Lempp Circle: Laity against the Killing of Jews

  • 1st Picture for document
  • 2st Picture for document

A circle of Protestant laypersons and theologians siding with the steadfast Confessing Church, which was influenced by Karl Barth and viewed the Bavarian church government’s conciliatory course critically, had been meeting in the home of Albert Lempp, a publisher in Munich, and his wife Marie since the 1930s.

They declared their gatherings to be Bible study. Not only the Bible was studied but oppositional literature was also read and the gatherings evolved into a kind of conspiratorial meeting. One of the most important contributions to contemporaneous theology on the Nazi persecution of Jews, the now famous “Letter from Munich Laity” originated in the Lempp Circle, (E. Röhm/J. Thierfelder, Juden 4/2, 283).

Members of and people associated with the Lempp Circle included Lempp’s friend and theological advisor Georg Merz, Orientalist Wilhelm Hengstenberg, district judge Emil Höchstädter, Swiss publisher Walter Classen, Württemberg Confessing Church pastor Hermann Diem, Carl-Gunther Schweitzer, a pastor in Berlin who had been forced to take retirement, Old Prussian Confessing Church pastor Hellmut Traub, Munich pastors Kurt Frör, Karl Nold and Walther Hennighaussen, Munich dentist Kurt Wilhelm Lendtrodt and his sister Emmy and Stuttgart Reformed pastor Kurt Müller.

The members of the Lempp Circle witnessed first-hand the persecution of the Jews such as Carl Gunther Schweitzer, forced to take retirement because of his Jewish ancestry, and others. Some members and friends of the circle aided fugitive Jews and maintained contacts with Swiss helpers of Jews as well as the circle of helpers in the Confessing Church parish in Berlin-Dahlem.

Around Easter of 1943, Hermann Diem drafted a memorandum, which was intended to be presented to Regional Bishop Hans Meiser (1881-1956) and to serve as the basis for a public protest from the church against the killing of Jews. Wilhelm Hengstenberg and Emil Höchstädter delivered the memorandum to Meiser. It read:

As Christians we are no longer able to bear that the church in Germany is remaining silent about the persecution of the Jews. In the church of the Gospel, all parishioners share responsibility for the right exercise of the office of ministry. We therefore know we are also complicit in its failure in this matter. The next step impending at present: the inclusion of so-called “privileged” Jews in this persecution while annulling of marriages valid according to God’s commandment may provide the church the cause to bear the witness demanded from it by God’s word against the violation of the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th commandment and thus finally to do what it should have done long since. ... Every “non-Aryan”, whether Jew or Christian, in Germany today is the “one fallen among murderers” and we are asked whether we treat him like the priest and Levite or like the Samaritan.

Although Meiser largely agreed with the content of the Letter from Munich Laity, he refused to have it published, citing his responsibility for the regional church and its pastors, whom he would expose to persecution with a public protest from the church. He additionally feared that the Nazi regime would persecute the Jews even more rigorously. He claimed that he and his friends in the church government were, however, quietly doing everything possible to help victims of persecution, e.g. by procuring passports for Switzerland.

The Swiss Protestant press service published the memorandum in July of 1943. Meiser initially feigned ignorance and invoked the seal of confession as the Gestapo tried to identify the author.

The Letter from Munich Laity was circulated only secretly in Germany. Meiser sent a copy to Württemberg Regional Bishop Theophil Wurm, who, while he also did not have the memorandum published, sent a protest letter of his own to Hitler and the Reich government. Deeply impressed by the Letter from Munich Laity, Emil Höchstädter’s son, Pastor Walter Höchstädter, penned a pamphlet during his deployment in France. He had copies made at a print shop and brought 1,000 of them into circulation.

Helmut Hesse, a pastor in Elberfeld, paid with his life for reading the memorandum aloud during a confessional worship service in June of 1943: He was arrested and died in Dachau concentration camp in November of 1943 because he was refused essential medications.

Source / title

  • © Landeskirchliches Archiv Stuttgart, D1/108

Related topics