«

»

Jul 28

About My Father (2)

(Continued from About My Father (1))

My father, Albrecht Fritz Nicolaus, 1940?

Those “trials by fire” were not far off.  After a year of study in Basel, in 1938 Albrecht returned to Germany.  He spent approximately a month in Berlin, finishing his theological studies.  In early summer of 1938 Albrecht spent  almost a month traveling in the UK, visiting London and Edinburgh among other places.  On June 27, he wrote from London to Helmut Gollwitzer in Berlin.  Gollwitzer had taken over Martin Niemöller’s parish in Berlin-Dahlem after Niemöller’s arrest by the Gestapo in 1937.[1]

Helmut Gollwitzer ca. 1960

Albrecht had come to know  Gollwitzer through Margot, who of course lived in Berlin and was active in BK circles there.  In the letter, Albrecht chats about his conversations with various people in English church circles and around the British peace movement.  He wrote that he could hardly take a step in his travels around England without people raising questions about Germany.  Albrecht also wrote that he had been invited to participate in a conference at Oxford the following spring.

Denis Riley 1936

Among the people Albrecht met in England were Gladys and Denis Riley in Horsforth, Leeds.  The Rileys were committed pacifists, active in the No More War Movement and then in its successor, the Peace Pledge Union.  Denis, formerly the manager of an insurance agency and active in the Presbyterian Church, had become radicalized in the course of the 1930s and by 1938 had left his agency and the church and devoted his time fully to activism.  He was also an environmentalist, as the 1936 photo to the left shows; it depicts him during a group project cleaning up the tailings of a coal mine.

At Christmas time, having returned to his home in Essen, Albrecht wrote the Rileys a letter in English.  In went approximately like this:[2]

A stack of Christmas greetings from many friends I got to know during my stay in England lies on the table in front of me, awaiting answers.  I will begin with your letter of October 12, because it is very instructive.  I have not forgotten you, but if you recall, you will realize that I found myself in a crisis because I had to finish my assignments by December 22, namely a lecture (sermon?) and an hour’s lesson plan for children, all as part one of my exam.  I had to work hard until midnight for several weeks, but with the help of a good friend who copied the whole essay of 90 pages, I was able to finish the work on time.  Now I am free for the holidays this week, but then I have to plunge back into the work until Easter for the second race.  If all goes well, I will then be what you call a “curate” (assistant pastor).

Now you will understand what I was doing in Berlin.  I completed my studies in conjunction with the Staatsbibliothek.  In the next three months I will stay at home and wait eagerly for further news of you personally and your work for the PPU.

Naturally I was very interested in what you told me about the days of the crisis and about the opinions of people in your circle.  I thank you first of all very much for the greetings from your quarterly meeting in October, and ask you please to send everyone my best wishes in return.  I knew the president, the doctor K.R., through correspondence.  If I ever return to England it would be a pleasure to meet her personally.  Please be so kind as to forward the enclosed photo to her so that she can remember me better.

Let me begin the second page with greetings and my best wishes for Christmas (already past) for you and your family, and for a happier new year than the past one was.  I hope that you are having much joy with your two sweet daughters; I would love to see them again.  I hope Gladys is making more progress in German so that she can be a well informed guide for you if you come to Germany.

Although we are at Christmastime, the world is much disturbed by strife and war.  I cannot write you my true feelings about the events in Germany, Europe and elsewhere.  But it may be the general opinion in all of Germany, perhaps also in your own country, that the peace gained in September may easily be gone by Spring.  I regard with deep humiliation and sorrow the contribution that my own country has made to the current state of affairs.  At the same time, I need to mention my growing disappointment with the policy of English and French statesmen, and others.  This is a policy of men who focus on preserving the peace while forfeiting their freedom and independence.  There is something cowardly in the blustering joy of many who feel that the war has been put off for a little while.  Isn’t it remarkable that this delay swells the influence of a peculiarly German spirit?  All over the world, people are discovering a new faith in their national ‘God,’ in their might, weapons, race, blood, and soil.  I marvel at the readiness of the world around us to help all kinds of refugees, and I know very well from my own friends how helpless they are in this country, but the same nations, through their preparations for the coming war, are on the road to making refugees in much greater number.

I do not need to make “peace” — it is a very important task, but not mine; but I will say that in the Christ v. Antichrist debate, I respect only the people who seek a middle way.[3]  Beware of those who judge this question from the human standpoint and not from Christ’s revelation!  Human ideals are well worth suffering to uphold them, but it is not within our power to overcome the enemies of God without him, or by concluding a “truce” with their representatives.
With all my best wishes, Nico

The reference in the last paragraph regarding “the peace gained in September” is to the Munich Agreement, in which the Great Powers of Europe (Britain, France, Italy) allowed Germany to occupy the Sudetenland, dismembering Czechoslovakia.  The Munich pact is today widely condemned as appeasement of Hitler; it paved the road to greater aggression and to the world war.

