It is the 10th of November, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Listeners to this show might remember that one of the earliest ways in which Christians sought to live their faith and imitate Christ was literal martyrdom- opposing an evil empire and, if necessary, doing so to the point of death. While this model has thankfully not been the norm in the West since the 4th century, there are those who have still followed Christ and confessed to him even when it has led directly to their deaths.
And listeners of this show know that the martyrs of Nazi Germany are of great interest to me, not only because of the evils of the Nazis but because it is a modern example of the dichotomy between many who stayed quiet and let evil flourish and those few who had the courage to oppose it directly in the name of Christ.
Today, we remember a few of the unheralded martyrs- 3 priests and one pastor who came together in the northern city of Lübeck to oppose Hitler and met their deaths together on the 10th of August in 1943.
The first was Johannes Prassek- he was the “First Chaplain” at the Heart of Jesus Parish in Lübeck. He regularly preached against the state-sponsored murder of the so-called “unfit,” which included the mentally handicapped and physically deformed. He learned Polish to minister to the forced laborers. He was caught by a nazi informant who infiltrated a small group that he led.
All four wrote to family and friends- Prassek’s last words: "What I am about to ask of you, above all on this earth, is this: Do not be sad! What is waiting for me is joy and good fortune, with which all the happiness and good fortune here on earth cannot compare.”
Herman Lange, another priest at the congregation, was caught by the Gestapo for telling his parishioners that Hitler’s National Socialism was incompatible with Christianity and it was unacceptable to fight a war on its behalf. He wrote to a colleague on the eve of his death:
"With a sentiment of total sacrifice for him, I place my short life back in His hands. “Life for me is Christ, Dying the Prize!“ He, who gave me faith, also gives me the strength to overcome the last and most difficult, calmly, strong and joyously.”
Edward Muller worked with the youth in the same parish- his popularity with the youth-led the Hitler Youth to recruit him for their cause. His rejection led to him being put under suspicion, and he was caught copying anti-Nazi literature and arrested. After a year of pre-trial detention and his sentence to death, he wrote his sister: “Now the time has come. Within a few hours, I shall have come to the end of my life’s path. The Lord over Life and Death, Christ my King, will call me home to himself.”
And finally, their unlikely colleague- the Reverend Karl Stellbrink from the nearby Lutherkirche. This Lutheran pastor, and eldest of the four, was a veteran of the First World War. His anger over the German losses led him to embrace the National Socialists and to see them as political saviors. But his conscience would be pricked. At a state funeral, he noticed the crucifix covered by a Nazi banner, and his friendship with a Jewish man made him reconsider the hatred of these so-called “enemies of the state.” After the bombing of Lübeck, he publicly preached that Germany was being punished for its national sins. He was arrested and would be the first Protestant murdered by the nazi regime. He wrote to his wife and children:
“Now my first word is for that true God who has protected my life a thousandfold and has enriched my life with untold joys. – Truly, it is not hard to have to die and place oneself in God’s hands. God bless and shield you, God bless and shield all who love him or seek to find him with all their heart. With gratitude and trust, Your Fritz, your father.”
Hitler and Joseph Goebbels took a personal interest in having these four convicted and put to death as a warning to others. These men, Johannes, Edward, Herman, and Karl, would be put to death by guillotine each 3 minutes apart. Witnesses noted the blood of the four ran together on the floor to the drain. We remember these martyrs for Christ on the day of their translation to the heavenly kingdom- the 10th of August 1943.
The last word for today is from 1 Corinthians 15- 2 of the martyrs quoted it in their final letters- from verse 54:
54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 10th of November 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who knows it's hard to make a joke after talking about martyrs- he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who was thus determined to come up with something tasteful and clever, something you did not see coming… I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be OK.