A Lutheran pastor in Buchenwald
|May 12, 2014||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
The following is an excerpt from a short forthcoming e-book on the Christians in Nazi Germany. It deals specifically with a Lutheran pastor, Paul Schneider, who spoke openly against Naziism from the pulpit and after numerous offenses was sent to Buchenwald where he died. The excerpt from Poller’s account as well as other information about Paul Schneider is taken from Wentorf, Rudolf. Paul Schneider: Witness of Buchenwald. Translated by Daniel Bloesch. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2008.
People look at photographs of church dignitaries shaking hands with Hitler or giving the Hitler salute and say “Aha!” There are no photographs of those sixteen pastors being taken away from their families, or doing heavy labor in a concentration camp. There isn’t a photo of a pastor being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and beaten by a gang of thugs. Photographs of Paul Schneider, the previously mentioned pastor who died in Buchenwald after disobeying an order from the Gestapo to leave his parish, are not prominently displayed by enemies of Christianity.
Schneider’s great sufferings in the camp, including being lashed for refusing to salute a Nazi flag, were reported by fellow prisoners. An official Buchenwald document sent to the camp headquarters and signed by an SS-Oberscharfuhrer stated that Paul Schneider began preaching from his cell window to the inmates lined up for morning roll call. He ignored the SS man’s command to stop and had to be taken away from the window by force. The document described this as “unbelievable behavior,” and it certainly must have been unique in the entire history of the Third Reich.
Walter Poller was a political prisoner in Buchenwald. He ended up working in the medical records department and after the war wrote a book about his experiences, The Medical Recorder of Buchenwald (Der Arztschreiber von Buchenwald). He stated that after Schneider preached from his solitary confinement cell to prisoners lined up for roll call, which happened more than once, “he was brought to the central square where roll call was taken. There he was whipped until the blood oozed through his clothes. And then he was dragged back to the solitary confinement building half-conscious.” He also described Schneider shortly before his murder by lethal injection in 1939: “The body was nothing but skin and bones, the arms were unshapely and swollen, on the wrists were bluish-red, green and bloody cuts. And the legs – they were no longer human legs but elephant legs . . . How was it possible that this man was still living?” Then the camp physician, one Dr. Ding, says “Why didn’t you let us know that you were sick, Schneider?”
Schneider is then given decent treatment for eight to ten days, during which time he “recovered surprisingly fast.” Then the doctor says to him, “ ‘Stop this nonsense, Schneider. You can see that you are treated properly when you fit into camp discipline.’ Paul Schneider does not answer, he only smiles, but his eyes are sparkling.” The doctor then offers to have Schneider released from solitary confinement, where (as he was able to relate to some orderlies during his treatment), he had been chained “for two weeks, day and night, without interruption, as if he had been nailed to a cross.” This would explain the swollen legs. An SS-guard named Sommer, whom Schneider had directly called “a murderer and a torturer,” had abused him the whole time.
Not long afterward, Schneider was murdered by injection. Poller did not directly witness it, but he saw the doctor with the injection needle and expected from past experience that Schneider was going to be killed. In the report on Schneider’s death, the doctor subsequently dictated “a completely false medical history he simply made up.” Possibly Schneider was killed because this last attempt to reform him failed, or else because his death had been decided on earlier and the treatment was only intended to improve his appearance, since the wife was allowed to view the body (the face and hands only were visible, the rest being covered by a blanket) and take it away in a casket for a full funeral ceremony.
Shirer’s Berlin Diary has an entry dated June 15, 1937, that speaks volumes: “Five more Protestant pastors arrested yesterday, including Jacobi from the big Gedaechtniskirche. Hardly keep up with the church war anymore since they arrested my informant, a young pastor; have no wish to endanger the life of another one.”  It is true that the great majority of pastors and priests never went to prison or a concentration camp. Some of them sincerely supported National Socialism, or just kept their anti-Nazi feelings to themselves. The few that did speak out, and did suffer, however, are given far too little attention.
 Rudolf Wentorf, Paul Schneider: Witness ofBuchenwald, trans. Daniel Bloesch (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2008), p. 307.
 Ibid., pp. 340-346 (all quotes).
 William L. Shirer, Berlin Diary(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941), p. 76.