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."
So this second Christmas of Hitler's war finds Niemoller and upwards of 200,000 other Christians (some estimates run as high as 800,000) behind the barbed wire of the frozen Nazi concentration camps. Here men bear mute witness that the Christ—whose birth the outside world celebrates unthinkingly at Christmas—can still inspire a living faith for which men and women even now endure im prisonment, torture and death as bravely as in centuries past.
More than 80% of the prisoners in the concentration camps are not Jews but Christians, and the best tribute to the spirit of Germany's Christians comes from a Jew and agnostic (TIME, Sept. 23) — the world's most famous scientist, Albert Einstein. Says he:
"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."
So begins a rather lengthy article just published in Time Magazine entitled German Martyrs. The article will probably be available for only a short time, so I suggest it be read immediately.
What I found striking in the article was the lengths to which Christians opposed the war, and the clear and concise statements affirming that Hitler was not a Christian (contrary to the ridiculous viewpoint to the contrary espoused by some on the Internet). Also striking was the lengths to which the Nazis tried to subject the church both through physical intimidation and other factors. For example, the following paragraphs come from page two of the Internet version of the article (with emphasis added):
Actually, many a churchman inside Germany prays privately for a Nazi defeat or at least a check to Hitler's power. Said a Catholic news dispatch from Geneva last month: "It is generally anticipated that in the case of a victorious war the Nazi regime would no longer hesitate to wipe out all vestiges of Christianity in Germany and try to establish a 'national church' under Nazi supervision which would be entirely based on the pagan conceptions of 'blood and soil.' "
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.
In 1939 the Nazis closed over 700 German monasteries and convents. Last month they expelled 60 Catholic priests from their parishes. The work of scores of other priests and pastors has been halted by confining them to their homes or forbidding them to preach.
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.
Oh, and in case anyone was thinking that this is some historical revisionism, the date of the article is December 23, 1940.
This is an excellent read. I highly recommend it.