Through a fascinating series of happenstances,
writer and biographer Kate Hammond met the von Moltkes,
including Freya von Moltke, who read the manuscript and
shared with the author her personal recollections of Dorothy
and Helmuth von Moltke, as well as her husband, Helmuth
James von Moltke.
the moment I stumbled on the von Moltke story
eight years ago, I became involved in a never-ending adventure.
One day, as I was doing some routine reference work at Longyear
Museum, I came across the name Helmuth von Moltke in a number
of Christian Science Journals and Sentinels. Although I
had been a halfhearted history student in high school, I
vaguely recalled that there was an important player in German
history named Moltke, who had been made a field marshal
by Bismarck after the Franco-Prussian War. And so I went
on the Internet to see what the connection was between the
Christian Scientist and the great Field Marshal.
It turned out that the Helmuth von Moltke in the church
periodicals was indeed the grandnephew of Field Marshal
Helmuth Carl Bernhard von Moltke, architect of the Prussian
victory over the French in 1871. As I surfed the Internet
some more, I discovered that the Christian Scientist had
a son named Helmuth James von Moltke, who was a hero of
the German Resistance, executed by the Nazis in 1945. I
read on and learned that, amazingly, Helmuth James's widow
was still living-now aged ninety-four-in Norwich, Vermont.
Next, I read a biography of the Moltkes, Blood and Iron:
From Bismarck to Hitler the von Moltke Family's Impact on
German History by Otto Friedrich. In it I learned that
a younger brother of Helmuth James named Wilhelm Viggo von
Moltke had left Germany in 1937 for England, ending up in
the United States, where he was made an officer in the United
States Army. After the war, he studied architecture with
Walter Gropius at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, later becoming a professor of
urban planning there.
As I live in Cambridge, my desk mate, married to a German
girl and as fascinated by this story as I was, suggested
that I look up the younger brother in the phone book, which
I did. Lo and behold, I found a Mrs. Wilhelm von Moltke
living at an address three blocks from my home. I dialed
the number. A German-accented voice answered. "Yes,
this is Mrs. Wilhelm von Moltke; what can I do for you?"
I was astonished. Suddenly, I had stepped into history.
I explained my interest in learning more about the Christian
Scientist named Helmuth von Moltke whose name appeared in
our church periodicals. "Oh," she replied, "you
want to talk to my sister-in-law, Freya"-the widow
of the German Resistance hero. Mrs. von Moltke-Veronica-then
gave me Freya's phone number in Vermont.
When I called, another German-accented but deeper voice
answered. It was Freya von Moltke. She invited me to come
for an interview, and two weeks later, I was in my Ford
Escort headed for the hills of the Green Mountain State.
After a long drive, I arrived at a typical Vermont wooden
house, where I was greeted by a very lively lady with a
shock of white hair and a friendly smile. I finally got
to use a phrase I'd always loved, Guten Tag, gnädige
Frau (Good day, Madam). She laughed and invited me in.
I turned on my tape recorder and we got down to the interview.
It lasted about two hours. Afterwards, as we chatted over
tea and pastries, she asked, "And have you been a friend
of Veronica for a long time?" I had to explain that,
actually, I had never met Veronica and I had spoken with
her only over the phone. We had a good laugh.
A few weeks after returning to Cambridge, I received a note
from Freya announcing that copies of all of Dorothy von
Moltke's letters had arrived at her home. Would I like to
come and read them? For the next six months, I made several
trips to Norwich, where, seated at a small table in the
guest room, I perused the letters of Dorothy von Moltke,
wife of Count Helmuth von Moltke. And there began the next
chapter in my adventure with the Moltke story, and my love
affair with Dorothy's over 750 letters to her parents in
When I finished
my manuscript about Count and Countess von Moltke's
contribution to the cause of Christian Science (Part
II of this book), I gave it to Freya to read. On my
next visit, we went over the entire text together,
on which she had made corrections, particularly the
passages about her husband, Helmuth James.
