The Only ‘Enemy Casualty’
By Joyce Palmer Ralph
Adolf Sannwald--his name is there among the 697 Harvard students and faculty killed in World War II. They are listed on the great marble wall at Memorial Church, Harvard University. But by his name alone are there the words "Enemy casualty". Those two words were arresting, thought-provoking. Was that designation simply descriptive, or was it indicting--and indicting of whom or what? My eye kept returning to that name as I sat in the reverberant quiet of a friend's funeral service in the Chapel.
The names are arranged under the names of the schools at Harvard from which they were graduated or taught; the Sannwald name was under "Divinity School". German, from the School of Theology--could he have been part of the Confessing Church, that movement within the Lutheran Church that opposed Hitler? Could he have known Dietrich Bonhoeffer?
Bonhoeffer, immeasurably significant in his role as Protestant theologian, pastor and bulwark of the Confessing Church, was imprisoned for opposition to Hitler. He was executed because of his connection with those who tried to assassinate Hitler. Could this Sannwald have been a German resister as well? But he died under fire, an "enemy casualty". Perhaps he was serving as a German chaplain. What was his story?
I began making phone calls to any office at Harvard that might have any related information. Staff members at the at the Alumni Records Office tirelessly gleaned their computer files and found that Adolf Sannwald had attended the University as a theology graduate student from 1924 to 1925, and that he was killed at Orel on the Russian front on June 6, 1943. The next clue came from the Executive Secretary at the Divinity School. She recalled that Sannwald's name had been used by Chaplain Peter Gomes in a sermon illustration on the occasion of a Memorial Day observance a few years ago. She found a copy of that sermon and mailed it to me and also noted that there was an edition of what might be Sannwald's doctoral thesis in the collection at Widener Library. This was a promising start, but for many months, it would provide my only glimpse of the man. But that glimpse was enough to sustain and encourage my search.
I read and re-read the two paragraphs from the sermon. In it, Chaplain Gomes called attention to the presence on the North Wall of the memorial plaque to the German dead of World War I who had been Harvard students. The translation of the elegant Latin inscription reads, translated: "Harvard University has not forgotten its other sons, who under opposing colors, also gave their lives in the Great War". ("Great" War: the very designation connotes something beyond size--a frightful, manly innocence.) The inclusion of those names, championed by then Chairman of the Board of Preachers, Willard Sperry, was controversial at the time, in 1931. But the graceful wording of the World War I plaque contrasted starkly with that one German name almost brusquely designated "Enemy casualty" on that marble wall across the room. Another war, another time--Hitler. I could well believe reports that there had been a huge controversy in 1951, when it was “revealed” at the unveiling that there was included the name of a German soldier.
Chaplain Gomes told in his sermon how Adolf Sannwald’s daughter Adelheid had written a letter to him after she at last had had the opportunity to visit the chapel. (A daughter…. in Germany now perhaps?) She told the chaplain of her gratification at seeing her father's name memorialized; she told also of her great distress at the designation next to it. Her father, she explained, had returned to Germany in the 1920's, become a Lutheran pastor and a member of the Confessing Church. As the full horror of National Socialism took shape in the 1930's, he had consistently spoken and preached against Hitler, so that he was "noticed" and in retribution, drafted into Hitler's Army where he was killed on the Russian Front. She felt her father had been "a patriot in the same Western liberal values" as the Allies, and that he had died for those values.
Microfilm records from the "Harvard Crimson" of 1950-51 revealed the controversy of nearly a half-century ago. World War II was over, and the question arose: How would Harvard best memorialize the sacrifice of the 697 students, alumni and faculty who had been killed around the world, from Europe to the Far East? Seventy-five thousand dollars had been allocated by 1946, enough to add a wing to an existing building or to endow a substantial number of scholarships, establish a fund---or to erect a "large plaque".
The debate was vigorous. The Crimson sided with those who wanted "something practical." Nonetheless, the committee of alumni, headed by Senator Leverett Saltonstall, determined on a plaque, so as to have an appropriate counterpart of the hauntingly lovely room that is a memorial to World War I dead. In that room, there is a statue of recumbent, fallen knight, at his head a grieving woman. The walls are emblazoned with the names of the Harvard men who died in that war.
An old newspaper photo shows one of the crew of eight stonecutters painstakingly etching one more letter in one more name in the World War Memorial II which had been designed by architect, Henry Sheply, Class of 1910. Completion was scheduled for the fall of 1950, but, as the caption beneath explains, the difficulty of working the rough marble and the necessity of adding the names of those who, since 1946, had died from their wounds--this would lead to a year's delay.
Finally, on Sunday, November 13, 1951, the plaque was unveiled. Episcopal Presiding Bishop, Henry Knox Sherill preached a sermon condemning "a recent tendency to speak of the futility of sacrifices made in the Second World War and warning that, though we were now faced with a new [post-war] danger, we should not forget our deliverance from an earlier one."
Then someone must have read all the names. A week and half later, a front page news article reads: "War Plaque Lists German Chaplain". The writer was evidently affronted by this "direct contradiction to the University's policy in the World War I memorial plaque." In 1931, the Crimson had championed the incorporation of the German names. A compromise had been worked out: a separate listing, discreetly put on another wall. This time there had been "neither discussion nor comment about as the inclusion of an Axis casualty." The Crimson had tracked down the biographical material on this alien name: member of the Class of 1926 at the Divinity School, a visiting fellow in 1924-25, a pastor of a Lutheran Church in Stuttgart, taken into the German Army in January 1942, killed on the Russian Front, June 3, 1943, leaving a wife and five children.
An editorial three weeks later, expands on the indignation. "If there is any justification for the present memorial at all, it is that those whose names it bears died in the cause of the ideals without which the University could not exist. But if that was the University's purpose, why did the Corporation approve the inclusion of the name of Adolf Sannwald, a chaplain killed in the service of the German Army? Whatever were Sannwald's motives for fighting in the Nazi cause, it is obvious that he was not defending in any way the principles of freedom that have so nourished Harvard."
The editorial writer notes that President Conant back in 1934, had refused the offer of a substantial gift of money by Ernst Hanfstaengl, a high Nazi Party official and a Harvard graduate of 1909. Conant rebuked Hanfstaengl as offering a gift "closely associated with the leadership of a political party which has inflicted damage on the universities of Germany through measures which have struck at principles we believe of be fundamental to universities throughout the world.
"Perhaps, instead, the University wished to honor them because they were victims of a worthless and terrible scourge called war. Even if this purpose justified a memorial, a gift of money to some organization or organizations specifically set up to combat this scourge? ...
[Perhaps] patriotism in itself is commendable, no matter for what philosophy it is used. Not only is this dubious rationale, but it brings the question of motives into the issue. There can be no answer to this question, for who can tell whether a soldier fought and died because he was patriotic or because he was drafted? Chaplain Sannwald may have been motivated by religious principles which demanded that he minister to all those in need, rather than by love of country. It is sentimentality to construct a memorial plaque on the mere assumption that all those whose names are listed, died out of patriotism.
The plaque, as it stands now, is not a fitting memorial for those it purports to honor, nor will it mean anything to the succeeding generations of students who will see it whenever they enter Memorial Chapel."
So the Crimson, and the student opinion it represented did not support the idea of the plaque, particularly if it were to include a German soldier. David L. Ratner, now of Larkspur California, who served in 1951 as Editorial Chairman of the Crimson that year wrote me that: "I probably presided at the meeting at which our policy was decided; I do not recall whether there was any dissent or prolonged discussion. I do recall that I was in general agreement with the position taken; my position was and is that the inclusion of someone who served with the Nazi forces trivialized the significance of World War II by implying that someone who sacrificed his life for the Axis cause was morally equivalent to, and equally entitled to be honored by the University as someone who sacrificed his life for the Allied cause. I do not recall that the University officials ever explained their initial decision to include Sannwald on the plaque, while excluding Admiral Yamamoto (Commander of the Japanese forces at Pearl Harbor) who also attended Harvard."