The Gestapo office in Essen, a branch of the Gestapo district Düsseldorf, intercepted and confiscated this letter on Dec. 27, 1938; it never reached the Rileys.  However, it took some time for the Gestapo to identify the sender, who had signed it only as “Nico” and mailed it without a return address.

While the Gestapo was hunting for the letter writer, Albrecht in January 1939 took his first theological exam under the auspices of the BK.  The BK ran a semi-clandestine seminary and also operated a parallel ordainment office which examined candidates for the office of pastor and, if they passed, ordained them.  These exams and ordinations were off the official church books, and the clergy who were created by this process had no standing with the official church and could not collect salaries as civil servants, as was the case with the clergy of the official church.  The exams consisted of two parts, generally taken about a year apart.  For his first exam, Albrecht wrote a 90-page research paper, “The Doctrine of the Church According to the Apostolic Fathers.”  As part of the exam, he gave a sermon on the theme of Matt. 11:2-10, a text dealing with the imprisonment of John (the Baptist)[4].  He also had to write essays on the topic “Christology in the Letter to the Hebrews” and “Cyprian’s Doctrine of the Church.”  He passed the exam.[46]

By early March 1939 at the latest, the Gestapo had found its man.   On March 23, 1939, a Gestapo functionary in Essen, Maupel, wrote a registered letter marked “Secret” to his head office in Düsseldorf with an analysis.  Maupel writes:

The letter contains language which allows one to conclude that the writer is a member of the “Bekenntnis-Front” and stands in opposition to the National-Socialist state.  The writer’s oppositional posture can be seen especially in the following sentences:

Here Maupel quotes at length the last paragraph of the letter, concluding with “making refugees in much greater number.”  He continues that the members of the Peace Pledge Union, mentioned in the letter,

are said to be under Communist influence.  According to English newspaper stories picked up by the German press, members of the PPU recently invited Jewish emigrants from Vienna and members of the Communist unemployed workers’ movement for lunch in the most expensive hotel in London.  According to the same articles, the unemployed at the lunch had previously been active with the “International Brigades” in Spain.

After the Essen branch of the Gestapo succeeded in identifying Albrecht as the author of the letter, it imposed postal surveillance on him.  (The file does not indicate awareness of the earlier postal surveillance of 1936 following Albrecht’s letter to Pastor Busch; the filing system was not that good.)  The second surveillance intercepted a letter Albrecht wrote on March 2 1939 to Maria Netter in Basel, Switzerland.  Netter, from Berlin, was one of Albrecht and Margot’s fellow students in Basel in 1937-38; Margot writes about her in her memoirs.[5]

Albrecht’s letter to Netter mentions that his exam will shortly be behind him, “like a merciful thunderstorm,” and he is thinking of reviving his “old plan, to do a doctorate under the old master,” which could only mean Barth; but he asks Netter to keep this “under a seal of silence.”  At the same time, he now has “several opportunities to work for a longer period in England.”  His current life, he says, is a “high-speed spin around certain textbooks where I’m acquiring a final polish.”

The Gestapo made two typescripts of Albrecht’s letter to Maria Netter from the original Gothic handwriting, but Maupel judged its content “irrelevant in itself.”  Although there is nothing politically incriminating in Albrecht’s letter to Netter, it alerts the Gestapo that Albrecht is preparing for an exam — what exam, with whom, for what? — and that he is thinking of leaving Germany, either for Switzerland or England.

Maupel in Essen also notes, at the conclusion of his March 23 letter to Düsseldorf HQ:

Furthermore, it has been established that N. has a relationship with a Margret (?) Eickhoff, residing at Pfalzburgerstr. 83 in Berlin W. 15.   Apparently this E. is his fiancée.

The Gestapo head office in Düsseldorf replied to its Essen branch office on April 5.  The Düsseldorf official, who signed himself only as “J.A.,”  agreed with Maupel’s estimate of the Riley letter.  He wrote that Albrecht’s paragraph about the Munich Agreement amounts, in his estimation, to a violation of paragraph 90f of the Reichsstrafgesetzbuch (Federal Penal Code),

or represent at least an attempt to violate the cited paragraph.  I therefore request the commencement of a prosecution against Nicolaus under paragraph 90f.  Please send me two copies of the proceedings together with the final conclusion.  The original letter is to be taken as evidence in the prosecution.  I request further that Nicolaus’ home be immediately searched for additional material — letters etc. — and that his passport be secured at the same time.

