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A Review of Hitler Came for Niemoeller: The Nazi War Against Religion

Hitler was at war with Christians as well as Jews. This war is vividly brought to life through the personal experiences of Leo Stein, a prisoner in Moabit and in the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen.

  • Byron Snapp,
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Hitler was at war with Christians as well as those of the Jewish faith. This war is vividly brought to life through the personal experiences of author Leo Stein, a prisoner in Moabit and in the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, where he was later transferred. He, a law lecturer, had been arrested for teaching against the state. While in prison, he met a Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoeller. Niemoeller had been a German U-boat commander in World War I. As a pastor, prior to the start of World War II he refused to support Nazi doctrine and teachings, which he believed to be contrary to Christianity. Niemoeller and Stein had opportunities for conversation during exercise time in the prison. Separately, they were transferred to the same concentration camp. The brutal conditions they endured gave little time for more than brief snatches of conversation. Niemoeller always remained firm in his refusal to deny Christianity by compromise with Nazi policy. Through Niemoeller, Stein realized that Hitler’s animosity was not just against the Jews.

Hitler wanted to destroy any who dared to think independently about civil government policy. The evangelical church in Germany had supported Hitler in his rise to power. They wrongly believed that the Third Reich would be established on a Christian basis. Once in power, Hitler turned his back on the promise he had made to the churches. Instead, he expected all churches to be united under Nazi ideology. Niemoeller valiantly refused. He finally recognized that Hitler hated Jesus Christ because Christ was born a Jew. Hitler believed himself to be more powerful than Christ. The Nazi movement was all encompassing — it was religious and it was political.

Hitler’s staff often used fear to keep people in line and bring their minds into subjection. Once he was able to implement his hatred of the Jews with no immediate consequence, the political door for hatred of other groups was opened.

In the concentration camps, all prisoners, no matter their faith, were hated. Their life had no value to the guards. Working long, arduous hours with little food or opportunity for sleep was only a part of their suffering. This eyewitness account shows the brutality of the guards and how they were able to get desperate prisoners to turn on one another.

Stein, because of his financial resources, was released from the concentration camp and permitted to leave Germany. He brought with him vivid recollections of his conversations with Niemoeller and of his own treatment. This account was first published in l942. The publication was motivated by encouragement from Niemoeller, who was anxious to let the world know what was actually happening.

Chapters in this work include “Niemoeller Meets Hitler” and “Niemoeller Views the Nazi Philosophy.” Appendices include much additional material. An excerpt from The Voice of Destruction by Hermann Rauschning incorporates some of Hitler’s monologues on religion. A second appendix is William Donovan’s [Director of the OSS] “Official report of the Nazi war on religion,” which was written in l945.

This volume is important reading for our day. It is a chilling account of how a people who are not committed to objective truth can be manipulated by civil authorities and ruled by fear. Niemoeller’s unyielding stance, even under great stress and suffering, stands in stark contrast to much of the German populace of that day. His ministry to fellow prisoners remains a sterling example of God’s grace.

This volume portrays man’s total depravity. Prior to the late l930s when these events occurred, Christianity had been in decline. The Nazi government sought to fill God’s place of sovereignty and law in Germany. This had devastating consequences for individuals and families.

What happened in Germany can happen in any nation where men reject God and His rule. We see advancing atheism within our own civil realm. This book is a wake-up call to sinful men and societies in need of God’s grace. It is well written and full of factual information. Stein does a masterful job of interweaving Niemoeller’s reflections of how Germany had reached that low point in its national life with his own historical account of life as a prisoner.

  • Byron Snapp

Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia.  He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina.  He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren. 

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