Protestant Conscientious Objectors

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Two Protestants are known to have conscientiously objected and therefore been executed:

The pacifist Hermann Stöhr stated in a letter of March 2to the Stettin military district headquarters, 1939 that he would have to refuse to serve with a weapon for reasons of conscience since Jesus Christ had told the people that, all who take the sword will perish by the sword (Mt 26:52; Hermle, Thierfelder, Herausgefordert, p. 671).

After first being sentenced to prison, a retrial on March 16, 1940 resulted in the death sentence for undermining military preparedness. It was carried out by guillotine in Berlin-Plötzensee Prison on June 21, 1940.

Martin Gauger was a trained jurist. Since he had refused to swear the oath to Hitler in 1934, he could not work in the civil service., Gauger started working for the Provisional Church Government as a jurist in January of 1935 and largely headed the Confessing Church’ legal unit by himself as of June 1935. After the Confessing Church’s split, Gauger became the Luther Council’s legal counsel, a job he held until April of 1940.

After the war had started, a conflict broke out between Luther Council and Gauger since he found the the Council all too fatalistic. Gauger did not want to get drawn into the supposed “truce” and established contacts with opponents of the regime such as Helmuth James Graf von Moltke.

Hermann Stöhr was an important role model to him during his slowly evolving decision to evade conscription. When the draft notice reached him on April 24, 1940, he first wanted to take his own life but then set out for the Rhineland.

He swam across the Rhine near Emmerich, was picked up by Dutch military police and interned. The Germans invaded the Netherlands before his request for asylum could be decided and he could travel on to England.

Gauger fled back to Germany but was arrested and interrogated by members of the Gestapo in Düsseldorf between May 24 and June 7, 1940. On August 12, he was placed in protective custody, which he partly spent in the infirmary of the Düsseldorf-Derendorf Prison because of an injury. On June 12, 1941, he was transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp without a trial or sentence and had to perform heavy labor in the quarry there.

In mid-June, Gauger, as well as a large number of other detainees in poor health, was slected by a medical commission and deported with the so-called “transport of invalids” to the former sanatorium at Pirna-Sonnenstein. Aged 35, Gauger was gassed there along with other prisoners on July 15, 1941. His family was notified that he had died of a “heart attack” on July 23.

Two other theologians, both active in the Confessing Church, conscientiously objected but were eventually willing – against their own consciences but out of consideration for their their parents –to serve as medics:

Ernst Friedrich (1909–1985), a vicar in Frankfurt, gave detailed reasons for his refusal to report for a Landwehr exercise in August of 1937 and particularly pointed out that God had forbidden killing; if necessary, it is legitimate for self-defense of the state. The captain investigating retorted to Friedrich that he ought to rethink his position.

When he was called up again in 1940 and again refused to serve with a weapon, he was charged with undermining military preparedness. Out of worry for his parents, Friedrich declared his willingness to serve as a medic. He served as a soldier until the war’s end and was a prisoner of war until 1947.

A pastor of the Reformed congregation in Frankfurt, Wilhelm Schümer (1909–1943) was a member of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, a pacifist and opponent of National Socialism. In 1935 he spoke openly against the Nazi propaganda newspaper “Der Stürmer” in a sermon. The resultant problems with the presbytery – and problems from other conflicts –eventually led him to resign in 1937.

After his conscription, Schümer refused to swear the loyalty oath and conscientiously objected. Fearing reprisals against his father, a known pacifist, he agreed to serve as a medic. Schümer went missing on the Eastern Front in June of 1943.

Source / title

  • Stöhr: ©Reproduction: German Resistance Memorial Center; Gauger: ©Gauger Family Archive / Reproduced in: B. Böhm: "Die Entscheidung konnte mir niemand abnehmen". Dresden 1997

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