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Count Helmuth James von Moltke’s Memo to Hans Wilbrandt and Alexander Rüstow on Conditions in Germany and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (July 9, 1943)

Count Helmuth James von Moltke was born in 1907 into one of Prussia’s most distinguished noble families – he was the great-grandnephew of Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891), Chief of the Prussian General Staff under Bismarck. In 1935, Moltke began working as a self-employed lawyer in Berlin, where, among other professional activities, he used his expertise in international law and international private law to help victims of Nazi persecution emigrate. At the same time, he also took advantage of any opportunity to make contacts for the German resistance, especially in England. As founder of the resistance group known by the Gestapo as the Kreisau Circle [Kreisauer Kreis] (Kreisau being the name of his family’s Silesian estate, where group meetings were held), Moltke was actively involved in planning Germany’s new political and social order after the hoped-for downfall of the Hitler regime. On account of his Christian convictions, however, he initially rejected the idea of assassinating Hitler. In his work in the Office of Military Intelligence [Amt Ausland/Abwehr] within the High Command of the Wehrmacht (OKW), Moltke tried to prevent the German military from engaging in activities that were against international law. At the same time, he also used his access to secret information to strengthen the opposition.

In July 1943, Moltke travelled to Turkey, where he met with two émigrés, Hans Wilbrandt and Alexander Rüstow, and gave the following report on conditions in Germany and the status of the resistance movement. Both Wilbrandt and Rüstow had contact with the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and were members of the German Alliance for Freedom [Deutscher Freiheitsbund], an association of German exiles who opposed the Hitler government.

Some of the information that Moltke gave Wilbrandt and Rüstow was of potential military use to the Allies, and he asked them to pass it on. He also supplied an account of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of April-May 1943. The information that he provided, however, included a false (i.e., exaggerated) description of how much assistance the Jewish fighters had received from others and how many weapons they possessed. Apparently, this information came from SS officials, who needed to make excuses when asked to explain their difficulty in crushing the uprising to the German military. Moltke did, however, accurately report that transports of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto had been sent to “annihilating institutes” in Poland.

In January 1944, Moltke was arrested for warning a friend of his own impending arrest. At first, he was not charged with anything. A year later, Roland Freisler’s (1893-1945) People’s Court sentenced him to death for high treason in connection with the July 20, 1944, assassination attempt on Hitler. It was a kangaroo trial, with the government ultimately failing to prove his participation in preparations for the act. He was executed on January 23, 1945.

A note on the source: this memo was found, in English, in the U.S. National Archives. Being the son of a British South-African mother and having passed the British bar exam, Moltke would have certainly been capable of writing in English. But as Moltke, Wilbrandt, and Rüstow were native speakers of German, it is more likely that the original memo was written in German and translated into English for the benefit of the OSS. Unfortunately, no information on the presumed German original could be found in either the U.S. National Archives or the German Bundesarchiv.

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9. 7. 34

Air Bombardments of Western Germany.

The statements made in Allied broadcasts to the effect that German war production has dropped by 25 – 30% up to now as a result of bombardments of Germany's armament centres are entirely erroneous. The decline of production is relatively light. It appears that the aerial photographs brought back by Allied reconnaissance aircraft are used far more extensively as bases for the judgment of damage inflicted than first-hand reports. Such photographs may well show the destruction of entire work-shops, but they give no indication as to the actual extent of [the] destruction of machine equipment. It has been established that even when work-shops are completely smashed, the machine tool equipment generally suffers only minor damage unless destroyed by direct hits. The intact machines are then put back into operation 3 – 4 weeks after the bombardment, when the debris has been cleared away; while the shop-buildings themselves are reconstructed only so far as is necessary for the routine of production, in order to conserve the appearance to the aerial observer of heavy damage and stoppage of work. Exceptions to this rule are naturally those plants which from their character are paralyzed entirely by direct hits in any vital part, such as boiler houses, power stations, chemical factories, refineries, etc.

A circumstance that very seriously interferes with industrial production, and one that has not been fully appreciated as yet by the Allies, is the destruction of residences. As a result of the extensive destruction of workers' settlements and residential quarters in the Ruhr, housing accommodation for workers has become so scarce that a more appreciable direct effect in lowering rates of production is traceable to this circumstance than to any direct damage to centres of production. The acute shortage of building materials and construction workers makes it impossible to cope effectively with this situation. The remedy of evacuating from areas subject to air attack all inhabitants whose presence is not essential to armament production cannot be applied because it would involve other serious dislocations, especially of the transport system.

No Decentralization in Germany's Administrative System.

Contrary to the belief current among the Allies that German administration has been partially decentralized, it must be emphasized that the entire administrative mechanism of the Reich and the Nazi Party continues to be centred in Berlin and the other traditional administrative centres, and that, moreover, no preparations are being made for any future decentralization. The recurring remonstrances made by the High Command of the Wehrmacht are met by Party Headquarters with the argument that it would injure the prestige of the Party if the centres of administration were to be moved elsewhere, and that the potential influence of such preparatory measures upon the morale of the home front made it imperative to avoid them. Consequently, a concentrated bombardment and possible destruction of the central administrative authorities, which are all still housed in the traditional public buildings, would very effectively paralyze Germany's administrative system.

U-Boat Warfare.

As regards the abortive Doenitz Offensive, it is true that it represents a major German defeat; but although the U-Boats were indeed recalled late in June this must not be regarded as a purely defensive measure, but must be interpreted in connection with the evolution of new offensive tactics as a rejoinder to the improved Allied defence. The OKW (High Command of the Wehrmacht) confidently anticipates new great U-boat successes in August as a result of a novel offensive strategy.

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