotters were trying
to operate, teaches us that their chances of bringing down the regime from within were
virtually non-existent. On the other hand, our consideration of the resistance should not
be limited to isolating its moral dimension. The phrase ‘rebellion of the conscience’
rightly reminds us that deliberately taking action that bordered on high treason required
deep ethical commitments, beside which political interests and social motives were
secondary. Indeed, a proper understanding and assessment of the resistance are only
possible if the political motives and objectives of the plotters are placed in the
dangerously unstable context of Nazism and against an intellectual background of social
and historical thinking that reached back to the Weimar era.9
After the war’s end, which Moltke and most of his friends did not live to see, Germany
faced not only occupation by the victorious Allies, but had to give up nearly a quarter of its prewar territory to Poland and the Soviet Union. An estimated 8.8 million Germans were forced out
of these eastern territories in the years immediately following the Second World War and are
known as the Heimatvertriebene (“displaced people” is the accepted translation, though it does
not carry the emotion of the German term). While these ethnic Germans from Silesia, Pomerania
and East Prussia were still making their way westward, a carefully orchestrated and Sovietdirected meeting in Görlitz, on the river Neisse, took place in June 1950. The participants were
the leaders of East Germany and Poland, who agreed on the new Oder-Neisse “peace boundary”
between their two countries, formally ceding the eastern German territories to Poland.
In West Germany during the Adenauer years (1949-1963) and continuing to 1969, when
Social Democrat Willy Brandt became Chancellor, these former refugees formed a potent
political force, preventing the Federal Republic from even acknowledging the Oder-Neisse
border until 1970. The Warsaw Treaties of 1970 and 1971 conferred official status not only on
the boundary between East Germany and Poland, but secured free access to West Berlin from
West Germany. A cogent summary of the situation that obtained between Poland and its
German neighbors after 1945 is that Poles were prone to see Germans as accessories to mass
murder, while the two Germanies made all references to the Nazis taboo and West Germany
insisted on the Oder-Neisse border issue as a basis for all negotiations.10
With the intractable political posturing that obtained from the founding of the two
Germanies in 1949 to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and for nearly a decade
thereafter, it is no wonder that any substantive initiatives for reconciliation would have to come
from outside of the governments in either West or East Germany. The most important of these
are the Tübinger Memorandum (also known as “Das Memorandum der Acht” from its eight coauthors) of 1961-62, the Statement on the Situation of the Displaced Persons and the
Relationship of the German People to their Eastern Neighbors (henceforth Ostdenkschrift) of the
German Evangelical Church in 1965 and the Letter from the Polish Roman Catholic Bishops to
their colleagues in Germany, which was followed by an enthusiastic response from the German
Bishops. The Tübinger Memorandum and the Ostdenkschrift show a plan of action like that of
the Kreisauers – a union of friends and learned colleagues across different disciplines and
segments of society who gathered both intelligence and a sense of justice when the government
had become disconnected from the reality of increasingly dangerous and divisive issues. The
impetus for the Catholic Episcopal letter was a historic invitation to Germans to join Poles in
celebrating the thousandth anniversary of Christianity in Poland, while the Protestant leaders of
West Germany expressed their concern as the stakes kept being raised around the issue of
Berlin’s West and East sectors.
The Tübinger Eight were first and foremost opposed to the deployment of nuclear
weapons on German soil and protested vigorously against making such weapons available to the
German armed forces.11 Their concern had been heightened by the situation that obtained during
the Berlin Crisis of 1958-9, which was precipitated by a Soviet demand that the Western Allies
de-militarize their sectors and create a so-called “free city” for West Berlin. Willy Brandt, the
mayor of West Berlin at that time, responded to this ultimatum in September 1959 by reaffirming
West Berlin’s status as a part of the Federal Republic with a guarantee of access to West
Germany. The signers of the Tübinger Memorandum included the physicists Werner Heisenberg
and Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, who were both involved in atomic weapons research in Nazi
Germany, as well as Joachim Beckmann, a Protestant Church leader. Weizsäcker was
remembered in 2007 as a man of firm religious convictions, which he drew upon as an opponent
of politics for its own ends and the increasingly high stakes in the Cold War. By basing his
opinions on his religious beliefs, he fits squarely in the mold of Moltke and the Kreisau Circle.
