Friday, February 5, 2010

Women, World War II and Loss

In early January, within days of each other, two women who played strong roles during World War II died, one at 98 and the other at 100. It is unlikely that they knew each other. Their deaths were reported in the New York Times and more about their efforts can be found in publications cited in the obituaries and linked below.

Freya von Moltke, who died January 1 at 98, worked with her husband, Count Helmuth James von Moltke, to form part of the core of Nazi resistance. As reported in the obituary, it was a perilous act of resistance, as many as half the dissidents were later executed. From the obituary we learn that
Women who joined their husbands to oppose Hitler treaded the same dangerous ground as the men. Mrs. Moltke could have faced the death penalty simply for serving food and drinks to the conspirators. Her husband relied on her first impressions of people to make life-and-death judgments. She contributed ideas, particularly on legal issues, her area of expertise.
In an enduring contribution, she gathered up Kreisau circle documents and letters from her husband and hid them in the estate’s beehives. In 1990 she published them as “Letters to Freya.” The papers have proved valuable to scholars for their gripping portrayal of heroic, almost certainly futile resistance, as well as for their glimpses at daily life in the Third Reich.

She was the last living active participant in the group. Her husband was captured and killed by the Gestapo in 1945. In one of the last letters from her husband, he indicated that he would “gladly accompany” her “a bit further on this earth. But then I would need a new task from God. The task for which God made me is done.”

Less than two weeks later, on January 11, Miep Gies, known for her protection of Anne Frank and her family, died at 100. From the obituary we learn that
Every Aug. 4, the anniversary of the raid on the annex, Miep and Jan Gies remained at their Amsterdam home. They withdrew from the world and reflected on the lost. …
In her diary entry on May 8, 1944, Anne Frank wrote how “we are never far from Miep’s thoughts.”
In her memoir, Mrs. Gies told of her emotions when she finally read the diary. She wrote: “The emptiness in my heart was eased. So much had been lost, but now Anne’s voice would never be lost. My young friend had left a remarkable legacy to the world.
“But always, every day of my life, I’ve wished that things had been different. That even had Anne’s diary been lost to the world, Anne and the others might somehow have been saved.
“Not a day goes by that I do not grieve for them.”