27 NISAN 5767

My name is Martin Siebert. I was born, reared and educated in Germany. I am a naturalized American citizen. I am a Christian theologian and a retired pastor of the United Church of Christ ( U.C.C. ). In 1977 I accepted a call from the German United Church of Christ in Seattle, WA. I am married to Heide, and we have a daughter, Margret, and a son, Hans-Joachim. Two granddaughters, Anna and Leni, our son-in-law, Guenther, and our daughter-in-law Sun Yong complete our family.

My family traces its pastoral lineage back for several generations. Ever since my time at the university I had a keen interest in studying Judaism, although the curriculum featured a predominantly Christian interpretation, which did not satisfy me. In Seattle I had the privilege to meet Jewish friends, Rabbis and scholars. As a person, who grew up in a rural community of the state of Hesse – Burghaun County of Huenfeld -, where Jewish life once flourished, and where I had witnessed as a young boy the destruction of the local Synagogue on Nov. 10, 1938, I was haunted by countless questions regarding Antisemitism and its abominable climax during the Nazi era. Neither my parents nor my teachers had prepared me for what I was about to learn when I talked to survivors of the Shoah and delved into volumes of primary sources of literature dealing with the ”Roots of Christian Antisemitism.” I found many answers to my questions, I read and heard many explanations, interpretations, prevarications, and excuses as to how, why, where , and when Yeshua’s movement of the first century C.E., a strictly Jewish movement, parted with Judaism and slowly but steadily developed to become Judaism’s worst and most persistent enemy. It was a rather slow process, finalized only during the first half of the 4th century C.E. (era of Constantine, Council of Nicaea etc.). Anti-Judaism in Christian theology and church history became one of my top preoccupations. At the end of the 19th century C.E. this Christian anti-Judaism had prepared the soil on which the racist Antisemitism could grow and flourish. Although the genocide of Jews during the Shoah was the work of Nazism, not Christianity, it has to be stated without a shred of doubt, that the perpetrators of the genocide were not a group apart from the majority of Germans, that most of them were baptized Christians, and that the ”Final Solution” would not have been possible without the prehistory of the religious anti-Judaism of the Christian church extending over almost 2000 years. Yet, the ”Final Solution” was a contradiction of everything faithful followers of the Christian gospel stand for. If I did not believe that, I would not concern myself with any of this, and I most definitely could not be a Christian.

In 1983 I accepted a call from First Congregational Church in Big Timber, Montana, where I served the U.C.C. until 2001. All those years in Montana I had close contacts with the small Jewish community, especially with the Jewish congregation in Billings. After serious soul-searching my wife and I decided to move to Germany in order to be closer to our daughter and her family.

My sister, Elisabeth Sternberg-Siebert, who lives as a retired teacher in our hometown Burghaun (see above) has done a great job in preserving the memories of the Jewish families of that town and the County of Huenfeld. E.g. tracing the roots and the fate of the Joseph Strauss Family in Huenfeld, she met Alfred Strauss and his daughter, Karen Strauss. Together they decided to publish the family’s history. On November 23, 2006 the book on the Strauss Family was presented to the public at City Hall in Huenfeld. Of the Strauss family Alfred and Karen were the special guests of honor at this occasion. I am responsible for most of the book’s translation into American vernacular, thus I felt already very close to Alfred and Karen prior to meeting them personally.

When we met, however, we became friends at first sight. Planning our annual trip to the U.S.A. we also were looking forward to meeting Alfred, Karen, and Teddy in Cliffside Park, N.J., scheduling our visit for April 13 to April 17, 2007. Since I hoped for an opportunity to get to know and talk to members of Alfred’s Synagogue, Alfred was instrumental in my being invited by Rabbi Warmflash of Congregation Gesher Shalom to be the speaker at the Yom Hashoah Memorial Service at the Jewish Community Center of Fort Lee on April 15, 2007. For this opportunity I wish to thank Rabbi Warmflash, Alfred Strauss, and the members of Gesher Shalom from the bottom of my heart. I felt truly privileged.