Paragraph 90f defined something like state libel.  It was a 1934 creation of the Nazi state.  In 1939, it read as follows:

§ 90f. Wer öffentlich oder als Deutscher im Ausland durch eine unwahre oder gröblich entstellte Behauptung tatsächlicher Art eine schwere Gefahr für das Ansehen des deutschen Volkes herbeiführt, wird mit Zuchthaus bestraft.[6]

Anyone who publicly, or as a German abroad, brings the reputation of the German people into grave danger by means of an untrue or grossly distorted statement of fact, will be punished by imprisonment.

J.A. sent a copy of his letter to the Gestapo head office in Berlin, with the following notation:

Nicolaus’ statements allow the general conclusion, first of all, that he is a follower or a member of the Bekennende Kirche.  The letter further reveals that he is interested in the efforts of the Peace Pledge Union in London and is connected with followers of this association.  What is more, Nicolaus’ statements contain a criticism of the global political events of the past year, which must be considered nothing other than an infamous libel and expression of contempt for everything German, and in my estimation as a crime within the meaning of paragraph 90f of the Reichstrafgesetzbuch.  I will therefore initiate a prosecution against Nicolaus under the cited paragraph and will report on the outcome at the appropriate time.

The postal surveillance imposed on Nicolaus did not yield further incriminating material.

However, there was a hitch.  The Essen branch of the Gestapo replied to its Düsseldorf head office on May 23 that on April 13, Nicolaus had left Essen and moved to Braunfels an der Lahn, at Schlossstr. 3, and was expected to remain there until the beginning of October.  “The requested interrogation could therefore not be undertaken here.”  Braunfels was not under Düsseldorf’s jurisdiction; it belonged to the Gestapo office in Frankfurt.

On May 31, 1939, J.A. at the Gestapo office in Düsseldorf wrote to the Gestapo office in Frankfurt, forwarding the Riley letter, and adding:

I therefore request to take the further measures against him from there, and if necessary to initiate a prosecution under paragraph 90f.  I also think it appropriate to search Nicolaus’ residence for further material — letters etc. — and at the same time to confiscate his passport.

Frankfurt did not immediately respond.  On September 1, 1939, J.A. at the Düsseldorf Gestapo office prodded his Frankfurt counterpart, asking for a status report on the matter.  This time, Frankfurt moved.

Independently of J.A.’s exertions in Düsseldorf, the Frankfurt Gestapo had had its eyes on Albrecht for some time.  Albrecht was then a vicar (assistant pastor) to Pastor Hasse in Braunfels.  On July 4, the file indicates, an unknown person sent Nicolaus a French newspaper.  The Gestapo confiscated it and questioned him.  “He pretends not to know who the sender is.  He is being kept under observation.”  [77]  My mother wrote that Albrecht advised parishioners in sermons and privately to keep their children out of the Hitler Youth and the Nazi girls’ organization. [7]

Telegram, Gestapo Frankfurt – Gestapo Düsseldorf

On September 18, the Gestapo arrested Albrecht in Braunfels and brought him to Frankfurt, about 40 miles south.  He was placed in Schutzhaft, which means “protective custody,” but was then a term for the Gestapo’s secret interrogation centers.  At the same time, the Frankfurt Gestapo official in charge, Schenk,  filed an application with the Gestapo head office in Berlin to have him transferred to a concentration camp.[8] [57]  

Berlin’s interest in the Riley letter, however, had faded.  On September 1, 1939, Germany had invaded Poland.  The Munich Agreement was now ancient history, and Albrecht’s 1938 letter expressing doubt about the durability of the Munich peace was all too obviously well founded.   While Albrecht was being held incommunicado in the Gestapo prison in Frankfurt, the Gestapo headquarters in Berlin decided that the Riley letter was stale.  On October 10, Schenk in Frankfurt advised J.A. in Düsseldorf via telegram that “The issue relating to the ‘Letter from Nicolaus to Dr. Mr. Denis Riley in Horsforth/England’  was evaluated in my application for his placement in a concentration camp and was found of no interest from the security standpoint.” [70]

But Berlin was interested in Albrecht for another reason.

 In March 1939 N. took the first theological exam administered by the examining committee of the Rhenish Bekenntnis synod.  This exam is prohibited by the RFSS[9] as of Aug. 29, 1937.  Interrogated by police in the State Police office in Frankfurt, N. refused to give any testimony about the BK’s examinations, based on a directive from the BK’s Council of Brethren.[57]

The Gestapo file in Frankfurt noted on October 4 that Nicolaus

Is a fanatical follower of the BK and belongs neither to the NSV (National Socialist Student Union) nor any other National Socialist organizations.  Refused to testify regarding his illegal theological exam with the BK synod in the Rhineland.[77]

Efforts to free Albrecht began immediately.  According to my mother’s memoirs, Pastor Joachim Beckmann, the head of the BK in Düsseldorf, learned of the arrest, and informed Pastor Otto Fricke, then the BK leader in Frankfurt, who told Albrecht’s parents in Essen where Albrecht was.