But the editorial was effective. On December 12 the headlines of the lead story in the Crimson, written by Frank Gilbert, were "University to Erase Name of German from Memorial", and underneath: "Honor Roll Only for Men Who Fought for united Nations, Says Statement by University" The article continues "The name of a German casualty listed on the World War II memorial plaque will be removed, the University announced yesterday. In a brief statement, the University said: "The President and Fellows of Harvard College in May 1944 'voted to establish a Roll for Harvard men who give their lives in the armed services of this country or of the united Nations during the present World War' This vote was a directive to those who prepared the list of names to be placed on the war memorial tablets. The inclusion of the name of one alumnus who served in the German army was an error and will be corrected."
"Will be corrected …” The clear inference is that the name would be removed. The Crimson and its supporters had won. A couple of letters to the editor appear in succeeding issues: On December 15, Augustus Fabens, Class of '53 wrote: "The expunging of the name of Adolf Sannwald from the plaque in Memorial church is a strikingly ill-considered action. If the plaque is to be a nationalist memorial and so honor only those who happened to fight on our side in the war, it should still not dishonor those on the other. To attempt now to remove the name from the plaque besides being absurdly expensive and detrimental to the appearance of the plaque, would not merely cease to honor Adolf Sannwald, but would actively dishonor him. A very minor error has been committed. Why spend money merely to make the plaque look worse and perhaps hurt someone's feelings?"
In January, Robert Baldwin, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut, who had attended and been deeply moved by the services dedicating the plaque in Memorial Church, added his sentiments: “... The blunder did not lie in the addition of the name of the German soldier, but in the fact,.... that the German chaplain's name carried the totally irrelevant addition, 'German casualty' ... A memorial in a Christian church, dedicated to the spirit of a Christian philosophy of life, should be free of the spirit and connotations of the word, 'enemy'."
For whatever reason, logical or logistical, Harvard did not remove the German name. Diligent search by archivists through the minutes of the corporation at Harvard elicited not one line, not one vote on the matter of expunging or not. It just never happened.
The debate died. As now Judge Louis Kass of Newton said to me, "Personally, I thought the idea of a plaque listing all those names was a good one. It's really the same principle as the Viet Nam Memorial is today. But in 1951, it just wasn't an issue people were marching on. That editorial was just the editorial of the day at the Crimson."
Still, this was a news story that immediately spread to the national press. European dailies picked it up. The day after The Crimson announced the University's "decision to remove the name", this letter was sent to the Stuttgarter zeitung:
On page 7 of Issue #291, I found a notice under the heading "News From Around the World" that informs us about a "German on American Memorial". This German, by the name of Adolf Sannwald, was a theologian from Wurttemberg with a brilliant talent, particularly in philosophy. Sannwald was a minister from 1930- 1936 at St. Mark's Church in Stuttgart. In order to have more time for his writing and research, he asked to be transferred to the small hamlet of Dornhan. Most of the papers on philosophical questions in the Calwer Church Dictionary have come from his pen. His position in general, and in particular during the schism [Ed. note: The "schism" referred to was the conflict from the early 1930's on within the Lutheran and Evangelical Church. The Deutsch Christen, "German Christians", aligned with Hitler's National Socialism struggled to gain control of the Church.
They were opposed by the Confessing Church.] has always been such that it cannot be denied that he always lived and even gave his life for the ideals 'without which a university cannot exist'. Naturally, he could not ignore his draft into the army, considering the circumstances of the time.
There is no reason whatsoever why an American university would want to remove his name from their memorial. I would be grateful if you would notify the American paper, from which you took your note, of my opinion in this matter."
Sincerely, Bishop Wurm"
Theophil Wurm, Landesbischof of the Protestant Church in Wurtemberg from 1933 to 1949 was the acknowledged leader of the part of the Protestant church that had not been nazified. In 1941, he protested and preached against the Nazi policy of euthanasia. On July 16, 1943, he appealed to Hitler and the Reich government to cease their persecution of "non-Aryans". He condemned the measures taken by the Reich in both the occupied territories and at home, as being against the laws of God and contrary to Western thought and life. He deplored the disintegration of the rule of law in Germany and said that this disintegration imposed a heavier burden on the German people than those sacrifices required by the war. He maintained quiet contact with those secret groups planning for the end of Hitler and the re-making of Germany. Bishop Wurm was under house arrest for a time. He lost two sons in the German army; he was Adolf Sannwald's bishop.
A few days later, in mid-December 1951, Sannwald's widow, Anna wrote a letter addressed to Harvard University:
"Two days ago I read in our newspaper that Harvard University had decided to include my husband's name on the memorial for their alumni killed in action. It is my wish to thank you for this honor. My husband often spoke with gratitude of the time that he spent at Harvard, both privately and in public speeches. I am happy to know that you haven't forgotten him. In view of the protests voiced by your paper 'Harvard Crimson', you might be interested to know more of the last years of my husband's life, and his death as a soldier.
After he earned his doctorate at the University of Tubingen in 1930, he became minister at St Mark's Church in Stuttgart. Since 1932, he had been an outspoken opponent of National Socialism. During the schism, which began in 1934, he became known as an active member of the recusant [dissenting] faction of the Church. Several times he was threatened to be arrested and questioned by the Gestapo. In 1938, when the persecution of Jews reached its peak, my husband went before the authorities several times to say that this persecution was a great injustice, and that the shed blood cried to heaven. He was severely reprimanded and threatened that he himself would be sent to the concentration camp. This did not happen, but he was carefully watched. After several other confrontations, he was drafted into the armed services. He was 41 years old at that time. He had to leave his parish and his five small children in a matter of two days and was transported to Russia within eight days. He was sent to the Front in the middle of an icy winter, not as an army chaplain, but as a common soldier. The following year he came home for a leave at Christmastime, had to go back to the Front and was killed in June of 1943, in Orel.
The fact that he was drafted at his age, and transported to Russia with such expedience was an unusual measure. I share the firm conviction with many of our friends that the National Socialist leadership chose to eliminate him unobtrusively by sending to the Russian Front instead of to the concentration camp.
The Lutheran Church in general, and the recusant faction of the church in particular, have told me repeatedly over the past years how he is missed and what a void he has left behind ...
After you know all this will you be able to appreciate just how deeply I am moved that my beloved husband is honored by you in America as well.
With my most serious appreciation, I am truly yours,
Mrs. Anna Sannwald"
Through Dr. Hermann Ehmer, Chief Archivist for the Evangelical Church in Wurtemberg, I made contact with Adolf Sannwald's daughter, Amrei, the only one who remains in Germany, her sisters, Marieluise, Karin and Adelheid all live in the United States. One daughter, Birgitte, has died. Adelheid, the youngest, was the daughter who had seen her father's name and written to Chaplain Gomes. She had also translated her father's wartime letters to her mother from Russia. The search for Adolf Sannwald and his family had both ended and just begun.
Adolf Sannwald was an only child, born January 8, 1901 in Eislingen a small town in the county of Wuerttemberg. His father, Karl, is identified as a "mechanic" at the large oil refinery Zeller and Gmelin. Actually, he had many talents, particularly in carpentry, a skill he would teach his son. When Adolf was born, his father undertook to build a house himself for his young family. He laid the brick himself and completed every detail.
Karl and Marie Sannwald focused affection and devotion on their one child. Both had come from large families and had not had the luxury of extensive education. They were determined that life would be different for their son.
They rented the upper story of their house to Gerhard Weitbrecht, a company manager at Zeller and Gmelin, and son of a Lutheran minister from Swabia. Weitbrecht was impressed with and fond of the young boy and was to be his mentor and life-long point of reference, almost like a third parent. He encouraged his reading, gave him books, stimulated his curiosity about science, and taught him to play the piano.
Adolf learned quickly and was studious. He loved books and school and earned gratifyingly good grades. Adolf particularly relished math and the orderliness of it all. He was frustrated when classmates got hung up on things like the multiplication tables. His quick mind was coupled with the ability to make friends and keep them. Grammar school was followed by gymnasium (high school) in Goeppingen from which he graduated with honors in 1917. Mr. Weitbrecht, with the enthusiastic concurrence of Adolf's parents, encouraged him to apply to the executive board of a the church to take the Landexamen. This examination would select those students who particularly excelled to attend seminary and begin the undergraduate study of theology. Tuition was waived for those who would later choose to enter the clergy. Marie Sannwald, being both Swabish thrifty and deeply devout, was doubly pleased when Adolf scored high and was selected. He attended two such seminaries from 1915 to 1919; he was first in Blaubeuren and then in Maulbronn. To have been selected to attend was an honor; to survive was a grind. Exacting masters led the boys through Greek, Latin, math and theology.
He was only eighteen when he then entered the "Evangelische Stift", an endowed Protestant school for theology in Tubingen. Adolf gloried in being one of the "Stiftler", immersing himself in philosophy and theology, in the confines of the old buildings of the Stift, academy buildings that before the Reformation had housed an Augustinian monastery. Part of his time he could spend taking courses at the 500-year old University of Tuebingen. His fellow "Stiftler" were mostly sons of Lutheran clergy. He would recall in later years that his academic achievements could almost level, but could never entirely eradicate his perception of a class barrier between him and his classmates. He spent additional semesters in Berlin and Marburg. Then in 1923, he passed his final examinations and was ordained. His parents were delighted with the accomplishments of their only child and his calling to the clergy. His mother pronounced Adolf's ordination day the happiest day of her life. He began work as an assistant minister in Eislingen, Stuttgart-Ostheim, and finally in Blaubeuren.
In the spring of 1925, Adolf excitedly wrote to his parents his great news: he'd been awarded a one-year $800 scholarship for graduate studies at the Divinity school at Harvard University. Feverishly, he worked on his English. He landed in New York that fall and made his way to Boston and Cambridge where he unpacked his belongings, including a raft of books, in his small quarters at Divinity Hall. It wasn't long before he'd made a best friend, one who would be a life-long friend and who, forty years later, would propose his name for inclusion on the great wall in Harvard Memorial Church.
His friend Martin Grabau wasn't a theologian; he was a graduate student in physics from the Midwest. Martin felt a bond with Adolf because his own grandfather had been a German immigrant. Slight, be-spectacled, the same age as Adolf, Martin was working on his master's degree. He would go on in 1931 to earn a doctorate. If he did not speak much German, Martin understood it, and he helped the young theologian with his English. The two young men became inseparable. On one occasion, they picked up pocket-money by wearing sandwich boards around Harvard Square advertising a restaurant that was opening.
Classes at the Divinity School were small. Adolf would have surely known classmate Edgar Raymond Attebery, from Seattle. Attebery, a Methodist minister, would in 1940 become a U.S. Army chaplain, die in the South Pacific, and be the other name listed under the Divinity School on the great marble plaque.
When his year had ended, Harvard offered to extend Adolf's scholarship for another year. But his Wurttemberg Church Council did not allow him to continue because there was a shortage of young pastors. So, in 1926, Adolf returned to the Tubingen Stift as a repetent, a tutor. In effect, he was a teaching assistant, lecturing in philosophy and modern German literature. He was in charge of the Stift library and also gave instruction in organ.
By 1930, Adolf had decided to pursue a PhD. degree, and began work on his thesis, "The Meaning of Dialectics and Anthropology". ("Anthropology" here should be understood as referring literally to "the study of man") The thesis was published in Munich in 1931.
Looking back in later years, Adolf said that those years at Tubingen were the best years of his early career. He loved the academic freedom given the students, the cordiality of his colleagues, the orderliness, the very atmosphere that filled the old university town. He declared, "It was a solid foundation on which to build a man's life." He was just turning 30 and he was just where he wanted to be, pursuing the career he loved. He had also met and fallen in love with Anna von Sehrwald, a German Baltin from Estonia. Anna was pretty, vivacious, charming, and entirely supportive--the ideal wife for an academician-clergy. They were married in August of 1930.
His friends at Tubingen had nicknamed him "Saul". He was imposingly tal1, six feet-four, with thinning blond hair and spectacles, but powerfully built and muscular. He excelled in sports and liked the challenge of hard physical work.
The same year he was married, Adolf applied for and got a permanent position as one of three pastors at the Markuskirche, St. Mark's Church, in Stuttgart. The church had forty three hundred members; ministering to that number of parishioners required three clergy. He felt they worked well together, taking turns conducting the two Sunday morning services and the mid-week Bible studies. He prepared his sermons meticulously, wrote them out, practiced them, and memorized them. Roland Martin, the present Stadtpfarrer, Chief Pastor at Markuskirchhe, found that that there are still a number of elderly parishioners, who were children and teen-agers during the thirties and who recall Pastor Sannwald: "He was specially popular with the youth. One woman who was confirmed by Sannwald characterized him as "Pfarrer zum Anfassen" (a minister to approach--to touch). "He often invited his group of confirmands to meet at his home. Sannwald made many visits to the members of his church."
Anna wrote about that in later years: "Adolf Sannwald felt strongly about his responsibility of preaching the Gospel and to personally carry it into the homes, particularly the old and the sick. Unemployment was beginning to run rampant at that time in Stuttgart, as everywhere. He visited with families in their homes and saw much suffering and many real needs, yet could rarely offer practical help. He often talked about how he had found young unemployed men lying in bed in unheated rooms and hungry."
By the beginning of the 1930's, the National Socialist influence was beginning to be felt in Stuttgart. Anna did not initially see the Nazis as entirely bad. Adolf did. Pastor Martin writes: "In the first Nazi years, most people did not realize how dangerous Nazism was. They did not feel the tenseness in the society between Nazis and anti-Nazis. Only later the problems of wartime came to the fore. I think that most people here were not Nazis--they were just unpolitical."
Reality, particularly within the governing parish council may have been slightly different. Chief Archivist, Dr. Hermann Ehmer , writes that , "In 1931, Sannwald had problems with a small group of National Socialists." There was a dispute arising from a 'misunderstanding' of one of Sannwald's sermons. There were angry letters about him in the local paper. "From the beginning, of the Third Reich, Sannwald seems to be opposed to the National Socialist influence in church and theology. Early in 1933, he was in contact with Pastor Niemoller in Berlin and in 1934, he was a member of the Kirchliche Sozietat, a group of young ministers and laymen--notably students of Karl Barth--that stood against the German Christians (Deutsche Christen) who tried to replace biblical theology with National Socialist ideology. In 1934, Sannwald published a pamphlet 'Warum nicht deutscher Christ?' 'Why Not a German Christian?' In it he showed the congregations why they should reject the ideas of the German Christians."
