Saturday, July 15, 2006

The preacher of Buchenwald (Paul Schneider)

When Adolf Hitler was assigned by the German president to chancellory, Lutheran Pastor Paul Schneider believed that the new leader would lead Germany to a brighter future with God’s help. However, his hoped faded when the Nazis began ridiculing God’s divinity and the Church. Pastor Schneider protested against this and joined the “Confessing Church,” a Protestant organization which opposed Hitler and the Nazis. In 1935, the Nazis detained him for a short while for protesting against the Nazis on the pulpit. In the winter of 1935-1936 alone, the pastor had been interrogated by the Nazis for twelve times. Pastor Schneider told his friends that he did not want martyrdom, but he was only following Christ.

In 1937, Pastor Schneider excommunicated his parishioners who supported the Nazi party. Because of this, he was imprisoned by the Nazis for two months. After his release, he was banned from returning to the Dickenshied congregation, his parish. But even after his release, he continued criticizing the Nazis. In 1937, he was arrested after worshipping with the Dickenshied congregation. He was imprisoned in the Buchenwald camp.

In the camp, he was sentenced to solitary confinement. From his cell window, he preached to the other prisoners the Gospel. Each time he preached, the Nazis beat him mercilessly. A fellow prisoner once begged him to stop preaching out of mercy, but the pastor continued witnessing to the truth. A Catholic priest, Fr. Leonhard Steinwender, said about the Pastor: “In front of the single-storeyed building of the camp there stretched the immense parade-ground... On feast-days, in the silence of the roll-call, suddenly from behind the barred dinginess of the camp, there echoed the powerful voice of Pastor Schneider. He would preach like a prophet, or rather, he would try to preach. On Easter Sunday, for instance, we heard to our surprise the powerful words, ‘Thus says the Lord: I am the Resurrection and the Life!’ The long lines of prisoners stood at attention, deeply moved by the courage and energy of that indomitable will... He could never utter more than a few phrases. Then we would hear raining down on him the blows of guards' truncheons.”

On July 18, 1939, Pastor Schneider was martyred with a lethal injection. Despite Gestapo surveillance, hundreds of people attended Pastor Schneider’s funeral, including many members of the Confessing Church. One of the pastors preached at the grave side, “May God grant that the witness of your shepherd, our brother, remain with you and continue to impact on future generations and that it remain vital and bear fruit in the entire Christian Church.”

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