Title page of Niemoller's "Of Guilt and Hope," 1946Of Guilt and Hope, by Martin Niemöller

New York: Philosophical Library, 1947 [79 pp. 21 cm.]
translation by Renee Spodheim of:
Die deutsche Schuld, Not und Hoffnung
Zurich: Evangelischer Verlag, 1946.

Document and analysis by Harold Marcuse, Professor of History at UCSB,
page created May 2003, uploaded 9/17/04
(part of my Martin Niemöller Quotation page)

According to a short announcement in the New York Times on Aug. 5, 1947, this translation was withdrawn from circulation by the Philosophical Society after it became known that Niemoeller may have supported the Nazis as early as 1924.

[I offer the following columnar comparison of texts. I plan to put in the relevant German in a third column as well, at some future date--I've included a clip from my Niemoeller main page at the bottom of this page.] My analysis of a key passage can be found below the table.

English translation, published in 1946, pp. 13-16:

This should be our starting point, and with this very thing in mind, we have to start in earnest. Nobody wants to take the responsibility of the guilt, no one of our German people is guilty, everybody shoves the guilt over to his neighbor. The local official says: I was only a little man, the whole guilt lies with you, Herr local commander; and he, in turn says: I did not wrong anybody; I only obeyed orders. The whole guilt lies with you, you of the Gestapo. But the latter don't want it either and finally everything lands on Himmler and Hitler. These are the greatest sinners, who cannot throw the guilt on others anymore, even if they did try to do so before their death. Can it disappear into thin air this way? The guilt exists, there is no doubt about it.

Even if there were no other guilt than that of the six million clay urns, containing the ashes of burnt Jews from all over Europe.

And this guilt weighs heavily on the German people and on the German name and on all Christendom. For these things happened in our world and in our name. Can we of the Confessional Church have nothing to do with it? Can we say that the church triumphed on all the fronts?

Marcuse's translation of the German version, pp. 5ff.
Note that in the German original there are NO paragraph breaks. Probably due to paper shortage, the German pages were very densely printed. I did this translation myself from the German original before I obtained the English version. More can be found on my Niemoeller main page.

When Pastor Niemoller was taken to a concentration camp, in 1937, we wrote about it; when the concentration camps were opened, in 1933, we wrote about it; and those who were then put into concentration camps were communists. Who cared about them? We knew about it; it was in all the papers.

Who spoke up? Perchance the Confessional Church? We thought: Communists, those adversaries of religion, those enemies of Christianity — "should I be my brother's keeper?"

The sick ones were then put aside, the so-called incurables. — I remember a conversation with a man who claimed to be a Christian. He decided: "This might be right. The state spends a lot of money on those incurable people and they are only a burden to all the others. Is not doing away with them best for everybody?"

And only after that did the attack on the Church itself begin. Then we did have our say, and did so until officially silenced too. [see below for an analysis of this crucial paragraph]

Can we say it is not our fault? The persecution of the Jews, the manner in which we treated the invaded countries, the goings-on in Greece, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia, or in the Netherlands, those things we could read about in the papers? That hundreds of hostages were simply lined up against the wall because of sabotage committed by others? Behold ye one who murmureth against his own sin? I think we Christians belonging to the Confessional Church have all the reasons for saying; "My fault, my most grievous fault."

We cannot get out of it with the excuse: I might have had to pay with my life had I spoken out. In my Bible I have read: "Defend the Truth with thine own life." Or let us think of Luther's words: "Take away body, belongings, honor, child, wife!"

When Pastor Niemöller was put in a concentration camp we wrote the year 1937; when the concentration camp was opened we wrote the year 1933, and the people who were put in the camps then were Communists. Who cared about them? We knew it, it was printed in the newspapers.

Who raised their voice, maybe the Confessing Church? We thought: Communists, those opponents of religion, those enemies of Christians - "should I be my brother's keeper?"

Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables. - I remember a conversation I had with a person who claimed to be a Christian. He said: Perhaps it's right, these incurably sick people just cost the state money, they are just a burden to themselves and to others. Isn't it best for all concerned if they are taken out of the middle [of society]? -- Only then did the church as such take note. Then we started talking, until our voices were again silenced in public. Can we say, we aren't guilty/responsible? The persecution of the Jews, the way we treated the occupied countries, or the things in Greece, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia or in Holland, that were written in the newspapers.

I believe, we Confessing-Church-Christians have every reason to say: mea culpa, mea culpa! We can talk ourselves out of it with the excuse that it would have cost me my head if I had spoken out.

We preferred to keep quiet. We are most certainly not without guilt; and I ask my- self over and over again what would have happened if 14,000 evangelical ministers and the Evangelical communities, all over Germany, had defended the truth with their very lives in the year 1933 or 1934, when there must have been a possibility? If we had said then that it is not just for Herman Goering simply to throw 100,000 communists into concentration camps to perish?

I can imagine that 30 to 40 thousand Evangelical Christians would have been shortened by a head, but I can also imagine that we would have thus saved 30-40 Millions of lives, f or this is the price that we now have to pay.

And I believe that, if we now want to start all over again and bear witness for Christ, there is no other possibility than to strive at being at peace with God again, before we start preaching and testifying on His behalf. We have to do penance and never say that the Church triumphed; we have all refused to serve, even 1; for, those who remained Christians and defended truth with their lives, those do not bear any heads on their shoulders any more. We owe it to our Redeemer to retrace our steps; otherwise, we will find no peace, and we will go on grumbling, and there will be no testimony.

