A Courageous Memorandum
The Berlin high school teacher Elisabeth Schmitz had been confronted with the everyday consequences of Nazi racial policy since 1933 through friends and colleagues. In 1935 and 1936, she resolved to learn more about the dreadful tragedy taking place in our midst for three years. Unlike her church, she did not intend to remain silent in the face of such adversity. She drafted a memorandum “On the Situation of German Non-Aryans” in the summer of 1935 and added a supplement to it by May 1936.
Schmitz personally made 200 copies of this text and gave them to the Second Provisional Church Government of the Confessing Church, the regional and provincial Councils of Brethren of Old Prussia, Kurhessen, Frankfurt am Main, Nassau-Hessen, Berlin, Brandenburg and the Old Prussian provinces, the Württemberg Society and some influential figures in the Confessing Church Confessing Church, including Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. She delivered some copies to Wilhelm Niesel a Reformed pastor in the Confessing Church, who intended to distribute them at the Confessing Church’s working conference in Brandenburg an der Havel in mid-June of 1936.
Schmitz’s anonymous text was arguably the most explicit protest within the Confessing Church against the persecution of Jews. Unlike Marga Meusel’s memorandum, the situation of all “non-Aryan” Germans and not just “non-Aryan” Christians mattered to her.
In the foreword, Schmitz openly declared that the church and all Christians were becoming complicit in what was being done to victims of racial persecution: After all, for the church, this is not about a tragedy taking place, but rather about our nation’s sin and, since we are members of this nation and accountable before God for this nation of ours, about our sin. Everyone, she wrote in a passage further on in the memorandum, is inescapably entangled in this collective culpability.
She formulated her reproach of the church for remaining publicly silent even more sharply: How can the church hope for forgiveness of sins, when, according to Schmitz, it forsakes its members in their desperate straits day for day, stands by and watches the flouting of all of God’s commandments, does not even venture to confess the public sin, but instead – remains silent? She entreated the Confessing Church to rouse consciences with a public statement against the persecution of Jews.
In the memorandum, Schmitz cited numerous examples of the public and personal plight of victims of persecution and also named the perpetrators and groups of perpetrators of everyday persecution. With shame, she pointed out that many of the anti-Semitic perpetrators were – at least nominally – Protestants.
She also very clearly said what every Christian ought to see: The Nazi state’s laws motivated by racism violated divine commandments. In a supplement to the memorandum, she outlined the consequences of the Nuremberg Racial Laws in early May of 1936 and once again clearly stated what it was about morally and theologically: The nation’s guilt and the church’s sin.
Elisabeth Schmitz’s urgent appeal to the Confessing Church went unheeded.
Source / title
- ©Evangelisches Zentralarchiv in Berlin, 50/110