Martin Niemöller bigraphy, stories - President, Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau (1945–1961), President, World Council of Churches (1961–1968)

Martin Niemöller : biography

14 January 1892 - 6 March 1984

Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller (14 January 1892 – 6 March 1984) was a German anti-Nazi theologian"Niemöller, (Friedrich Gustav Emil) Martin" The New Encyclopædia Britannica (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1993), 8:698. and Lutheran pastor. He is best known for his statement "First they came...".

Although he was a national conservative and initially a supporter of Adolf Hitler, he became one of the founders of the Confessional Church, which opposed the nazification of German Protestant churches. He vehemently opposed the Nazis' Aryan Paragraph,Martin Stöhr, „…habe ich geschwiegen“. Zur Frage eines Antisemitismus bei Martin Niemöller, http://www.lomdim.de/md2006/05/04.html but made remarks about Jews that some scholars have called antisemitic.Robert Michael, Theological Myth, German Antisemitism, and the Holocaust: The Case of Martin Niemoeller, Holocaust Genocide Studies.1987; 2: 105–122. For his opposition to the Nazis' state control of the churches, Niemöller was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945.F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 975 sub loco He narrowly escaped execution and survived imprisonment. After his imprisonment, he expressed his deep regret about not having done enough to help the victims of the Nazis. He turned away from his earlier nationalistic beliefs and was one of the initiators of the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt. From the 1950s on, he was a vocal pacifist and anti-war activist, and vice-chair of War Resisters' International from 1966 to 1972.Devi Prasad, War is a Crime against Humanity: the Story of War Resisters' International, London: War Resisters' International, 2005 He met with Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War and was a committed campaigner for nuclear disarmament.

Release and postwar activities

In late April 1945 Niemöller was transferred to Tyrol together with about 140 other prominent inmates, where the SS left the prisoners behind. He was liberated by the Fifth U.S. Army on May 5, 1945. According to Lammersdorf, there had been some attempts to whitewash his past, which were, however, soon followed by harsh criticism because of his role as a NSDAP supporter and his attitude toward the Jews. Niemöller himself never denied his own guilt in the time of the Nazi regime. In 1959, he was asked about his former attitude toward the Jews by Alfred Wiener, a Jewish researcher into racism and war crimes committed by the Nazi regime. In a letter to Wiener, Niemöller stated that his eight-year imprisonment by the Nazis became the turning point in his life, after which he viewed things differently.

Niemöller was president of the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau from 1947 to 1961. He was one of the initiators of the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt, signed by leading figures in the German Protestant churches. The document acknowledged that the churches had not done enough to resist the Nazis. Harold Marcuse (Professor of History at UC Santa Barbara), introduction to and translation of the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt, accessed July 30, 2006.

Under the impact of a meeting with Otto Hahn (who has been called the "father of nuclear chemistry") in July 1954, Niemöller became an ardent pacifist and campaigner for nuclear disarmament.Hans Karl Rupp, "Niemöller, Martin",in The World Encyclopedia of Peace.Edited by Linus Pauling, Ervin László, and Jong Youl Yoo. Oxford : Pergamon, 1986. ISBN 0-08-032685-4, (vol 2, p.45-6). He was soon a leading figure in the post-war German peace movement and was even brought to court in 1959 because he had spoken about the military in a very unflattering way.WDR online: His visit to North Vietnam's communist ruler Ho Chi Minh at the height of the Vietnam War caused an uproar. Niemöller also took active part in protests against the Vietnam War and the NATO Double-Track Decision.

In 1961, he became president of the World Council of Churches. He earned the Lenin Peace Prize in 1966.

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