Paul S.v.W.

Paul Schulze von Wiesche,  a prominent Düsseldorf attorney who led a parallel life as head of the BK’s Department of Law and Administration, got wind of Albrecht’s arrest within two days.  But it took two weeks before he could go to Frankfurt and try to intervene.  On October 4, Schulze von Wiesche penned a letter to the Council of Brethren of the BK in Berlin:

 In the above-cited matter I had a conversation on Saturday morning[10] with the head of the State Police office in Frankfurt (Main), Herr Regierungsrat Felis.

I asked for a conference with the two prisoners in order to advise them, as I have done in previous cases, that an absolute refusal to testify in this case is senseless. My request was refused and I was advised that the State Police in Frankfurt simply does not permit attorney visits in State Police matters.

It was further explained to me that the decision no longer lies in Frankfurt but in Berlin. These cases were being reported to Berlin, or would be reported to Berlin immediately, requesting the decision of the State Police Office there.

Pastor Fricke, Herr Oberlandesgerichtsrat Barthelmes, Herr P. Steck and I are of the opinion that somebody from the Prussian Council must appear before the Stapo Office in Berlin immediately, to prevent bad things from happening.

I assume that in the case of Nicolaus, a bad report will go to Berlin, because Nicolaus apparently was interrogated three or four times and not only remained silent, but also did not conduct himself correctly. Herr Regierungsrate F[elis] was also somewhat annoyed about this case — I assume– because a lower official, without first asking the head of the State Police office, permitted Pastor Fricke to visit Nicolaus, and despite Pastor Fricke’s counsel, Nicolaus continued his absolute refusal to testify. It should be noted that if Vicar Nicolaus in fact did not behave in a tame fashion (nicht zahm benommen), it should not be held against him, because in the presence of Pastor Fricke he apologized to the interrogating official, and this official accepted the apology.

I emphasized above all that these two assistant preachers have an erroneous idea of the “directives” of the leadership of the BK in the Rhineland — namely, they assume that it is their duty to refuse absolutely to testify. But the leadership of the BK takes the position that when confronted with testimonial statements, one can calmly declare that one does not dispute the content of these statements; and one has to help the young people to abandon these false ideas.

I hope it is possible for you to achieve something in Berlin. Surely you will also have learned something about this matter from the daughter of P. Reiter.

Please keep me up to date at all times about the status of this matter.

With friendly greetings,”(signed)[95]

The other vicar arrested at the same time as Albrecht was Hans Schulz. Little is known about him or his case, except that he, too, was later sent to the Eastern Front.[122]

 Before writing his letter, Schulze von Wiesche had telephoned Albrecht’s parents, and they had called my mother.  On Oct. 3, Margot wrote to Gollwitzer in Berlin, “I just wanted to tell you that it is now perfectly clear that Nico was arrested solely because he gave no answer to the question about the completion of the exam in Hessen, as directed by the Rhineland Council of Brethren.”[126]  Because Albrecht’s case was being managed by the Gestapo HQ  in Berlin, where she lived, she set about getting permission to visit him.  She writes in her memoirs:

One day I took off from work and went to GESTAPO headquarters in Berlin. I was cool on the outside but pretty scared inside. At the reception desk (in a huge cage) I filled out a form, stated name and address and reason for my visit. I did not have to wait long. A guard took me to a door with the name of the person inside and some impressive civilian title that I don’t remember. I knocked politely and opened the door.

At the end of a large room sat a rather young man, about 30ish. His long feet were resting on the desk, his back leaned back comfortably. On the floor was a huge Persian rug which struck me as most unusual for a German office of any bureaucracy. Usually such offices were Spartan, no luxuries. I immediately suspected that the rug was stolen from a wealthy Jewish family. The guy was (or seemed) very relaxed. I told him who my fiancé was and why he probably was arrested.

He smiled tolerantly. “Yes, yes, happens all the time. People have adjustment problems. The new order. Ha, ha.”

From a small stack of books on his desk he took out Rosenberg’s “Mythos des 20. Jahrhunderts”, a brew of the official Nazi ideology.

“See this here – all stupid stuff – for the stupid people”.