The Yom Hashoah Memorial Service was a deeply moving and emotional experience for Heide and me, and after Karen had introduced me to the congregation, it was not easy for me to keep my composure. The solemnity of the service was overwhelming! I had the feeling that an academic lecture was not appropriate, thus I decided to change the format of my presentation. Since my sister’s book ”Jewish Life in the County of Huenfeld – The Joseph Strauss Family in Huenfeld” was part of Karen’s introducing me to the congregation, I shared my ”Words to Alfred”, which I spoke to him on November 23, 2006 on occasion of the festive presentation of said book to the public at City Hall in Huenfeld.

The following is the address to the Congregation Gesher Shalom given during the Yom Hashoah Memorial Service on April 15, 2007 – 27 Nisan 5767.

Dear Rabbi Warmflash, dear members of Congregation Gesher Shalom,

I want to thank Rabbi Warmflash for inviting me to speak to you during this truly awesome Memorial Service. I want to thank Alfred for recommending me to the Rabbi, and I want to thank Karen for introducing me to you so warmly. Karen also said some appropriate words about this book, which tells the story of her family. My sister wrote this book also as a tribute to all the other Jewish families of the County of Huenfeld, Germany. It is because of this book that I stand before you on this solemn occasion, and therefore I want to share with you what I said to Alfred on the night of November 23, 2006, when this book was presented to the public:

Dear Alfred,

what I want to say to you tonight I could have told you personally over coffee, but I’d like to do it in public for everyone to hear.

First of all I want to thank you for having allowed me to partake in your life’s journey by translating your very own and your family’s story. I consider it a privilege! Believe me, there were quite a few tearful moments, and many a time I just thought ”why?” Then, however, I realized that the two of us have quite some basic things in common, and that I want to share with you here and now:

You and I are almost the same age. Both of us were born in places just a couple of miles apart, you were a ”Huenfelder”, I was a ”Burghauner”. Both of us were born into God-fearing families of German nationality. Your family was Jewish, mine was Christian. When we were born neither you nor I could know what that meant. Unfortunately we should find out as we were about to grow up. By the time you started school Jews were not considered Germans any longer, rather a wicked race, Germany’s misfortune, a cancer within society that had to be eradicated. The Christian churches had been preaching Antisemitism for almost 2000 years, although they called it differently. Nevertheless the Nazis’ hatred of the Jews grew on well prepared and fertile soil. The Shoah/ Holocaust could not and would not have happened without the preparatory anti-Jewish teaching and preaching of the Christian churches. When you entered Grade School, you began to realize what Antisemitism was all about, and because you were Jewish you were singled out together with your people for destruction. Yours was not a carefree childhood, you had to grow up fast, pull up stakes, and hide from those people who were supposed to be neighbors! Finally, when the most evil ”Reich” was reduced to rubble, SIX MILLION Jews had perished, among them your sister Milly, many relatives and friends. Among the other millions of war victims was my brother Hans, who died right here at the train station during an air raid on November 21, 1944.

While all this was happening, while you were living in hiding and constant fear of being caught, I was allowed to grow up, go to school, play with my friends, enjoy life as much as possible, because I was born into a Christian family. That’s not fair, is it!!! But that’s the way it was!

You and I, although for different reasons and under different circumstances, emigrated to the U.S. of A., and both of us became American citizens by choice. See, we do have a lot in common! You came back to your former hometown and courageously began to write a new chapter in Huenfeld’s history, a chapter of reconciliation and new friendships. Alfred, I am proud of you, and Huenfeld is too, I’m sure! I don’t know if I could have done it, but that doesn’t matter anyway, because you did it; thank you!

Alfred and I also remember traumatic events which occurred while we were just young boys, growing up in the same county. However, these events had quite different consequences for our and our families’ future. One of these traumatic events is ”Kristallnacht” (Week of Broken Glass): I turned five years old on November 10, 1938; it was also my father’s birthday. I cannot forget the smoke and the ashes from the Synagogue of my hometown Burghaun! Sometime during the forenoon hours we were standing in front of our parsonage watching a big cloud of smoke hovering above town. Ashes fell slightly like soiled snow. Only a few hours earlier local members of the NSDAP and the Hitler Youth had set Burghaun’s Synagogue on fire. Most of the arsonists were also members of our church; my father was the pastor. I know of only one Roman Catholic among the perpetrators. Even as a five-year-old boy I knew that something of enormous proportions was happening.