Interestingly, the intellectual debate took place at key events and turns during the Cold War and
was directed mainly at West Germans who wanted a sense of security and closure regarding the
Oder-Neisse line and the displaced Germans who had to leave their homes, as well as over the
use of atomic weapons in Germany. Their point of departure was the inaction and indifference
to the crisis in Berlin which led to the building of the Wall which, they said, was born of the
relative prosperity of the late 1950s and early 1960s:
Aber mit dem Wohlstand ist in breiten Kreisen des Volkes und seiner Führung die
Neigung eingezogen, den Blick vor gesellschaftlichen und politischen Übelständen zu
verschließen und harten Entscheidungen auszuweichen. Wir können keine der politischen
Parteien von dem Vorwurf freisprechen, daß sie dem Volk die Wahrheit, die es wissen
muß, vielfach vorenthalten und statt dessen gesagt haben, wovon sie meinten, daß man es
gern hört.12
[But with affluence has come the tendency in large numbers of the people and in their
leadership to avert their eyes to social and political difficulties and avoid hard decisions.
We cannot allow any political party to escape our reproach that they have kept what the
people know to be true from them and instead have told them what they want them to
They state their goals as follows:
Aus der Fülle politischer Aufgaben greifen wir fünf Ziele heraus, deren Erreichung nötig und
möglich, aber durch den Zustand unserer öffentlichen Meinung gehemmt ist:
1. aktive Außenpolitik;
2. militärisch effektive, politisch behutsame Rüstungspolitik;
3. richtig begrenzte, aber energische Maßnahmen zum Bevölkerungsschutz;
4. unnachgiebige und planvolle Sozialpolitik;
5. durchgreifende Schulreform. Vor uns liegen schwierige internationale Verhandlungen
über Deutschland.13
[From the many political tasks we have focused on five goals, whose realization is
necessary and possible, but because of public opinion has been obstructed:
an active foreign policy;
a militarily effective and politically prudent arms policy;
properly limited but energetic measures to protect the population;
an uncompromising and well-planned social policy;
thorough educational reform. There are difficult international negotiations before us
concerning Germany.]
Not only intellectuals, but also religious leaders in Germany and Poland were eager to take
steps to overcome the antipathy – in some cases outright hatred – between their peoples. In
November 1965, the bishops of Poland, under the leadership of their Primate, Stefan Cardinal
Wyszynski, sent a letter to their counterparts in Germany as an invitation to the millennial
celebration of Christianity in Poland.
We beg you, Catholic shepherds of the German people, to seek in your own way to
join in our celebration of our Christian millennium – be it through prayer or be it through
a special memorial day. For any gesture of this sort you will have our gratitude. Convey
our greetings and thanks, too, we pray you, to the German Evangelical brothers, who are
trying along with us and with you to find solutions for our difficulties.
In this all-Christian and at the same time quite human spirit we extend our hands to
you across the benches of the Council that is drawing to an end; we grant forgiveness and
we ask your forgiveness. And if you, German bishops and Council fathers, grasp our
outstretched hands in brotherhood, only then can we celebrate our millennium in Poland
with clear consciences and in a true Christian spirit. We invite you most cordially to
come to Poland for this event.14
West Germany’s government finally addressed the conflict with the Soviet bloc after the
election of Willy Brandt as chancellor in 1969. The most potent image of his Ostpolitik came
from his visit in December 1970 to the memorial to the victims of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto
uprising; Brandt, overcome with emotion, fell to his knees and remained kneeling as he paid his
respects. This was the occasion of the Federal Republic’s acceptance (but not official
recognition) of the Oder-Neisse boundary.
