‘Freya!’ honors local Nazi resistor

by Caela Murphy | 1/14/14 4:54pm

At the height of World War II, Countess Freya von Moltke’s husband came to her with a request: could she turn against friends and colleagues to form a resistance group of upper-class German citizens like themselves?

Moltke considered the proposition and emphatically agreed. The Kreisau Circle began as a meeting of two dozen of Moltke’s friends and quickly strengthened. By the war’s end, however, Hitler had arrested and executed half of the group’s original members, including Moltke’s husband.

“They were aristocrats,” German studies professor Bruce Duncan said. “They could’ve had a comfortable existence by not resisting the Nazis, but in fact they quite willingly took a huge risk that led to his execution.”

This evening, the German Club will host a film screening and panel discussion of “Freya!” (2011), a documentary celebrating Moltke’s life and legacy. The film, directed by Boston College German studies professor Rachel Freudenburg, is based primarily on a 2002 interview the director conducted with Moltke, who died in 2010 in Norwich.

The film also gives historical context for the Kreisau Circle’s founding and charts its specific history. Primary source material includes letters the couple wrote to one another while Helmuth James von Moltke was imprisoned during the war.

According to Freudenburg’s research, members of the group communicated with Allied forces about political life in Hitler’s regime while making plans for a democratic post-war German government. Helmuth was arrested for his involvement in the resistance and executed for treason in 1945.

Freudenburg said that although she had little experience with filmmaking, Moltke’s interview made the process easy for her.

“She knew what she was doing,” Freudenburg said. “She had given many interviews, and she knew what she felt was important to say about the resistance and her role in it.”

Following the war’s conclusion, Moltke traveled to South Africa and back to Germany, before settling in Vermont in 1960, where she joined long time friend and former Dartmouth philosophy professor Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. The two had met in a German youth camp movement and lived together until Rosenstock-Huessy’s death in 1973. Moltke remained in Norwich for the rest of her life.

Duncan, who met Moltke when he began teaching at Dartmouth, called her “one of the great figures of the 20th century.”

“She was an extremely famous person and central to the resistance against Hitler, but she was also active in the community here,” Duncan said.

Freudenburg described the topic of her documentary film as “contentious.” Many members of the Kreisau Circle held prominent government positions, and some German studies scholars remain skeptical about their efforts to form a credible resistance group.

Freudenburg said she hopes the research included in her film will help show German history from a different perspective.

“The equation of Germans with Nazis is, I think, something that we can be more critical of when we look at Freya’s interview,” she said. “She was never a Nazi, and for her whole life she worked against them.”

A panel discussion with Freudenburg, German studies professor Irene Kacandes, local resident and Humanities resource Inge Brown and Therese Kienemund ’15 will follow the screening.

German studies professor Petra McGillen said she expects the discussion to be “lively.”

“I’m looking forward to a discussion about [Moltke’s] values and what she stood for, as a model for a civil society in which you take responsibility as an individual for living responsibly and coexisting with others,” she said.

McGillen, the German Club’s current advisor, was excited when Kacandes approached her about possibly screening the film. As someone who grew up in Germany, she recalled learning about different types of resistance to the Nazi regime in school but was not familiar with the Moltkes’ story.

“I got excited when I found out that she was intimately connected to the circle, and in fact one of the important figures in it,” she said. “We immediately said [the film] would be great.”

Norwich community members who knew Moltke will have a special appreciation for the film, McGillen said.

“They will be able to see the film through very different eyes, in a way,” McGillen said. “For me, as someone who has never met her, I think it’s going to open up a new perspective which will make me curious to learn more about her.”

The screening and discussion will take place from 7-9 p.m. in the Visual Arts Center’s Loew Auditorium.