In 1934 Adolf Hitler summoned German church leaders to his Berlin office to berate them for insufficiently supporting his programs. Pastor Martin Niemoller explained that he was concerned only for the welfare of the church and of the German people. Hitler snapped, “You confine yourself to the church. I’ll take care of the German people.” Niemoller replied, “You said that ‘I will take care of the German people.’ But we too, as Christians and churchmen, have a responsibility toward the German people. That responsibility was entrusted to us by God, and neither you nor anyone in this world has the power to take it from us.”
Hitler listened in silence, but that evening his Gestapo raided Niemoller’s rectory, and a few days later a bomb exploded in his church. During the months and years following, he was closely watched by the secret police, and in June 1937 he preached these words to his church: “We have no more thought of using our own powers to escape the arm of the authorities than had the apostles of old. We must obey God rather than man.” He was soon arrested and placed in solitary confinement.
Dr. Niemoller’s trial began on February 7, 1938. That morning, a green-uniformed guard escorted the minister from his prison cell and through a series of underground passages toward the courtroom. Niemoller was overcome with terror and loneliness. What would become of him? Of his family? His church? What tortures awaited them all?
The guard’s face was impassive, and he was silent as stone. But as they exited a tunnel to ascend a final flight of stairs, Niemoller heard a whisper. At first he didn’t know where it came from, for the voice was soft as a sigh. Then he realized that the officer was breathing into his ear the words of Proverbs 18:10: The Lord is a mighty tower where his people can run for safety.
Niemoller’s fear fell away, and the power of that verse sustained him through his trial and his years in Nazi concentration camps.
The Lord is a mighty tower
Where his people can run for safety —
The rich think their money is a wall of protection.
Pride leads to destruction; humility leads to honor.
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Feb.7.