What is the importance of a seminar in ethics in a small town in Poland which formerly
belonged to Germany and how are Polish-German issues more complicated than those between
Germany and its other neighbors? Not only has the Catholic Church been stalwart in its support
of human rights in Poland, but several East Germans found strength and inspiration in all forms
of the Polish resistance to the Communist government. Ludwig Mehlhorn (1950-2011), who
founded Democracy Now in the late 1980s in the GDR and supported the rebirth of Kreisau as a
center of friendship, was one of the Germans who saw a link to Poland as a more direct route to
freedom through an exchange of ideas and tactics. Mehlhorn was praised by no less a figure than
Wladislaw Bartoszewski, who fought in both the Resistance against the Nazis and in the
opposition to his country’s Communist government. Bartoszewski finds significant differences
between the opposition in East Germany and Poland:
Oppositionsbewegungen in Polen und der ehemaligen DDR sind im Grunde kaum
miteinander zu vergleichen, allein deswegen, weil sowohl der geringere öffentliche
Widerstand gegen die kommunistische Obrigkeit in Ostdeutschland nicht der Skala der
allgemeinpräsenten Ablehnung der Diktatur in Polen entsprach, als auch aufgrund der
unterschiedlichen Tradition und schließlich der anderen politischen Lage beider
Ostblockstaaten. In Polen verlief der Widerstand gegenüber der Staatsgewalt nach einem
tief verwurzeltem und von Generation auf Generation überlieferten Muster, denn der
Staat war Jahrzehntelang mit dem Besatzer oder Okkupanten gleichgesetzt. Im Grunde
befand sich also die polnische Gesellschaft vom Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts mit kurzer
Atempause während der Zwischenkriegszeit im anhaltenden, permanenten
Verteidigungszustand, was natürlich prägend für die Mentalität sein musste. Wie
Professor Klaus Ziemer, Leiter des Deutschen Historischen Instituts in Warschau
bemerkt, erfreute sich der Ausdruck „Dissident“ in Polen keiner Popularität, weil die
Oppositionellen eigentlich für die wahren Träger der wirklichen nationalen Identität und
Normen galten. Wolfgang Templin fasst diesen Unterschied in knappen Worten: „Ich
glaube die Polen waren einfach mehr frech. Hatten mehr Mut. Machten schneller den
Mund auf“.
Von Frechheit und Mundaufmachen in der DDR war unterdessen kaum die Rede. Die
ostdeutsche Gesellschaft wurde förmlich erzogen in der Tradition der paternalistischen
Relation zwischen dem Staat und seinen Bürgern, die zwar historisch gesehen begrenzte
Mitentscheidungsmöglichkeiten hatten, dafür aber – seit Bismarcks Sozialreform –
zumindest ein Minimum an sozialer Sicherheit genossen. In diesem Modell funktionierte
– anders als in Polen – eine positive Einstellung gegenüber dem Staat.15
[Opposition movements in Poland and in the former East Germany are basically
impossible to compare with one another, only because the small public resistance to the
Communist authority in the GDR did not approach the ever-present level of resistance to
the dictatorship in Poland, in turn because of different traditions and the contrasting
political situations of the two Eastern Bloc states. In Poland the opposition to the state
was deeply rooted in a pattern handed down from generation to generation, since the state
had been considered equal to an occupying force for decades. Polish society had basically
found itself since the end of the 18th century, with a short gasp between the wars, in a
constant posture of defense, which of course had a profound effect on their mentality. As
Professor Kalus Ziemer, Head of the German Historical Institute in Warsaw states, the
term „dissident“ carried no popularity in Poland because the members of the opposition
were considered the true protectors of national identity and norms. Wolfgang Templin
expresses this difference in very few words: “ I think the Poles were more audacious.
They had more spirit. They were quicker to open their mouths.”
There was no talk of audacity or open mouths in the GDR. The East German society was
raised thoroughly to see the paternalistic relation between the state and its citizens, who
had from a historical standpoint very little voice in matters, but who had – since
Bismarck’s social reform – achieved a modest level of social security. In this model –
quite different from Poland – a positive attitude toward the state was evident.]
