Religion: Niemoller or I

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In Berlin's suburb of Dahlem, two years ago last week, the Gestapo (secret police) arrested Rev. Martin Niemoller, onetime U-boat commander, took him to Moabit prison. Pastor Niemoller was no Marxist, no pacifist, no libertarian. He had, indeed, been an early supporter of Naziism, and the .bourgeoisie and old army families who made up his congregation accepted, broadly, a Nazi view of "the Jewish problem." But for Martin Niemoller, Naziism could go just so far. When "German Christians" sought to Nazify the Evangelical Church, when the Reich sought to apply the "Leader Principle" to church government and the "Aryan paragraph" to the church's personnel, Pastor Niemoller spoke up in sharp, open opposition. Eight months after his arrest, he was tried, on such charges as "making agitatory addresses," found guilty, given a suspended sentence. But Adolf Hitler had said: "It is Niemoller or I." The pastor was rearrested, put in Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

Last week Pastor Niemoller began his third year in the Reich's custody. He was reported in good health but morose, convinced he would not be free before the collapse of Naziism. The Government, which has offered him release on condition that he refrain from preaching, gave the screw a turn by threatening to evict Niemoller's wife and seven children from his old rectory. Two thousand members of the Dahlem congregation approved a protest declaring: "This is not . . . Christian. . . . We consider Pastor Niemoller, though he may be imprisoned, as our rightfully chosen minister. . . ."

On the anniversary of Pastor Niemoller's arrest, many a German church dared to toll its bells. In the U. S., 100,000 Protestant ministers were urged by Dr. Henry Smith Leiper of the Federal Council of Churches to preach sermons on "the modern Luther." Eleven oddly-assorted citizens (among them: Alf M. Landon, Walter Damrosch, C. I. O.'s Philip Murray, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Columbia University's Dr. Franz Boas) cabled Pastor Niemoller "our great admiration for your moral courage."

Most remarkable of recent edicts of Germany's Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affairs was reported .last week: no foreign clergyman may preach in a German Protestant church, or even converse with a German pastor, without first signing a statement dissociating himself from the views of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who lately in the House of Lords advocated an Anglo-Russian alliance.