“Pastor Grüber’s Office”
In the Protestant church, only individuals aided Christians persecuted on racial grounds. Official help on the part of the German Evangelical Church or the Inner Mission never materialized. Even the officials of the Confessing Church were mostly inactive until 1938, although they had been repeatedly entreated from their own ranks – above all by Marga Meusel and Elisabeth Schmitz – to minister to persecuted Christians and to establish a central church aid agency for victims.
Hermann Maas did not succeed in moving the Confessing Church to act until the end of May 1938: Martin Albertz, member of the Confessing Church’s highest governing body, instructed Heinrich Grüber, a pastor in Berlin-Kaulsdorf, to organize aid for racially persecuted Christians. Heinrich Grüber had contacts abroad, had been helping individual victims of persecution emigrate from Germany since the mid-1930s and still had a relatively clean record with the Gestapo. As a Christian, he felt bound by the Biblical parable of the God Samaritan to render aid.
Grüber acted swiftly: Within a few months, he managed to recruit other staff members in numerous regional churches and, in the end, built up a nationwide network of 22 aid organizations. At the same time, he obtained the state’s – and especially the Gestapo’s – toleration of his activities without which organized aid would have been impossible. At the end of 1938, he rented offices at Oranienburger Strasse 20 for the rapidly growing central aid agency in Berlin. “Pastor Grüber’s Office” soon became the aid agency’s established name.
The Nazis initiated the phase of systematic expulsion of the Jews after the November Pogrom of November 9-10, 1938. 100 to 120 racially persecuted Christians sought assistance at Pastor Grüber’s Office every day. The emigration department expanded so quickly that additional offices already had to be rented in the building at “An der Stechbahn 3–4” in early 1939. By mid-1939, the aid agency’s staff had grown to thirty-five individuals, most of whom were affected by the Nuremberg Laws themselves. Pastor Grüber’s Office in Berlin helped 1138 people emigrate by the outbreak of World War II.
In addition to the emigration department, other departments sought to alleviate the material hardship of poor and unemployed people, find places in homes for elderly and infirm people, minister to people in despair and provide schooling for children and young people. Students regarded as Jewish according to the Nuremberg Laws had no longer been allowed to attend any public schools since mid-November of 1938. The “Oranienburger Strasse Family School” headed by Vicar Klara Hunsche found room in Pastor Grüber’s Office in 1939. Classes were taught by female teachers, who themselves were persecuted on racial grounds.
European countries closed their borders to German refugees when World War II broke out. As the Jews in Germany were being driven out of their homes and robbed of their remaining possessions, Heinrich Grüber endeavored to place refugees in non-European countries.
He lodged a protest with government authorities when the first deportations took place in 1940. He was arrested in December of 1940 and taken to a concentration camp. The Gestapo closed down Pastor Grüber’s Office. A little later, Grüber’s deputy, Pastor Werner Sylten, was also taken away to a concentration camp and killed in a euthanasia center in Austria in August of 1942.
Pastor Grüber’s Office and its branches enabled between 1700 and 2000 people to emigrate and thus saved their lives. Aid could only be rendered legally as long as their emigration was consistent with the interests of the Nazi state. The systematic killing of the Jews in extermination camps that commenced after the office had been closed down also cost numerous members of Grüber’s staff their lives. Christians of Jewish descent who were threatened by death could only still be aided clandestinely.
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- © Landeskirchliches Archiv Nürnberg, KKE 71