Niemöller, Martin

views updated May 21 2018


Nationality: German. Born: Lippstadt, Westphalia, 14 January 1892. Education: Studied theology. Military Service: German Navy, beginning in 1910: midshipman, submarine commander during World War I. Family: Married Else (died 1961). Career: Lutheran minister, beginning in 1924. Pastor, St. Ann's parish in the Dahlem, 1931; organizer, Pfarrernotbund (Pastors' Emergency League, an anti-Nazi group of clergy), 1933; suspended from preaching, 1934; arrested by the Gestapo for treason, 1937; prisoner, Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps, 1937-45. President, office for foreign relations, Evangelical Church, 1945-56; president, Church province of Hesse and Nassau, 1947-64; cofounder, Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church); cofounder and president, 1961-68, World Council of Churches; participant, Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt. Also promoter of world peace. Awards: Lenin Peace prize, 1967; West German Grand Cross of Merit, 1971. Died: 6 March 1984.



Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel [From U-Boat to Pulpit]. 1933; revised edition, as From U-Boat to Concentration Camp, 1939.

Martin Niemöller: Briefe aus der Gefangenschaft Moabit [Letters from Moabit Prison]. 1975; as Exile in the Fatherland: Martin Niemöller's Letters from Moabit Prison, 1986.


Martin Niemöller und sein Bekenntnis. 1938.

Dennoch getrost (sermons). 1939.

Martin Niemöller über die deutsche Schuld, Not und Hoffnung. 1946.

Zur gegenwärtigen Lage der evangelischen Christenheit. 1946.

Das Aufgebrochene Tor: Predigten und Andachten gefangener Pfarrer im Konzentrationslager Dachau (sermons). 1946.

Die Aufgabe der evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland. 1953.

Können wir noch etwas tun zur friedlichen Wiedervereinigung unseres Volkes? 1955.

Martin Niemöller Reden 1955-1957. 1957.

Reden, 1945-1954. 1958.

Reden, 1958-1961. 1961.

Eine Welt oder keine Welt; Reden, 1961-1963. 1964.

Facing Jesus Christ: Martin Niemöller and Carson Blake Discuss the Mission of the Church, with Eugene Carson Blake. 1965.

Reden, Predigten, Denkanstösse, 1964-1976. 1977.

Was würde Jesus dazu sagen?: Reden, Predigten, Aufsätze 1937 bis 1980. 1980.

Martin Niemöller: Festschrift zum 90. 1982.

Martin Niemöller: Ein Lesebuch. 1987.

Erkundung gegen den Strom: 1952, with Jan Niemöller. 1988.


Critical Studies:

Martin Niemöller: The Bible in Dachau by Jennie Rowena Batten, 1951; God Is My Fuehrer: A Dramatic Interpretation of the Life of Martin Niemöller by Gordon C. Bennett, 1970; Martin Niemöller, 1892-1984 by James Bentley, 1984; "Memories of Martin Niemöller" by Ewart E. Turner, in Christian Century, 101, 25 April 1984, pp. 445-46; "The Political Theology of Martin Niemöller" by John S. Conway, in German Studies Review, 9(3), October 1986; Remembrance and Recollection: Essays on the Centennial Year of Martin Niemöller and Reinhold Niebuhr, and the Fiftieth Year of the Wannsee Conference by Hubert G. Locke and Marcia Sachs Littell, 1996; Martin Niemöller by Matthias Schreiber, 1997.

* * *

Martin Niemöller, German Lutheran pastor and a founder of the anti-Nazi Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church), part of the larger Lutheran and Reformed Church of Germany, was born in 1892 to Pastor Heinrich and Paula Niemöller in Lippstadt, Westphalia. Niemöller was raised in a strong Reformed tradition ("All my ancestors were Reformed") and in German nationalism, which left an indelible mark on his life. His patriotism and love of the sea motivated him to join the Kaiser's navy in 1910. He enlisted as an officer-cadet and served his country heroically as a German naval lieutenant and U-boat commander during the First World War. After the war he studied theology in Münster and was ordained by the Rt. Rev. Dr. Simon in 1924. Unable to find a pulpit position to his liking, he worked at social services for the Inner Mission in Westphalia, where he was not entirely satisfied, and in 1931 he accepted the position of third pastor of the historical St. Ann's parish in the Dahlem ("settlement on the mountain") suburb of Berlin. In spite of his nonpolitical Christian calling, ex-naval officer Niemöller never forgot nor forgave Germany's humiliation at the hands of the Allies and the imposed Treaty of Versailles, which, he believed, reduced Germany to occupied territory. With this in mind, he wrote his memoirs of the First World War, Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (1933; "From U-Boat to Pulpit"), in part to replace Germany's traumatic defeat and fragmentation by a program of national unity inspired by the duty of honor and the fatherland. At the end of his reminiscence, he saw hope from the "years of darkness" of the Weimar Republic in Adolf Hitler's National Socialist Party.

But Niemöller's support for Hitler (since 1923) was to end abruptly and permanently. Soon after Hitler ascended to power, Niemöller became disillusioned with the Nazi state sterilization law (25 July 1933), racial theories, and Nazification of the Protestant churches. On 21 September 1933 he and others protested the infamous Aryan paragraph of the church synod of Brandenburg, and two weeks later he organized the Pfarrernotbund (Pastors' Emergency League) to protect Lutheran pastors from the police. In 1934 he was one of the original organizers of the Barmen Synod, which produced the theological basis for the Confessing Church, and whose leadership he assumed in 1937. On 27 June 1937 he preached his last sermon at his church in Dahlem, and a few days later, on 1 July, he was arrested for his anti-Hitler sermons and incarcerated at Moabit prison. After eight months of imprisonment, he was acquitted of treason but was immediately seized by the Gestapo and placed in "protective custody" first at Sachsenhausen and later at Dachau. He was liberated by the Allied troops in early 1945.

After the war Niemöller became an adamant pacifist who opposed nuclear weapons and German rearmament. He advocated a reunited Germany and sought contacts in Eastern Europe. For these efforts he was awarded the Lenin Peace prize in 1967 and the West German Grand Cross of Merit in 1971. He is best known, however, for his resistance against Hitler and his advocacy of reconciliation, including his participation in the meeting that produced the Stuttgarter Schuldbekenntnis (19 October 1945; "Stuttgart Confession of Guilt"), acknowledging the German people's collective guilt for the Holocaust, as well as his election as one of the six presidents of the World Council of Churches, the ecumenical body of mainline Protestant denominations.

—Zev Garber

See the essay on Exile in the Fatherland: Martin Niemöller's Letters from Moabit Prison.

Niemöller, Martin

views updated May 23 2018

Niemöller, Martin (1892–1984). German pastor and Confessing Church leader. He was a submarine commander in the First World War, and later a pastor in Dahlem, a suburb of Berlin. He formed the Pastors' Emergency League to resist the Nazi takeover of church life, and this formed one basis for the Confessing Church. As an outspoken preacher against the regime, Niemöller was arrested by the Gestapo in 1937 and only freed from concentration camps in 1945. Into his 80s he remained an active leader of the Christian peace movement.

Niemöller, Martin

views updated Jun 27 2018

Niemöller, Martin (1892–1984) German Protestant minister and theologian. He opposed Hitler's creation of a “German Christian Church” and was arrested in 1938 because of his opposition to the Nazi Party. In 1961 he became a President of the World Council of Churches.

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