At that time, the average German Lutheran churchman thought automatically in terms of a strong bond, an administrative connection between Church and state. There were a few small "Free Church" denominations, supported by freewill offerings, but _historically, the German state had provided support for the Lutheran Church. Under Hitler, this could come at a cost. Lutherans reiterated their belief that the state' s pre-eminent God-given role was to maintain public order, order that many Germans saw breaking down perilously during the Weimar Republic. German law prescribed when Church elections would be held. There were at the time 28 different regional churches, Landeskirchen. What better time to "streamline", synchronize the Protestant Church with the new national spirit--and in reality, Hitler schemed, to put it under the control of the Third Reich? He had already succeeded, he thought, in doing this to the Catholic Church with the Concordat with the Pope in 1933.
So, in 1933, with Church elections scheduled, it was the perfect opportunity for Hitler to move in and consolidate his domination of this institution, just as he was doing in the labor movement, the press, the universities. He personally sent Rudolf Hess to show support of the Third Reich for the agitation of these increasingly vocal "German Christians", who demanded "a new Church of Christ in the new state of Adolf Hitler."
This push to create a controlling Nazi bloc within the Church certainly found supporters who wanted to be in tune with the national awakening, to be the "Volk" undergirding the Third Reich. The summer of 1933 was full of turmoil as the Church elections loomed. Hitler pulled out all the stops in putting his resources to use on behalf of the German Christians. The S.A., the Nazi Party Brownshirts, ferreted out thousands of previously non-attending members and had them registered; they confiscated tens of thousands of pamphlets and closed the printing presses of the opposition; they packed German Christian rallies. They made direct threats, as in one flyer circulated in Breslau before the July elections: "He who does not vote for the 'German Christian' list is our enemy. He who is our enemy is the enemy of the state. The enemy of the state will be put on the black list and find himself in a concentration camp."
On July 23, 1933, the German Christians won overwhelmingly. In a move to streamline and “unify” the Church, the old title of “superintendent” was done away with and power was consolidated and to be held by a much smaller number of bishops. Heading it all was Hitler’s crony from World War I, a former Prussian army chaplain, Ludwig Muller, to be called “Reich Bishop”. A new church constitution provided for a three-member “spiritual advisors” panel to restrain the power of the Reich Bishop, but it was soon evident that Muller intended, and was intended to be a deputy Fuehrer. His first directive from Hitler was to see to it that the so-called “Aryan Act” was implemented.
As the Jews had just been disallowed from holding any civil service position in the country by the Reich civil Service Law, so the "Aryan Act" would have disallowed any Jews or "those married to non-Aryans" from holding any Church office. Those who were clergy were to be immediately retired and removed from their parishes. There were only 37 Jewish Christian ministers in the Church, eight of whom were retired. But this demand of the German Christians stung the conscience of pastors like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemuller and Adolf Sannwald. It was absurd and unjust. These Jewish Christians were colleagues, parishioners, friends, co-religionists. In Stuttgart, Adolf Sannwald had been meeting monthly for the previous year with a group of rabbis to study the Old Testament. Reports of these meetings must have been circulated because the words: "Jew Lover" were found painted on the pavement in front of the Sannwald home one morning during this time.
The membership of the German Christians always encompassed a spectrum, if narrow, of conservative nationalist Lutheran views. Some, like those within the ranks of the parish council at Stuttgart were reachable. Others were fanatical. They were exultant--mesmerized by the call for "Ein Volk--Ein Reich--Ein Fuehrer". They were committed to a Lutheran Church united under one Fuehrer. Their leader, Dr. Reinhold Krause, spearheaded the organization of a mass rally. On November 13, 1933, one day after a national plebiscite was held in which Germans voted to withdraw from the League of Nations, this monster event was held at the Sports Palace in Berlin.
Twenty thousand attended. Banners and flags waved in profusion, mass choirs thundered 'A Mighty Fortress is Our God', trumpets blared. Bishop Hossenfelder, prominent in the organization, now calling themselves "the Faith Movement", reported on the progress of the implementation of the Aryan Acts. Those opposing it were dubbed "the defeated enemy, fleeing in disarray." Then Krause spoke to wild ovation. He called for a new "People's Church freed from old creeds, imbued with the spirit of National Socialism, removing anything 'un-Germanic' from the church service or statement of beliefs; going beyond the Aryan Acts to create a separate church for Jewish Christians; doing away with craven morality of the Old Testament, the deference to the 'Rabbi Paul' and 'servile' belief in the sacrificial ministry of Jesus, rather than his heroic manhood. Those ministers not co-operating in this new Reformation for National Socialism would be discharged.
Krause presented these demands to the assembly in the form a resolution. That resolution passed with only one audible dissenting vote. The German Christians had been on an ecclesiastical drunk. There would be a morning after.
The Sports Palace rally marked the apogee of the influence of the "German Christians". Actually, effective opposition to them began three weeks before that rally, on September 21, when Martin Niemoller circulated a letter to his fellow pastors urging them to join a Pastors' Emergency League to oppose the cooperation of the Church authorities with the totalitarian demands of the National Socialists. In an immediate show of support, 1,300 pastors signed up.
Within a week, he had drawn up a statement to be presented to the National Synod of the German Evangelical Church, meeting in Wittenberg. ·Four hundred years before, in that same town, Martin Luther had nailed his challenges to Rome on the church door. Early on a November morning, on trees and telegraph poles all around Wittenberg, twenty-two Berlin ministers nailed their placards of protest. One of those ministers was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The President of the Westphalian Church handed a newly-elected and angry Reichsbishop (Bishop of the Reich) Muller a list of 2,000 names of clergy who had joined the Pastors' Emergency League. Niemoller handed out copies of the protest to the assembled delegates. By mid-January of 1934, there would be 7,600 in the League. One of them was Adolf Sannwald.
The pledge signed by members of the League committed the signer to perform his duties as a minister bound solely by scripture and the historic Confessions (declarations of belief) of the Church. Hence the name it would come to have, the Confessing Church. The state would not dictate what they preached and taught. They would stand in solidarity with, and help any who would be persecuted because of their Confessional stand. Finally, they asserted that "the application of the Aryan paragraph within the church of Christ has violated that Confessional stand."
These pastors had flung down the gauntlet. Reich Bishop Muller, after the Sports Palace rally, found himself contending with a firestorm of protest from church members all over Germany over the scandal of that event. In Berlin, the very next day, November 14, Martin Niemoller, his brother Wilhelm and Pastor Jacobi met with and confronted Muller. They demanded that he disassociate himself from the German Christian Faith Movement and declare that it in no way represented the Evangelical Church. They demanded that Muller discharge every church official who had taken part in the rally or allowed it to go on with no protest and to pass its horrendous resolution. The following Sunday, November 19, thousands of League members read from their pulpits a denunciation of the Church leaders who had disgraced their office. Protest meetings were held all over Germany with tens of thousands attending in some cities. Ascendant nationalism was beginning to exact its toll theologically. It was becoming evident that the most strident German Christians were not only besotted with Hitler, but infected by the real religion of the Third Reich: the arrant paganism of Nordic folk myth and Aryan superiority. The good Lutherans were embarrassed.
Temporarily cowed, Reichsbishop Mulller notified Krause that he was being relieved of his Church duties. The Pastors Emergency League members were jubilant over this victory. But theologian Karl Barth, Niemoller's inspiration and himself the author of an on-going series of articles and pamphlets on the struggle in the Church, knew the fight was just beginning. He would shortly lose his own professorship because of his opposition to National Socialism.
With the decline of the aged President Hindenburg, Muller's confidence was buoyed. In allying himself with Hitler, Muller was allying himself with the future. It was his opportunity to use his authority to crack down and make it stick. On January 4, 1934, he issued "a decree concerning the restoration of order in the German Evangelical Church". His decree quickly became known as the "Muzzling Order": Ministers could not mention the Church controversy from their pulpits; no rallies or demonstrations would be held in any church building; Church officials who publicly criticized Church policy or government would be immediately suspended, disciplined, their pay cut and eventually dismissed. The Aryan Acts were to be implemented everywhere and without delay.
