Active Military Service

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At the insistence of officers with whom he was friends, Gollwitzer was called up for the Wehrmacht on December 5, 1940. This was intended to free him from the Gestapo’s clutches. First, he was stationed in Potsdam for basic training where he still had encounters with congregational members. Afterward, he initially served as an infantryman, then as a medic, first in France and then on the Eastern Front as of January of 1943.

Gollwitzer later reflected on his reasons for becoming a soldier: I asked myself whether, put up against a wall as a conscientious objector, I could die resting assured that I had chosen not a random but rather the sole path possible. It was clear to me that mere deduction from general principles –not even from the general law that one may not be a soldier in the army of a state that is conducting an unjust war – could not provide the certainty required in such an hour. ... When the induction orders arrived, I was unable to discern in them the occasion to conscientiously object on principle, and waited for situations in which an avowed No had to be spoken at the risk of my life. (Gollwitzer, Skizzen, p. 166 and 172)

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  • © Evangelisches Zentralarchiv in Berlin, Bestand 500 Nr. 19678