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Matthew Hockenos – Then They Came For Me,

Martin Niemoller, The Pastor Who Defied the Nazis


"A gripping biography."-- Wall Street Journal


"Hockenos's impressively nuanced study captures a major 20th-century religious leader and his contradictions."-- Publishers Weekly


·       Professor & Chair, Department of History, Skidmore College, NY

·       Harriet Johnson Toadvine '56 Chair in 20th-Century History

·     Earned Fulbright, Mellon, and other grants for his scholarship

·     Charles Revson Foundation Fellowship: Antisemitism and the Berlin Judenmission 1933-1950s

·       Author: A Church Divided, German Protestants Confront the Nazi Past

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Episode #1

Q: Then They Came For Me – Professor Matthew Hockenos – INTRO:


  • Studied Modern German History

  • Specifically regarding Protestant Church

  • Came across Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • Nazi Era Church

  • Led to Martin Niemoller

Episode #2

Q: What were the Early Influences that shaped Martin Niemoller?


  • Born into family dedicated to Nationalism

  • Conservative Prussian Protestant

  • Father a pastor

  • Studies in Naval Academy

  • Serves as U-Boat Commander in WWI

  • Went too divinity school

  • Becomes a Lutheran Pastor

  • Disillusioned by Weimar Republic

  • Supports Free Corps & Nazis

Episode #3

Q: Why did Niemoller change from Nazi supporter to opponent?


  • Niemoller ecstatic at Hitler’s rise in 1933

  • Believed Nazis would be conservative

  • Hitler supports German Christian Movement

  • Aryan Racial Christianity versus traditionalists

  • Nazis aim to eliminate basic dogma

  • Niemoller opposed these new policies

Episode #4

Q: What were PEL & The Confessing Church?


  • July 1933 Church elections

  • Pastors Emergency League (PEL) set up Sept. 1993

  • PEL opposed Nazi supported German Church

  • Advances Scripture, Reformation Confession

  • Institutes 4 part anti-Aryan Pledge

  • PEL morphs into Confessing Church

Episode #5

Q: Did Niemoller’s defiance extend to non-Protestants?


  • Niemoller’s opposition was focused on Protestants

  • Catholics had reached Concordat with Hitler

  • Confessing Church secret memo to Hitler 1936

  • Attacked Nazi anti-Semitism

  • But anti-Semitism on Christians          

Episode #6

Q: What was Niemoller’s experience in the concentration camps?


  • Spoke openly from pulpit

  • Critical of Nazi regime

  • Arrested July 1937

  • Held in Gestapo HQ, moved to Moabit Prison

  • February 1938 trial; guilty of using pulpit for politics

  • Himmler sends Niemoller to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

  • Extremely difficult conditions 1938-1941

  • Moved to Dachau in July 1941

Episode #7

Q: What was Niemoller’s initial postwar mission?


  • Taken  by SS to Italy

  • Liberated by Americans

  • Still had Nationalistic orientation

  • Critical reception to 1945 interview

  • Pressure to confess on behalf of Church

  • Experiences shift / turnaround

  • Confesses guilt & suffering caused by Germany

  • Helps author the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt

Episode #8

Q: Did Niemoller engage in post-war Christin-Jewish reconciliation?


  • 1946 Speaking tour in Germany

  • Famous “They Came for Me” Confession

  • Spent 5 months on USA speaking tour

  • Little contact with USA Jewish leaders

  • Participated in Berlin Conference 1948 – Leo Baeck

  • 1950 Synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany

  •  “Statement on its Guilt against Israel”

Episode #9

Q: Why wasn’t Niemoller a post-war German political leader?


  • Thousands of supporters during concentration camp years

  • Considered by many as possible post-war political leader

  • 1945 Naples “nationalistic” interview decreased popularity

  • Active Church leader

  • Importance of Church role in society

  • Faith based activism

Episode #10

Q: Why did Niemoller become an anti-war pacifist?


  • 1948-1954  Foreign Minister of Protestant Church

  • Connects with Fellowship of Reconciliation

  • Impacted by Korean War

  • Fear of conflict between East and West Germany

  • Critic of Vietnam War

  • Evolves to progressive, anti-nuke pacifist

Episode #11

Q: Why study the life of Martin Niemoller?


  • Niemoller’s famous confession resonates

  • Prominent place in USA Holocaust Museum

  • Danger of indifference to oppressed

  • Need to speak out against injustice, anti-Semitism

  • Ability to reflect and change

  • Power to evolve politically and morally

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Full Interview - Matthew Hockenos

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