The Kreisau Circle

Its political and intellectual thought and action make the Kreisau Circle, which had formed around Helmuth James von Moltke and Peter Yorck von Wartenburg in early 1940, special among German resistance groups. In 1940, Moltke, Yorck and Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg had initiated a discussion and debated how to formulate a positive theory of the state in the face of the triumph of evil. A circle of some twenty individuals eventually coalesced around Moltke and Yorck and corresponded intensively with each other or consulted in varying constellations. Moltke and Yorck additionally maintained contact with at least ninety other individuals, including the bishops Konrad Graf von Preysing and Theophil Wurm.

Fundamental issues of the relationship between church and state, educational and economic policy, a new social order and foreign policy were debated at three major meetings at the Kreisau estate in Lower Saxony at Pentecost of 1942, in October of 1942 and in June of 1943. The members of the Kreisau Circle additionally gave thought to a completely new European order and formulated a policy paper addressing German involvement in the punishment of atrocities. Kreisau, as Freya von Moltke remembered it, was a perpetual dialog.

Germany’s political and spiritual renewal was vital to the members of the Kreisau Circle and, in their eyes, closely tied to Europe’s future. Individuals, free to determine their own fates, ought to be empowered to participate in political processes. The state ought to be built from the bottom up out of manageable autonomous units, thus repudiating the traditional authoritarian state. The members of the Kreisau Circle did not desire restoration – neither of the monarchy nor of the Weimar Republic. Rather, their sociopolitical ideas were strongly influenced by socialism and their foreign policy considerations were aimed at European integration. A Christian humanist worldview was their basis for renewal.

The members of the Kreisau Circle were not involved in any concrete plans for a coup. Their foremost concern was to have reform plans ready for a new beginning after a coup. Nonetheless, individual members were involved in practical preparations for a coup. Moreover, the members of the Kreisau Circle heatedly debated the possibility of attempting to assassinate Hitler.

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