He searched my eyes for a reaction. I looked back at him – cold as a fish. I wasn’t going to fall in this trap. I wanted permission to see my fiancé. He told me he could not give it to me. He first had to investigate the case. He told me that I probably would hear from him in a few weeks. Was I ever relieved when I got out of the lion’s den.

Meanwhile, attorney Schulze von Wiesche’s Oct. 4 letter to the BK’s Council of Brethren in Berlin had stirred up a reaction.  The attorney’s reference to “directives” issued by the BK’s Rhineland Council of Brethren — directives on which Albrecht relied for his refusal to testify about BK examinations —  was marked with a red pencil and an emphatic exclamation mark in the margin.  On October 19, Pastor Kurt Scharf, then the president of the federal conference of regional councils of brethren, and as such the highest dignitary in the BK, wrote a letter on the stationery of the Brandenburg region of the BK to Pastor D. Hesse in Elberfeld:

Dear Brother Hesse:

In the attachment I forward to you a letter from Brother Schulze zur Wiesche, in which he reports about his conversation with the head of the State Police office in Frankfurt/Main. The latter, Herr Regierunsrat Felis, apparently reported immediately to the Gestapo office in Berlin.  And here in Berlin, a complaint was raised about the paragraph marked in red.  As we discussed today, this assertion by Brother Schulze zur Wiesche has to be corrected, perhaps by way of a clarification by the Rhineland Council to the effect that directives of this kind were never issued, and that the whole matter of examinations has been settled and closed with the State Police office in Düsseldorf; and the Rhineland Council should protect the two brothers, and a request should be made to the Gestapo office on the Prinz-Albrechtstrasse for the brothers’ release. They should point out also that the Frankfurt office probably is not sufficiently informed about the conclusion of the prosecution in Düsseldorf.

May God assist in bringing this matter to a good and speedy conclusion.

The former Untersuchungsgefängnis in Frankfurt

On Oct. 26, Hesse wrote to the influential Pastor Beckmann in Düsseldorf, urging investigation and action.[97]   These efforts had a significant success.  Attorney S.v.Wiesche obtained a hearing on Albrecht’s and Hans’ cases before the regular (pre-Nazi) criminal court in Frankfurt — a common tactic that won some victories even as late as 1939 — and the judge there threw out the case for lack of valid charges.  In fact, the Himmler decree of 1937, outlawing BK examinations, had been temporarily suspended  by an amnesty order dated Sept. 9, 1939, just eight days before Albrecht’s arrest.[78][11]  On Nov. 3, 1939, Albrecht was released, a free man.

My father, Albrecht Fritz Nicolaus, 1941?

In the courthouse hallway, the Gestapo re-arrested him and hauled him before a judge of the Sondergericht (special court),  a parallel structure of Nazi courts.[12]  The Sondergericht judge issued a new arrest order under another Nazi law dated December 2 1935[13] and bound him back to prison on Nov. 4. But there was an important change. Albrecht was no longer in the secret Gestapo prison but in a pretrial detention facility (Untersuchungsgefängnis) in downtown Frankfurt.  He could have visitors, including legal counsel, and other privileges.[99]

Meanwhile, a draft order for Albrecht had arrived at his parents’ home in Essen.  Martin and Anna believed that the induction order, which came after all from the powerful German Wehrmacht, might be used as leverage to spring Albrecht out of prison.  They asked Margot to try.  When she finally got permission to visit Albrecht, weeks after her visit to the lion’s den in Berlin, Margot traveled to Frankfurt.  With the draft order in hand, she first went to the district military draft office for the Hessen region, of which Frankfurt is the chief town.  The officer in charge there told her that “the military has absolutely no authority” to get her fiancé out of the hands of the Gestapo.  The only thing he could do was to make a note in Albrecht’s file and delay the induction.[14]  She then went to the prison and tried the draft argument again with the head warden.  He screamed in her face, “Out of the question.  The pig is unworthy of the Front.”[15]  The best Margot was able to do is to visit Albrecht in his cell No. 56, and to bring in a small pair of scissors to trim his finger- and toenails.[16]

Pastor Fricke in Frankfurt engaged another BK-friendly attorney, Metzger, from Darmstadt, who visited Albrecht on November 10.[82]  On Nov. 11, Albrecht was allowed to subscribe to a newspaper, but only to the Frankfurter Volksblatt, a Nazi Party rag.[83, 88]   Albrecht’s mother Anna may have visited on the 13th.[99]  Attorney S.v.Wiesche visited both the vicars on Nov. 16.   On December 16th, Albrecht’s cousin Heinrich Brüggensiecker, the son of his mother’s sister, who was an officer in the Wehrmacht, came to see him in full uniform.[90]  On the 19th, Pastor Fricke brought three books for the two vicars, and on the next day Fricke visited in person.

