Much has been said about the failure of the churches to stand up against Adolph Hitler and the Nazi revolution in Germany in the 1930’s. Certainly, many in the church became enthusiastic supporters of the Nazis, even as Hitler placed more and more restrictions upon the work of the church, forcing it to allow the evil message of the Nazis to have authority over the message of the Gospel.
But there were many in the church who were not silent, and who did speak out in spite of the danger. Their brave witness has been forgotten by many, but it did not go unnoticed at the time.
Albert Einstein, a Jew, was exiled from Germany. He had this to say about what he saw in the 1930’s (Quoted in Time magazine, 12-23-1940, page 38):
Being a lover of freedom, when the (Nazi) revolution came I looked to the universities to defend it (freedom), knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but no, the universities took refuge in silence.
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.
I then addressed myself to the authors, to those who had passed themselves off as the intellectual guides of Germany, and among whom was frequently discussed the question of freedom and its place in modern life. They were, in turn, very dumb (silent).
Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration for it because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.
Acts 4:18-20 — Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Acts 17:5b-7 — They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”
John 18:36 — Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Almighty God, who has given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly pray that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes who came here from many lands and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in your Name we entrust the authority of government, that there be justice and peace at home; and that, through obedience to your law, we may show forth your praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in you to fail. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer