Werner Sylten was born in Hergiswyl, Switzerland on August 9, 1893, the son of German parents. His father had converted from Judaism to Christianity before marrying a Protestant. He studied Protestant theology from 1913 to 1920, fighting in World War I as a volunteer in between.
He was influenced by liberal theology and developed a high social awareness. A graduate degree in social education and his work during his vicarage in the Hannover Regional Church were also influential. In 1925, he became the director of the Thuringian Home for Girls in Bad Köstritz, which he modernized with progressive educational methods.
He supported democracy and sympathized with the religious socialists. Following the National Socialists’ seizure of power, he became a member of the Confessing Church and came into severe conflicts with the German Christian Thuringian church government. A vitriolic article in the Völkischer Beobachter and the machinations of government and church officials cost him his job in 1936.
Directly affected by the Nuremberg Laws, he was no longer able to serve a regular parish. He worked as the executive director of the illegal office of the Thuringian Confessing Church from May of 1936 until it was shut down by police in March of 1938. He went to work for “Pastor Grüber’s Office” in Berlin in December of 1938.
As Heinrich Grüber’s close colleague and deputy, he was instrumental in saving the lives of numerous racially persecuted Christians there. After the Gestapo shut down “Pastor Grüber’s Office” in early 1941, Werner Sylten was arrested and dragged off to Dachau concentration camp in May. Sickly from inhumane forced labor, he was taken on one of the infamous transports of invalids to Hartheim Castle near Linz where he was gassed to death on August 26, 1942.