My father, Albrecht Fritz Nicolaus, holding a photo of my mother, 1941?

All this time, the Gestapo repeatedly called Albrecht for interrogation.  They presented him with a statement naming the names of the BK examiners who had administered his first theological exam earlier in the year, and demanded that he sign it.  He steadfastly refused, and answered all questions about the examination with silence.  Pastor Fricke, in the unauthorized visit earlier in his imprisonment — the visit that so annoyed Regierungsrat Felis — had urged Albrecht to yield.  Attorney Metzger, hired by Fricke, repeated the message.  Attorney S.v.Wiesche did likewise, no doubt citing Pastor Scharf’s admonitions to Pastor D. Hesse to the effect that there was not and had never been a directive by the Rhenish Council of Brethren advising BK prisoners to keep silent.  It was brought home to him that the Gestapo already knew all the names.  Finally, a few days after Fricke’s second visit, Albrecht yielded.  He signed a statement containing the names of his examiner, and the name of his brother-in-law Helmut Wolf who had acted as courier.  The concluding paragraph read:

In conclusion I want to confirm that I am acting today, as in previous questioning, without instructions from third parties, and entirely on my own responsibility.  Three months ago I made no statements because I was not able to take responsibility for exposing the business of the church, such as examinations, to criminal prosecution.  This makes clear that I had no intention of offering resistance to the force of the state, but sought to uphold nothing more than the freedom and respect of my conscience.  In view of the fact that the persons in questions have in the meantime identified themselves, I am no longer bound by these considerations.  Our church cannot and never will bind its members to a pledge of solidarity.  It must  allow each individual the personal responsibility of standing up, to the extent of his personal belief,  for the freedom and purity of the gospel of salvation.[72-73]

The next day, Christmas Eve, a Gestapo official gave Albrecht a lecture and issued an order banning him from living or working in the Frankfurt police district.  After that, Albrecht was let go.  He returned immediately to his parents’ home in Essen.

He was not quite done with the prison, however.  On the 28th, Albrecht sent a postcard to the management of the prison.  He asked that all mail for him be forwarded directly to Essen, and that the remaining issues of the newspaper from his subscription be kept there.  He also inquired what happened to a package that his father had sent him at the prison two weeks earlier.  Someone at the prison responded by postcard dated January 9, 1940, that a package for him had arrived on the 30th but had been given back to the postal employee to be forwarded to his new address.  That was all.

In Essen, Albrecht worked briefly as a vicar serving BK parishes.  This paid no salary; he had to make do with parishioners’ charity and occasional fees for baptisms and other ceremonies.  His postponed military induction order of the previous year was revived.  He entered the Wehrmacht some time in the spring of 1940 — the exact date is not preserved — and by the end of April was with the 3rd Infantry Reserve Batallion 216 in or around Strasbourg, and at the end of May was with “Special Purpose Marching Batallion 86,” apparently also on the Western front.  On July 16, 1940, Albrecht wrote to Johannes Schlingensiepen, the dean of the BK”s national education department:

O.K. July 16, 1940

 .

Dear Pastor:[…]

 .

A brief review:

 .

After 8 weeks training in the East, to the Saar front in the reserves.  With the opening of the offensive, penetrated as second wave behind the front through the Maginot Line via St. Arnold into Lothringia, without firing a shot. Deactivated by the truce 24 hours before battle, and now sent back to the vicinity of Frankfurt (!) a few days ago for rest and reorganization of the ranks.  What comes next is hidden from us for reasons that are partly benevolent, partly sinister.  So much for my bloodless war story.[…]

 .

Are you in agreement that it’s time for us to raise demands for peacetime based on our participation in the war?  Our position is rather clear, namely that we can press more strongly for state assistance, to the extent that this still has a function in the church.  I am sure that these thoughts are yours as well, but I would like to know positively whether these have already given rise to new steps.Perhaps you will find time to give me a short notice about this — in any event this would make me very happy and I am grateful in advance for your effort.

 .

Isaiah 6:13 applies as prayer and message to everything that I have written and held back.[17]

Sincerely,
Albrecht Nicolaus

P.S.  My parents just wrote that you have asked them for my address … here it is, and many thanks.

The exclamation point after Frankfurt is probably a reference to the Gestapo’s order on 12/24/39 forbidding Albrecht to live or work in the jurisdiction of the Frankfurt police.  But, meanwhile, on April 27 and again on May 9 and May 15, 1940, a Gestapo hand noted in Albrecht’s Gestapo file that his prosecution for taking the illegal BK exam was dropped based on the amnesty of Sept. 9, 1939.[57,76]  It’s unlikely that Albrecht was given notice of this development, which would have exposed the total absence of a legal foundation for his arrest on September 18, 1939, nine days after the amnesty.

