In our last issue, we brought you the first in a series of letters which Paul Schneider wrote to his wife from the Coblenz jail. He would become the first pastor murdered by the Nazis. Although a simple country minister, his letters reveal a love for Christ and for God’s people that we could only wish was shared by the church leaders of his day, and of ours. We begin the narrative with the letter of November 7, 1937. Another pastor has been arrested for refusing to obey the state’s order to leave his local congregation…

COBLENZ, 7th November, 1937

I understand that the authorities are greatly embarrassed by us Protestant pastors. They are afraid to torment us any more because it is not at all clear to them what they will achieve with their further punishment and they have no wish to make ‘martyrs’ of us in the cause of the Church to which we unmistakably belong. Yet, even if they let us alone, that too is a triumph for the gospel and the embarrassment remains. The question has still to be honestly answered: Why did they imprison us?

Paul, Gretel (wife Margarete) with children Dieter and Evamarie and friend, Maria Sohngen, on Kppenstein Hill, Unsrucke, 1935

Paul, Gretel (wife Margarete) with children Dieter and EvamariePray God that common sense will prevail, even the common sense of the church politicians, so that our people may be spared the worst consequences of the mad philosophy of Rosenberg and the church reformers. But, as God will! If it must be pushed through to its logical and fanatical consequences and we must reap the harvest we have sown, then in God’s name let it be as quick as possible…. Now that all my aches and pains are over, I am sitting with pleasure at my balcony, writing, in the morning. I have made some progress with the Catechism, Isaiah and Romans, but have not been working so intensely as I wanted to because of my cold earlier in the week. On your last visit, you asked me what I did all day long. Principally I have become a pupil in the school of God’s Word and I want to remain that way. I can make up for some of the time I wasted when I was studying. This imprisonment gives me an opportunity to learn the things I missed or neglected. So, tomorrow morning I shall work at the Bible, tomorrow afternoon at the Confessional documents, reading, writing and committing to memory. These two pages for the children will let you all know how I work. The day and even the week is so carefully apportioned that the time does not seem long, but rather the opposite. This morning my coffee with bread and honey tasted particularly good. The little piece of news you slipped in, that another pastor had refused to accept his banishment and was in prison, rejoiced me. Of course I feel for the poor brother and know what he is suffering; but I am glad that another pastor has taken the same step. It is a kind of justification of my own conscience, of my own action. Now, I wait only for our church leaders to speak out clearly on this question of banishment, not so feebly and ambiguously as in Augsburg. This morning, I began my service with a verse from Psalm 33. I rejoiced to read in the gospel of the power that makes the dead to live (the request of Jairus to Jesus), of the act of Jesus which truly made sport of death (the maiden is not dead but sleepeth), of the faith of the woman with the issue of blood who pressed in to touch the hem of his garment, seeking health and finding it. The Epistle made me want to pray for all those things the Apostle lists for us: wisdom and spiritual understanding, especially that we might understand the Scriptures and the power of God, walking worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, so that we give the enemy no ground whereby he may bring our faith to shame, knowledge of God, truly now like a mirror to a dark world, the ground of all knowledge in which we have eternal life, strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfullness. It is to our shame that we still need to be admonished by the Apostle in the same words; but a great joy to know that all these things are available and we may even now begin, weakly perhaps, to enter into them. Let us praise God for his kindness. Yes, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again into a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you’ (I Pet. 1.3-4).

