Protests against the Deportations

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The situation for the remaining Jews in Germany escalated when the war broke out. Emigration, previously encouraged by the Nazi regime, was hardly an option anymore once the war had started. The expulsion of Jewish citizens from Germany became the goal.

The first large deportation comprised of 7000 Jewish citizens from Baden, the Palatinate and the Saarland commenced on October 22, 1940. They were deported to Southern France, which was administered by the Vichy Regime, and interned under catastrophic hygienic conditions in Camp Gurs at the foot of the Pyrenees. Other deportations departed every major city in the Reich for the East in the ensuing months.

Hardly anyone spoke out against these measures: The German populace seemed largely indifferent to the Jews’ fate. The German Christian church governments remained silent and may even have welcomed the measure. No public protest came from from the ranks of the Confessing Church, either. A few exponents explicitly demonstrated solidarity with the affected Christians of Jewish descent.

Hermann Maas, a pastor in Heidelberg, attempted to help concretely. He informed Heinrich Grüber about the actions and contacted the World Council of Churches in Geneva. His most important contact was Adolf Freudenberg, who promptly sought means to send aid to the deportees – including two cousins of his. The World Council of Churches then established a chaplaincy service together with the Protestant Federation of France. The French Protestant youth movement also helped out with refugee work wherever possible.

Two women, Madeleine Barot and Jeanne Merle D’Abigné were especially active. They also helped Jews escape to Switzerland or Portugal via Spain.

Heinrich Grüber, head of the Confessing Church relief agency in Berlin for Christians of Jewish descent, took advantage of his contacts to care for victims of persecution as long as possible. Grüber was arrested on December 19, 1940 and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The very vaguely grounds given were that Grüber had violated the conditions of the state police imposed upon him (Röhm, Thierfelder, Juden 3/11, p. 299). He was transferred to Dachau in October of 1941 and released on probation unexpectedly on June 23, 1943.

“Grüber’s Office” was able to continue operation at first – albeit with significantly reduced strength – under Pastor Werner Sylten until he too was arrested on February 27, 1941. Sylten, a Christian of Jewish descent, was also sent to Dachau concentration camp and killed in Hartheim Castle near Linz on August 26, 1942.

In addition to material aid for the deportees, some individuals in the Confessing Church who knew they were accountable for Christians of Jewish descent in particular, sought to fortify those who received summons through a farewell service.

Looking back in 1976, Hans Encke, a pastor in Cologne, recounted that Christian Jews, who had of course all been evacuated at that time, we gathered them, and then they had here [in the Chapel of the Holy Cross ...], we held a final service for them. We also baptized children, who had not been baptized yet, installed the elders [i.e. presbyters] (Marquardt, Köln, p. 129).

Farewell services were also held in the parish of Berlin-Dahlem where Helmut Gollwitzer had gathered a circle of Christians of Jewish descent. Gollwitzer, who had already been called up, wrote a farewell letter, which was to be given to the deportees. Moreover, laypersons were ordained as elders and preachers so that they would be able to establish and minister to congregations in the camps. They even managed to establish written contact with some of the deportees and thus share in their fate.

Source / title

  • Neue Zürcher Zeitung from February 16, 1940

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