The new Kreisau therefore had the benefit of hearts and minds who had been tried and tested by
oppressive states and who knew that each opposition effort is unique. Moltke would heartily
approve of this contact between German opposition groups and those abroad, as he tirelessly
sought connections to opponents of Nazism in his travels. In his letter to Lionel Curtis of 25
March 1943 he states his objectives clearly:
Now my plea in these circumstances is for a stable connection between the
German opposition and Great Britain and a connection not based on secret service
relations, not used mainly to extract information but a political connection. I do not want
this in order to discuss possible peace terms, possibilities of a post-war world. I want this
connection in order to assist our war against Hitler, our internal war.16
Just as the unification of Germany was the result of the Field Marshal’s victories in the
1860s, his estate in its current incarnation is the result of Germany’s reunification. The story of
Kreisau’s rediscovery and new mission to bring together Germans and Poles must include the
attitudes of both the aggressors and the conquered of the Second World War and their tortured
relationship. Fortunately for those of us who wish to research this relationship and discover
ways to bring the two nations ever closer together, there have been many individuals who have
dedicated themselves to making Kreisau a haven for peacemakers. Mehlhorn, in his eloquent
description of Kreisau as the focal point of reconciliation after the Cold War, cites the “Catholic
Intelligence” clubs of Poland, especially Breslau, as taking the initiative toward German-Polish
dialogue in the 1960s and 1970s17 and the international organization Aktion Sühnezeichen
(English: “Action Reconciliation – Service for Peace”), in which he took an active role.
Die Aktion Sühnezeichen gehörte zu den Gruppen, die sich jenseits der vom Staat
propagandisch-theologisch verordneten „Völkerfreundschaft“ zwischen den
sozialistischen „Bruderländern“ und jenseits der angepassten gesellschaftlichen Mehrheit
um eine authentische Wahrnehmung Polens bemühten und unter den widrigen
Verhältnissen in einer Diktatur zum Trotz auf die Wirklichkeit im Sinne von Versöhnung
und Verständigung einzuwirken versuchten. Die Sommerlager und Begegnungen der
Aktion Sühnezeichen waren für Hunderte junge Menschen aus der DDR – darunter den
Autor dieser Zeilen – die einzig möglichen, nicht vom Staat kontrollierten
Auslandskontake und boten ein enormes Lernfeld. Das im Geschichtsunterricht
vermittelte Bild der Nazidiktatur wurde korrigiert und erweitert. In der DDR war der
Zweite Weltkrieg vor allem ein blutiger Kampf zwischen Hitlerdeutschland und der
Sowjetunion, in dem schließlich die Kräfte des Fortschritts siegten. Unter dieses Kapitel
hatte die DDR einen Schlussstrich gezogen, indem sie sich auf die Seite der „Sieger der
Geschichte“ schlug.18
[Action Reconciliation – Service for Peace was one of the groups which were active
outside of the state-controlled, theologically propagandized “friendship of nations”
between the “brother countries” and beyond the socially acceptable majority. It was
concerned with a true recognition of Poland and operated under the difficult situations in
a dictatorship, and in spite of this reality, to reach reconciliation and understanding. The
summer camps and meetings of Action Reconciliation were the only possible way for
hundreds of young people from the GDR – among them this author – to make foreign
contacts outside of state control and were extremely instructive. The image of the Nazi
dictatorship which we learned in history class was corrected and passed along. In the
GDR the Second World War was above all a bloody struggle between Hitler’s Germany
and the Soviet Union in which the forces of progress eventually triumphed. Under this
chapter the GDR had added a final close: it had fought on the side of the “victors of
The reconciliation mass at Kreisau, which brought together the West German Chancellor
Helmut Kohl and the Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki just three days after the fall of
the Berlin Wall in November 1989, was the culmination in the spiritual and political sense of
Kreisau’s rebirth as a place to honor the work of the Resistance and to promote friendship among
young people from different countries. The early 1990s saw the first youth groups in Kreisau,
many of whom were housed in tents, as the buildings were not ready to be occupied until later in
the decade. Management of the financial resources and goals comes from the Freya von Moltke
Foundation (http://www.fvms.de/), whose titular head is the President of the Federal Republic of
Germany. Other partners in the work at Kreisau are Kreisau-Initiative Berlin e.V.
