Marion Gräfin Yorck von Wartenburg.Opponent of Nazism who sat as a judge in postwar Berlin.She was one of the last surviving members of the Kreisau Circle, a group drawn from all walks of society which opposed Hitler's regime and which sought to lay the foundations for a nonNazi postwar Germany.Her husband, Peter, was hanged on August 8, 1944, after the failure of the 20 July plot to kill Hitler. Marion Yorck subsequently spent three months in Moabit prison, Berlin. After the war she was appointed to the criminal bench, where she had a reputation for handing down severe sentences, particularly to homosexuals.She was born Marion Winter in Berlin in 1904. Her father, Franz Winter, was director of the royal theatres. She attended the gymnasium in the prosperous district of Grünewald, where one of her contemporaries was the theologian Dietrich Bonhöffer. She went on to Berlin University, where she was the only woman among 22 students studying under the Jewish professor Martin Wolff. She took her doctorate in 1929 and a year later she married Count Peter Yorck von Wartenburg. Her father was relieved to learn she had chosen the law. He did not foresee success for her had she opted for theatre.She was one of three middle-class women who married young grandees of the civilian opposition to Hitler; the other two were Clarita Tiefenbacher, the wife of Adam von Trott, and Freya Deichmann, who married Helmuth James von Moltke and survived to preserve their memory. Von Trott was from Hessen, but like von Moltke's, Peter Yorck's name was one to conjure with in Prussia. He was a direct descendant of Field Marshal Yorck, who concluded the Convention of Tauroggen in 1812, paving the way to the Prusso-Russian Alliance which would eventually rid Europe of Napoleon.
The Yorcks' schloss at Klein Oels had been given to the family as a reward, and Peter and Marion lived in nearby Breslau (now Wroclaw) and on their estate in Kauern during the first years of their marriage. Peter was also a jurist, with an intellect to match her own. They moved in cultural and literary circles first in Breslau then in Berlin.Advanced social ideas were practised on the estate, with a common room and a kindergarten provided for the estate workers. After the death of Peter's elder brother, it was Marion who administered the Yorck estates from 1942 until the Red Army overran Silesia in 1945.The kindness the count and countess had shown to their workers was rewarded in the chaos that followed the end of the war. When, in May 1945, Yorck made her way with Peter's youngest sister to the Oder river that was to be the new German border, they ran into a Polish former estate worker whom Peter had protected from the Nazis. This man promptly abandoned his attempt to return to his family and guided the two women to safety.The Yorck estates were used for meetings for the opposition to Hitler along with von Moltke's schloss at Kreisau nearby — another gift from a grateful nation: it was a manifestation of the distaste that some old Prussian elements felt for the regime. Other places where the circle assembled included the Yorcks' house in Hortensienstrasse in Berlin-Lichterfelde and the house of the Borsigs, descendants of Berlin's greatest industrialists.Schloss Kreisau gave its name to the resistance group which assembled progressive nobles, trade union leaders, socialist and conservative politicians and Jesuit priests. The "Kreisauer" did not plan to assassinate Hitler but deliberated the shape of a future Germany purged of Nazism. Yorck defined her role in the group as that of an "active listener".After the war Yorck returned to the law and worked in the Russian sector before being appointed to the judiciary in Lichterfelde in the American sector. There were attempts to lure her to Potsdam, in the Russian zone, which she declined.Politically she had aligned herself to Konrad Adenauer's CDU. In 1952 she became the first woman to head a jury court and went on to preside over one of the regional criminal courts until her retirement in 1969.Her reputation as a judge is controversial. She was considered draconian in her sentencing to the degree that she was known as "Judge Merciless". She herself observed: "One should not be too soft, that is the wrong way." She sat with several former Nazi jurists, as many of these were allowed to continue in their functions by the Allies and the West German regime that followed. She was particularly tough on cases of homosexuality, which remained illegal under Article 175 of the penal code. She was content to cite records of homosexuality from the Third Reich years and jailed homosexuals who had been in concentration camps for the same crime.As a committee member for the OdF (victims of fascism) organisation, she was not prepared to countenance assistance being granted to men who had been punished by the Nazis for contravention of Article 175. At the end of her career this obstinacy on her part brought her many enemies among Berlin liberals. She never remarried,nad no children as she wanted Peter Yorck's name perpetuated in her own. For many years, however, she lived with Ulrich Biel, who had been an exile from the Third Reich and returned to Berlin to work for the American Military Government under Brigadier Frank Howley, the tough, cold warrior and military governor of Berlin during the Airlift of 1948-49.In 1987 Yorck published her autobiography: Die Stärke der Stille (published in English in as The Power of Solitude: My Life in the German Resistance).