You are here:   Adam von Trott > A Bold Voice at a Miserable Time

Others, such as Isaiah Berlin, A. L. Rowse and Maurice Bowra, who had been closer to Trott at Oxford, were equally distrustful. Berlin was shocked by an ill-advised letter Trott had written to the Manchester Guardian in February 1934, protesting against two reports on the persecution of the Jews and the partiality of the German courts. Trott objected to the reports, saying that his own experience as a lawyer in Hesse had not borne out these findings. Krusenstjern describes how he regretted his letter, which was cut and appeared under the unfortunate headline "Anti-Semitism Denied", as soon as he had written it. But she emphasises that his attempt to defend those who were still adhering to the old moral and legal standards against the generalisations of the Guardian's special correspondent was bound to give rise to misunderstandings. 

A number of Trott's Oxford friends failed to recognise his precarious position. They were put off by what they regarded as his
"nationalist talk" and seem to have taken it badly that he did not confide in them, writes Krusenstjern. But when he did reveal to Bowra that he was involved in the resistance while working for the German Foreign Office, the Warden of Wadham concluded that he was really on the side of the Nazis and showed him the door. Rowse also distanced himself. However, Krusenstjern dismisses the assertion that most of Trott's English friends turned away from him.

The new book deals more thoroughly than previous biographies with Trott's background and early years. Although he rebelled against his father's conservatism, the civic values of the former Prussian minister of culture left as strong a mark on him, as did the beliefs of his puritan mother, a great-granddaughter of John Jay, one of the founding fathers of the United States. Eleonore von Trott was proud of her abolitionist roots, urging her son from an early age to become, "with God's help", a man "who is able to swim against the tide". One of the most striking aspects of Trott's biography is the clarity with which, despite his youth, he predicted the fatal impact of Nazism, even before Hitler gained power. Krusenstjern is also illuminating on the astonishing edition of the German dramatist, writer and poet Heinrich von Kleist's political writings that Trott finally succeeded in publishing in 1935. His introduction drew scarcely veiled analogies between Kleist's response to the upheavals of the Napoleonic period and the restrictions on freedom of thought and movement under the Nazi regime. It is further proof of Trott's fearless challenge of the new order and his sense of public responsibility. 

Krusenstjerns's biographical approach is heavily influenced by her reliance on the value of personal testimonials. Wherever possible, she allows the documents to speak for themselves in a detailed step-by-step account of Trott's development and thinking. At times, this presentation can appear to be somewhat plodding. But as the book progresses, the reader begins to recognise a purpose in this method that makes the dénouement all the more affecting. It is heartrending to read Trott's farewell letters to his wife and mother, written on 26 August 1944. Later that day, he was hanged. The letters did not arrive until more than five months later. Writing to Isaiah Berlin in 1934 about his Kleist project, Trott described the dramatist as "a bold voice at a miserable time". The same applies to Trott himself. His is an exemplary life that will continue to be relevant for generations to come. 

View Full Article
Fabio P.Barbieri
December 6th, 2009
8:12 AM
I don't see it. The truth is that all the heroes and martyrs of July 20, from Stauffenberg to Rommel, were pickled in the very German and Prussian nationalism that had made World War One, and none of them were really prepared for a world in which Germany was not dominant, pre-eminent, and militarily dangerous. Adam von Trott's infamous letters to the Manchester Guardian show that he cared more for the reputation of those members of his class who were still involved in the German state than for its victims - both Jews and non-Jews - which already were in the tens of thousands. By the time he wrote them, everyone knew that mass killings were going on - everyone in Germany, at least; and positively diabolical rumours were widely circulated - all true - not only about the murders, but about the way they were carried out, and about the way unmurdered prisoners were being treated. Read Konrad Heiden's final chapters in his Der Fuehrer of 1934. If Heiden knew so much, indeed if so much was accessible to any journalist located in or near Germany, how could von Trott imagine that his denials could mean anything other than a public display of allegiance to a compromised nation? What were the British to make of someone who was so obsessed with the good name of Germany that he would declare that black was white, and that in the Manchester Guardian of all places? The British, who had already paid the price of a generation of young men to stop a previous bout of German nationalism, had every right to regard the whole of it - and not just its high-fever pitch of Nazism - as unredeemable; certainly, nothing that happened since suggested that it could be redeemed. Even speaking of the heroes of July 20: may I ask how many of them would have put an immediate end to the mass killings that German forces - with no real distinction between Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS - were carrying out all over Europe? Some of them - especially the serving generals - had themselves been instruments of tyranny, gleeful instruments in some cases. The careers of July 20 conspirators such as Fromm, Kluge and Fellgiebel will not withstand scrutiny. No, the whole German ruling class was corrupt to the core. Even the heroic enemy of Nazism, Bishop Graf von Galen of Munster, was a devout nationalist and militarist who saw nothing wrong with war and would gladly have followed the troops as the humblest of chaplains. The very social leadership for whose good name Adam von Trott zu Soltz was so concerned was simply incapable of reforming itself; and given their attitudes, war was inevitable, whoever was in charge of the state. Hitler was elected because he was more credible than the rest in promising war, but nobody, except for the Communists, had anything against the idea - and as for the Communists, that was a choice between the frying-pan and the fire. In spite of the rivers of blood and oceans of treasure expended in two world wars, Britain did not experience the full meaning of German aggression. They never entered your houses. I grew up in a city where German abductions, torture and murder were a living memory, and the idea disgusts me that anything but unconditional surrender could have been offered to the people whose leaders were eventually justly hanged at Nuremberg.

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.