(www.kreisau.de) – the web site has a wealth of information and documents from meetings and
conferences at Kreisau, including the main articles of the Kreisau Circle – and the Polish
organizations: The Krzyżowa Foundation, Association of Krzyżowa Friends, Wrocław and the
Association of the Friends of Krzyżowa. The Kreisau Foundation also works very closely with
the George Bell Institute at the University of Chichester (England), celebrating the contributions
of Bishop Bell (1883-1958), who supported the Confessing Church during the NS-regime.19
It was a great privilege to be included in a German military delegation to Kreisau and to
other sites in Poland which represent important events in the shared journey of Germany and
Poland and the opinion of our group members was unanimous that Kreisau is the most
significant and logical place to begin a serious study of German-Polish relations. As Freya von
Moltke states in “The Restless Conscience”, it is nearly impossible to know what it was like to
live under the Nazi regime, but being able to see the actual sites and – through film – hear the
voices of those who survived, we can come closer to a firm understanding. Just as no other
country suffered more during the Second World War than Poland, no other profession in
Germany has had to endure the legacy of terror more than their uniformed military. But just as
this common heritage can be researched and analyzed, so it can also provoke strong emotions.
Freya von Moltke stated that Kreisau should serve the cause of peaceful coexistence in
Europe. Die Stiftung Kreisau für Europäische Verständigung, founded in 1990, served as our
host during our visit. The foundation’s director, Annemarie Franke, stated during her
presentation to our group that there are in fact two missions, 1) strengthening German-Polish
relations and 2) honoring the Resistance work of the Kreisau Circle. I would add to this that
Helmuth James von Moltke is best studied in Kreisau, his birthplace, and needs to be better
known outside of Germany and Poland.
What is Kreisau today? The most concise answer comes from a eulogy for the
aforementioned Ludwig Mehlhorn, presented by the German Federal Office for the Investigation
of Stasi Documents. As a crusader for friendship across the Iron Curtain and the co-founder of
Democracy Now, which helped to bring the East German government down, Mehlhorn
represents the spirit of Helmuth James and Freya von Moltke and their desire to bring together
not only Germans and Poles, but all Europeans as well.
Krzyżowa ist der Ort der Verständigung zwischen Polen und Deutschen weil es ein
polnischer Ort ist und zugleich ein Ort des deutschen Widerstandes. [...Mehlhorn] brachte
jenes Gesicht Deutschlands den Polen näher, daß diese zwar weniger kannten, ihnen aber
näher ist, als es der deutsche Staat über Jahrhunderte war: das Gesicht eines
demokratischen, eines widerständigen, eines mutigen Deutschlands, das sich nicht über
alles erhebt, sondern den Satz zu eigen macht: „Für unsere und für eure Freiheit“.20
[Krzyżowa is the venue for understanding between Poles and Germans because it is a part
of Poland and at the same time a site of the German Resistance. Mehlhorn brought the
face of Germany nearer to Poles that was less known, but is closer to them than the
German state was for centuries: The face of a democratic, spirited and resisting
Germany, which does not raise itself above others, but makes this statement its own:
“For our freedom and yours.”]
