Barth, Niemoller, Fear and Freedom

I have been rereading Eric Metaxas’ recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy Thomas Nelson, 2010) and I came across two haunting quotes from major influences upon my favorite dead German theologian, Dietrich.

The first is Martin Niemoller, whose advanced age at the time of Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power led him, along with so many other well-meaning Germans, into complicit approval of the Nazi regime.

The second is by the Swiss theologian Karl Barth, whose teaching had an immeasurable impact on Bonhoeffer. Dietrich wrote him while returning to Berlin at the beginning of Hitler’s reign to tell him that he had left his safe post in London to return to his native land.

The quotes will explain themselves.


First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out- Because I was not a Trade Unionist

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out- Because I was not a Jew.

And then they came for me- And there was no one left to speak for me.


…think of only one thing- that you are a German, that the house of you church is on fire, that you know enough and can say what you know well enough to be able to help, and that you must return to your post by the next ship.

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