Niemöller, Martin

( 1892-1984 )
   Lutheran bishop and opponent of the Nazi regime
   German Lutheran bishop Martin Niemöller was born on January 14, 1892, in Lippstadt, Westphalia, Germany, the son of a Lutheran minister. As a young man, he was a pioneer of the German submarine fleet and rose to command his own sub during World War I. He later wrote a popular book, From U-Boat to Pulpit (1934), describing the war experiences that drove him to study theology and become a Lutheran pastor.
   He was initially attracted to the Nazi movement, but soon came to see it as a grave danger. As early as 1933, he organized the Pastors' Emergency League to protect fellow ministers from police action. The following year he helped organize a synod that adopted the Barmen Declaration, largely written by his colleague Karl Barth.It became the foundation statement for the confessing Church, which opposed Hitler. Barth was driven out of the country, but Niemöller was for a while acceptable to the Nazis, who wanted to capitalize on his status as a naval hero.
   He was first arrested in 1937, and eventually interned in a concentration camp, first Sachsenhausen and then Dachau. He was fortunate to escape execution in the final days of the war.
   Niemöller resumed his ministerial career. He worked with surviving colleagues of the Confessing Church to lobby the Evangelical Church in Germany (Lutheran) to produce a public statement of repentance for its complicity with the Nazis, and especially with the Holocaust against the Jews. In October 1945, the church's executive council issued the Stuttgart Confession of Guilt (Stuttgarter Schuldbekenntnis). Niemöller spoke widely of the Nazi era, frequently using the quote for which he has become famous, "First, they came for the socialists, and i did not speak out because i was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and i did not speak out because i was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and i did not speak out because i was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me."
   The confession unleashed a storm of controversy within the church. Some of Niemöller's own ambiguous actions following his arrest were revealed, including an attempt to win clemency by identifying himself as an anti-Semite. in spite of these facts, he became head of the territorial church of Hesse and Nassau, one of the regional divisions of the Evangelical Church in Germany
   Niemöller's postwar efforts earned him the respect of the larger Protestant community. He served on the provisional committee that helped form the World Council of Churches and was a member of its executive and central committees from its founding in 1948 to 1961, when he was selected as one of its six presidents. During his presidency, he also became well known for his advocacy of pacifism and reconciliation of East and West, leading to his efforts to bring the churches in Eastern Europe into ecumenical dialogues. In 1967, he received the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet union. Niemöller died on March 6, 1984.
   Further reading:
   ■ James Bentley, Martin Niemöller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984)
   ■ Clarissa Start-Davidson, God's Man: The Story of Pastor Niemöller (New York: Ives Washburn, 1959)
   ■ Martin Niemöller, Dachau Sermons (London: Latimer House, 1947); , Exile in the Fatherland: Mar- tin Niemöller S Letters from Moabit Prison, trans. by Ernst Kaemke, et al. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1986); , Here Stand I! (Chicago: Willett, Clark, 1937).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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