Last Letters: The Prison Correspondence Between Helmuth James and Freya Von Moltke, 1944-45

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New York Review of Books
Publish Date
5.0 X 0.9 X 8.0 inches | 0.97 pounds
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About the Author

In 1935, after turning down an opportunity to become a judge because the job would require him to join the Nazi party, Helmuth James von Moltke (1907-1945) began a practice of his own in Berlin that helped Jews and other persecuted peoples emigrate from Germany. In 1939, von Moltke was drafted into the German counter-intelligence service. He soon became a leader of those opposed to the Nazi party, leading to his eventual arrest and execution.

Freya von Moltke (1911-2010) was part of the anti-Nazi opposition group, the Kreisau Circle, which she helped to form with her husband Helmuth. After World War II, Freya left Germany and settled in South Africa with her two sons. Unable to tolerate Apartheid, however, Freya returned to Berlin in 1956 and eventually settled in Norwich, Vermont, where she lived until her death.

Helmuth Caspar von Moltke is a retired lawyer and the son of Freya and Helmuth von Moltke. He lives in Vermont, Quebec, and Berlin.

Johannes von Molkte is a professor of German and Film, Media and Television at the University of Michigan and the grandson of Freya and Helmuth von Moltke.

Dorothea von Molke is co-owner of Labyrinth Books in Princeton, NJ, and the granddaughter of Freyaand Helmuth von Moltke.

Shelley Frisch is an award-winning translator of German literature. She lives in Princeton, NJ.

Rachel Seiffert is a British novelist and short story writer.


"[A] story of the triumph of love between a couple whose lives were torn apart by the Third Reich but whose letters should certainly belong to any anthology of 'classic' correspondence and who played their part in the history of the humanisation of their country. . . . [T]hey deserve to be read now as widely as possible: a demonstration of the heights to which the human spirit, nourished by faith . . . can rise over adversity." --Francis Phillips, Catholic Herald

"[The] letters and the explanatory footnotes reveal a deep love bolstered by a building religious devotion . . . A compelling, profoundly emotional Nazi-era story that also serves as a reminder of the power of letter writing." --Kirkus

"Last Letters documents what the Song of Songs calls 'love as strong as death, ' or even stronger: the unbreakable connection between two courageous people who managed to maintain faith and love in nearly unimaginable circumstances." --Elaine Pagels

"The four-month daily correspondence between Helmuth von Moltke - imprisoned resistance leader awaiting almost certain but unscheduled execution - and his wife Freya, who would serve humanitarian causes for another 65 years, is a devastating testimony to courage, family love, and the consolation of religious faith. It also reveals the Nazi jurists' implacable legal reasoning as well as the Moltkes' hope somehow to delay the sentence by working the corridors of a regime in denial of its own imminent extinction." --Charles Maier

"These letters form an extraordinary zone of light in the darkest of times. The writers think lucidly and eloquently about who they are and where they are, and by the extension about who we are or might be, if we care enough about humanity to stand firm against its worst abusers. An unforgettable book." --Michael G. Wood

"Any tale of brave resistance to political tyranny elicits profound admiration. But told through the intimate correspondence of a wife and her husband, this one acquires an extraordinary vitality and poignancy. Here we witness at close quarters the human costs of courage and its more-than-human springs. The sight is achingly, commandingly beautiful." --Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, University of Oxford

"Bombs are falling, the Russian front is closing in, and the Nazi law machine grinds along, preparing cases, examining witnesses, churning out death sentences. In the midst of this destruction takes place the extraordinary leave-taking between Freya and Helmuth James von Moltke recorded in this volume. Through their letters, full of desperate humanity, they find a deeper personal connection, in defiance of the regime that seeks to crush them." --Martin Puchner, author of The Written World and editor of The Norton Anthology of World Literature

"[F]illed with love and soul-searching, honest attempts to sift through their fears and understand their fates, and, increasingly, to find solace in their strong Christian faith." --Danna Harman,