On that day in November of 1938 hundreds of Synagogues were burned to the ground all over Germany; seven thousand Jewish businesses were destroyed, some ninety Jewish people were killed, and approximately thirty thousand were hauled off to concentration camps for ”protective custody.” History euphemistically terms these events ”Kristallnacht” (Crystal Night) after the sound of shattering glass, but those who lived through it remember much more than a few shards of broken glass: There were the crackling flames and the smell of smoke from the burning Synagogues; the cries of Jewish women, men, and children as their countrymen beat them up. All this happened in cities, towns and villages across Germany. The nationwide violence at that time was unprecedented in modern German history. What was it that triggered the frenzy of ”Kristallnacht?” The Nuremberg Laws of September 1935 had already made explicit the elimination of Jews from a civil or social existence in Germany, thus creating a total separation between Jews and ”Aryan” Germans. The ”Reich Citizenship Law and Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor” had stripped the Jews of their citizenship and prohibited new marriages between Jews and Germans (a similar law was once enacted at the 4th Lateran Council of 1215).

In the fall of 1938 the German Government issued orders according to which all Polish Jews residing in Germany were to be deported across the border to Poland by October 29, 1938. Earlier that year, however, Poland had passed a law which denaturalized all Polish nationals who had been living outside of Poland for a period of five years ore more, thus making some fifty thousand Polish Jews in Germany stateless. German police forces and members of the Secret State Police (GESTAPO) herded these Jewish people into camps near the Polish border, where they languished under deplorable conditions. Poland would not let them in, and the Germans wanted them out!

Among these Polish Jews was the Grynszpan family, who had been living in Hanover since 1914. Their seventeen-year-old son by the name of Hershel was living at that time with relatives in Paris. In an attempt to protest the treatment of his family and their co-sufferers, he decided to send a message of outrage to the world. He obtained a handgun, managed to somehow enter the German Embassy in Paris, walked into the office of legation secretary Ernst vom Rath, shot him twice, wounding him seriously. This shooting sent shock waves through the Jewish community in Germany. The media immediately demanded retaliation for Grynszpan’s crime. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, called for ”the sharpest measures against the Jews.” He urged other nations to unite ”for ruthless war against the international menace and against Jewish murder and Jewish crime.” Word went out to the NSDAP leadership all over the ”Reich” to launch spontaneous assaults against the Jews. In the afternoon hours of November 9, 1938 Ernst vom Rath died, and the retaliation started. The frenzy enveloped all of Germany until late afternoon of November 10, when a radio announcement by Goebbels stated that the anti-Jewish action was called off after having accomplished its ”desired and expected purpose.”

After ”Kristallnacht” no German old enough to count to three could ever plead ignorance to the persecution of the Jews, and no Jew could harbor any delusion that Hitler wanted Germany anything but ”judenrein”, which means clean of Jews.

In the months that followed ”Kristallnacht” approximately 150,000 German Jews, leaving behind almost everything they ever owned, fled Germany, as many as had left Germany between 1933 and the first half of 1938. Of the 164,000 Jews still living in Germany 123,000 perished in KZs (concentration camps). This number pales beside the number of Polish, Russian, and other European Jews, some SIX MILLION total. Among the victims were more than ONE MILLION Jewish children ruthlessly murdered by the Nazis.

Volumes upon volumes have been written about the Shoah and the development of Antisemitism. Antisemitism was the hate that fueled the Nazi movement. From the moment Hitler took power, Jews were under siege throughout Germany. Hitler’s book ”Mein Kampf” (My Struggle) is permeated with Antisemitism. At the end of the second chapter he writes: ”Today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. By defending myself against the Jew I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” Blasphemy at its worst!

Indeed, Hitler and the Nazis blamed the Jews for all the nation’s misfortune. This blame was supported by the centuries old belief, based mainly on church teaching, that the Jew is a conspirator, always out to exploit, and eventually destroy the host country. To Hitler the defeat of Germany in WW I, the Versailles Treaty, the rise of Communism, the worldwide depression, unemployment, and moral decay was the Jews’ fault. Antisemitism played the central role in Hitler’s political thought and agitation, and it remained his policy to the end.

