Can we learn anything from the times of Nazi Germany?
Years ago, a friend at the General Conference who had been in Hitler Youth recounted the morning after Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938), “The Night of Broken Glass,” when the Nazis unleashed their fury against German Jews: Jewish shops vandalized; synagogues burned; Jews beaten, arrested, murdered. My friend, about 8 years old at the time, walked over the glass, which crunched under his feet.
“Were you scared?” I asked.
“Was I scared?” he asked, incredulous. “Are you kidding? Of course.”
“Because,” he said, “we kept the same Sabbath as the Jews.”
Wow! His answer helped me better understand the unfortunate acquiescence to the Nazis of the Adventist Church in Germany, which, among other things, kicked anyone deemed Jewish out of the church. (I remember reading about a Jewish woman, an Adventist, who used to sneak out to the church at night to pay her tithe. Who was she? Whatever happened to her?) Of course, the vast majority of members in all churches, not just Seventh-day Adventists, succumbed to the Nazis, a shameful stain on the faith.
All of which made the courage of those who didn’t astonishing. Defying Hitler: The Germans Who Resisted Nazi Rule (Random House, 2019), by Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis, tells their stories. Motivated mostly by their Christianity, or by common decency, or both—these men and women, from posting anonymous posters to plotting the assassination of Hitler, risked their lives, even the lives of their families, to oppose the Nazi criminals who ran their country.
Some worked in groups, such as the Rote Kappelle (the Red Orchestra), the Kreisau Circle, the White Rose; others were loners, such as SS officer Kurt Gerstein or cabinetmaker George Elser, who, in many ways an exceedingly ordinary man, had, by himself, with astonishing dedication and precision, planted a bomb that surely would have killed Hitler had there not been a last-minute change of plans based on bad weather that spared Hitler from certain death. Elser’s bomb went off in November 1939, a few months after the war started, and it’s painful to think how the world would have been changed had Elser succeeded. Instead, George Elser was caught, beaten, jailed. “On April 15, 1945, two weeks before the Americans liberated the camp,” wrote Thomas and Lewis, “Georg Elser was shot in the back of the neck by an SS man and his body burned. Elser’s hometown of Königsbronn now features a memorial and permanent exhibition to him.”
Especially moving is the story of Sophie Scholl, a young woman who, along with her brother, Hans, got involved in an anti-Nazi group (just a handful of people) known as the White Rose. Never a serious threat to the regime, they just randomly mailed or distributed leaflets. In February 1943, with between 1,500 and 1,800 leaflets stuffed in a large suitcase and in a smaller one, Sophie and Hans went to the University of Munich and anonymously distributed them, leaving small stacks at the base of statues, outside classroom doors, and on windowsills. Then Sophie, standing on the third floor and looking down at the open foyer below, grabbed a handful and threw them over. “It was a dramatic, liberating flourish,” wrote Lewis and Thomas, “a moment of wild energy and freedom—which saw the white paper flutter down like leaves.” It was also what got her caught, imprisoned, and within days beheaded. She was 21 years old.
And who doesn’t know about the famous July 20 plot, when upper echelon army officers, many of whom had long been conspiring against the Nazi regime, planted a bomb in the Wolfsschanze, Hitler’s first Eastern Front military headquarters, on July 20, 1944? Officer Claus von Stauffenberg managed to get the bomb under a desk where Hitler and others were standing. “The explosion,” wrote Lewis and Thomas, “destroyed one of the walls of the briefing room and blew out all of its windows. The oak table Hitler had been leaning on shattered, and wooden beams dropped down from the ceiling. The room was filled with paper, pieces of the plaster ceiling, and sections of broken partition wall. Smoke hung in the air, and some of the wood beams were on fire. The grass outside was littered with splinters of wood and burned paper.” Though some died, Hitler survived with light injuries. For their trouble, Stauffenberg and the officers immediately involved were shot; hundreds of others were later arrested and executed, some slowly tortured to death.
What made their resistance even more courageous was Sippenhaft, or “clan arrest.” If caught, not only resisters but their families—spouse, children, siblings, parents—could be arrested as well. Many brave souls were willing to risk it for themselves, but how many would risk their families too? We’ve just read about a few.
Having just finished reading Defying Hitler: The Germans Who Resisted Nazi Rule, I wondered: How are we going to do when final events unfold, when, as Daniel warned, “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Dan. 12:1, KJV)?
The United States is now a scary place. Though not Weimar Germany, at least not yet, when I think of John’s words about Jesus, “for He knew what was in each person” (John 2:25),* I can see it or something like it coming. It doesn’t matter which side, or even which extreme, one is perched on politically—who thinks that this is going to end well? For the first time since I learned about the United States’ unfortunate role in final events, I can see how this nation, once the beacon of liberty for the world, could one day cause “all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name” (Rev. 13:16, 17).
How or when that will happen, who knows? And what will Seventh-day Adventists do when it does? How courageous and faithful will we be when, like the Germans who defied Hitler, it will cost us, we who “keep the same Sabbath as the Jews,” everything?
*Unless otherwise indicated, Bible texts are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright ã 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.