Time Magazine article on Christians in Germany during World War II

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.

HT: Challies.com


Steven Carr said…
From the London Times 1935

Herr Himmler enjoined the S.S. to make themselves a model of physical manly perfection.

Recruitment was designed [he said] to single out those nearest the physical ideal of the Nordic-conditioned being," and would become ever stricter as "increasing understanding of blood and breeding " set the German people physically on the upward grade.

Speaking of the religious attitude of the S.S. (who after training have largely withdrawn from the Christian Churches), he mentioned that the second of " 50 questions for the S.S. man " was Do you believe in a god ? " The reply was Yes, I believe in a Lord God."

The third question was, "What do you think of anyone who does not believe in any god ? " The reply was, I regard him as a boastful and stupid megalomaniac and unsuitable for us." They would not be the indissolubly plighted corps they were it we had not the convinced faith in a Lord God who stands above us and has crcated us and our Fatherland, our nation and this earth, and has sent us our Fuehrer.

Was Himmler right that atheists were boastful, stupid megalomaniacs and unsuitable for the SS?
Jason Pratt said…
I dunno, Steve. Some of the atheists I've met would seem right at home in the SS. If that's what you're worried about.

{rimshot} {g}

It should be noted that even in regard to the snip you quoted, the SS's idea of a "Lord God" was incommensurate with Christianity. I gather they were being taught to admire Woden or some other high-ranking Nordic deity whom they thought exemplified their will-to-power philosophy. (Which used to annoy the urbanity out of CS Lewis, who loved Norse mythology.)

Jason Pratt said…
Good article, Bill, btw. {s}
Steven Carr said…
Woden 'created the earth'?

Times article is an interesting article about American Christian support for Hitler.
Steven Carr said…
Wasn't there an article on this blog about this atheist sign in a religious display?

Has it been deleted?
Jason Pratt said…
The Nazis had a tendency to pick and choose according to whatever they thought at the moment sounded best, Steven (as you ought to be well aware). With the communists being ideological atheists from the getgo, the Nazis would obviously want to come up with something that sounded un-communistic. They wouldn't care that Woden, in actual Germanic mythology, hadn't created the earth. (Anymore than they bothered to notice, for a while, that the whole point to Woden is that he had the will but not the power--the giants of 'realpolitik' were going to throw him down in the end.)

Thus the early "American Christian" support for Hitler, too. He's clearly not a godless communist, right? And he doesn't get along with the Catholic Church (which Protestants and even evangelicals at the time, up through the 50s, were often warning about being an even greater threat to freedom than atheistic communism. Insert irony as applicable. {shrug}{s})

Meanwhile, could you be more specific about which sign? Do you mean the "be good for goodness sake" sign? That post is still around.

Peter said…
There were no atheists in Hitler's army, as we know there are no atheists in the fox holes. The article is of course very one sided. Christians and the Church clergy were for and against Hitler. To find out about the clergy on Hitler's side just google "Hitler's priests" or "brown priests". ABC radio had a related podcast (also mentioning Catholic priests who joined the SS.)
BK said…
This is a very interesting discussion. Let me make some observations.

First, no one disputes that Hitler used the language and images of Christianity in his rise to power. But as this article makes clear, once he was cosolidated his power, he began to "Nazify their church, crucify Christian doctrine, apply the 'Führer Principle' to church government and the "Aryan paragraph" to church personnel."

The earlier articles to the SS (1935) and the Christian support of Hitler in the US (1939) are both before people had seen through Hitler's language to the reality of his non-Christian underpinnings.

Besides, no one ever said that people (including Christians) cannot be fooled by a good orator who claims to be Christian and promises to make everything right again.

Peter's reference to Hitler's priests is also already reflected in the article I posted. It mentions those people -- but it does so by noting that they were in the vast minority of the people who were called into the priesthood, to wit:

"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."

I found it interesting that even Steven notes that the SS article says that the members of the SS "after training have largely withdrawn from the Christian Churches". Again, they can claim what they want about believing in a Lord God, but actions speak louder than words every time.

All in all, the article remains a very telling and important reminder of the fact that Hitler wasn't a friend to Christianity or Christian doctrine, and merely tried to use and subvert the church to meet his own ends over the objection of the vast majority of the church.
BK said…

No one has written about the atheist sign near the nativity in Seattle (if that's what you're referencing). I plan to do so, but believe it isn't that important since the people I have heard comment on it (both Christian and atheist) think very negatively of the stunt. I think that it already is greatly hurting the atheist cause without any further input from me.
I have not read all these comments so if this has been dealt with must tell me.

put that up on CARM they all went crazy. They highly doubt the 80-% quote they worked it out somehow that that would be 120 million Hitler killed.

for some reason they assume that the six million jews would have to be 5% of the whole. How? I don't kow.

but if the six million Jews were 20% of the whole how much is the whole?
Anonymous said…
J. L. Hinman: the article is talking about the number of people *in* concentration camps at the time it was written (December 1940), not the number of people Hitler *killed* total by the end of the war. The "final solution," or mass exterminations, did not go into effect until a year or two later. Also, you should not take the 80% figure as being at all precise. If estimates of the number of Christian in the camps varied between 200 and 800 thousand, the estimated percentage of the total number of people in the camps must have varied greatly as well. It appears that the purpose of the article is to convince Time's readers that Hitler cannot be dismissed as the Jews' problem.
Anonymous said…
The Antiques Roadshow archives has a segment on a letter from Einstein about that quote that may be of interest:

Jason Pratt said…
Good answers, Anon. (And thanks for the link!)

To which I would add that just because people were in concentration camps, doesn't mean they were systematically being slaughtered. Most of the time, concentration camp inmates are pressed into service to get some work done: they provided staggering amounts of manual labor for the Reich in WWII (as well as for Stalin's gulags, though the labor there doesn't seem to have had as much impact on the course of the war.)

As I was playing through the end of Call of Duty II last month, and working my way through the occasional Nazi bunker, it suddenly occurred to me (while I was admiring the layout and industry involved in creating these things) who had probably built the things... {wry s}


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