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BC Professor Directs Documentary on Nazi Opposition Leader Freya von Moltke

German Studies Associate Professor Rachel Freudenburg, director of "FREYA!" (shown in background): “For decades, the world was not ready to hear about the German Resistance, but now it is, and Freya's story helps us look at German history differently." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Rosanne Pellegrini | Chronicle Staff

Published: Mar. 9, 2011

A film directed by German Studies Associate Professor Rachel Freudenburg that brings to life the compelling story of German Resistance fighter Countess Freya von Moltke (1911-2010) will have its Boston College premiere next week.   

“FREYA!” will be screened on March 24 at 7 p.m. in Devlin 026, followed by a Q&A session with Freudenburg. The event is free and open to the public.  

Debuted earlier this year, the documentary is a permanent memorial to a strong, independent and inspiring woman who with her husband formed an opposition group to Hitler’s regime, according to Freudenburg, and a means of generating interest in her life’s work and unfaltering dedication to democratic ideals — a legacy she ensured would endure.  

“For decades, the world was not ready to hear about the German Resistance, but now it is, and Freya’s story helps us look at German history differently,” says Freudenburg. “I’m always surprised how important this film is to those who watch it.   

“I think her story really touches people because she’s completely matter-of-fact about everything that happened, even events that were rather horrible. Her unassuming style makes history very tangible, and her biography gives us a more positive view of German history than we are accustomed to. But her story also touches people because she so consistently stood up for what she believed in; and what she believed in — civil rights, democratic governance, and bridging differences — is generally considered good.”  

During Germany’s Nazi era, Freya and her husband Count Helmuth James von Moltke (1907-1945), were founding members of the Kreisau Circle, a group of politicians, military officers, educators and businessmen who opposed Hitler’s regime on democratic and humanitarian grounds. The group was named after the von Moltke family estate in the small Silesian village of Kreisau.   

When the Gestapo discovered Helmuth von Moltke’s connections to other well-known members of the German Resistance, he was executed in January of 1945. Despite her husband’s death, the loss of her home and failure of the German Resistance, Freya von Moltke was firm in her belief in the potential of democratically structured organizations to carry humanity forward into a more peaceful future.  

Due in large part to her dedication and guidance, today Kreisau is home to the Center for European Understanding, which supports programs fostering democratic practices and European integration through The Freya von Moltke Foundation for the New Kreisau, established in 2005. Through her books, interviews and speeches, Freya von Moltke also helped shape Germany’s public remembrance of the Resistance, and helped transform a national shame into an opportunity to embrace democracy, create understanding and increase tolerance.  

The 45-minute film is based on von Moltke’s last English-language interview, conducted by Freudenburg in 2002. Narrator Amy Evans guides viewers through the Weimar Republic, the Second World War and the decision by von Moltke and her husband to resist Hitler. Also chronicled are Helmuth’s arrest, imprisonment, trial and execution, the postwar years, and von Moltke’s involvement in the New Kreisau. The film includes excerpts from Helmuth’s “Letters to Freya,” hundreds of historical photos, stock footage and the piano music of Bach and Busoni — performed by Veronica Jochum — and Gasieniec’s “Kreisau Oratorio.”    

“FREYA!” premiered in January as the centerpiece of a tribute to von Moltke, held in commemoration of the first anniversary of her death, at Goethe-Institut Boston. The event was cosponsored by the German Consulate.   

“Many people are grateful to Freya von Moltke for her resistance to Hitler, for her dedication to the memory of the resistance, and for her efforts on behalf of the Kreisau Center for European Understanding in Poland. I am grateful to her for all of that, but also for something much more personal,” Freudenburg says.   

“I have Freya to thank for the fact that I can now call myself a filmmaker. Before having met her I never seriously entertained the idea of directing movies. She gave me a wonderful, polished interview — material that not even a complete novice could ruin. With that and the support of Boston College, I had what I needed to learn how to make a film, and I’ve discovered that I really enjoy it.”  

Freudenburg credits Fine Arts Department Chair and documentary filmmaker John Michalczyk with providing  the impetus and initial support for “FREYA!,” and offering guidance and assistance throughout the long journey to its completion. Michalczyk will give an introduction to the film prior to its campus screening.  

For further information on “FREYA!” — including her biography and a version of the 2002 interview, which von Moltke considered one of her best — visit the film web site.