Dickenschied Church, 1994

Should not that hope be enough to carry us through this earthly life? Should not that hope be enough for all who will receive it to give them power to live and grow, enough for all except those who in unbelief and hardness of heart refuse to accept it? Should not God be able to renew his Church, which he has rescued out of this world, with that hope, renew it even in this dangerous time? The chestnut tree preaches to me again and spreads out to me its dark, bare branches, holding its little dark buds, full of hope for next year. I can see the buds quite near to the window, and high up on the topmost branch. They were already there before the golden leaves, which wrapped them round, had fallen from the tree. Perhaps we have not noticed the growing bud, hidden under the leaves of a withering Church, because of our thanklessness and our little faith…. The Confessing Church when it is true to itself is a tree with buds; the hidden congregations within the congregations are the buds of the Church. There, if you look, you can see the buds, where men are prepared to go as pastors where no pastor is recognized. There are the buds, where men refuse to take a secure position guaranteed by the State, because such positions are no longer positions of honor and faith. There you can see the buds amidst all the vagaries and double dealings of church politicians; there you can see already with the spiritual eye the coming Church and its spring. Certainly the world and the unspiritual churchman see the bare tree of its culture, of its outward form robbed and condemned, so that it seems almost finished, fit only to be used for firewood, like the idols. This is what the Church appears like to such when it is deprived of the recognition of the world and of the State. For they have put their trust in a false church, a State religion which has grown up around them and which they now very rightly see to be a condemned tree. Their pride becomes fit for ashes. As the prophet said: ‘They feed on ashes.’ But we sit quietly in the branches of a poor, bare and humbled tree. They can see no hope in it. To us, it stretches out its buds in promise. These buds of the apparently dead tree, and these alone, carry the promise that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against them’. Only here can we dwell safely. Only in faith, which is the indestructible power of its life and its buds, is there true freedom and true joy. And we shall continue to hold fast to this faith, because in it alone is ‘the victory which overcometh the world’, which overcomes prison and death. Let the world keep its rewards and promises. I would rather have my faith. One day the buds will burst, the cross will reveal the crown.

COBLENZ, 14th November, 1937

At my window on Tuesday I witnessed one of those pagan ceremonies which abound today. It was a celebration of the 9th November performed by the special police. You know the kind of thing: ‘Not in sorrow and grief, but in pride do we remember the sixteen who gloriously died’, and so on. The usual glorification of those men. ‘We live and struggle for Germany, a Germany which endures through all eternity. We ask for a total sacrifice, of body and soul, a total commitment of The “celebration of the 9th of November” was the Beer Hall Putsch, a failed attempt at revolution that occurred between the evening of 8 November and the early afternoon of 9 November 1923, when Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler and other heads of the Kampfbund unsuccessfully tried to seize power in Munich, Bavaria, and Germany. The photo above is taken of the main square, Marienplatz in Munich, during the Beer Hall Putsch.our thought.’

Apart from that spectacle, life has been peaceful during the past week. I really believe that I am now greatly profiting from my regular Bible reading and have progressed in my understanding of the Holy Scriptures. How unbelievably deep is the Wisdom of God and how shallow beside it is the wisdom of this world with its lies and sins! The foolishness of God is wiser than men. My other reading is not going so well. I am still stuck in the historical introduction to the Confessional Writings and the Czech is not at all satisfied with my progress in English!

The “celebration of the 9th November” was the Beer Hall Putsch, a failed attempt at revolution that occurred between the evening of 8 November and the early afternoon of 9 November 1923, when Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler and other heads of the Kampfbund unsuccessfully tried to seize power in Munich, Bavaria, and Germany. The photo above is taken of the main square, Marienplatz, in Munich, during the Beer Hall Putsch.

Herr O. came to day and asked me about my sermon notes, which are apparently needed by the prosecution for my trial. When I refused him and said that they would be quite unintelligible, he said that he would have my house searched from top to bottom. I must take my stand on this. I cannot hold myself responsible to any man for the way in which I prepare my sermons. These notes are personal and private. My sermons and my notes are two quite different things. I am never bound to my notes. Sometimes what I say is sharper and sometimes much milder than what I have noted down. These notes are simply helps to me. The sermons have been freely preached, and anyone could have come in to hear them. If they want to find grounds for my imprisonment or my banishment, they must find it among witnesses who heard me preach and not among notes I used to prepare my sermons. My attitude to the State must not be deduced from these notes, proving that I held one view rather than another of the function of the State. But of this also I am quite sure: I am not responsible to the State for what I preach. We are responsible to the Lord and to his Church. It is the Lord we serve. If now, despite my refusal, my notes are searched for, found and seized, don’t be too worried about it. I shall be able to account for what I said and stand by it. In our sermons, none of us has ever said too much; we have all said far too little. I don’t think that I need get unduly worried on that account. One thing, however, is clear now: we must not expect my case to be settled soon.