For Hitler and his ilk history was a struggle of races, and the one ”race” above all, which had to be conquered and exterminated, was international Jewry, public enemy number one. ”The Jews are our misfortune!” That was the battle cry of the Nazis, however, that slogan was not coined by them at all, rather by the Reformer Martin Luther. In 1543 Luther wrote his diatribe ”On the Jews and their Lies.” In the English version on page 265 Luther writes: ”We do not know to the present day which devil brought them into our country …they are a heavy burden, a plague, a pestilence, a sheer misfortune to our country.” ( Luther’s Works, The Christian in Society IV, Volume 47).

In this very same diatribe Luther proposes how to deal with the Jews: ”First, to set fire to their Synagogues or schools and to cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his son and of his Christians.” (page 268). He then advises to destroy their houses, confiscate all cash and treasure of silver and gold etc., ”then eject them forever from the country …, in any case, away with them!” The Nazis had only to add the extermination camps. What a horrifying consequence!

At the Nuremberg War Criminals’ Trial (1945-46) the notorious Nazi leader, Julius Streicher, - publisher of the Nazi magazine ”Der Stuermer” – argued that Martin Luther should be tried, because they, the Nazis, had only executed what Martin Luther had asked for.

Worldwide Lutheranism has long since deeply regretted Luther’s pugnacious writings! ”Those who study and admire Luther should acknowledge unequivocally that his anti-Jewish writings are beyond any defense. (WCC Publications, Geneva 1988, 69, quoted from ”The Theology of the Churches and the Jewish People) –

When the Synagogues burned on November 10, 1938 it was Martin Luther’s 455th birthday. Bishop Martin Sasse of Thuringia, a leading protestant clergy, published a compendium of Martin Luther’s vitriol shortly after ”Kristallnacht”. In the foreword he applauded the burning of the Synagogues and the date on which it happened: ”On November 10, 1938, on Luther’s birthday, the Synagogues are burning in Germany.” The German people ought to heed the words ”of the greatest anti-Semite of his time, Luther, the warner of his people against the Jews.” So it is no great surprise that quite a few prominent church leaders supported radical measures against the Jews. Were they not the ”deicide race”, the ”Christ killers”, the ”Children of the Devil”? History shows, that both the Nazis and the Christians of Germany, either by their collaboration or silence, seemed to agree before 1941 (prior to the Wannsee Conference) that the Jews should suffer all the discrimination, expropriation, and the expulsion from society as part of ”God’s plan” for them. It pains me to say this, but the truth is, that for the majority of Christians worldwide, the God of History was at work when it came to Jewish suffering, and in Germany his special agent was Hitler. Yes, the majority of Christian theologians, church leaders, and common church folk suspended their very own standards of decency when it came to the Jews. Even at a time when Jews were already exterminated in Auschwitz and other concentration camps the Breslau Synod of the Confessing Prussian Church stated in October of 1943 that Jews should not be harmed, for God, not man, will punish these ”rejectors of God’s Christ”. ( Quoted by Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth, p. 249). This attitude of theological hostility toward the Jews was prevalent even among the bravest and brightest among theologians like Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemoeller, to name just a few. It was Martin Niemöller who made a striking confession of guilt back in 1946, when he lectured in Zuerich/ Switzerland: ”Christianity in Germany bears a greater responsibility before God then the National Socialists, the SS. and the Gestapo. We ought to have recognized the Lord Jesus in the Brother who suffered and was persecuted despite him being a Jew. Are not we Christians much more to blame, am I not much more guilty than any who bathes their hands in blood?” Certainly a powerful statement, but too little too late!!!

Prof. Hans Kueng, world-renowned Roman Catholic theologian and expert on world religions writes in his book ”Judaism Between Yesterday and Tomorrow”: ”The racist Antisemitism which reached its climax of terrorism in the Holocaust would not have been possible without the prehistory of the religious anti-Judaism of the Christian Church extending over almost 2000 years. Racist Antisemitism is a pseudo-.scientific bastard born and reared in the 19th century.” (p.236) – I mentioned this already, but here is the correct quotation -.

