Emmy Windhorst was born in Lübbecke in 1900 and worked as a domestic servant after leaving school. She lived in Berlin from 1918 on, and in the mid-1920s married Richard Zehden, who later suffered discrimination under the Nuremberg race laws. In 1930 she joined the Bible Students (Jehovah’s Witnesses). Her husband was sentenced to almost a year’s imprisonment in 1938 for belonging to this religious community. Like all Bible Students, Emmy Zehden was a determined opponent of military service, and influenced her nephew to go into hiding to avoid being drafted. Although her husband was in prison and Emmy Zehden knew that her views might have dangerous consequences, she stuck to her convictions. She was sentenced to death for hiding her nephew and two other Bible Students evading the draft. Following rejected pleas for clemency, Emmy Zehden was murdered in Berlin-Plötzensee on June 9, 1944. Her farewell letters were never given to her family.
The agriculturalist Ulrich-Wilhelm Graf von Schwerin von Schwanenfeld was born in Copenhagen. He studied agriculture in Munich, Berlin, and Breslau. He witnessed the “Hitler putsch” in Munich in 1923, prompting him to reject National Socialism. He married Marianne Sahm in 1928, and the couple later had five sons. His active resistance activities began in 1938, in close collaboration with his friends Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg and Fritz-Dietlof Graf von der Schulenburg. He became an important link between the civilian and military opposition during the 1938 “Sudetenland crisis” due to his contacts to the Foreign Office and the Office for Foreign Affairs/Counterintelligence in the Armed Forces High Command. Called up as a reserve officer on the outbreak of war, he worked on the staff and in the direct personal vicinity of the later Field Marshal and Commander in Chief West Erwin von Witzleben from November 1939 on. He heard of mass shootings of Polish Christians and Jews in the gravel pit on his Polish estate of Sartowitz as early as 1939. After Witzleben’s transfer, he was posted from Paris to Utrecht in 1942 as “politically unreliable.” In March 1943, Hans Oster had him transferred to Berlin, where he was involved in the preparations for the coup in various ways. He was associated with the Kreisau Circle via his friend Yorck, advocating a political renewal of Germany on the basis of Christian and social principles like his friend. In Berlin, he made friends with Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg in September 1943. Planned as the undersecretary of state to the designated head of state Ludwig Beck, he remained in the innermost circle of conspirators until the very end. On July 20, 1944, he waited for news of the assassination in the “Wolf’s Lair” in his office, along with Berthold Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, Yorck, and Schulenburg. He was arrested in the Bendler Block late that evening, sentenced to death by the People’s Court on August 21, and murdered in Berlin-Plötzensee on September 8, 1944.
Maria Terwiel was born on June 7, 1910 in Boppard am Rhein. She attended high school in Stettin, where her father worked as deputy commissioner in the office of the regional commissioner of the province of Pomerania. After obtaining her school-leaving certificate in 1931, Maria Terwiel studied law in Freiburg and Munich. In Freiburg she met her future fiancé, Helmut Himpel. Since she was “half-Jewish”, she had no prospect of the trainee civil service post required for a law qualification. She broke off her studies and returned to her family, who had moved to Berlin. She earned her living as a secretary in a French-Swiss textile firm. Maria Terwiel and Helmut Himpel supported Jewish people by obtaining food ration cards and identity papers for them. The couple met Harro Schulze-Boysen and John Graudenz and took part in the actions of the resistance group around Schulze-Boysen. Maria Terwiel duplicated several leaflets on her typewriter, including the “AGIS” leaflet, “The People are Troubled about Germany’s Future!” in January 1942. She also participated with Fritz Thiel in the flyposting action on August 17-18, 1942 against the National Socialist propaganda exhibition “The Soviet Paradise”. At the beginning of September 1942, Fritz Thiel handed over a radio transmitter to her. Maria Terwiel was arrested on September 17, 1942, sentenced to death by the Reich Court Martial on January 26, 1943 and murdered in Berlin-Plötzensee on August 5, 1943.