There were eleven of us on our walk today. There are now five Jehovah’s Witnesses here, including a man and wife. The wife lives next to me (on the other side we have a Jew again). We cannot agree with all the ideas of these people. TheyPaul (in his World War I uniform) with his brother Hans and father, Gustav-Adolf, 1918 teach much which does not seem to me to be from the Bible; they have many strange teachings about the end of the world and most of them, although not all, have left the Church. They are, however, a living reproach to us that we have neglected the teaching of the Last Things. They see many things, in their own way, much clearer and much better than the majority of Church Christians….

COBLENZ, 16th November, 1937

I have now informed the Gestapo, in writing, of my attitude to the affair of the sermon notes … Do not forget the kingdom of God in all the duties and burdens of our home. We must learn to give up and to forget much; but we must not throw away the sausage with the skin! As much is lost, let us take even in our loss this blessing: ‘Cast thy bread upon the waters and thou shalt receive it after many days….’

Paul (in his World War I uniform) with his brother Hans and father, Gustav-Adolf, 1918

COELENZ, 17th November, 1937

A short greeting to you on the evening of Repentance Day. It has been a day of rich blessing with God’s Word. I have, in a real sense, felt the power of gentleness, love and patience, and, so far as I am able, I have let go all desire for profit in life and office. God grant that I may profit truly from all the digging and fertilizing of the vineyard and that I may bring forth fruit in my office and in my Church and also in my family.

COBLENZ, 22nd November, 1937

I am to be fined and it is well known that I shall refuse to pay the fine. My fine is because of the stand I have taken in common with the Confessing Church and, because it is known that I will not pay, I am being held like a bailiff in the house of a debtor—except that I am the debtor! Herr O. intended to be cynical when he informed me that I was to be fined again, but he at least admitted that my imprisonment so far had been a punishment. He thought that perhaps I would hesitate when I realized how much you would suffer at home. I said, they can do what they like; they know well that, in every way, I considered my imprisonment to be unjust. Read Isaiah 10, which I have specially noted: God’s righteous anger against the proud Assyrians, who knew not that they were only the rod of God’s judgment against his people Israel. For Israel’s God had ‘found as a nest the riches of the people’; and as one gathers eggs, he would plunder their nests and destroy them. ‘Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood.’ Israel’s light will be as a fire and her holiness as a flame to burn up and destroy the power of Assyria, until the trees of the forest be so few that a child could count them. The remnant of Israel shall be purified by the fire of God’s judgment. Therefore, Israel shall no longer be afraid of Assyria. For the Lord will deal with Assyria as he dealt with the Egyptians. Oppression will come, but when the troubles are greatest, then God will send help—the power of Assyria will be brought to nought in Israel.

COBLENZ, 24th November, 1937

Now, as we thought, the dice have been thrown. It is to be either a concentration camp or a prison camp. It matters little which. We are delivered into their hands and must expect the treatment of men, with all that entails. You must see to it that our church remains independent. I cannot understand why I am so suddenly to be transferred to a camp. I suppose all decisions taken here are already decided in higher places and are, therefore, simply the carrying out of orders. Now, what should I advise you to do? Viewed from outside, that is easy enough. I can see already that the time is coming when every true Christian will have to stand up openly for his faith, making a clear decision and an open confession. You will very soon have your whole attention directed towards the preserving of our children and already you are called to a decision. Then think of these words: ‘It is better to lose all creatures than to find yourself fighting against the will of God’, and put your trust in his promise: ‘Who fears God has a sure hiding place and his children also will be sheltered.’ Let us not take the tragic way of so many unfaithful Christian parents. Keep our people true—God will give you the power, my dearest, to hold fast on this way. Before you ask advice of men, seek it of God. For even the best of our friends will give us bad counsel at times. The people of Buchenwald will become my people, as near to my heart as those who have become my people in Coblenz. Mr. and Mrs. M., from O., are traveling with me, by the same transport. Apparently, I am to be in the same camp as Mr. M., so I shall be with the ‘sectarians’. We shall certainly serve one another. Mrs. M. is now, after her bad illness, quite well and peaceful.

