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Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Last Letters: The Prison Correspondence, 1944-1945
by Freya von Moltke and Helmuth James von Moltke, edited by Helmuth Caspar von Moltke, Dorothea von Moltke, and Johannes von Moltke, with an afterword by Rachel Seiffert, a new translation from the German by Shelley Frisch
An NYRB Classics Original
Tegel prison, Berlin, in the fall of 1944. Helmuth James von Moltke is awaiting trial for his leading role in the Kreisau Circle, one of the most important German resistance groups against the Nazis. By a near miracle, the prison chaplain at Tegel is Harald Poelchau, a friend and coconspirator of Helmuth and his wife, Freya. From Helmuth’s arrival at Tegel in late September 1944 until the day of his execution by the Nazis on January 23, 1945, Poelchau would carry Helmuth’s and Freya’s letters in and out of prison daily, risking his own life. Freya would safeguard these letters for the rest of her long life. Last Letters is a profoundly personal record of the couple’s fortitude in the face of fascism.
[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.
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.
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.
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
"Last Letters" is both a remarkable historical document and a powerful testament of imperishable love and unwavering devotion.
—Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star Tribune
[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, Haaretz