In his last published letters written to Freya on 10 and 11 January 1945, 12 days before his execution in Plötzensee Prison in Berlin, Germany 38-year-old Helmuth James Graf von Moltke tried to prepare his wife for his death.

Freya was 34. She was about to be left alone with her two sons by the husband to whom she had been married for fourteen years.

In spite of the terrible injustice of which he was the victim, Helmuth’s words were filled with a deep faith and trust in the goodness and beauty of life. He demonstrates a spirit of freedom that appears to have enabled him to transcend the horror of his circumstances.

On January 10 he wrote:

My dear heart, first I must say that quite obviously the last 24 hours of al life are in no way different from any others. I always imagined that one would only feel shock, that one would say to oneself: Now the sun sets for the last time for you, now the clock only goes to 12 twice more, now you go to bed for the last time.

None of that is the case.

I wonder if I am a bit high, for I can’t deny that my mood is positively elated. I only beg the Lord in Heaven that he will keep me in it, for it is surely easier for the flesh to die like that.

How merciful the Lord has been to me! Even at the risk of sounding hysterical: I am so full of gratitude that there is hardly room for anything else. He guided me so firmly and clearly these 2 days: the whole room could have roared like Herr Freisler (Nazi judge in the Volksgerichtshof who sentenced Moltke to death) and all the walls could have shaken, it would have made no difference to me; it was truly as it says in Isaiah 43:2: When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. – That is your soul. When I was called upon for my final statement I almost felt like saying: There is only one thing I want to mention in my defence: nehmen sie den Leib, Gut, Her, Kind und Weib, lass fahren dahin, sie haben’s kein Gweinn, das Reich muss uns doch bleiben (“And though they take our life,/ Goods, honour, children, wife,/ Yet is their profit small, / These things shall vanish all,/ The city of God remaineth.” …

Moltke, Helmuth James von. Letters to Freya 1939-1945. (trans. Beate Ruhm Oppen) NY: Vintage Books, 1995.


Moltke’s description of being in the courtroom facing the ferocious Nazi judge Roland Freisler who could make the strongest man quake, and yet feeling that “the walls could have shaken, it would have made no difference to me,” embodies the deep vision of dispassion to which the spiritual life aims.

As will become clear in further excerpts from his letter, it is not that Moltke did not care about life. He had a deep love for life, for his family, friends, and a deep commitment to the task he believed God had called him to fulfill. But, Moltke was able to sit lightly to all that he loved. His love while deep and passionate did not cause him to cling and grasp. So he was free at the end to move without hindrance into the realm of life that follows physical death.