I recall her sitting beside me at the little writing
table with the notebook containing my manuscript in
her hands. She turned to me and said softly, "This
is beautiful-simple, but beautifully written."
She added that over the years since the death of her
father-in-law, she had grown to appreciate him more
and more. I told her that I felt a warm kinship with
Dorothy, to which she replied, "Yes, I can see
that you do." She concluded that it was good
that this book had been written about them. "They
deserve it," she said. Later, in 2007, Freya
made the following written statement:
Dorothy and Helmuth von Moltke would
be pleased with this publication. As their daughter-in-law
I have witnessed how important Christian Science was
in their lives. Using Dorothy's letters, the story
has been well and correctly told and represents including
the life of my husband in all its details-the past
as I knew it.
When I had completed the longer work on Dorothy von
Moltke's letters (Part I), I showed it to Freya and
her son, Helmuth Caspar von Moltke. Both of them expressed
appreciation for the way I had woven the letters together
with a continuous narration giving context and background
information. "You have built bridges between
the letters," Freya said approvingly. Her son
of years later, Helmuth Caspar read the entire book
of Dorothy's letters and made many helpful suggestions
and corrections. He wrote me the following in an e-mail:
Your manuscript has been illuminating
even to me. It contains so much more of my grandparents'
working and spiritual life that I have never before
absorbed as well.
When I applied to Nebbadoon Press to publish the letters,
Helmuth Caspar wrote a strong letter of support, part
of which is excerpted here.
Hammond has edited these letters, some of which appeared
in translation in Germany in a book entitled "Ein
Leben in Deutschland" in 1999. Hers is the commentary
on life in a leading German family in a period of
great upheaval seen though the eyes of a young woman
steeped in the traditions of the Anglo-Saxon democracy.
My family and I would be delighted if her letters
became available to an American audience.
he received the news that my manuscript of his grandmother's
letters had been accepted for publication, as well
as the shorter one on the Moltkes' involvement in
Christian Science, Helmuth Caspar was overjoyed, exclaiming,
"Kate, you have hit the ball out of the park!"
Moltke died on January 1, 2010. A memorial service
was held a week later in a packed, white-steepled
New England church, with two enormous wreaths from
the German Government draped over the altar. The cover
of the program included a message that Freya had kept
posted on her front door, which on this occasion took
on a special meaning.
Please, walk in! Push hard.
Find me upstairs if I
chuckled, as they remembered a genuine heroine of
the most tragic period in German history. I felt privileged
to have known her and to have received so much help
and encouragement from her in the writing of this
October 2, 2013
Extract from article by Barbara Goyette
appearing in "The Reporter" dated Winter
2000 about Beate Ruhm von Oppen, the translator of
Letters to Freya into English, and of Dorothy's
letters into German in Ein Leben in Deutschland.
(Permission to reproduce here has been
died in 1935, unexpectedly, at the age of 51. Miss
von Oppen says the physical cause may have been a
brain tumor (as a Christian Scientist, she was undiagnosed
and never saw a doctor); "the metaphysical cause
was a broken heart," she says. Dorothy never
lived to see her son's devotion to his fellow man,
his constant efforts against a regime he loathed ruling
a country he loved, and his sacrificial death. Although
he was not himself a Christian Scientist, he was heavily
influenced by the degree of his mother's faith. Her
letters serve to illustrate a critical three-decade
period in German history, and to foreshadow the thinking
of an important figure in the post-war consciousness.
Dorothy's letters were written in English and had
to be translated into German for publication there.
Miss von Oppen hopes that an American publisher will
find them of significant interest. "It would
be highly desirable to publish the originals,"
she notes. The German edition of Dorothy's letters
has received solid reviews from four major papers,
including Die Zeit, Berliner Zeitung, and Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung. The Frankfurt review, by historian
Rainer Blasius, begins and ends with references to
the son, recognizing the letters as important in their
own right as an intelligent woman's take on the times
as well as illuminating about Helmuth James. For the
background the story provides about Moltke, who would
go on to become a hero during World War II, the work
is invaluable-don't we always want to understand what
makes a man able to act with such courage?