It is now more than half a century since the end of world war two, and a whole new generation has grown up, knowing little if anything about the events of the war years, or even the two decades that followed. And if any of today’s youngsters were asked about the war, they might just have heard about Hitler, but other prominent names would be quite foreign to them. However, those of us who are old enough to remember those days, whether as a child (like myself) or even to have had a part in the war, will remember the chief names of those who served under Hitler, and may have cause to remember with bitterness.
Hitler, the arch megalomaniac, who saw himself as a man of destiny – was dead. He committed suicide on 30th April 1945. The date is significant, I believe, because like others in his general staff, he had given himself over to the occult and black magic, as a means of serving his ends, and April 30th is perhaps the most important in the Satanist’s year. It is known as St. Walpurgis Night, and it is the time when many of their most disgusting acts are performed up and down each land. Is it therefore a coincidence that suicide should come on such a day? We can have no positive knowledge, but it provokes thought.
And what of the Gestapo, and the Prison officers, and all the men in high positions of authority? What happened to them? Those who survived the Allied advances were rounded up and kept under the tightest security guard until November 20th 1945, the beginning of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials in the Palace of Justice on the western edge of the town, trials which were to last until August 31st 1946. There is a story about the defendents in that trial which has almost completely escaped notice, and yet is the most newsworthy item of any. And in this chapter I take delight in giving some details. However, before I begin, I should like to quote briefly from the book written by Corrie ten Boom, entitled “The Hiding Place” (page 20). Corrie suffered many indignities and mental torture at the hands of the Nazis during the war, at Ravensbruck concentration camp. But two years after the end of the war, in 1947, she was speaking at a large gathering and giving her testimony, and this is what she subsequently had to say:-
“It was at this church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing centre at Ravensruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,’ he said. ‘To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!’
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.
I tried to smile. I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that this world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”
That brief testimony has oftentimes caused my emotions to break, and even as I write, so tears have developed in my eyes. To think that God should call this wicked S.S. officer, and that he should quit his evil ways, and rejoice in forgiveness. That fact should have been the front page headlines in all the newspapers. But it wasn’t. I doubt whether many knew about it. I am thankful to Corrie ten Boom for sharing it with the rest of the world.
Furthermore, I thank the Lord for her own testimony, how she was at first unable to rejoice, and how she found that most important of all truths – that we do not in ourselves have the wherewithal to carry out God’s commands, but those who ask, receive, and then the glory goes to God alone.
The next part of this chapter is equally as wonderful, but again, the world knows nothing about it. It has been our privilege in recent years to meet Rev. Fred Grossmith, who used to be Pastor of Calvary Church, Grimsby, and we found that he had written a book entitled THE CROSS AND THE SWASTIKA the result of a lot of research. He kindly signed a copy of this book for us, and we treasure it as one of the most amazing books we have ever read. It deals with the inside story of the men who were put on trial in those days, at Nuremburg. Their names were – Goring, Hess, von Ribbentrop, Seyss-Inquart, Rosenburg, Keitel, Donitz, Raeder, Kaltenbrunner, Frank, Frick, Streicher, Speer, Sauckel, Schacht, Jodl, Funk, Fritzsche, von Neurath, von Schirach, and von Papen.
Albert Speer with Rev. Fred T. Grossmith in 1981
“Henry Gerecke made a lasting impression on me. It was he who helped me through the trauma of the Nuremburg Trial. He was sincere and forthright. His outspokenness was not upsetting to us because everyone knew that he meant well. He was liked and appreciated by all the defendants.”
Albert Speer, Hitler’s Minister of Armaments and War Production.
The Allied authorities believed it to be their duty to provide these men with Chaplains, to tend to their spiritual needs prior to the time when they would receive their sentences. Two men were chosen, Sixtus O’Connor, a Catholic priest from New York, who could speak German, and Henry Gerecke, 52 year-old Lutheran Minister from St Louis, Missouri, who was able to speak German fluently. Our story concerns this latter Chaplain, and his work amongst 15 of the men listed above, in other words, those who were registered as “Protestant” rather than “Catholic” in their background.