Give my greetings to the brethren. We shall not count our lives dear when the wolf attacks the sheep, greedy for the souls of our people and especially for our young people. We shall not be found wanting when the wolf comes. Where there is an hireling, the wolf catcheth and scattereth the sheep. Let us remember, dearest, that our light afflictions, which are but temporal, work for us an exceeding weight of glory, which is for eternity. Our children belong to God through our faith and their baptism in Christ. The true Lord will care for them in soul and body.

Wedding of Paul and Gretel in Weilheim, 1926

His wife Margarete, would write later that at this juncture, “Paul wrote a farewell note to the children, to our helper in the house and also to the assistant, Vikar Kemper. In the last of these, he said: ‘When you greet the brethren for me, tell them in all things to do God’s will and to walk uprightly before the people. Tell them to spring into the yawning breach and, into this battle, let them throw all that is most dear to them. A breach has surely been torn in our lives by the frightful seduction and idolatry of the spirit of our day. This must be repaired. Prudence and cleverness will get us nowhere. Behold the company of cautious ministers in their churches! In this battle we must wager our lives or else nothing is won.’

Then came the day when the post brought one of the usual postcards from Paul. Again, it was the jailer who had informed him, earlier than the official notification, which transport would take him to the concentration camp. He also had forwarded the postcard to me. The card was dated 23rd November 1937 and bore on the postmark the time—10 p.m. It read: ‘How lovely it would be if we could meet again, before the transport takes me away from here at noon on Thursday. Herr O. has said that he would bear in mind an application for permission to see me before I leave. As we have done, we shall leave all in God’s hands, trusting him with patience and courage. From him alone can we expect all good things. Him shall we love with all our heart and him alone shall we fear and worship. So shall God be with us and our hope will not make us ashamed. Be of good cheer, be true and fear not. I hold you fast in my heart. In God we are not divided. Thank you for all the love you have given me. We shall give thanks for this time of preparation, making us ready for new trials. New sufferings should bring us new experiences of our God and new glory. Christ said: ‘Lo, I am with you alway’ … Food, and money also, I suppose, cannot be taken with us to the camp. Other things can be sent on to us. I need a fresh pair of socks. My greetings to you all. In love, your Paul.’

As I was ready to leave for Coblenz, the telephone rang with the welcome news that I had permission to speak with my husband once again. That made the third time the jailer had got permission for me—bless him!

Next morning, Paul and I were together again. A few days before, he had managed to get from the Gestapo all his prison letters for June and July. These letters had been a great comfort to him. For my part, I held on to the text: ‘For whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.’ We talked of this. As it was the Friday before Advent, I had an Advent Kranz {footnote}Advent Kranz is a ring of fir branches that has four candles on it.{/footnote} with me. Paul took it with him and, by the light of the candles, he read the Advent hymns later in his cell. Paul knew that this day he could be free if only he would pledge himself to accept and obey the order of banishment. Our hearts were heavy. I touched Paul gently and said, ‘How much I love you!’ He was deeply moved, even to tears. We said no more. The Officer made it clear to us that we had little time and would soon have to go. Falteringly, we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together. I gave to Paul the text for the day: ‘The lion of Judah shall break every chain.’ Our time was up. But, at that moment, a grief stricken man was led away and the disturbance gave us more time together. The man was utterly shattered. He was not the last to be seen like that. Paul and I held on to each other. We dare not express our feelings too gently. The Advent hymns were our comfort and Paul repeated them. We then talked of everyday things. The jailor joined in our conversation and we even wandered to the point of talking about heavy artillery! In the same room with us were the Jehovah’s Witnesses—husband and wife—also saying goodbye. Both of them were going to concentration camps. The woman came over and shook my hand: ‘It’s hard’, she said, ‘we owe so much to your husband for his comfort and encouragement. God bless you!’

My last sight of Paul was in the prison lorry. He went away from me smiling.

Next Issue: Buchenwald, Part III