Nineteen thirty-four was the year that systematic governmental harassment of the Church (both Catholic and Protestant) began. Gestapo agents, who might well be one's neighbors, began to be enlisted to do surveillance of church services and sermons. Meetings of clergy were infiltrated; Confessing Church offices were raided and pamphlets confiscated; some pastors would ultimately be banished from their parishes, eighty-five of them were eventually jailed, some in concentration camps.
Nineteen thirty-four was also the year Adolf Sannwald made his contribution to the movement with his publication of "Why Not a German Christian?". It was printed in early spring by the Evangelical Society of Stuttgart. In it he denounces
"the false doctrine of German Christians [which] consists in the attempt to assimilate the teachings of the Church and its actions with the spirit of the times. German Christians are [in fact] altering the Bible so that it fits with our northern hero mythology”…
As Christians, we are obliged to serve our people and our times in a selfless manner, simply because God's commandment calls us to love. But the first service the Church owes the people is the preaching of the Gospel ... The centerpiece of the Christian message must not be the sermon on the supporting power of land, blood and race, but on the power of God and the coming of His Kingdom ... Woe to the Church that is silent to the fact that all governments, all 'Reichs' must end ... We may not and will not confuse faith in Jesus Christ with some other 'faith' in a religious world view or political doctrine ... [Furthermore,]
God does not choose his children based on race…If a Christian Jew is allowed to partake in the Holy Eucharist, he is, by his partaking, a full member of the community…
For the Germany of the Third Reich, there exists only one authority, the authority of the Fuehrer. Yes, this is true for all of us in things that concern the State. But for all affairs of the Church, God's Word is the only authority which counts. There ends even the authority of the State."
In the early months of 1934, "free synods", meetings of clergy and laity, began springing up across Germany. Whether United, Reformed or Evangelical, they asserted their resistance to the claims of the state to control the governance and beliefs of the Church. From Ulm, Pomerania, and Dahlem, declarations issued.
The most famous was from Barmen in May of 1934. In it, there is affirmation that: "the State has by Divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace." However, "We reject the false doctrine that the State, over and beyond its special commission, should become the single and total regulator of human life, thus fulfilling the Church's vocation as well. We reject the false doctrine that the Church should or can become an organ of the State.
[We reject] as heresy the idea that the Church can and must recognize in addition to this one Word [Jesus Christ] other events and powers, figures and truths as the revelation of God”.
These were heady and dangerous times for pastors in the League and the Confessing Church. Historian Peter Hoffmann recalled hearing how during these times, his grandfather, a Lutheran bishop, opened the door of his office and was confronted by a German Christian clergyman sent to replace him as bishop. Curtly, he told the intruder, "I have my authority. You have none. Get out."
Adolf and Anna were exhilarated by the public reception to his pamphlet, "Why Not a German Christian?"… His careful inclusion of commendation of the aims of the National Socialists to "command moral standards, preach order, obedience, responsibility and sacrifice" had probably succeeded in sparing his flyer from immediate confiscation by the Gestapo. There had been wide distribution. Bishop Wurm himself passed out copies to influential people on the ministerial level. Doubtless, Sannwald sent a copy to both Niemoller and Barth, who had been professor to both him and Niemoller--Barth who had recently written: "Church and theology in the totalitarian state are not allowed to hibernate, to endure a moratorium, or to allow co-ordination. For it is the Church which is the natural limit to every state, even the totalitarian state."
However, for Adolf, there was the reality in Wurttemberg of the undermining dissension, even the sabotage of the German Christians present at the pastors' meetings, on the parish council at Markuskirche.( Church of St Mark). Adolf had to reassure himself that soon more and more people would realize that the church struggle wasn't just about power or policy, but about bedrock, core beliefs.
In Stuttgart on Sunday, May 5, 1934, Anna wrote to Adolf's parents and to his old mentor Gerhard Weitbrecht, whom the whole family affectionately referred to as "Herr":
Dear Mother, Dad and "Herr":
The flyer, "Why Not a German Christian?" has no doubt been of interest to you. Thus far, nothing has happened to our Adolf. We feared that someone might confiscate the flyer or interrogate its author, but neither has happened, and 9,000 copies have been distributed all the way to Wilhelmshaven, Berlin and Munich, we've been told.
Adolf has received verbal and written thanks from many people for having taken a courageous and clear stand in behalf of our Church and its teachings. This has given us renewed strength to go on. We feel that it is important during these special times especially, to have courage to stand up for what is right, even in the face of risking one's position.
Today and last Sunday, Adolf's sermon was excellent. Many people go to church to hear him preach, and it is apparent that they want to hear what he has to say. Adolf read his sermons from a manuscript these last two Sundays as we are sure that spies from the political police are present, and there may come a time when he has to defend every word that he has spoken.
Adolf said today that one cannot on the one hand confess that one believes in the Bible and the Creed, then turn around and make allowances for political reasons and such things. (The guilty ones will know to whom this refers.) We certainly live in unusual times, but thank God, we need not be afraid of people.
I shall always remain at my husband's side and never get in his way when he stands up for and defends his office. We've in the past experienced many adversities and there undoubtedly will be more to come. Our head of the church [Bishop Wurm] is a very shrewd man and knows now what he wants. We pray that God give us all wisdom and peace ...
There is a lot of tension and mistrust among those of our church council who are members of the German Christians (D.C.) Thank God, our colleague Weissman yesterday resigned from the D.C.--finally!
With many kind regards, your grateful children and grandchildren."
Adolf wrote this to his parents:
"It was impossible in the long run that the open conflict in and of the Church would be prevented in Wuerttemberg, in as much as everybody had covered up the differences for too long already.
At the moment, it is quiet--it is amazing that the big Party meetings which took place here a week ago last Friday have not taken on greater dimensions so far. Buder, (his friend and fellow pastor), really had to endure obscenities during one of the meetings, but has not suffered physical harm thus far. As long as Bishop Wurm is head of the church, we pastors are still relatively safe. Should that change, things will probably be different for us.
In Stuttgart, only very few belong to the Deutsche Christen. It is much more difficult, however, to judge how many laymen are behind the clergy—and it is practically impossible to guess what people might do if put to the test. I any event, there are certainly folks who will stick with us no matter what. We believe that those who regularly attend our church services are most probably faithful to our bishop.
There is a deep schism in our laymen's council of the church which will not heal itself, unless several of the members (i.e. Party members) will finally resign their positions. We know of other congregations who don't have as much trouble in this area as they no longer have D.C.'s in their midst. It is practically impossible to keep these political policemen from attending our parish conferences. Even at a recent gathering of the deans of churches here, police were present. Under no circumstances will we allow their presence to trick us into becoming enemies of Hitler. I can't imagine that if Hitler knew this, he would approve of what they're doing. Nobody knows the future. I would be remiss not to notice that the events of the last several weeks caused the D.C. great anguish. Wurm bragged that he hasn't slept as well as now in a long time! The D.C. didn't approach things right; in fact, they couldn't have possibly gone about it in a clumsier way! He [Wurm] took my flyer to Ministerialrat Buttmann in Berlin who said that he finally has understood that the issue is all about the Creed, and not just about the external aspects of the [proposed new] church constitution. Sincere greetings, your thankful Adolf."