Gerecke didn’t take on the job without considerable prayer and thought. “I had plenty of excuses,” he said, “for bitterness towards them. I had been at Dachau Concentration Camp, where my hand, touching a wall, had been smeared with the human blood seeping through. In England for 15 months I had ministered to the wounded and dying from the front lines. My eldest son had been literally ripped apart in the fighting. The second suffered severely in the Battle of the Bulge.”
Entering into deep agony of soul, as did Corrie ten Boon two years later, he reached his conclusion described in these words:- “Slowly, the men in Nuremburg became to me just lost souls, whom I was being asked to help. If, as never before, I could hate the sin, but love the sinner – -.” And so on November 12th 1945 Gerecke was assigned to the 6850th International Security Detachment, in charge of the prisoners, and left for Nuremburg.
I should love to be able to quote large chunks of the book, but I cannot do that. I shall have to pick out a few incidents with care.
After formal introductions with each of his fifteen, Gerecke realised that he had a lot of work to do. Some of these men were already in a condition to listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They had been contemplating their sins, and knew that in a short while they might very well be condemned to death by hanging.
He arranged for a room to be used as a Chapel, and had fifteen chairs put in it. The men were invited to attend, and on the first occasion he was gratified to see thirteen out of his fifteen there. Only Hess and Rosenburg were missing.
These two men, together with Ribbentrop and Fritzsche were the strongest Jew haters. Ribbentrop considered the Jews to be a useless breed of people. Hess was an astrological slave, who collected horoscopes and lived by them, encouraging Hitler to do the same. Rosenburg presented Hitler with evidence of a Jewish conspiracy for world domination. This was connected with the “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” a terribly seditious document, the origin and genuineness of which is still hotly debated. It could have been written by someone who was a Jew-hater, in order to bring trouble on the whole Jewish race. On the other hand it could have been the genuine work of a Jew (or group of Jews) who were megalomaniacs, similar in temperament to Hitler, or Saddam Hussein. Certainly it wasn’t the brain-child of the Jewish people at large. Hess and Rosenburg were the two collaborators of Hitler, who helped him produce his book “Mein Kampf.”
Following the close of the service in the Chapel, Fritz Sauckel approached Gerecke. They returned to his cell, and talked about spiritual things. Suddenly Sauckel knelt down at his bedside imploring Gerecke to read the Scriptures and pray with him:
“Unafraid and unashamed he prayed with me at his bedside, generously ending our prayer by saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner.'”
With brokenness Sauckel rose from his knees and Gerecke’s heart rejoiced at this early breakthrough in his ministry. There was nothing that this man could do to alleviate the hardships and sufferings caused through his programme of slavery which involved men, women, and children taken from their homes. But he had thrown himself on his Saviour, and was the first of the prisoners to request Holy Communion. In the Chapel, the two men knelt down together, Chaplain and prisoner.
“Do you believe that you are a sinner?”
“Yes, I believe it; I am a sinner.”
“How do you know this?”
“From the Ten Commandments. These I have not kept.”
“Are you sorry for your sins?”
“Yes, I am sorry that I have sinned against God.”
“What have you deserved of God by your sins?”
“His wrath and displeasure, temporal death and eternal damnation.”
“Do you also hope to be saved?”
“Yes, such is my hope.”
“In whom then do you trust?”
“In my dear Lord Jesus Christ.”
“What then has Christ done for you that you should trust in Him?”
“He died for me, and shed His blood for me on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.”
And so Gerecke administered the bread and wine to him. It must have been a most emotional occasion for Gerecke, as well as Sauckel.
Gerecke continued to make the most of the available time, early in the morning, and after the court sessions, to visit his fifteen souls. There was distinct opposition in some, but courteous generosity of spirit in others. Gerecke gave himself earnestly to prayer for these men. It was not long before the Holy Spirit had softened the heart of another. This time it was Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel. With Gerecke’s help he had memorised numerous verses of Scripture which spoke of God’s mercy to sinners.