Neither of the Churches (protestant & rom. Catholic) spoke out on behalf of the Jews, they left them to their fate.

What would have happened if hundreds of Christians in official positions had acted as did the District President of the East Prussian district of Schlossberg, Wichard von Bredow? After he received the news that all the Synagogues in Germany were going to be set on fire, and that the fire brigade and police were not to intervene, he put on his army uniform and said farewell to his wife, the mother of their five children. He told her: ”I am going to the Synagogue in Schniewindt and, as a Christian and a German, mean to prevent one of the greatest crimes within my jurisdiction:” When the SA, SS, and party members arrived to set fire to the Synagogue, the District President was already standing in front of it. He drew his pistol. The way into the Synagogue would be over his dead body. The arsonists withdrew. That Synagogue was the only one in the region to remain intact. Without doubt many other heroic actions of this kind could be reported from the years of terror between 1933 and 1945. But they remained exceptions. (Kueng, p. 241) Even this isolated incident shows that resistance did work.

Resistance did at least succeed in deterring the Nazis from one of their other evil plans: 70,000 ”undesirable” people under German authority were put to death in a Nazi euthanasia program. It was slated to kill hundreds of thousands more. However, the Nazis’ policy was stopped by the protest of the Churches, with key roles played by the Roman Catholic Bishop, von Galen, of Muenster, and the Protestant Bishop, Wurm, of Stuttgart. In an August 3, 1941 sermon von Galen said: ”If they start out by killing the insane, it can well be extended to the old, the infirm, sick, and seriously crippled soldiers.” Von Galen applied the term ”murder” to the program. The Nazis wanted to retaliate against him – by the way he had the support from many clergy and the Vatican -, but they were afraid of losing the whole population of Westphalia to the Nazi cause. Three weeks after von Galen’s sermon Hitler ordered the halt of the euthanasia program. Now, was the fate of the Jews so different from the fate of the planned victims of the euthanasia program? Euthanasia, matters of Church prerogatives, power, and doctrine, crucifixes on schoolroom walls qualified for Church protest, Jews did not. The contrast speaks for itself. ”Had the Nazi hierarchy encountered unambiguous and sustained revulsion by non-Jewish Germans at their anti-Semitic policies,” the historian Deborah E. Lipstadt concluded, ”there probably would have been no Final Solution.” (quoted from ”Constantine’s Sword, The Church and the Jews” by James Carroll, First Mariner Books edition 2002, p. 30). Even years after WW II –even today- too many people in Germany and worldwide did not and do not want to see that their passivity, their role as bystanders, had effectively become collaboration.

Worldwide the Christian Churches had beaten a path of anti-Judaism on which the Nazis of Germany would follow. The Nazis added to that path the ”Final Solution” and the ”Final Destination” – they added AUSCHWITZ!

For centuries to come Auschwitz will stand for brutal and total extermination of SIX MILLION lives, each one of them created in the image of the God of love. I do understand why to Jews the Christian cross at Auschwitz, which allegedly is a sign of repentance and reconciliation, feels more like a slap in the face of world Jewry.

Even today, sixty-nine years after ”Kristallnacht”, Antisemitism is still alive and thriving throughout the world. Ignorance and loss of memory foster ancient hatreds as the horrors of ”Kristallnacht” and the death camps recede. There are so-called Christian movements which preach explicit Antisemitism (e.g. The Church of Jesus Christ Aryan Nations, The Church of the Creator et al.). There are also millions of Christians, here and abroad, who are exposed to subtle Antisemitism preached from pulpits or taught in Bible classes. My own observation tells me that too many preachers have little or no knowledge of Judaism and continue to stereotype and generalize where certain New Testament texts need profound criticism, proper differentiation, and re-evaluation in light of new theological research and exegesis. It is certainly easier to deal with overt Antisemitism than with the covert kind preached from the pulpit.

In his memoirs, written for our family, my father writes of ”Kristallnacht” that he, my mother, and many others in our community were totally shocked, and at the same time felt utterly helpless. He also admits that he does not remember whether he commented on the vicious deed in his next sermon. ”If I mentioned it at all it was in a coded manner!” However, he praises the few brave ones in the community who publicly denounced ”Kristallnacht” as an act of barbarism. It surely is of interest to note that none of these brave ones faced any kind of reprisal. In a conversation with my father, it must have been in the late eighties, he said to me in a very subdued manner: ”Martin, almost all of us failed the Jews, we failed our common God, and we failed Jesus the Jew!” I shall always cherish this late confession.