But perhaps the last word should go to Freya von Moltke, who underscored the importance of
Kreisau and her husband’s work on the occasion of the first meeting of the foundation that bears
her name on 16 June 2005:
Ohne die deutsche Widerstandsgruppe gegen den Nationalsozialismus, ohne ihren
Einsatz, gäbe es heute nicht das schöne neue Leben in Kreisau. Es erwies sich als eine
gute Basis, Polen und Deutsche einander näher zu bringen. Dass Kreisau in einem
Europa ohne Grenzen eine neue Rolle gefunden hat, hat seine Berechtigung. Die
Kreisauer gehörten zu den ersten, die europäisch dachten. Sie planten für ein
demokratisches Deutschland innerhalb eines vereinten Europas. Wer hätte sich damals
und während des Kalten Kriegs vorstellen können, wie weit wir bis heute – trotz
unausbleiblicher Krisen – kommen konnten.
[Without the work of the resistance against National Socialism there would not be this
wonderful new life in Kreisau. It has revealed itself as a proper location for bringing
Poles and Germans closer together. The fact that Kreisau has taken on a new role in a
Europe without borders is fully justified. The Kreisauers were among the first to think on
a European scale. They planned for a democratic Germany within a united Europe. Who
could have imagined then, or during the Cold War – despite unavoidable crises - how far
we could come.]21
The plans of Helmuth James von Moltke and his co-conspirators against Nazism have
already been realized in part, as transnational agreements have brought together former enemies
and tied them together economically, militarily and socially. The current “unavoidable crises” –
most notably the present debt crisis which threatens the stability of the Euro – continue to bring
together experts and leaders from Europe to sort out their problems and positions. Europe is still
a work in progress, but its success will depend on the same faith in humanity which was
exemplified by the courageous efforts of political “amateurs”.
The daughter of the Resistance fighter Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg, quoted in The
Restless Conscience (Hava Kohav Beller, 1992) uses the word Unrechtsstaatlichkeiten., lit. „acts
of a lawless state“. She is referring directly to the NS state and its wholesale lack of any concept
of humanity.
Günter Brakelmann, Helmuth James von Moltke 1907-1945. Eine Biographie.
München: C.H. Beck, 2007. 13.
Otto Friedrich, Blood and Iron: From Bismarck to Hitler, the von Moltke Family’s
Impact on German History. New York: HarperCollins, 1995. 3-4.
Richard C. Lukas, The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation
1939-1944. Lexington, KY: U of Kentucky P, 1986. 38-9.
Norman Davies, Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland. Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1984. 70.
Auschwitz Museum Report 2010. Archived at
Davies 72.
Helmuth James von Moltke, Letters to Freya 1939-1945. Edited and translated from the
German by Beate Ruhm von Oppen. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990. 12-13.
Hans Mommsen, Alternatives to Hitler: German Resistance under the Third Reich.
Trans. Angus McGeoch. Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton U P, 2000. 24.
Leise Gegen den Strom (Kycia and Zurek, 2009). Archived at
„Das Streben nach einer nationalen oder europäischen Atomrüstung, die uns von
Amerika unabhängig machen könnte, scheint uns militärisch illusorisch und politisch
gefährlich.“ [Striving to achieve a national or European atomic arsenal, which would make us
independent of the United States, is in our opinion militarily infeasible and politically
dangerous.] Das Memorandum der Acht, archived at http://www.zeit.de/1962/09/dasmemorandum-der-acht.
Das Memorandum der Acht.
Das Memorandum der Acht.
German-Polish Dialogue. Letters of the Polish and German Bishops and International
Statements. Bonn, Brussels and New York: Edition Atlantic-Forum, 1966. 18.
Władysław Bartoszewski, 6. November 2009. Laudatio anlässlich der Verleihung
des Dialog-Preises 2009 an Ludwig Mehlhorn und Wolfgang Templin. Archived at
Helmuth James von Moltke, Letters to Freya 1939-1945. Edited and translated from
the German by Beate Ruhm von Oppen. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990. 289.
Our group had the opportunity to meet Dr. Ewa Unger, one of the members of the
Catholic Intelligence Club (KIK) in Breslau and a co-founder of the Center for Understanding at
Ludwig Mehlhorn, „Entstehungsgeschichte, Aufbau und Ziele der Stiftung Kreisau für
europäische Verständigung“ in Kreisau-Initiative Berlin – Stiftung Kreisau für Europäische
Verständigung (Hrsg.) Kreisau – Krzyżowa. Geschichts- und Zukunftswerkstatt für Europa.