“He made a fine choice of Bible readings, hymns and prayers and read them himself, aloud. He was unashamed to kneel at his bed and together with me make confession of his sins. On his knees and under deep emotional stress, he received the Body and Blood of our Saviour in the bread and wine. With tears in his eyes he said, ‘You have helped me more than you know. May Christ, my Saviour, stand by me all the way. I shall need him so much.'”
I shall have to omit all the many details recorded so vividly in Fred Grossmith’s book, and say that these two decisions set the tone for what was to follow. Shortly afterwards, three others requested to see Gerecke, and confess their sins, Fritzsche, von Shirach, and Speer. In the Chapel he quizzed the men in turn, and found them to be wholly sincere.
“It touched my heart to see the three big men on their knees about to receive the Lord’s Supper. I felt sure others’ prayers were with me because it was not possible to win them to the foot of the cross without the intercessions of God’s people. I am convinced God worked a change in their hearts through the word that had been read and preached to them, and they were ready, as every penitent is, to ask God’s forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake.”
In turn, Gerecke asked the three men:-
“I now ask you before God, is this your sincere confession, that you heartily repent of your sins, believe on Jesus Christ, and sincerely and earnestly purpose, by the assistance of God the Holy Ghost, henceforth to amend your sinful life? Then declare so by saying: Yes.”
With delight in his heart the Chaplain gave bread and wine to the three men.
“I shall never forget the sight of those three big men kneeling, asking that their sins be forgiven. So convincing was their bearing that the guards said to me, ”Chaplain, you’ll not need us. This is holy business.’ And they walked out.”
In later talks with Albert Speer, Gerecke recalled, “Frankly admitting the guilt of the Nazi regime, he told me he felt that the neglect of genuine Christianity caused its downfall.”
Hitler had declared that “One is either a German or a Christian. You cannot be both.” He saw Christianity and Freemasonry as the major alternatives to National Socialism. In 1940 a C.of E. Bishop said, “There are no Christians among any of the German airmen captured in this country.” Prisoners were asked to state their religion. 50% said “Nature”, 40% replied “Hitler”, and the remainder said they were atheists.
In May 1946, rumours began to circulate that older officers of the U.S. personnel would soon be allowed to return home if they chose to do so. That would include Gerecke, the defendants reasoned.
“I was 54 at the time. When they [the prisoners] moaned over separation from their families, I had done a little griping of my own. I probably mentioned my wife’s health and the fact that I had not seen her for two and a half years. At any rate they decided that Mrs Gerecke would be the chief influence for my return home. Consequently, my wife back in Missouri received what someone termed the most incredible letter ever sorted by St Louis postal clerks. It was written in almost illegible German script.”
This letter was composed by Hans Fritzsche, former head of broadcasting and propaganda. In translation the letter read as follows:-
“Your husband has been taking religious care of the undersigned for more than half a year. We have now heard that you wish to see him back home after his absence of several years. Because we also have wives and children we understand this wish of yours well. Nevertheless we are asking you to put off your wish to gather your family around you. Please consider that we cannot miss your husband now. During the past months he has shown us uncompromising friendliness of such a kind that we cannot be without him in these surroundings in which – but for him – we find only prejudice, cold disdain, or hatred. It is impossible for any other to break through the walls that have been built up around us, in a spiritual sense even stronger than a material one. We have simply come to love him. Please leave him with us. Certainly you will feel this sacrifice and we shall be deeply indebted to you. We send our best wishes to you and your family. God be with you!” (A reproduction of that letter appears on the next page.)
When Mrs Alma Gerecke received the letter she found that it had been signed by all fifteen of her husband’s group, and all six of Sixtus O’Connor’s group. Gerecke, when he heard about it from his wife, who answered with the words, “Please stay on – – they need you,” he said, “Hitler’s strong boys who had scourged Christianity and broken the Ten Commandments more than any other scoundrels in history were beseeching an American housewife!!”