On August 6, 1940, Albrecht wrote another letter to Schlingensiepen, whom he addresses this time under the code name of “Jensen.” In veiled language, he asks Schlingensiepen to draft up an official-looking study program that Albrecht can use to get an educational leave of absence.  Albrecht is now working with the divisional staff, and has high hopes of being able to get away and finish his theological studies.

Soldier Nicolaus
0974

 .

O.K. August 6, 1940

 .

Dear Herr Jensen,On my return from some wonderful vacation days I find your letter and am happy to find in it, as well as in a conversation with P.H., grounds for confidence for an unwavering continuation of our path in the church.  But what would please me most of all for personal reasons is the fulfillment of a wish I share with many others like myself, namely to come to an orderly end of our education during the war.  P.H. was surprised that I had not yet received a delivery for it, but I think that matters are all right.  I only want to give one hint.  The only way to succeed in getting study leave during this period when our division is idle is to have in hand a written invitation.  I am currently with the division staff.  Please pass on my new military postal address.  To where questions of training and education are understood.  Please compose such a paper; I will take care of its proper use!

That is what I have to report about “the present situation.” It allows us to move our personal things into the foreground again.

With grateful greetings,

 .

I remain your
Albrecht Nicolaus

The dates are uncertain, but it’s clear that the ruse worked.  In September, Albrecht and his brother-in-law Helmut Wolf apparently served briefly as vicars to Pastor Edgar Boué in Oberkassel near Bonn [47], and by October 3 Albrecht was back in Essen, where Pastor Busch performed the marriage ceremony uniting him with Margot, who would shortly become my mother.  A page from the family registry book showing Busch’s performance of the wedding ceremony, and below that, my baptism, is on the right.

Marriage and baptism certificates

During this break from military service, Albrecht returned to his theological studies and took the first part of his second exam, again with the BK, again clandestinely, on November 13, 14, and 15, 1940.  [47]  Pastor Heinrich Held, who had the honor of being the first Protestant pastor to be arrested by the Nazis, evaluated Albrecht’s Nov. 13 performance as “All in all — interrupted for 3 hours by an air raid alarm — a good performance, which promises good things.” [47]  Albrecht’s thesis was on the topic, “The Nature and Significance of the Antichrist in New Testament Eschatology.”  He delivered a sermon, part of the exam, in the Werden section of Essen on Christmas Eve 1940.[47]    I was conceived at the end of December.  Albrecht took and passed the second part of the second exam in January, 1941.  He was ordained in the BK, still clandestinely, by Pastor Johannes Böttcher, on March 16, 1941.

Albrecht Fritz Nicolaus on the day of his ordination, March 16, 1941, Essen

He delivered his ordination sermon the same day in the BK parish Essen-Werden.  His theme was Hebrews 12:2, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  The sermon, in which Albrecht acknowledged “having sat for years under your preaching, dear Brother Busch,” closely followed the doctrinal lead of Karl Barth.  He pokes fun at a fellow who doesn’t know what he believes because his authorities haven’t finished yet defining the new faith.  “What can a faith accomplish that was founded by men? We have as founder of our faith the son of the eternal God.”  He admits that new faiths can arise quickly, but then the wind shifts, and they are gone again.  He exhorts his flock to place all their hope in the grace that is offered them, as obedient children, through the revelation of Christ.[49-51]

Two weeks later, the military swallowed him again.  He reported for induction on April 1.  This time, “unworthy” or not, he was sent to the Ostfront, the epic slaughterhouse in which more than 30 million people eventually lost their lives.  He soon came to regret the efforts that had been made to free him from the Gestapo prison in 1939.  On June 20, 1941,  he wrote from his tent near the Russian border:

It really would have been easier to bear if nobody had “liberated” me from the Frankfurt Gestapo prison for the Wehrmacht. (I know it was a well intentioned friendly deed.)  Wasn’t the Gestapo official, this representative of the absolute state, correct when he answered your petition to set me free because I had been drafted, by screaming in your face, “This pig is unworthy of the front!”  I thank you for the tears, you know I do, that filled your eyes because of this obscenity.

The German onslaught on the Soviet Union began two days later.

My father wrote the following letters to my mother and indirectly to the circle of BK friends in Essen while he was stationed on the Ostfront during the spring and summer of 1941. Margot made typescripts of them and helped to circulate them.  After the war, Margot’s originals were lost, but Herr Ludwig found copies of the typescripts in the BK archives in Düsseldorf.

