Clarita von Trott: Activist whose husband was executed for plotting to assassinate Hitler
Tuesday 23 April 2013
With the passing of Clarita von Trott zu Solz, the wife of Adam von Trott, the last living link with the German Resistance and the July Plot has gone. Clarita knew little of the preparations to kill Hitler – Adam kept her in the dark to protect her. But she knew from the start of their marriage that he was a member of the Resistance and heavily involved in what came to be called the Kreisau Circle. She was aware of the risks when he moved around wartime Europe, officially on Foreign Office missions for the third Reich, but actually attempting to negotiate with the Allies.
The assassination plot failed on 20 July 1944 and Adam was arrested five days later. On 15 August Clarita went to the People's Court, presided over by the appalling Judge Freisler, to try to reassure him by her presence (she already knew that, as part of Hitler's revenge on the conspirators and their families, their two young daughters, Verena and Clarita, aged two and a half and seven months, had been taken away by the Gestapo to an unknown destination, where their names would be changed). In the courtroom Clarita's identity was discovered and she was ejected; she was not allowed to visit Adam in his cell and soon she herself was imprisoned.
Adam was executed on 26 August. Clarita was held in prison for two months, then after her release set about finding her children. Hitler's imposition of sippenhaft – punishment of the families of wrong-doers – seems to have been a step too far and in early 1945 Clarita was reunited with her unharmed daughters. But they had no home; their Berlin flat had been destroyed in an Allied bombing raid.
After the war von Trott formed a strong bond with the wives of other members of the Resistance and they made considerable efforts to reveal exactly what the opposition to Hitler had done. There was a great deal of misinformation about Adam, and she eventually wrote a carefully researched and moving memoir of him which was published in 1994. She trained as a doctor, graduating in 1955. She specialised in psychiatry and neurology and trained in psychoanalysis; she practised in Berlin until she was 80.
Clarita Tiefenbacher was the eldest of four children. Her father was a successful Hamburg lawyer and the family lived in Reinbek, then a semi-rural outpost. Clarita did her Abitur, trained as a secretary, did farm work and travelled abroad. She met Adam in 1935, then later at the home of Peter and Christabel Bielenberg – Peter, like Adam, was training to be a lawyer.
They fell in love five years later. Adam wrote to his mother, "I believe I can make her happy, in so far as it is at all possible these days ... Hers is a humble yet brave, refined and serene nature; she understands what is most important to me in life and will help me to fight for it." The ceremony was in Reinbek on 8 June 1940; Clarita was eight years younger than her husband. They lived in Berlin, drove around in a ridiculously small Fiat Toppolino and inhabited a largish flat in Rheinbabenallee in Dahlem, although after the serious bombing raids began Clarita often took the children to Adam's ancestral home, Imshausen, in Hessen. Their daughter Verena was born in 1942 and Clarita a year later.
They were soon involved in the anti-Hitler groups, including the Kreisau Circle, which made up the scattered and uncoordinated Resistance. Adam was often away, supposedly on German Foreign Office business, but frequently passing on messages encouraging the Allies to state their willingness to negotiate with a new German government in the event of Hitler's removal.
The von Trotts' telephone was tapped from early on. Adam sometimes brought home incriminating documents, so Clarita never went to bed without having a box of matches ready to burn the papers and flush the ashes down the lavatory. When she was at Imshausen, Adam would write to her using a simple but often rather confusing code to impart information.
Adam never mentioned Stauffenberg by name, but Clarita knew he had met someone he admired intensely and who offered hope of effective action against Hitler. Unfortunately Stauffenberg's driver conscientiously recorded his seven visits to Adam and this eventually led to Adam's arrest.
Clarita saw her husband for the last time in June 1944 at Imshausen. They walked in the woods and on a mountain close by and played with their children. Letters from Adam grew more infrequent in the following month; she became desperate to speak to him and rang him in Berlin on the morning of the attempt on Hitler's life. After the coup failed he rang her every day while he waited for the inevitable knock on the door
Before he died Adam wrote a moving last letter to Clarita, which she did not receive until 1945. "Before all else, forgive me for the deep sorrow I had to cause you. Rest assured that in my thoughts I remain with you and I die in profound trust and faith… There would be so much to write still, but there is no time. May God keep you. I know that you will not let yourself be defeated and that you will struggle through to a life where I shall be in spirit standing by your side even if you seem to be all alone. I pray for strength for you – and please do the same for me… God bless you and the little ones, in steadfast love, your Adam."
Clarita dealt with her grief by honouring Adam's memory and by confronting the often ambiguous feelings some of her countrymen had about the July Plot. As recently as 2004 she said it had been important for her to clear her husband's name from the charge of "betraying his country". She also felt Adam had been much misunderstood in England and that his character had been distorted in Christopher Sykes' 1969 biography, Troubled Loyalty. More recently she was disappointed that an authoritative new book about him by the German historian Benigna von Krusenstjern had not yet found an English publisher.
Clarita joined with Adam's family in creating a memorial to him at the highest point in the Trottenwald, the wood surrounding the family's home. It reads: "Adam von Trott zu Solz. Executed with his friends in the struggle against the despoiler of our homeland. Pray for him. Heed their example." Her ashes now lie close to this cross.
Clarita Tiefenbacher, psychiatrist and anti-Nazi activist: born Hamburg 19 September 1917; married 1940 Adam von Trott zu Solz (died 1944; two daughters); died 28 March 2013.
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