Monday, November 11, 2013

Paul Schneider: The Pastor of Buchenwald

On a January morning in 1939 in the concentration camp of Buchenwald, two beleaguered prisoners who had attempted to escape were brought into the parade grounds of the camp.  There they were mercilessly executed.  As the bodies of the two prisoners went limp, a voice rang out across the camp from the window of the punishment cell.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, I witness against the murder of these prisoners!”

The person who condemned these executions was the German Pastor, Paul Schneider.  No other prisoner had ever dared to speak out against the Nazi atrocities like Pastor Schneider.

Paul Schneider served Germany for three years during World War I, went to seminary, married, had six children, and became the Pastor of a German Reformed church in Dickenschied.  He was disturbed by the political movements of the 1930’s and was sickened especially by the Hitler Youth movement.  Sunday School classes were turned into nationalistic meetings where prayers were made not to God but to the Fatherland.  He refused to get swept along in this tide of nationalism.  He recognized National Socialism and Nazism for what they really were – Satan’s attempt for domination.  Pastor Schneider refused to salute the Swastika, he re-introduced church discipline to his little church to those who preached the Nazi gospel, and he spoke out against the Nazi regime.  It should be no surprise then that Pastor Schneider was arrested on May 31, 1937, and eventually sent to the infamous Buchenwald.

Inset in the front gate of Buchenwald were the words “Jedem das Seine” which idiomatically mean “everyone gets what he deserves”.  Though not technically an extermination camp, Buchenwald was a brutal camp comprising of starvation, medical experimentation, hard labour and cruel punishments.  The camp commandant and guards were brutal sadists who became completely desensitized and devoid of any notion of mercy.  In essence, Buchenwald was human depravity brazenly unmasked and on display.

Though Pastor Schneider’s heavily censored letters assured his wife, family and congregation that he was in good health and doing fine, in reality, Pastor Schneider was in a lot of trouble early on in his imprisonment at Buchenwald.  His trouble began when he refused to take off his hat and salute the Swastika.  He told the German guards that to salute to the Swastika would be akin to idolatry.  It was from that point that he was taken to the punishment cells and kept in solitary confinement.  

His cell did have a window, from where he proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone in earshot.  He also used the window as a platform of protest and condemnation.  He denounced his captors and torturers as followers and captives of Satan.  He preached Christ and proclaimed scripture even when his guards came in to make him stop.

Every form of torture was thrown against Pastor Schneider.  The Nazi guards tried to break him down physically, and conversely tried to show kindness with hope that he would follow Buchenwald rules.  They said he could go free – go back to his family and church – if he signed a paper that said he would never speak out against the government again.  He refused, and held fast.  By 1939, his body was permanently bent from the torture, which caused constant pain.   On Easter morning, thousands of prisoners were assembled on the parade ground for roll call.  He managed to stand up by the window, despite his crippling pain.  He called out the window in a strong voice "Comrades, hear me. Here speaks Pastor Schneider. Here is tortured and murdered. So speaks the Lord: I am the resurrection and the life!"  The guards rushed in his cell to silence Pastor Schneider.  The prisoner’s heard the message, and knew that it was spoken from the Pastor of Buchenwald.
Though the punishment cells were only meant for short periods, Pastor Schneider never left his cell.  The guards were afraid of Pastor Schneider – afraid of the influence he wielded, afraid of his moral courage, and afraid of his leader, the Lion of Judah.  Just as Mary Queen of Scots feared John Knox above all the armies of England, so too was the fear towards Pastor Schneider.  They knew that there was something different about this prisoner.  They could see that he was not afraid of them and their means of torture.  The Nazis’ were infuriated with his boldness and condemnation, but were powerless to stop it.  Pastor Schneider would simply not bend his knee before them.

Shortly after the Easter of 1939, Pastor Paul Schneider was put to death by lethal injection.  His faith and courage emboldened many fellow believers to stand against the Nazi tyranny.  His suffering and death pointed their eyes heavenward.

“If we lose our life here from him, he will keep it unto everlasting life.  He will let us see his glory here and there.  Then through suffering we shall find our way to glory, through the cross to the throne.  We shall believe that, according to his word, we shall trust his promise and, therefore, we shall give thanks to him with joy.”  Paul Schneider

 “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
Psalm 20:7

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