Josef Wirmer opened a law office in Berlin after studying law. He established contacts with politicians of the Weimar coalition parties that governed Prussia until 1932. An active Catholic, Wirmer joined the Center Party early and strengthened the party’s uncompromisingly democratic left wing. He was married to Hedwig Preckel, with whom he had two daughters and a son. After Hitler’s rise to power, he became an outspoken critic of the leaders of the party’s parliamentary faction, who approved the Enabling Act and later even approved a resolution for the Center Party to dissolve itself. As an attorney, Wirmer assisted victims of racial and political persecution. From 1936 on, he worked together with opposition labor leaders such as Jakob Kaiser, Wilhelm Leuschner, and Max Habermann and established contact to former members of the Center Party in Cologne and Düsseldorf. From 1938 on, he was a close confidant of Hans Oster and Hans von Dohnanyi. In 1941-42, he joined the circle around Carl Goerdeler, who planned to make him minister of justice in his post-coup cabinet. After the failure of the assassination attempt of July 20, 1944, Wirmer was arrested on August 4 and held in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Before the People’s Court, he sought an open confrontation with Freisler. Wirmer was sentenced to death on September 8, 1944, and murdered the same day in Berlin-Plötzensee.
A career officer, Erwin von Witzleben was among those allowed to remain in service in the Reichswehr after the First World War. He was married to Else Kleeberg, with whom he had a daughter and a son. Commander of military district III (Berlin) from 1934 on, Witzleben advocated the violent overthrow of Hitler as early as 1938. From this time on, he remained in close contact with Ludwig Beck, Hans Oster, Paul von Hase, and Carl Goerdeler. In 1939 and 1940, Witzleben served in the Polish and French campaigns. Hitler promoted him to field marshal on July 19, 1940. He appointed Witzleben commander in chief of Army Group D in France that same year and Commander in Chief West in 1941. In 1942, he was replaced and transferred to the “Führer’s reserve.” From that time on, he maintained close contacts with the resistance organizations in Berlin and also with Henning von Tresckow in Army Group Center. After the attempt on Hitler’s life on July 20, 1944, Witzleben assumed command of the armed forces. He was arrested immediately after the failure of the coup on July 21, 1944. On August 8, 1944, he was sentenced to death by the People’s Court and murdered several hours later in Berlin-Plötzensee.
Helmuth James Graf von Moltke studied law and political sciences in Berlin from 1925 on. He was deeply involved in running a voluntary work camp in Silesia for students, farmers and industrial workers. Moltke had close sympathies with the democratic forces of the day and expressed open criticism as he watched the rise of Hitler. Consequently, in 1933 he refused to accept appointment as a judge; in 1935 he set up an attorney’s office in Berlin. Between 1935 and 1938 he completed a training course as a British barrister and made plans to take over an attorney’s office in London, but was prevented by the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939. In the same month Moltke was drafted as a war administration councilor in the Office for Foreign Affairs/Counterintelligence in the Armed Forces High Command in Berlin. As an expert adviser on international law and the laws of war he tried to combat injustice and arbitrariness. He was particularly active in advocating humane treatment of prisoners of war and the observance of international law. In 1939 Moltke already wrote the first memoranda on the establishment of a new political order in Germany. At the beginning of 1940, Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg joined a group of regime opponents gathered around Moltke. Moltke and Yorck became the leading figures in the group that subsequently emerged, the Kreisau Circle, and took part in most of its discussions in Berlin and Kreisau. Moltke systematically tried to extend his contacts to Protestant and Catholic Church leaders and to the leaders of the social democratic political opposition. Moltke was arrested on January 19, 1944 after it was discovered that he had warned members of the Solf Circle that they were under Gestapo surveillance. But his involvement in the plans for a coup against Hitler was not exposed until after the failure of the coup attempt of July 20, 1944. Helmuth James Graf von Moltke was sentenced to death by the People’s Court on January 11, 1945 and murdered on January 23, 1945 in Berlin-Plötzensee.