Berlin und München: Deutscher Kunstverlag. 60-63.
I am sure that there are very many in Germany, silenced now by the Gestapo and the
machine-gun, who long for deliverance from a godless Nazi rule, and for the coming of a
Christian order in which they and we can take our part.” –Bishop George Bell, quoted in Eric
Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. A Righteous Gentile vs. The Third Reich.
Thomas Nelson Inc.: Nashville, TN, 2010. 380.
Dr. Bernd Florath, “Nein sagen zu Grenzen, die zwischen Menschen errichtet werden”
[„Saying ‚no‘ to borders placed between people“] Archived at
This excerpt is reprinted in the brochure of the Freya von Moltke Stiftung für das neue
Kreisau and was part of the package given to each member of our group from Helmut-SchmidtUniversität.
Seeking European Understanding: A Visit to Kreisau
Auschwitz Museum Report 2010. Archived at
Bartoszewski, Władysław. 6. November 2009. Laudatio anlässlich der Verleihung
des Dialog-Preises 2009 an Ludwig Mehlhorn und Wolfgang Templin. Archived at
Brakelmann, Günter. Helmuth James von Moltke 1907-1945. Eine Biographie. München:
C.H.Beck, 2007.
Davies, Norman. Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.
Dönhoff, Marion Gräfin. “Lobbyisten der Vernunft. Das Memorandum der Acht: Eine
kritische Bestandaufnahme der Bonner Politik“ Die Zeit Ausgabe 09 / 1962. Archived at
Florath, Bernd. “Nein sagen zu Grenzen, die zwischen Menschen errichtet werden”. Archived at
Friedrich, Otto. Blood and Iron: From Bismarck to Hitler, the von Moltke Family’s Impact on
German History. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.
German-Polish Dialogue. Letters of the Polish and German Bishops and International
Statements. Bonn, Brussels and New York: Edition Atlantic-Forum, 1966.
Greschat, Martin. “’Mehr Wahrheit in der Politik!’ Das Tübinger Memorandum von 1961“ in
Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeschichte 48 (Jul. 2000) 491-513.
Leise Gegen den Strom. Ein Film von Thomasz Kycia and Robert Zurek, 2009. Archived at
Lukas, Richard C. The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation 1939-1944.
Lexington, KY: U of Kentucky P, 1986.
Lukowski, Jerzy and Hubert Zawadski. A Concise History of Poland. Cambridge: Cambridge
U P, 2001.
Mehlhorn, Ludwig. „Entstehungsgeschichte, Aufbau und Ziele der Stiftung Kreisau für
europäische Verständigung“ in Kreisau-Initiative Berlin – Stiftung Kreisau für
Europäische Verständigung (Hrsg.) Kreisau – Krzyżowa. Geschichts- und
Zukunftswerkstatt für Europa. Berlin und München: Deutscher Kunstverlag.
Das Memorandum der Acht, archived at http://www.zeit.de/1962/09/das-memorandum-der-acht
Metaxas, Eric. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. A Righteous Gentile vs. The Third
Reich. Thomas Nelson Inc.: Nashville, TN, 2010.
Moltke, Helmuth James von. Letters to Freya 1939-1945. Edited and translated from the
German by Beate Ruhm von Oppen. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.
Mommsen, Hans. Alternatives to Hitler: German Resistance under the Third Reich. Trans.
Angus McGeoch. Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton U P, 2000.
Piotrowski, Tadeusz. Poland’s Holocaust. Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces
and Genocide in the Second Republic, 1918-1947. Jefferson, NC and London:
McFarland and Company.
The Restless Conscience: Resistance to Hitler Within Germany 1933-1945. A Film by Hava
Kohav Beller, 1992.
Roos, Hans. A History of Modern Poland from the Foundation of the State in the First World
War to the Present Day. Trans. J.R. Foster. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966.
Fly UP