On October 1st 1946 the sentences were read out to the defendants, as each stood alone in the dock. Death sentences were given to Goring, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Frick, Sauckel, and Rosenburg. Life imprisonment for Hess, Raeder and Funk. 20 years for von Shirach and Speer, 15 years for von Neurath, and 10 years for Donitz. Fritzsche and Schacht were found not guilty.
Chapel services were henceforth disallowed, for security reasons, but Gerecke still had work to do before the date of execution on October 16th. It was made possible for wives and families to visit the prisoners.
“Goring had asked his wife what their little daughter Edda had said about the whole situation. She replied that Edda had said she wanted to meet her daddy in Heaven. He stood up and turned away. For the first time I saw tears in his eyes. Edda said, ‘I kneel by my bed and look up to heaven and ask God to open my daddy’s heart and let Jesus in.'”
Sadly, this was not to be, this side of the grave, because somehow or other Goring had managed to obtain a cyanide capsule, which he swallowed. He was found dead in his cell. Gerecke wrote afterwards, “If I blundered in my approach to reach this man’s heart and soul with the meaning of the Cross of Jesus – – I hope a Christian world will forgive me.”
Finally, Ribbentrop yielded to the Gospel message, and asked Gerecke to administer the bread and wine to him. At the end he was a changed man. The Chaplain said that praying with him was a delight. But Mrs Ribbentrop was quite another thing altogether! Gerecke said that he had never met such an evil woman.
And so Gerecke was with his men to the last, even in the execution chamber. He said, “Thus eleven men of intelligence and ability who, differently influenced, could have been, I am convinced, a blessing to the world instead of a curse, died. For all my own blunderings and failures with them, I ask forgiveness.”
The Chaplain returned home and took up work as Prison Chaplain at the Illinois State Penitentiary at Menard. There he remained until October 11th 1961, where he died, fifteen years to the day after arriving in Nuremburg. So great was this man’s influence in that place that the Governor of the Prison obtained permission for Gerecke’s body to be brought there. Over 800 prisoners filed past, many of them with tears in their eyes. One man said, “They held him in high esteem. He talked their language. They respected him. He never lost his temper with them, but they knew they couldn’t fool him.”
When Albert Speer’s twenty-year sentence was over he returned home to his wife. Fred Grossmith visited him, and was able to obtain many of the fascinating details recorded in his book. Speer spoke very highly of Gerecke. “He was a man with a warm heart – – he cared.” He spoke slowly and with feeling. During those 20 years in Spandau Prison, Berlin, Speer read and studied eighteen large volumes of theology, so great was his desire for truth. “Without Paster Gerecke,” he said, “I could never have got through those days at Nuremburg.”
Finally in this chapter, a word from Henry Gerecke about the Nazi era will come as a warning to us all.
“A little group got into the saddle of governmental affairs. Little by little it got into full control. First it gained a foothold because it seemed to cater to the working classes. From talks with the defendants and many witnesses in the Nuremburg Prison, I have concluded that many who went along with the party thought it a good thing for their country. But “clique control” began to grow. It took a toe-hold on the country through public works programmes. It did away with unemployment. The cost of living was low and men could support their families on small salaries.
“But, somewhere along the line this group got the idea of expansion through aggression and from that moment on plans got under way for war. All smaller groups, about twenty nine parties, were swallowed up and there started a reign of persecution against all opposition. The clique saw an opportunity to do something that would pull others along. Many went along at the beginning, thinking they had found something good for the Fatherland.
“Only a few got to the top, and they began to crack the whip over the people. Millions were caught in this political current. However, many saw trouble after the Anschluss of Austria. In one of their secret meetings Hitler told Raeder, “You see, it worked. I told you so. The prayers of a thousand years have been answered.” Raeder concluded that nothing could stop Hitler from then on. The Clique was in the saddle and in control. Once on their books as a member, no matter how small and insignificant, you were stuck. Your convictions were stifled. It was dangerous to protest, and you couldn’t resign.
“Let us remember that the gross hates and cruelties which climaxed in the careers of the Nazi leaders had their inception in the petty hates, prejudices, and compromises of millions of little men and women – -some of them quite pious too.”