Born in Potsdam as the son of a pastor, Harald Poelchau grew up in Silesia. He began studying theology at the Church University in Bethel in 1922, followed by social work at the Berlin College of Political Science. After working for two years as managing director of the German Union for Juvenile Courts and Legal Aid for Juveniles, he gained his doctorate in 1931 under Paul Tillich, the leading representative of Religious Socialism. At the end of 1932, Poelchau applied for a prison chaplain’s post in Berlin and became the first cleric to be employed by the National Socialist regime in a penal institution. As an official in the Justice Department he rapidly became an important source of support for the victims of National Socialist violence, and gave spiritual comfort to hundreds of people sentenced to death as they faced execution. From 1941 on he was a member of the circle around Helmuth James Graf von Moltke and attended the first major Kreisau Conference. After the unsuccessful coup attempt of July 20, 1944 he was able to pass on last messages and farewell letters to the relatives of many of those sentenced for involvement in the coup attempt. Harald Poelchau managed to avoid being investigated by the Gestapo and survived the war.
Johannes Popitz, an administrative lawyer, had served in the Reich Ministry of Finance since 1919, where he was appointed state secretary in 1925. He was married to Cornelia Slot, with whom he had a daughter and two sons. Chancellor Franz von Papen appointed him Reich commissar for the Prussian Ministry of Finance after deposing the government of Prussia on July 20, 1932. A year later on April 21, 1933, the National Socialist leaders appointed Popitz as the new Prussian minister of finance. From 1938 on, he worked together with Hans Oster from the Office for Foreign Affairs/Counter Intelligence. He established numerous contacts with military opposition circles. Popitz personified the inherent contradictions in resistance motivated by conservative convictions: He held high government offices but nonetheless drifted into the circle of opposition to the regime. In the end, he supported the coup attempt. He was a member of the Mittwochsgesellschaft. In 1939-40, he drafted an arch-conservative “Provisional Basic Law of the State.” In a meeting with Heinrich Himmler, he attempted to ascertain how the SS felt about attempting a coup. Popitz remained a controversial figure in the eyes of many conspirators, although he was designated to become minister of education and cultural affairs in the event the coup should succeed. After the failure of the assassination attempt of July 20, 1944, the Gestapo arrested Popitz despite his contacts with Heinrich Himmler. Johannes Popitz was sentenced to death by the People’s Court on October 3, 1944, and murdered five months later in Berlin-Plötzensee.
Adolf Reichwein, an educator and close associate of Prussian minister of education and cultural affairs Carl Heinrich Becker, spoke out in support of a program of community colleges, adult education programs, and continuing education for teachers after the First World War. In 1930, Reichwein became a professor of history and political science at the newly opened Academy of Education in Halle. There he was dismissed for political reasons on April 24, 1933. He was married to Rosemarie Pallat, with whom he had three daughters and a son. Reichwein spent the following years as a country schoolteacher in Tiefensee near Berlin, later as an educator at the State Museum of German Folklore in Berlin. From 1940 on, he was in contact with the resistance circles around Wilhelm Leuschner and Julius Leber and was himself a member of the Kreisau Circle. In the summer of 1944, he met with the Communist leaders Anton Saefkow and Franz Jacob. These contacts led to his arrest in early July 1944. Adolf Reichwein was sentenced to death by the People’s Court on October 20, 1944, and murdered the same day in Berlin-Plötzensee.
Ernst Schneppenhorst learned the trade of joiner and was managing director of the German Woodworkers’ Federation in Nuremberg from 1906 to 1918. He was also a member of the Bavarian State Parliament for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) from 1912 to 1920, and a member of the Reichstag from 1932-33. After the National Socialists took power he lost his optician’s business and was held in custody for a year in 1937. Afterwards he re-established contact with Wilhelm Leuschner. In the fall of 1943 and the spring of 1944, Schneppenhorst arranged contacts for Leuschner to former labor unionists. Following the unsuccessful assassination attempt on July 20, 1944, these connections were discovered and Ernst Schneppenhorst was arrested. He was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp and later in Lehrter Straße Prison in Berlin. In the early morning of April 24, 1945, Ernst Schneppenhorst and his fellow-prisoners, Albrecht Graf Bernstorff and Karl Ludwig Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, were taken together from their cells and murdered by an SS commando.