Six years before Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazis in 1945, Paul Schneider was imprisoned, tortured, starved, and given a large overdose of strophanthin, which killed him. Who was Paul Schneider?
Schneider was a WWI veteran and also a Reformed pastor in Germany during the 1920’s and 30’s. He came out of the liberal circles of higher criticism to embrace the truths of Scripture recovered in the Protestant Reformation. He was well-respected by his parishioners because he preached the truths of the Scriptures without compromise and he was often seen (and heard!) on his trusty motorcycle visiting the people under his pastoral care.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, Schneider refused to use the greeting “Heil Hitler” because he considered it a form of idolatry. From the outset, Schneider was against the “German Christian” movement because it adopted and accepted Nazi ideology. Schneider openly criticized Nazism; however, the elders of his first church would not back him up and he was forced to leave and take another pastorate.
Schneider was rebuked by the Nazis many times between 1933 and 1936. When the Confessing Church in Germany issued a statement, the Gestapo ordered him not to read it in church. He refused to listen to the Gestapo, and was imprisoned for four days. Even after much pressure from the Nazis, Schneider refused to vote in favor of the German occupation of Rhineland. He later was thrown in prison illegally. When released, Schneider had the chance to disappear, but he would not abandon his post – nor could he give in to the unjust and illegal actions of the Nazi party. So he went back to his church to preach the Word.
However, his time was very short. As he drove to preach for the evening service of his first Sunday back, he was stopped, arrested, and imprisoned by German police. In prison, Schneider had a Bible and at one point he asked his wife Gretel for a copy of the Reformed creeds and confessions. Also in prison, along with many of the other inmates, he was treated brutally. One time, on Hitler’s 49th birthday, the prisoners were lined up and ordered to take off their berets and show honor to the Nazi flag on display. Schneider did not remove his beret. He was beaten to a pulp and put into solitary confinement for a hellish fifteen months (in a 4×10 cell).
Though his body was broken, his faith was not. He preached the message of the gospel to those in cells around him. For this he was beaten again and again. After countless other beatings and a lethal injection, Schneider was murdered in 1939.
Why did he speak about Christ in that situation? His answer:
“Somebody has to preach God’s Word in this hell.”
One surviving prisoner who heard Schneider preach later said,
“In my estimation he was the only man in Germany who, overcoming all human fear, so consciously took on himself the cross of Christ even to death.”
You can read more about Schneider – and other Christians who went through WWII – in this excellent book: War and Grace by Don Stephens. These are edifying stories for sure. And by the way, your kids (roughly ages 8-12) will also appreciate these stories, though you may have to do a little editing (for ease of listening) while you read. Highly recommended!
The above quotes and history is found in chapter 2 of War and Grace.
rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)