Christmas in Hitler’s Germany

JP: From the archives of Time Magazine (Monday, Dec. 23, 1940). See my comments after the quote.

German Martyrs


Not you, Herr Hitler, but God is my Führer. These defiant words of Pastor Martin Niemoller were echoed by millions of Germans. And Hitler raged: “It is Niemoller or I.”

Taking a leaf from the Nazi-verboten Old Testament, where King David got rid of Bathsheba’s husband by having him set “in the forefront of the hottest battle . . . that he may be smitten and die.” the Nazis mobilized over 55% of Germany’s Protestant pastors for Army service, most of them as privates. They singled out Confessional pastors especially. In some districts 75% of the recalcitrant Confessional pastors were drafted for front-line service.

Another favorite Nazi device is confiscating the salary of pastors and priests whom they suspect of opposing them. Practically all the 5,000 Confessional pastors have suffered from this. At one church in Prussia a Confessional pastor read an official announcement that the collection would be taken by the Government. He added, “If you can give with your conscience, do so.” Then he announced the sale of pamphlets nominally priced 2 ¢ each. “You have read them already,” he said, “but you can give them to your friends.” The regular collection, sacked by the Nazis, netted less than $2. The sale of 20 2¢ pamphlets netted $20.

Of the 1,000 young Protestant seminarians in 1939, only 100 were permitted ordination after their views had been examined by State officials. The other 900 refused to Nazify their faith, went into training in underground Confessional seminaries for certificates which Confessional congregations will accept in lieu of ordination. Cut off from any possibility of salaries from Nazi-levied church taxes, they must live on the scant $45 a month which the Confessional Synod can allow them.

One Man of Courage. Living martyr and symbol of Christian resistance in Germany both to Germans and the whole world is Pastor Niemoller. A gaunt, blunt, unbending hero of World War I, who won the Iron Cross for his exploits as a submarine commander (he sank 55,000 tons of Allied shipping), he was pastor of the swank Jesus Christus Kirche in Berlin’s socialite suburb Dahlem and led the Confessional Synod’s attack on Naziism until clapped into jail in July 1937 for “misuse of the pulpit.” The court freed him when he came to trial in February 1938, but the Gestapo promptly hustled him off to concentration camp at Sachsenhausen. There he remains, all rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, having refused release offered to him on condition that he promise to cease preaching.

At Sachsenhausen Pastor Niemoller has been placed on a regime of half rations, double heavy labor, solitary confinement. Rock-breaking, roadbuilding, ditch-digging, harsh treatment are fast wearing him out. He has not been beaten, but has told his wife on the rare visits she is permitted that he has seen others beaten unconscious. “When I write the address, ‘Concentration Camp, Sachsenhausen,’ ” said one daughter, “then I am always very proud.”

Comments: Martin Niemöller (highlighted in the Time article) and the well known Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed by the Nazis, were not evangelical Christians. Nevertheless there lives testify to the persecutions German Christians experienced under Hitler’s regime. More on Bonhoeffer’s beliefs here. Image above: Martin Niemöller (Left), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Right).

More from the Time article – an extended quote from Albert Einstein:

“Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks. . . .

“Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.”

HT: Denny Burk

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