The other day, I was listening to an episode of Pastor Chris Rosebrough's "Fighting for the Faith" podcast (This episode), I got to listen in on one of Pastor Rosebrough's Sunday School lessons. In that lesson, he told of a historical Lutheran Chaplain named Henry Gerecke. Henry Gerecke is notable because he was the chaplain selected to minister to a few Nazi war criminals following World War II. Specifically, he preached to those who were in the Nuremberg. These were Hitler's elite, and these men were mostly members of the cult of Positive Christianity (A blend of Cultural Christianity and Nazi ideology).
On his very first day of ministering to these men, Gerecke decided to visit each of them individually. The very first prisoner he visited was Rudolf Hess, who was Adolf Hitler's Deputy Fuhrer (Vice President, if you would). When Gerecke invited Hess to chapel, Hess is quoted as saying, "If I have any praying to do, I'll do it right here in my cell. I'll not have to come upstairs to pray to your God."
At the third cell was Wilhelm Keitel, who served as Chief of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces. Unlike Hess, Keitel was genuinely convicted of his sin. That night he told Gerecke was told by Keitel, "I know from [the Bible] God can love a sinner like me." In that night, Keitel got on his knees and prayed, repenting of many sins.
One notable prisoner Gerecke witnessed to was Joachim von Ribbentrop. Ribbentrop was Hitler's foreign minister during the war. Ribbentrop doubted the existence of God entirely according to some sources, and declined to participate in any services that Gerecke preformed on that first night.
Gerrecke's services also consisted of Baldur von Schirach (Head of the Hitler Youth), Walther Funk (Reich Minister of Economics), Wilhelm Frick (Reich Minister of the Interior), Albert Speer (Minister of Armaments and War Production), Fritz Sauckel (Gauleiter of Thuringia), and Hans Fritzsche (Director in the Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda). During the services, he taught from the Bible, preached the Gospel, and gave communion to those who had repented (He withheld it from those who did not repent, in keeping with 1 Corinthians 11:27). By the summer of 1946, both Ribbentrop and Erich Raeder (Admiral in the German Navy) had started attending his services.
However, in June of 1946 (4 months before the Nuremberg excecutions), word came out that Gerecke may be leaving to return home. Because of this, Hans Fritzsche wrote a letter to Gerecke's wife, Alma Gerecke, which said:
"My dear Mrs. Gerecke,
Not only did Fritzche write it, but it was signed by the people who attended the services, as well as a few who didn't, including Hess and Alfred Rosenberg (Leader of the Nazi Foreign Affairs Office). Because of this letter, Alma asked Gerecke to stay.
On October 1st, 1946, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Frick, Sauckel, Rosenberg, and Hermann Goering (President of the Reichstag), along with five others, were sentenced to be executed. Sadly, Goering denied the Christian faith until the end despite Gerecke's pleas and his wife's prayers. Rather than face execution, Goering committed suicide through cyanide. Ribbentrop was the first to be executed. When asked by the executioner what his final words would be, he said, "I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul." He then turned to Gerecke and said, "I'll see you again." When Keitel and Sauckel were executed, both made similar statements. When it was Frick's turn to be executed, he also made an affirmation of faith. Rosenberg was the last of those under Gerecke's care to be executed, and he said nothing about the faith.
Gerecke had done his job as a faithful believer. He preached the Gospel to dying sinners. However, many did not like this. Some people even sent him hate mail because he dared to preach the Gospel to these men.
This is the power of the Gospel. God can save Nazi war criminals. God can save serial killers. God can save pedophiles. God can save absolutely anyone. God can even save wretches like you and me. This story has brought me to tears more than once. I was even brought to tears while righting this article. It is a beautiful display of God's infinite mercy to those who believe in Him. In these days, we must not forget that no one is beyond God's reach. So we must preach to everyone, and we must preach law and gospel, sin and grace, repentance and the forgiveness of sins, and we must preach salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9 (ESV)
About the Author
Brandon C. Hines is a young writer from somewhere in northern Alabama who writes about Theology, Polemics, and Apologetics. His beliefs are best summarized by the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
You can search for various topics I have written about by going to Google and typing in a keyword, then typing site:Learningthepath.weebly.com after it.