Religion: German Martyrs

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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."

The Failures of Force. Of the fate of German Christians Dr. Henry Smith Leiper, secretary of the World Council of Churches, says, "This is one of the most subtle and terrible persecutions in all history." But the blood of martyrs is the seed of faith. Though the Nazis have jailed over 10,000 pastors, priests and monks for long or short periods, an unknown number have been beaten to death, the churches stand far higher in German esteem today than they did in the easygoing '20s. Church congregations have grown remarkably. Sales of the Bible have shot up from 830,000 copies in 1933 to 1,225,000 in 1939, topping Mein Kampf by about 200,000.

From Hitler's viewpoint the most dangerous aspect of Christian resistance is the refusal of thousands of churches, both Protestant and Catholic, to pray for a Nazi victory. The Gestapo can silence all open attacks from the pulpit, can imprison all outspoken pastors and forbid bishops to write pastoral letters, but it cannot make them pray for Nazi success. That situation is unparalleled in a nation at war. Even the Schwarze Korps, organ of the Elite Guard, admits it: "The spiritual gentlemen . . . write as though they want to make our soldiers dislike the war. They do not find a single word to say about the purpose of the war. They do not pray for victory."

Pastors Schutte and Kramm of Aplerbeck are quoted as saying that "there are sufficient enemies all around us," and that "maybe the English and French are not the worst."

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