On December 9, 1941 the majority of Burghaun’s Jewish citizens were deported to Riga. Alfred’s parents were among them as well as other members of his immediate family. Miraculously Alfred’s parents survived, his sister Emilie (Milly) was murdered.

Today I mourn especially those whom I knew. I have a list with their names, birth dates, and their final destination: Fifteen times I read Auschwitz! I also read Minsk, Theresienstadt, Riga, Sobibor, Bergen Belsen, and Stutthof. These are some of the most infamous places where women, men, and children who once were my neighbors were brutally murdered. They were murdered by their fellow countrymen the majority of whom were most likely baptized Christians.

I shall conclude this commemorative address with a verdict on the attitude of the German people and the Churches written in a letter by the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Konrad Adenauer, to Pastor Dr. Bernard Custodis of Bonn, which reads as follows: ”In my view the German people and also the bishops and clergy bear a good deal of blame for what went on in the concentration camps. It is correct that later perhaps there was not a lot that could be done. The guilt lies earlier. The German people, and also to a great extent the bishops and clergy, succumbed to the National Socialist agitation. They allowed themselves to be co-ordinated… without resisting, indeed sometimes with enthusiasm. That is where the guilt lies. Moreover people also knew – even if they did not know the whole extent of what went on in the camps – that personal freedom, every principle of law, was being trampled under foot; that the Gestapo, our SS, and also some of our troops in Poland and Germany were committing unspeakable atrocities on the civil population. The pogroms against the Jews in 1933 and 1938 took place in full public view. The murder of hostages in France was announced to us officially. So it cannot really be claimed that the public knew nothing, that the National Socialist government and the army leaders in principle constantly offended against natural law, against the Hague Convention and against the simplest demands of humanity. … I believe that if all the bishops had together made public statements from the pulpit on a particular day, they could have prevented a great deal. That did not happen, and there is no excuse for it. It would have been no bad thing if the bishops had all been put in prison or in concentration camp(s) as a result. Quite the contrary. But none of that happened and therefore it is best to keep quiet.” ( Hans Kueng, Judaism, p. 243f ).

Best to keep quiet? With that Adenauer was absolutely wrong since this kind of silence only furthered the repression of guilt in state and church after the war.

Dear friends at Gesher Shalom, in the year 2000 Pope John Paul II went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and there he unexpectedly crossed a bridge of hope and shalom when after his visit to Yad Vashem he went to the Western Wall. James Carroll writes in ”Constantine’s Sword” on page 109f as follows: ”For the pope to stand in devotion before that remnant of the Temple, for him to offer a prayer that did not invoke the name of Jesus, for him to leave a sorrowful kvitel, a written prayer, in a crevice of the wall, in Jewish custom, was the single most momentous act of his papacy. It was a culmination of the slow reversal of ancient Christian denigration not only of the Temple but of the Jews who had, as the scholar Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi writes, constructed ‘memory temples … out of ruins of their material existence.’ That denigration has been the essence of supersessionism, and the source of Antisemitism. The pope’s unprecedented presence in Jerusalem had said, in effect, that the Catholic Church honors Jews at home in Israel – a rejection of the ancient Christian attachment to the myth of Jewish wandering, even if Catholic ambivalence about the Jewish state seems less than fully resolved. But whatever political problems remain, a threshold has been crossed. The pope’s religious devotion at the Western Wall was an unmistakable act of affirmation of the Temple, and of God’s unbroken covenant with the Jewish people today.” Friends, there is hope for the world because ”tikkun olam” might truly become the common denominator for Jews and Christians to work together as God’s cooperators with equal rights.

As long as I am being granted the privilege to walk on the face of this earth I shall not forget those who perished because their Christian neighbors chose not to live up to the demands of ”tikkun olam”, the healing of this wounded world. Thank you!

Martin H. Siebert

Im Weidengrund 10

31226 Peine-Schwicheldt




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