Above: Martin Niemoller
Image in the Public Domain
FRIEDRICH GUSTAV EMIL MARTIN NIEMOLLER (JANUARY 14, 1892-MARCH 6, 1984)
German Lutheran Minister and Peace Activist
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
That text, sadly, never ceases to be relevant.
If one seeks to read about a man who repented–turned around, literally–one can find such material in this post.
Martin Niemoller, born in Lippstadt, German Empire, on January 14, 1892, changed greatly during his lifetime. He, once an officer in the imperial German navy, became a pacifist later in life. And our saint, once a Nazi sympathizer, became an outspoken opponent of the Third Reich and a prisoner thereof. His pilgrimage with Jesus changed his mind and made him politically unacceptable in diverse quarters. This was because Niemoller did what he thought Jesus would do, not what he knew others wanted him to do.
Our saint was a son of Paula Muller and Heinrich Niemoller, a Lutheran minister. Martin, educated at Lippstadt and Elberfeld, joined the imperial German navy at the age of 18 years, in 1910. He intended to become a career officer. Niemoller was a u-boat commander during World War I. He, as the “scourge of Malta,” raided Allied shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. Then Germany lost the war.
Niemoller studied theology after World War I and became an ordained minister in 1924. Seven years later he began to serve at a parish in Berlin. At first Niemoller welcomed the rise of Nazism. By 1934, however, he recognized the depth of that error and denounced Ludwig Muller, the newly installed pro-Nazi Reich bishop of the German Evangelical Church. Muller was, according to our saint, the “scourge of the church of Christ.” Niemoller, a founder of the anti-Nazi Confessing Church, lost his position at the Berlin parish in 1934. Nevertheless, he continued to preach there for three years. Nazi authorities arrested him 1937. Niemoller was a prisoner until 1945.
Our saint’s wartime experiences changed him. He, aware of his share of guilt for the rise of the Third Reich, insisted upon collective German guilt for World War II. News of atomic weapons horrified him. The detonation of the hydrogen bomb a few years later completed the process of turning Niemoller into a pacifist. The ethics of the Sermon on the Mount were incompatible with modern warfare, he concluded.
After World War II Niemoller helped to rebuild the Lutheran Church in Germany and became involved in the ecumenical movement. From 1947 1961 he served as the President of the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau. After that, for seven years, he was President of the World Council of Churches.
Controversy followed Niemoller as he opposed war in general and modern warfare, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War in particular. He offended not only conservative Cold Warriors but also many Cold War liberals.
Niemoller married twice. In 1919 he became the husband of Else Bremer, who died in an automobile accident (in which he suffered injuries) in 1961. The couple had four sons and three daughters. He married his second wife, Sibylle von Zell, in 1971.
Our saint died at Weisbaden, West Virginia, on March 6, 1984. He was 92 years old.
One might disagree with some of Niemoller’s answers to the question of what Jesus would do in certain circumstances. I do. I have, in fact, attempted to be a pacifist, without success. I have, however, chosen to refrain from condemning pacifists and pacifism. I do agree, however, that Jesus would not drop a hydrogen bomb on an enemy.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JANUARY 9, 2017 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS PEPIN OF LANDEN, ITTA OF METZ, THEIR RELATIONS, AMAND, AUSTREGISILUS, AND SULPICIUS II OF BOURGES, FAITHFUL CHRISTIANS ACROSS GENERATIONAL LINES
THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY PUCCI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST
THE FEAST OF JULIA CHESTER EMERY, UPHOLDER OF MISSIONS
THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP II OF MOSCOW, METROPOLITAN OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUSSIA AND MARTYR
Almighty God, we praise you for your servant Martin Niemoller,
through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.
Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,
whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 3:11-23
–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60