Nebbadoon Press
Island of Peace in an Ocean of Unrest
The Letters of Dorothy von Moltke
by Catherine R. Hammond



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.

From 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 South Africa.

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 agreed.

A couple 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.

Kate 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.

When 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!"

Freya von 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.

To Everybody!
Please, walk in! Push hard.
Find me upstairs if I
don't respond

The audience 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 book.

Catherine R. Hammond
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 granted.)

Dorothy 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.

Ironically, 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?

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