Advocate for the persecuted - recollections of a 75-year-old
by Hermann Maas
I was born on August 5, 1877 in Gengenbach in the Baden portion of the
Black Forest, the son of a
pastor and of a pastor's daughter. On my mother's side I am descended
from a family of evangelical pastors that stretches back hundreds of years.
grew up in Gernsbach in the Murgtal (Murg River Valley), where my parents
moved when I was one year old. After elementary school I went to the secondary
school, which my father ran in addition to his pastoral duties. Following
this, I attended the secondary school in Heidelberg for three years, and
then the secondary school in Mannheim, where I
took my Abitur (German school leaving certificate/university qualification)
Even when I was a boy, I could imagine no other profession for myself
than that of a pastor. True, during my later years at secondary school
the question repeatedly arose of whether I might in fact become a mathematician
instead. However, in the end I opted for theology ...
In 1913 I was sent for the first time to an international conference -
a religious congress that sat for three weeks in Paris and brought together
representatives from almost every religion in the world, many of whom
were extremely interesting personalities. It was an unforgettable experience.
However, in 1914 I was one of those who wanted to use the Christian church
- albeit without any slight intended to any of the other religions - as
a basis for founding an effective peace movement. The "Weltbund für
internationale Freundschaft durch die Kirchen" ("International
Alliance for International Friendship through the Churches") was
founded in Konstanz at the beginning of August 1914. This period was rudely
brought to an end by the outbreak of the First World War, which we - a
small group of men from various churches and nations - were powerless
to prevent. But all my life I held true to this principle, and during
the times that followed I only became more radical in my struggle for
peace and for a truly active form of non-violence. This is what kept me
immune to any form of nationalism or passion for the war between 1914
and 1918, and it is why, after the war reached its dreadful conclusion,
I sought consolation for myself and for others in the struggle for peace...
I hardly witnessed the so-called "Umbruch" ("upheaval")
of 1933. It coincided with my final preparations for my months-long trip
to Palestine... When I returned home, I experienced threats from the SA
(Sturmabteilung - Nazi stormtroopers) as early as my second day back.
Their first act was to use violence to force me to refrain from my pastoral
duties. English friends intervened and made it possible for me to continue
my activities. However, right from the very first day it was clear to
me that this signalled the onset of a period of incessant struggle. I
fought back against this from within the ranks of the "Pfarrernotbund"
("Emergency Association of Pastors", formed by Eugen Weschke,
Herbert Goltzen and Günter Jacob in September 1933 to protest against
the so-called "Aryan Paragraph"; became one of the roots of
the "Confessing Church") and the "Bekennende Kirche"
(the German "Confessing Church"), which I joined directly, and
as soon as possible I was setting up aid agencies for non-Aryan Christians,
in order to help them to emigrate and to provide them with assistance
during their time of extreme need...
I shall never forget the dreadful experiences of those years, the frequent
visits from persecuted and tormented people, the spiritual and physical
hardship experienced by those who were hounded by the Nuremberg Laws,
the constant danger endured by so many, day and night - sensations I too
shared, as though this were my own fate. In full awareness of what I was
doing, I allowed my own life and fate to become intertwined with the terrible
fate of the Jewish people...
(Extract from "Leben für Versöhnung" ("Lives
devoted to Reconciliation"), Hans Thoma Verlag, Karlsruhe 1997, pp