As a German citizen, as a German university professor, and as a political being, I consider it not only my right, but my moral duty to collaborate in the shaping of German history, to uncover evident abuses, and to combat these. … My purpose has been to rouse student circles – not through an organization, but by means of simple words – not to any act of violence but to a moral discernment of existing grave evils in political life. A return to clear moral principles, to a constitutional state, to mutual trust among men – this is not an illegal aim; on the contrary, it means a restoration of legality.
I have asked myself, taking the point of view of Kant’s categorical imperative, what would happen if this personal principle motivating my actions were to become a universal law. To this there is only one possible answer: it would mean a return of order, security, and trust into our political life. All morally responsible people would raise their voices in unison with us against the threatening domination of might over right, of purely arbitrary will over the will of morality. The tenet that upholds the right of even the smallest ethnic group to self-determination has been forcibly suppresssed [sic] throughout Europe, and no less so the tenet looking to the preservation of racial and cultural individuality. The tenets fundamental to genuine national solidarity have been annihilated by the systematic destruction of the trust between one man and another. There is no more terrible judgment on a national community than the admission, which all of us must make, that no man can feel safe in the presence of his neighbor, that a father can no longer feel safe in the presence of his son.
That was what I wanted, that was what compelled me.
There is an ultimate boundary beyond which all external legality becomes false and immoral – namely, when it becomes the cloak of cowardice, of a lack of courage to take action against notorious breaches of justice. A state that strangles all free expression of opinion and that brands any morally justified criticism, any suggestion for betterment, as a “preliminary to high treason,” subject to the severest penalties, breaks an unwritten law that has always been alive in “sound and popular understanding” and must remain alive.
I have attained this one goal: I am presenting this warning and admonition not to a small private discussion group but before the most responsible, the highest judiciary seat. Upon this admonition, this solemn plea for a return, I am staking my life. I demand that freedom be given back to our German nation. We do not want to eke out our brief existence in the chains of slavery, even though they might be the golden chains of a material abundance.
You have taken from me the status and the rights of a professor, as well was my doctorate attained summa cum laude, and placed me on a footing with the lowest criminal. No trial for high treason can rob me of the dignity of a university professor, of a man who openly and courageously avows his view of the world and the state. The inexorable course of history will vindicate my actions and my purposes; on this I rely with adamant faith. I hope in God’s name that the spiritual forces that will vindicate them may be born in good time from my own nation. I have acted as I had to act in response to an inward voice. I accept the consequences in the spirit of the words of Johann Gottlieb Fichte:
[From Helmut Gollwitzer, Kathe Kuhn, Reinhold Schneider (eds.), DYING WE LIVE: The Final Messages and Records of the Resistance, New York: Pantheon Books, 1956, Third Printing April 1961, pp. 159-161.]