Sannwald's reference to "not being tricked into becoming enemies of Hitler" would seem to refer to his realization of the ever-present Party infiltrators within the confines of church gatherings, like that of the deans' meeting about which he was speaking. Note-takers were there, looking for the un-guarded comment or reply that could be presented as evidence of enmity to the Third Reich. Sannwald did not want his words twisted.
Then too, in 1934, Sannwald may have thought that there was a disconnect between Hitler and the local Nazi stooges. Perhaps they were not operating directly under the Fuehrer's orders. Martin Niemoller himself, very briefly and very early had been a Nazi Party member. He had quickly resigned. When it was evident that Niemoller opposed the regime, Field Marshal Hermann Goring himself was reputed to be behind the conspiracy to have Niemoller ousted from his pulpit in Dahlem. It didn't work. On the Sunday designed for the takeover, the congregation quietly blocked his German Christian replacement from entering the sanctuary. But in 1934, even Niemoller clung to the notion that perhaps Hitler himself didn't know everything that his underlings were doing.
It was after a face-to-face meeting with Hitler in the Reich Chancellery in 1937 that Niemoller made it clear that he would not give an inch. Thereafter, he was sent to Sachsenhausen as Hitler's personal prisoner. From 1941 to the end of the war, he was imprisoned at Dachau.
It was Martin Niemoller who said: "When the Nazis came for the Communists, I said nothing. After all, I wasn't a Communist. When they locked up the Social Democrats, I said nothing. After all, I wasn't a Social Democrat. When they came for labor unionists, I said nothing. After all, I wasn't a unionist. When they came for the Jews, I said nothing. After all, I wasn't a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to protest."
That much-quoted statement gives evidence that there were indeed those in the Church who said nothing when they should have. The ranks of the Confessing Church, at its peak, were no more than one-third of the church membership. A majority of the Lutherans initially wanted to find some mediation with and accommodation to the German Christian element. But by 1935, the weight of National Socialism was coming to bear on Protestants and Catholics alike. Church youth groups were banned, and directed to become part of the Hitler Youth. Seminaries were being shut down; discussion groups were banned. Those in the Association of Bible Study Groups were forbidden to meet. As long as they could, members resisted this order by reconstituting themselves as "hiking groups". Then Gestapo were sent to "tail" them and break up their gatherings. Soon they were threatened with imprisonment.
It is puzzling then to an American observer, that Adolf Sannwald should in 1935 decide to sign up for the just re-instituted general draft of the Wehrmacht. In 1934, Hitler had abrogated the restriction imposed by the Versailles Treaty on the size of the German army. There was a surge of enlistments, and unquestionably evident, a sense of German pride and patriotism, at last unfettered from the humiliation of 1919. Later, the army would have a far higher concentration of Nazis in its ranks. But in the mid-thirties, the Army could be, and was viewed by many who despised the National Socialists as a counterweight to Hitler, a legitimate place to "escape to", to still be a patriot and yet get away from the grinding oppression of the Party. Some Germans signed up because they didn't wish Hitler to "own" the Army too.
Apparently, there are no statistics available on how many pastors like Sannwald signed up as volunteers for the draft. In his case it was particularly ironic. In 1918, he had been one year too young for the World War I draft. "When the draft was inaugurated in 1935," Dr. Ehmer notes, "men born in 1916 were called for the service, and those born 1911 for a short military training. Those born between 1901 and 1910, like Sannwald, were therefore draft-exempt but could go for training voluntarily." The principles of the Confessing Church would not have discouraged enlistment. In fact, as Eberhard Bethge, biographer, intimate friend of and foremost authority on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, observed, "It was widely felt in the Confessing Church, that it was desirable to provide as many commissioned reservists from its ranks as possible. To some extent the motive was a genuine feeling of participation, but there was also a calculated desire to demonstrate that, despite calumniators in the Party and among the German Christians, the church opposition was truly patriotic, reliable and honorable."
Records show that Adolf served with the Infantry Regiment 13 in Ludwigsberg for eight weeks of basic training from August 19 to October 12, 1935. He had fulfilled his sense of duty; his name was now listed as having had military training.
Nineteen-thirty four was a watershed year for him. Perhaps it was the "Jew-lover" graffiti, the growing sense of harshness and menace of living in a city in a society whose institutions were being shut down and taken over by the government. He had been threatened by the authorities with being banned from speaking publicly. He began to feel that Anna and the little girls, Marieluise, Karin and Birgitte, all three under six, had had enough. For Anna too, there was daily anxiety--having a husband in the pulpit of the major parish in Stuttgart, holding forth against the German Christians, frequently meeting with fellow members of the Kirchliche Sozietat; Anna could well imagine Adolf's being arrested and sent to a concentration camp. After all, she urged, he had a family, a future to think of. He was a highly regarded pastor and first class theologian, he could be a bishop someday when this insanity was over. If they could just get somewhere safe, far away perhaps in a village where he would have a smaller church, in the country, where he could do more writing. He wouldn't be under so much pressure, nor would she. The family wouldn't have to live in such fear--perhaps.
Adolf began to apply for church positions outside of Stuttgart. Hs stated reasons for wishing to leave Markuskirche, according to the letters on file in the Archives of the Evangelical Church in Wurttemberg were "the health of his wife who suffered from the Stuttgart climate and his wish to see his children grow up outside the big city." The records do not show, the Chief Archivist notes, if there were other reasons. At any rate, in 1936, after he had spent his vacation with a family in Glasgow, Scotland, with whom he had contacts through an organization called, "World Alliance for International Friendship Through the Churches", Adolf accepted a call from the parish church in Dornhan. (It may be that Sannwald, like Bonhoeffer in England, was quietly pursuing ecumenical ties to help make some part of the Christian Church world-wide aware of the struggles of the Confessing Church.)
Dornhan was in a rural area, southwest of Tubingen, "miles and miles from anywhere," Marieluise recalls. "It was isolated, distant from industrial centers and possibly somewhat removed from the political scene. “In any event, a safer place for us children to grow up during those turbulent times."
Did Adolf Sannwald regret leaving Stuttgart? He must have felt some pangs. Yet he would be leaving his ministry in a big city parish, a parish where he was acutely aware of the social kindling material available to the Nazis. In 1932, Adolf had seen the great number of unemployed men living cramped up and in poverty. He told Anna then, "They have such a pool of energy. “They can be enticed into bad activities." In the intervening three years, he had seen the bully boys, the Brown Shirts in action on the streets. There were too many Nazi authorities around to skim him off if he became troublesome. He was too exposed; Stuttgart had become dangerous for his family. In increasingly menacing times, it was certainly a prudent move to leave the city if he could.
His parish bounds in Stuttgart encompassed 4300 nominal and active parishioners. In Dornhan, in the Black Forest, the number would be closer to 1900, and spread out over an infinitely greater area. He would be Stadtpfarrer over three additional villages, distant from each other, each more than 10 kilometers away from Dornhan. One of these "Filialen" (daughter churches) was made up of many farms, some small and struggling, some large and prosperous. Except for the lone taxi driver, no one had a car. The wealthier farmers drove to church in a horse and buggy; everyone else walked, often from a great distance. Adolf did his parish calling on foot or on a bicycle. If he were called out at night, to minister to the sick or dying, a sled or carriage would be sent for him.
The parsonage was a wonder: it had been built in the 15th century as a hunter's lodge for some member of the wealthy nobility. Three stories high, with enormously thick walls, it was built on the old town wall, and was right next to the church. The windows looked southeasterly onto a panoramic view of the Swabian Alps. There was plenty of room for a children's floor, for a maid's quarters, and for living space for the current vicar. New vicars came every six months. They preached once a month and essentially did an internship under the guidance of the pastor. Marieluise remembers one dazzlingly jaunty vicar who actually owned a motorcycle.
