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The main ideas of the Kreisau Circle

The Kreisau Circle fundamentally worked to reorganize Germany after the war into a democratic structure within a democratically united Europe. They asked questions about the nature of politics and society: What political mechanisms – if they had been in place – could have prevented both this war and the First World War? How could the criminality of the Nazi regime be punished in a way that discourages future violations of human rights? Would a national criminal tribunal to prosecute Nazi criminals have cachet enough to prevent international law from being violated with impunity in the future?

Several hundred small meetings of the Circle were held in Berlin, Munich and elsewhere in Germany. The Circle established contacts with other resistance groups in occupied countries like France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway, and – fruitlessly – asked for support from the Allies.

Though they worked together for the same goal, to depose the Nazi regime and institute democracy in Germany, the Kreisau Circle epitomized pluralistic society. The Circle derived ideas from various religious and ethnic backgrounds: some members were Protestant and others Catholic; some held Conservative convictions while others were Socialist. They differed in most areas of human difference but one, a shared abhorrence for the Nazi regime.

The ideas of the Kreisau Circle were future-orientated; they worked so that a new civil society could become the basis for a new German Republic and united Europe. After the terrible failure of the Weimar Republic, the members of the Kreisau Circle were not satisfied with simply returning Germany to the pre-war political system. For instance, their idea for a new German state did not include political parties, except in communities. The new German civil society should be structured from the bottom up. The goal of this was to invest every individual with the responsibilities of coexisting in a civil society. Furthermore, the Kreisau Circle wrote about the need for constitutional civil rights, freedom of religion, separation of governmental powers, and for German democratic integration into an interdependent Europe.

The Kreisau Circle remained fully aware that both the war and the Nazi regime had to end before the reconstruction of German civil society could commence. However they did not advocate violence to combat violence; von Moltke especially objected to any attempt to assassinate Hitler. If they cut off the head of the monster, a new, stronger one might take its place. Rather, they had to make an environment in which the monster could simply not exist. The Kreisau Circle developed the idea that the German people could punish their native criminals through national tribunals so that these crimes against humanity could be prevented from ever recurring in Germany.

The Circle posited that a united Europe could only exist if all Europe shared the same basic ethos and moral interest. “For us an Europe after the war is less a question of borders and soldiers, of complicated organizations and great plans. Rather, it is a reconstruction of the picture of the human being in the hearts of our citizens.” (Moltke in 1942 to his friend Lionel Curtis).

A European alliance of states should include Germany and its current wartime enemies, Britain, France and the Soviet Union; it should be based on the principles of western democracies, i.e. the rule of law, on Christian values and tolerance for other religions.

Helmuth James Graf von Moltke

Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg

Alfred Delp

Horst von Einsiedel

Theodor Haubach

Hans Lukaschek

Carlo Mierendorff

Adolf Reichwein

Carl Dietrich von Trotha