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Kreisau and its Historical Significance

The small village of Kreisau owes its place in history to two individuals: the famous Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke, who bought the estate in the 19th century as his old-age residence, and his great-grandnephew Helmuth James von Moltke, who was one of the leading members of the Kreisau Circle, a civil resistance movement against the Nazi regime. In 1942 and 1943 this resistance group held three important meetings in the Berghaus, the family home set on a hill directly behind the estate.

The main objective of the Kreisau Circle was to develop plans for the future of Germany and Europe after the defeat of the Nazi regime. The members often met in small groups in Berlin, but for larger meetings they travelled to Kreisau. A guiding belief of the Kreisau Circle was that dictatorships caused “not only the destruction of cities, but also the horrific destruction of people’s hearts and minds” (Helmuth James von Moltke).

Learn more about the main ideas of the Kreisau Circle.

However, the Gestapo worked to extinguish these plans. After Klaus von Stauffenberg’s failed attempt to assassinate Hitler and following the harsh interrogations of the conspirators, the activities of the Kreisau Circle were discovered. Though Helmuth James von Moltke objected to any attempt to assassinate Hitler – he believed that a widespread movement of civil resistance would be most effective to end the Nazi regime – many members of the Kreisau Circle were executed in 1944-1945.

After the war, Kreisau became part of Poland and was renamed Krzyżowa. Falling under the ownership of the state, both the property and the nearby village fell into decay. Yet the principles of the Kreisau Circle remained alive and vital in Poland, Germany and other countries. Many still remembered the work of the Kreisau Circle, which exemplified tolerant and open approaches to social organization. Towards the end of the Cold War, citizens from Poland, East and West Germany, other European countries and the US worked to revive Kreisau as a place of international mutual understanding.

In 1989, with the fall of both the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, the dilapidated Kreisau estate was rocketed back into the public consciousness, especially with the meeting of the former German Chancellor Helmuth Kohl and the first democratically elected Polish president Tadeusz Mazowiecki in Kreisau.

In 1989-1990, as part of a broader European civic movement, the New Kreisau began working to purchase the former Kreisau estate in Krzyżowa, Poland. In 1994, the first part of the international youth meeting site at Kreisau was rebuilt; the doors of the whole site officially opened in 1998.

The estate Kreisau.

The Berghaus - The location of the first meeting of the Kreisau Circle (1930).

Helmuth James von Moltke at the Volksgerichtshof (1945).

Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Helmuth Kohl during the Versöhnungsmesse in Kreisau (1989).