Virtually all farm work was done manually, and during harvest season, Adolf would put in hours helping the poorer or elderly farmers to chop wood, thresh hay out in the fields or load bundles of hay or corn onto the waiting wagons. In Germany, Beate Knaus, now 90, recalls her father's admiring words spoken of Sannwald at the time: "The pastor works with the pitchfork better than a farm hand!"
Adolf was attentive to his flock. His second daughter, Karin, recalls: "He visited the sick and dying. I especially remember his taking me with him to the bedside of an old man who had died. I remember how he gently took my hand and let me touch the old man's face and hands. He told me, 'Never be afraid of death. This is only his shell. His soul has gone to God.' I've never forgotten that. I have a vivid memory of my father in the funeral procession of someone in the parish. He was the first person walking behind the wagon that held the casket. I can see the horses with their black velvet trappings and wearing blinders. He marched behind in the mud wearing his heavy boots. He was tall and had such big feet! The wind caught the tippet on the vestments he was wearing, and he was reading the Lord's Prayer."
The bonds of collegiality were still immensely important to Adolf. Shortly after they arrived in Dornhan, he and Anna took a taxi and visited all 27 pastors in the deanery. Anna's best friend became fellow clergy wife, young Marthel Schneeweiss, whose husband Helmut never chose to become part of the Confessing Church, yet was a close friend to Adolf, perhaps initially because he too had been at the Markuskirche in Stuttgart. Adolf relished preparing for the theological discussions at the monthly pastors' meeting. His fellow pastors in the Dornhan deanery may or may not have known that Sannwald was maintaining close ties with fellow members of the Confessional Church. What no newspaper could publish, he found out from fliers smuggled in from the Niemoller group. He learned of the growing rumors of Jews being persecuted and of concentration camps in which Communists disappeared. Numbers of his fellow clergy were preaching at risk. One, Pastor Paul Schneider, had been murdered by lethal injection. Others had been arrested. Periodically he would read their names during prayers in the services on Sunday, though to do so would, in the city, invite immediate arrest. Anna begged him to be discreet. He was out of it; he was safe; he had to remain so.
The Sannwalds were, however, doing something far more dangerous. They were hiding escaping Jews. Karin recalls: "Up until the late thirties, when they stopped coming, we sheltered a series of Jews, Our home was like an underground stop on their way to France. I don't know where the Jews stayed in that big house, they just appeared for meals. We were not allowed to know their names because we might be questioned by the authorities, and 'Christian children don't lie.' I do remember one though. I called her 'Katzentante---Cat Auntie'. She would sew stuffed dolls. She made me one I especially loved, in the shape of a cat with cut-out features."
Karin continues: "My father didn't keep quiet even in Dornhan. The local Ortsgruppenleiter (Nazi Party boss) was a Dr. Reisser, the head of the local hospital. I remember he wore a uniform. He was tall and skinny and rigid, and he was intimidating. Though he respected my father, neither man liked each other. He came to the house and spoke to my father several times warning him not to continue to say certain things."
Dr. Peter Beyerhaus, presently Professor in Theology at Adolf's old University at Tubingen, writes: "The local Ortsgruppenleiters were indeed very dangerous persons, who acted as spies amongst the whole community. Many persons were denounced by them for alleged hostile utterances against the State, and were sent to concentration camps. My own father escaped this fate only because the war broke out and his case was put aside. In a public meeting he had protested against the statement that the cross of Calvary was superseded by the swastika."
Years later, Anna Sannwald wrote: "Although it was not difficult early on to recognize the direction of Hitler's politics, it was quite shocking when war actually came in 1938. Young men from the parish were first sent to the Western Front. Soon, the first notifications were received of those who had died on the battlefields." Czechoslovakia was invaded October 1, 1938; eleven months later, the German-Russian Peace Pact was concluded and the way opened for the invasion of Poland. England and France declared war on Germany, but to no effective consequence, so that during April and May, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium and France were all invaded. Hitler's juggernaut seemed unstoppable. Karin remembers the day in June 1940, when news reached Dornhan of the fall of France. She and two other seven year old friends rushed to the church to throw themselves on the heavy ropes and pull with all their might to make the big bells ring. "We thought that if France fell, that was the end. The war was over."
But then a week before Christmas, 1940, Hitler gave the secret directive to his generals notifying them that he was about to scrap his non-aggression pact with Russia. By June, 1941, Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia was launched, and the Eastern Front was opened. More young men were called up, more memorial services were being held for boys who had grown up in the church and perished in battle. Helmut Schneeweiss went into the Army. The hard grip of anxiety was evident in the parish.
Jews were no longer fleeing through Dornhan. After 1939 no Jews in Germany were allowed to emigrate, and the trickle of those doing so illegally, surreptitiously was coming to an end. Where were they going? What was happening to them? That question came again and again in Sannwald's mind. It was a hazardous question to ask. Peter Beyerhaus again: “Yes, it was most dangerous to be critical of the National Socialist ideology and even more to show active sympathy for Jews. I remember an incident shortly after the demolishment of Jewish shops on the night of November 9, 1938. When my mother, the wife of a parish pastor, in the presence of some parishioners expressed her disgust with this incident, a well-meaning friend of hers urgently warned her to suppress her feelings, lest she put herself in a very dangerous position." In Dornhan too, as in Stuttgart, the freedom to question, to comment, had disappeared. The hard, hopefully unfamiliar, face in the pew might belong to someone reporting back to the Party.
In the summer of 1941, the Germans were advancing impressively. Minsk fell. By August, Smolensk had fallen as well. But now the Russians were digging in and counterattacking; Russian resistance was growing steadily, and the German advance was slowing down, even while they pushed on toward their goal to encircle and destroy the Red Army. Their successes were notable. By September, Stalin had lost two and a half million men, but with a population three times that of Germany, Russian military strategists had determined they could afford to trade five lives for one. German losses were growing ominously heavy. General Halder estimated at the end of November, they had lost 743,112 men, nearly one out of four men sent. It was getting hard to replace soldiers in Russia. Many more men needed to be called up in Germany; that winter would be the turning point in the German advance.
In Dornhan, Adolf had not avoided Dr. Reisser. Reisser, according to Beate Knaus, had the reputation of being a 'temperate' party leader, cold but not reflexively, instantly harsh. However, "he did what was expected of him and took his orders directly from the Party." Beate writes now, over a half century later, to Karin Sannwald: "Everybody knew what your father stood for and that he was always guided by his conscience expressing himself unequivocally what was God's will ... He once started his sermon by saying that today he was going to read his sermon as the police were listening in and he would have to account for every word."
His public utterances, though unequivocal, were carefully weighed, but his private questioning of Reisser continued. There were things Adolf felt he had to know. He had heard continuing rumors of massive re-locations of German Jews to Poland and into concentration camps. There were whispered reports from some soldiers serving on the Eastern Front who told of deportees being murdered. It was a time not to ask questions or to make any comment, however illusory, that might lead to trouble. Reisser was a man under orders from the Fuehrer; he was a man beginning to be exasperated, beginning to feel the demands of the Party for still tighter control.
It was in mid-November, 1940, when Karin hurried down the stairs, ahead of her parents to answer the bell. She recalls: "I remember looking out through the little panes of glass by the front door and seeing the Ortsgruppenleiter (party leader) in his beige uniform standing there, very stiffly. Father stood behind me as I opened the door. I kept looking down, and I remember being struck by how shiny his boots were. The atmosphere was terribly tense and menacing. I was so frightened." Sannwald led the Ortsgruppenleiter into his study and quietly shut the door.
Karin was not there to see them re-emerge.
