The Kreisau Circle

About the Kreisau Circle

The 'Kreisau Circle' (Kreisauer Kreis) occupies an exceptional place among the German opposition against the Nazi regime. This group, when compared to other anti-Nazi organisations was uncommonly heterogeneous. It was composed of intellectuals, civil servants, social activists and clergymen representing very different political and world-view options. These people, acting across the divide, developed an original political, social, economic and cultural programme for post-war Germany and Europe. One important part of this programme was the idea of strict cooperation of European nations within the framework of a politically united continent.

The Kreisau Circle was founded in 1940 as a network of contacts centred around two initiators: Helmuth James von Moltke, the owner of the estate in Krzyżowa in Lower Silesia, and Peter Yorck von Wartenburg. The group did not have a coherent structure, or even a name (Later, it would be the Gestapo that referred to them as the “Kreisau Circle”). However, it brought together a wide range of representatives from different backgrounds and world-view options, who, unable to come to terms with the situation in Germany - as well as the actions of the German army in Europe - decided to stand against Adolf Hitler’s regime.

Members of the group were aware that they did not have at their disposal the resources nor capacity to carry out an assassination attempt on the leaders of the regime, even less so, to stage an armed coup. They believed that the military solution could only take real shape with the participation of the military themselves. Therefore, they dedicated themselves to the development of a political programme for the post-war Germany. They believed that the military defeat of the Nazis was inevitable, and change in the country would then be possible, primarily owing to activities undertaken from within.

They held hundreds of meetings which, for fear of arousing interest of the security services, could only be attended by no more than a few people at a time. They met as a larger group only three times. And it was, in fact, at the estate of the von Moltke family in Krzyżowa, where these meetings took place. Throughout this time they developed a plan for the constitution of a future, democratic Germany. They also prepared concepts regarding the punishment of war criminals and compensation for those countries attacked and occupied by the Nazi Germany. They also thought about the shape of a future united Europe, which would prevent any further conflicts from breaking out.

The representatives of the Kreisau Circle established contact with representatives of opposition groups in occupied Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway and also made ineffective attempts at gaining support from the Allies.

Nine members of the Kreisau Circle were sentenced to death for their opposition activities and future involvement in the coup d’ etat on Adolf Hitler prepared by Claus Stauffenberg (20 July 1944). The sentence was executed on eight of them, including Helmuth James von Moltke and Peter Yorck von Wartenburg.


Three meetings in Krzyżowa

The members of the Kreisau Circle, for fear of arousing the interest of the security services (some of them were already being observed by the Gestapo) met primarily in smaller groups consisting of two, three or four people. After two years of such intensive work, they met three times as a larger group - at the estate owned by Helmuth James von Moltke, in Krzyżowa, Lower Silesia. This was an important step for the organisation which, thanks to these meetings, could create one whole from the number of individual concepts developed.

The first meeting in Krzyżowa - 22nd to 25th of May, 1942

The first meeting in Krzyżowa was held between 22-25 May 1942, on Pentecost (the date was chosen because they supposed that the vigilance of the security services would be lower). The following people met for the first time in larger company: Helmuth and Freya von Moltke, Peter and Marion Yorck von Wartenburg, Theodor Steltzer, Augustin Rösch, Hans Peters, Adolf Reichwein, Harald Poelchau, Hans Lukaschek, Asta von Moltke (Helmuth’s sister) and Irene Yorck von Wartenburg (Peter’s sister).

For fear of being uncovered, discussions concerned issues which did not have a clearly political context. These included: the role of Christianity in society, relations between the state and the Church, and problems related to upbringing, secondary education and universities.

The caution exercised in the choice of topics and the date of the meeting was the main reason why the Gestapo never found out about this first meeting even after the Circle was broken up in 1944.

The first meeting in Krzyżowa was of fundamental significance for the further activities of the group brought together around Moltke and Yorck. It became an impulse for more intensive work on the preparation of the programme for a future democratic Germany. The location of the three large meetings at von Moltke’s estate led the Gestapo to refer to the group as the “Kreisau Circle” as early as during the investigation they conducted in the year 1944.

The second meeting in Krzyżowa- 16th to 18th of October, 1942

The second meeting of the Kreisau Circle at von Moltke's family estate was held soon after the first, that is, between 16-18 October 1942. The success with which the first meeting ended, in the general opinion of the members of the Circle, certainly encouraged them to undertake work on the creation of a programme for the future post-war Germany.

The number of people invited to Krzyżowa was extended. In addition to several people who had participated in the first meeting - Helmuth James and Freya von Moltke, Peter and Marion Yorck von Wartenburg, Theodor Steltzer and Hans Peters – new participants, representing broader circles attended: theologian Eugen Gerstenmaier, Jesuit Father Alfred Delp, the economist Horst von Einsiedel and members of the Social Democratic Party in Germany; Theodor Haubach and Hermann Maass.

Above all, the discussions during the second meeting were related to issues of crucial importance for the future post-Nazi Germany as well as issues that were extremely dangerous in the event of exposure. Projects regarding the reconstruction of the civic society and the political shape of the state and economy were prepared.

These issues were not accidental. The members of the Kreisau Circle drew conclusions from the not-so-distant German past and wished to organise the new state in such a way as to prevent the breaking up of democratic structures, the weakening of civic responsibility for the country and the economic collapse that would only intensify it. They were clearly aware that these were factors which were of key importance in the Nazis’ rise to power.

The second meeting in Krzyżowa was a turning point for the further fate of this group. It was then that the further directions of future activity were set.

From today's perspective, we cannot underestimate the efforts made at that time to shape society and the structures of the state in such a way as to ensure that extremist groups never again seize power.

The third meeting in Krzyżowa - 12th to 14th of June, 1943

The third meeting of the Kreisau Circle in the estate of the von Moltke family took place between 12-14 June 1943 - and, just as was the case of the other meeting, the pretext for it was the Pentecost.

It was attended by: Helmuth James and Freya von Moltke, Peter, Marion and Irene von Yorck, Adam von Trott zu Solz, Eugene Gerstenmeier, Hermann Maass and Father Alfred Delp.

It was held after a longer break and in a new external situation, which was not without any impact on the topics of discussions. The defeat of the German army near Stalingrad (February 1943), which indicated the inevitability of the collapse of the Eastern Front, made the members of the Circle look at the future fate of Germany from a different perspective.

Therefore, the main emphasis during the meeting was placed on foreign policy (including policies towards the Allies occupying Germany), the post-war economic policy and - for the first time so explicitly – the rules of prosecution for the crimes committed by the Germans.

From today's perspective, particular attention is drawn by the issue of punishment for Nazi criminals touched upon at that time. The members of the Kreisau Circle clearly advocated that the Germans themselves must settle the crimes which they committed - as only in such a case would it be possible to build a truly democratic civic society.

Aware of the crimes which the Germans had committed against Jews, Poles and other nations of the occupied Europe, they considered it necessary to set about punishing all those who had acted against human rights with the utmost firmness and severity - without the possibility of hiding behind orders or national laws in force at that time.

The third meeting in Krzyżowa was at the same time the last one which the members of the Circle held in the family estate of the von Moltke family. The current duties absorbed the members of the Circle to such an extent that they decided to organise the next meeting in a larger company.

In January 1944 Helmuth James von Moltke was arrested and, because of this, the group decided to adopt a complete different model of operation.

Krzyżowa, however, remained forever a place associated with a group whose members had the courage to oppose evil despite the consequences they would face.


The Kreisau Circle consisted of a group of people belonging to a strict core and a number of smaller working groups. The members of the inner Circle were as follows: