Civilian Resistance Groups

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During Nazi rule, a number of civilian resistance groups existed that did not entertain any active plans for a coup or undertake concrete acts of sabotage or violence against the regime. Instead, they met in private residences, formed so-called circles and discussed and drafted plans for the period after Nazi rule.

In the Freiburg Circle, for instance, economists, jurists, Protestants and Catholics joined together in a discussion group that met monthly. The November Pogrom of 1938 provided the impetus for these meetings. A lecture was delivered each time and followed by discussion. Topics were the economic and social order as well as the issue of Christians’ relationship to the Nazi state.

The Freiburg Circle produced memoranda on Christian principles of social ethics for postwar Germany, a memorandum on domestic and foreign policy and one on the relationship of the state, society and individuals. Individual members of the discussion group additionally occupied themselves with the reorganization of the economy and, in the process, laid important groundwork for a future “social market economy”. Numerous member of the circle, including Clemens Bauer, Franz Böhm, Constantin von Dietze, Adolf Lampe, Friedrich Justus Perels and Gerhard Ritter, were arrested after the failed assassination attempt on July 20, 1944.

Another resistance group gathered around Hanna Solf, the wife of the German ambassador in Tokyo, who had died in 1936. She brought together likeminded individuals, predominantly diplomats and academics, in her circle (“Solf Circle”) in order to exchange views on their disapproval of National Socialism. The group neither planned an assassination attempt nor developed concepts for the postwar period; individual members were however in contact with people who gave thought to such matters in other circles.

The Gestapo succeeded in sending an informant into a gathering of members of the Solf Circle held at Elisabeth von Thadden’s on September 10, 1943 under the guise of a tea party. Nearly every member of the circle was arrested as a result. Elisabeth von Thadden, a member of the Confessing Church and headmistress of a boarding school with a pronounced Christian identity until its forced closing, was sentenced to death by the People’s Court on July 1, 1944 for undermining the war effort and abetting the enemy and executed in Berlin-Plötzensee on September 8.

The resistance group, the “Kreisau Circle”, is particularly well-known today. A circle of friends that discussed plans for the socio-political reorganization of Germany after the end of Nazi rule met on the estate of Graf von Moltke in Kreisau in Lower Silesia for the first time at Pentecost in 1942.

The Kreisau Circle brought together individuals with differing social, ideological, denominational and political identities: Aristocrats such as Helmuth James Graf von Moltke and Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg, theologians such as the Catholics Alfred Delp and Augustin Rösch and the Protestants Eugen Gerstenmaier and Harald Poelchau, Social Democrats such as Julius Leber and Carlo Mierendorff as well as Adam von Trott zu Solz, a jurist working in the Foreign Office, and Hans Lukaschek, administrative president of the Prussian Province of Upper Silesia who had been relieved of his office by the National Socialists.

They formulated a “Declaration of Principles” in May of 1942, which contained thoughts on the reorganization of the state and society after the end of the Hitler dictatorship; other papers followed later, which aimed at restoring a “humane” state founded on the rule of law, assigned the Christian faith a central role in reorganization and also called for the punishment of Nazi criminals.

Although the Kreisau Circle was not involved in planning for a military coup, nearly every one of its members was arrested after the failed assassination attempt and its leading thinkers were sentenced to death by the People’s Court since some members of the circle had joined Stauffenberg’s group.

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  • © Reproduction: German Resistance Memorial Center

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