Anna, ten years later, wrote briefly about what she had been told of the conversation at the encounter: "Adolf said, in part, ['Again I tell you,] it is wrong what you are doing to the Jews.' The Nazi leader snapped back, 'Don't you know I have the power to send you to the concentration camp for that?'
Adolf replied, 'Yes.'
'Then, from here on out, you had better keep your mouth shut.'"
Anna and Adolf talked over the consequences of having Reisser as an active, enemy. He felt he had done and said the right thing; she was never sure. He tried to calm her with assurances that it was unlikely that he would be arrested and sent to a concentration camp. They were in a village a world away from Stuttgart. As Chief Pastor here, he would be an injudicious target--too public. The Army? Of course not. He was 41 years old. Their fourth daughter had been born, three year-old Amrei. Anna was pregnant with her fifth child, due in March. Middle-aged men with that number of children were not being conscripted. Six weeks later, he got his draft notice. Within two days, he was boarding a troop train, bound for the Russian Front.
Adolf Sannwald, inducted into the Wehrmacht in January of 1942, served almost 18 months as a "common soldier", a rank below private. It was a calculated humiliation by the Army, on orders from the Party. However much his parish council might appeal, his fellow clergy writing letters of inquiry and support on his behalf, and his hopes would rise, he deluded himself if he ever really thought he had a chance to become a chaplain.
The coolness of bureaucratic decision-making in the Third Reich is evident; in the memo preserved from September 10, 1942 from the Chief of Armament and Commander of Reserves to the Minister of Church Affairs in Berlin, in reference to an investigation of applicants for army chaplain candidates (Protestant and Catholic): "It is intended to include the following clergy into the list of applicants and to place them as needed (when needed). We ask you to let us know if you have concerns about any applicant's political/church related stand." Sannwald's name is number eight on a list of twelve.
Appended is File #23847 which notes tersely that "Sannwald is not a member of the NSDAP (the Nazi Party) ... Sannwald is the author of the brochure "Why Not a German Christian"? Sannwald was one of the main representatives of the Confessing Church. [Regarding his] application for acceptance into the active service of the army chaplaincy, [it is] the position of the Reichskirchen (Reich Church) Minister that the use of Sannwald as army chaplain is questionable." In blunt penciled scrawl by Sannwald's name on the preceding page are the words: "Not to be supported." Sannwald never saw or heard about this file.
Adolf was sent at once to and served for five months at the Russian front. His fifth child having been born in March, he was at last transferred out of constant combat, though still in the path of almost nightly air raids. He was a sometime cook's helper, janitor, and finally motor pool clerk, where he finally learned to drive a car--almost. (His friend Martin Grabau was serving as consultant to the Army Navy Munitions Board in Washington.)
He stood a lot of guard duty, helped build and manned lookout posts. He was badly frostbitten and slightly wounded.
He regularly walked for miles through ice, slush and over frozen ponds to meet with colleagues and discuss theology. For the most part in his letters, he deleted any mention of the many casualties around him. He did not even note the commendation he received for rescuing a wounded comrade. He grieved at recurring reports that he received from the parish and Anna of friends and sons of friends who had been killed. His one leave home was shortly after Christmas, 1942. The following May, he had his one opportunity to preach to his fellow soldiers when his commanding officer asked him to take part in a small Easter afternoon service, near the front at Briansk. He chose as his theme the Resurrection and "collective guilt". His almost daily letters reflect his living out the kind of "inner migration" that most Germans engaged in, in order to cope with and survive the war. At his request, Anna mailed him his copy of Dostoyevsky. Having happened on a grammar book, he taught himself sufficient Russian to read a bit of Tolstoy and to converse with the Russian family whom he had "adopted".
His commanding officers, recognizing "Soldat Sannwald's'" anomalous position and finding he neither complained nor shirked, generally tried to be respectful to him. He seems not to have made any particular friend in the ranks, though he was generally liked. One major let him occasionally use his quarters for an hour to type a letter home. One late night, after sharing a few beers, he offered another officer a deal: he would give up cigars if the officer would give up his Russian mistress. He did not find a taker.
Since speaking or writing disparagingly or demoralizingly of the course of the war could be a capital offense, and was so for an officer, Adolf made only a few references to Hitler, typically in the context of his relief at not having a commanding officer who required "Heil Hitler" as an automatic greeting. Once, after having reflected in a letter to Anna on his resentment at having to listen to still another speech of Hitler's on the barracks radio, he wrote tersely, "'Somebody is crazy." However cold, bored, lonely or ailing, Adolf could envelop himself in thoughts of Anna and the girls, of one day coming home, and the providence of God in sustaining him another day. He was warmed and delighted, overwhelmed with "home feelings" at getting a letter with drawings from his children, a pair of mittens or cookies made and sent him by a member of his church in Dornhan.
On June 6, 1943, he was in Orel, a major military point some 200 miles southwest of Moscow. He had been sent to deliver records to the company accountant. Adolf was in bed when the air raid started at near nine o'clock. Bombs were falling all around. He and his bunkmate rushed out of the tent to get to shelter. Shrapnel caught Adolf in the back as he stood in the entrance way and he was killed instantly. He was buried there in Orel in the division cemetery, his body accompanied to the gravesite by his comrades in his division, his captain and five of his colleagues, "including a Catholic brother". One soldier took a picture of the grave marked with an oak wreath to send to Anna and the children.
Adolf Sannwald died as a German soldier in the fighting forces of a regime he had despised and considered a calamity to his nation. Why didn't he refuse conscription?
Had he been an American, he wouldn't have had to serve because he was clergy. Had he been an American, he could have claimed conscientious objector status. That category did not exist in Hitler's Germany. Adolf was, at 41, in fact too old for the draft. With a fifth child on the way, he should have been doubly ineligible. No matter--he was called up anyway. Both Anna and apparently, many of his colleagues regarded his conscription as simply a less public way of the authorities' getting rid of him than would have been the case if he had been sent to a concentration camp. Moreover, had he chosen to refuse induction, he could have been subject to immediate execution. His family, under the doctrine of "Sippenhaft", or "family guilt" would have been sent to a concentration camp.
Adolf Sannwald may well have never considered not going. As Eberhard Bethge explained to me in a letter: "For the whole Confessing Church, service in the Army was a matter of course for Lutherans. You might try this or that to escape actual shooting, but not generally by not going into the Army. They all served [their nation] loyally and [many] were killed at the front."
Eventually, after that first year of service was over, it was clear to Adolf that all doors were shut (for whatever reason) and that there would be no chaplaincy for him. He struggled to find some meaning, some usefulness in this first-hand experience with war, as a minister not serving as a minister.
Eberhard Bethge wrote me still more recently: "Clergy from the Confessing Church were just drafted and were not permitted to become Army chaplains, only 'German Christians' and compromisers [were.] Dietrich Bonhoeffer tried too to become an Army chaplain, and for me it was once considered, but it did not succeed because of our membership in the Confessing Church."
In that marbled recital of almost 700 names of names of Harvard's "best and brightest" who died in World War II, there is the name of Adolf Sannwald--and of Franklin Roosevelt. Adolf Sannwald was German soldier serving in Hitler's army, sent to conquer Russia and the Allies. He was a casualty on the enemy side; therefore he was an "enemy casualty". There is an austere rightness to that designation. Seeing his name on that sea of Allied names, Harvard names, we are prevented from skimming over the whole too easily. We are obliged, even if we do not know who he was, do not know how he opposed Hitler, to think about the cost of that war on both sides. His inclusion, within this designation, has a certain moral and symbolic grandeur. It compels reflection on living and dying, being a resister and being a soldier.