Peter Yorck von Wartenburg
Yorck was born in Klein-Öls near Ohlau in the Province of Silesia; he came from a family of Silesian landowners. He was descended from Generals Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, who was his great-great-grandfather, and Ludwig Graf Yorck von Wartenburg, who was his great-great-great-grandfather. Also, he was philosopher Paul Yorck von Wartenburg's grandson. He married Marion Winter in 1930, who later wrote about events surrounding his life.
Yorck studied law in Klosterschule Roßleben, Thuringia, after his Abitur, and from 1923 in Bonn and Breslau (Wrocław). During his studies, he joined the Corps Borussia Bonn Studentenverbindung among whose members had been many sons of high nobility, among them Kaiser William II. After the junior lawyers' examination in 1926, his 1927 dissertation on "The Liability Of Bodies Of Public Law For Provisions Of The Workers And Soldiers' Councils", the graduate examination in 1930, and a short time working as a lawyer, he became in 1932 an official with the Osthilfe, a Weimar Republic programme for promoting the agricultural economy in East Prussia. In 1934, he became an official at the Breslau Oberpräsidium, and in 1936 in the authority of the commissar for pricing.
Since Yorck refused to join the Nazi Party owing to his democratic and humanistic convictions, he was from 1938 no longer promoted. He therefore never ranked any higher than a chief government adviser, despite his performance and capability, which had been acknowledged by superiors.
At a family celebration in 1938, Yorck became acquainted with his distant relative Helmuth James Graf von Moltke. This way he came into contact with various régime opponents within the aristocracy, such as his cousin Berthold Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and Adam von Trott zu Solz. Also, with Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg and Ulrich Wilhelm Graf Schwerin von Schwanenfeld, he early on discussed Germany's constitution after the Nazis' downfall. He saw the outbreak of the Second World War as a lieutenant functioning as a tank regiment adjutant. His opposition to the régime and his dislike of the war were strengthened by his brothers' deaths in the German invasion of Poland. He therefore counted himself among the founding members of the Kreisau Circle in 1940.
In 1942, Yorck was posted to the Armament Ministry after an injury to an intervertebral disk rendered him incapable of frontline service. When Moltke's flat was bombed out in 1943, he moved into Yorck's flat at Hortensienstraße 50 in Berlin-Lichterfelde. After Moltke's arrest and closer contact with his cousin Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg, Yorck recommended the swift implementation of the plans to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
After the failure of the plot at the Wolfsschanze in East Prussia on 20 July 1944, upon whose success Yorck would have become the Vice-Chancellor's Secretary of State, he was instead arrested the next day, sentenced to death by the Volksgerichtshof on 8 August 1944, and hanged the same day at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin.
According to William L. Shirer, writing in "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," among those facing trial by the Volksgerichtshof, Yorck "was perhaps the bravest, answering the most insulting questions quietly and never attempting to hide his contempt for National Socialism."
"Dearly beloved child of my heart, we are probably standing at the end of our beautiful and rich life together. Because tomorrow the People's Court intends to stand in judgment on me and others. I hear that we have been expelled from the army. They can take the uniform from us, but not the spirit in which we acted. And in that I feel united our fathers and brothers and comrades. The fact that God ordained what has happened is part of his fathomless decrees, which I humbly accept. I believe myself to be pure in heart, yet driven by the feeling of guilt that weighs on all of us. I therefore confidently hope that I find a merciful judge in God."
Notes and references
- Note: Regarding personal names: Graf was a title, before 1919, but now is regarded as part of the surname. It is translated as Count. Before the August 1919 abolition of nobility as a separate estate, titles preceded the full name when given (Prinz Otto von Bismarck). After 1919, these titles, along with any nobiliary prefix (von, zu, etc.), could be used, but were regarded as part of the surname, and thus came after a first name (Otto Prinz von Bismarck). The feminine form is Gräfin.
- Yorck von Wartenburg, Marion (1998), Die Stärke der Stille. Erzählung eines Lebens aus dem deutschen Widerstand (in German), Moers, Germany: Joh. Brendow & Sohn Verlag GmbH, ISBN 978-3-87067-717-6
- Yorck von Wartenburg, Marion (2000), The Power of Solitude: My Life in the German Resistance, Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press
- Note: Writing to his wife from Berlin's Plötzensee Prison, 7 August 1944.
- Peter Yorck von Wartenburg in the German National Library catalogue
- Photograph of von Wartenburg before the Volksgerichtshof
- Biography: Marion Gräfin Yorck von Wartenburg