I can hear the objection: We might risk doing penance before God, but you want us to recognize our guilt before mankind. I once left the divine service myself, after the first world war, because the minister was talking about war guilt. I know how a man feels when he resists. We are told: "Before God, yes; but we refuse to recognize our guilt before men, because they say: We now have the right to punish you."

Nevertheless, we cannot find peace with God if we refuse to confess our guilt to people who suffered because of it. When a child misbehaves, it has to do penance before his mother, and not in his own little corner; the mother expects it. just as the prodigal son, who does not go to his own little corner, but to the Father and confesses: [...]

We preferred to keep silent. We are certainly not without guilt/fault, and I ask myself again and again, what would have happened, if in the year 1933 or 1934 - there must have been a possibility - 14,000 Protestant pastors and all Protestant communities in Germany had defended the truth until their deaths? If we had said back then, it is not right when Hermann Göring simply puts 100,000 Communists in the concentration camps, in order to let them die. I can imagine that perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 Protestant Christians would have had their heads cut off, but I can also imagine that we would have rescued 30-40,000 million [sic] people, because that is what it is costing us now.

Note the one very interesting change in the English translation, which for the first time lists the Church in line with the persecuted "And only after that did the attack on the Church itself begin." The German reads: "Dann erst ist es an die Kirche als solche herangekommen." I had translated this, from the context of the Church ignoring the persecution of the incurably ill, as the Church began to "take note" after the incurably ill were taken away. (Herankommen means literally "to approach," NOT to attack, and it can mean "get close to.") This is a parallel construction to the preceding treatment of the Communists: first they were put in the camps, and then the Church did not care and did not speak out ("Wer hat sich darum gekümmert? ... Wer hat die Stimme erhoben...?"). So I understand N's treatment of the next group, the incurably ill, similarly: they were taken "out of the middle of society," and only then did the Church begin to discuss this ("einen Ton reden"), until its voice was silenced. The published English translation embellishes that sentence as well. It takes the German: "Dann haben wir einen Ton geredet, bis er dann in der Öffentlichkeit wieder verstummt ist." and makes it into: "Then we did have our say, and did so until officially silenced too." Even my original translation (before I saw and thought about this) implied more active persecution of the church than N's words. I translated: "Then we started talking, until our voices were again silenced in public." Actually, N. only says in a passive construction that it--"the tone" went silent again once it had been (briefly) out in public. He does NOT say that anyone (from the outside) silenced it, but merely that "we" talkers just fell silent or stopped talking (verstummen). N's use of the slightly unusual phrase "einen Ton reden" seems to allude to the more common phrase "grosse Töne reden," meaning "to talk big," as if the Church members were full of hot air, all talk with no action to back up their words. (return to translation column)

    Als Pastor Niemöller ins Konzentrationslager kam, schrieben wir 1937, als das Konzentrationslager aufgemacht wurde, da schrieben wir 1933, und die damals in die Konzentrationslager kamen, waren Kommunisten. Wer hat sich darum gekümmert? Wir haben es gewußt, es stand in den Zeitungen. Wer hat die Stimme erhoben, etwa die Bekennende Kirche? Wir haben gedacht: Kommunisten, diese Religionsgegner, diese Christenfeinde - "soll ich meines Bruders Hüter sein?" Dann hat man die Kranken, die sogenannten Unheilbaren beseitigt. - Ich erinnere mich eines Gespräches mit einem Menschen, der Anspruch darauf erhob, ein Christ zu sein. Er meinte: Vielleicht ist es ganz richtig, diese unheibaren Menschen kosten den Staat nur Geld, sie sind sich und den andern nur zur Last. Ist es nicht das Beste für alle Teile, wenn man sie aus der Mitte schafft? -- Dann erst ist es an die Kirche als solche herangekommen. Dann haben wir einen Ton geredet, bis er dann in der Öffentlichkeit wieder verstummt ist. Können wir sagen, wir sind nicht schuld? Die Judenverfolgung, die Art und Weise, wie wir die besetzten Länder behandelten, oder die Dinge in Griechenland, in Polen, in der Tschechoslowakei oder in Holland, die doch in der Zeitung gestanden haben. … Ich glaube, wir Bekennende-Kirche-Christen haben allen Anlass, zu sagen: Meine Schuld, meine Schuld! Wir können uns mit der Entschuldigung, es hätte mich ja den Kopf kosten können, hätte ich geredet, nicht herausreden.

Wir haben es vorgezogen, zu schweigen. Ohne Schuld sind wir gewiss nicht, und ich frage mich immer wieder, was wäre geworden, wenn im Jahre 1933 oder 1934 - es muss ja eine Möglichkeit gewesen sein - 14 000 evangelische Pfarrer und alle evangelischen Gemeinden, die es in Deutschland gab, die Wahrheit bis in den Tod verteidigt hätten? Wenn wir damals gesagt hätten, es ist nicht recht, wenn Hermann Göring 100 000 Kommunisten einfach in die Konzentrationslager steckt, um sie umkommen zu lassen. Ich kann mir denken, dass dann vielleicht 30 000 bis 40 000 evangelische Christen um einen Kopf kürzer gemacht worden wären, kann mir aber auch denken, dass wir dann 30-40 000 Millionen [sic] Menschen das Leben gerettet hätten, denn das kostet es uns jetzt.

Prepared for the web on May 31, 2003 by H. Marcuse, uploaded to replace draft page on 9/17/04
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