April 3, 1941. In all this business the big thing for me is not to lose sight of the goal.  The hardest thing, first off, is the lack of brotherhood.  I started by passing the word that I have a nice warm room and everyone is cordially invited every evening at 6.  But naturally I’m not trampled by a mob.  More important is the time when we clean our rifles and the breaks during the day, generally.  The day before yesterday we had half the company involved in a conversation between me and a Sturmführer.  But you know yourself:  Struggle is enough, but rest and fellowship are rare.  Nevertheless, I’m content, even cheerful, when I think about the position I’ve got into, thanks to the grace of our lord Jesus Christ, in the face of all this violence and sin.  The folks that have to get drunk every week are really the desperate ones….

April 20 1941, from the East.  I have the special pleasure of being able to report how my work is moving forward around me here.  In this battalion there are three theologians; the eldest is the pay master.  He recently had the idea to try to establish services in this almost entirely Catholic area.  The batallion commander went along, and the local Pope had a nunnery chapel de-consecrated, and since then we’re cheerfully at work.  On Good Friday I gave communion to about 20 men, including 3 officers.  But today, misfortune struck.  The third one among us, a neutral from Duisburg-Wanheim, gave the sermon, and he turned Peter into a Führer and the Führer into Peter who had the “mission to lead” (after John 21:15 ff).  Of course we’re going to ship him out via a resolution in the synod.  Even worse luck had it that his company commander more or less ordered all the Protestants to attend this “presentation” so that about 45 men had to swallow this rot.  — I have nothing worse to report about myself than this spiritual annoyance.  … “In misery, but always cheerful.”


May 20, 1941
:  In the meantime I’ve moved far to the east into a land where hunger and beatings reign.  There is great loneliness.  Everything that belongs to the normal life of a mid-European is lacking here.  The only warlike thing is the rumors about our mission.

But the question you will probably find most interesting is the kingdom of God and its role among the rough and a bit savaged men of the barracks.  We know that for years the spiritual life in Germany has revolved around the church question, and now we look to the future and ask ourselves what role God may allow us to play.  One thing is clear above all:  the past years have been a time of privation and atrophy of genuine nourishment for the soul.  In the few weeks that I’ve been a soldier again — oh, it already seems like a long time — I’ve had much more opportunity for evangelism than before.  Through various substitutions and personnel changes I’ve come together with comrades who read the Bible with me.  In general, as far as my faith goes, I live under the shield of the respect that even the most godless man has for an open profession of faith.  One thing that pains me a lot is that I have such a pitifully small understanding of what Finney emphasizes so much:  to speak in simple words about Jesus Christ in the language of those whom I’m trying to reach.  Discourse with the so-called “better classes” is so much easier — but it’s a weakness.  I’m going to work on this.

May 20, 1941.  My duties are notably pleasant.  You might not believe this if you saw us careening through bottomless swampy roads after a drenching thunderstorm, like a motor plow, a giant mud  thrower.  But it’s more interesting than marching drills and barracks duty.  There’s rumors again now of  a move, supposedly as a result of the new agreement.  But agreements are practically guarantees of imminent declarations of war.  Let’s wait and see.

May 23, 1941 (Ascension).  Don’t say anything bad about Prussians.  They are closer to the heavenly kingdom than we usually fear, because despite everything they gave us the day off, even though a long set of new orders came down yesterday.  Some people say the officers did the “old man” in yesterday evening, during a birthday party at the expense of a blissfully happy papa, but I believe that the officers’ hearts were turned by a brilliantly beautiful morning after a long period of rain and maybe also because of the open air religious service.  The pulpit, made of egg crates decorated with pine boughs, stood in a parking lot.  A whole army of jackdaws screeched overhead.  Green meadows, birch trees in bloom — it was the perfect spot for “Nature Christians” and for elevated words from Ernst Moritz Arndt. The preacher certainly looked sharp, but he stood far from God’s kingdom with his sermon to the 80 men present.  The jackdaws had good reason to be screeching, and the sun, after just a brief look, went into hiding.  Too bad the Ascension didn’t inspire him with joy for our lord; not a word about that.  The best thing about it was a few conversations afterwards, critically recognizing this derailment.  My own officer borrowed my little Bible; he said he was very interested in the OT, and could I lend him the book.  That was the Feast of the Ascension here today.  I really miss our singing in the parish back home.

May 29, 1941.   One thing is important enough that I should mention it.  It’s spring here in the countryside, filled with the glory and ripeness of approaching summer, a mercy for this land.  Every blooming branch gives me more joy than certain others enjoy the sinking of 10,000 tons of shipping.

June 9, 1941.  Time is standing on its head.  Today we worked through the night, slept in the morning, and then more of the same old routine.  I rarely have a quiet hour like this morning.  After a refreshing bath I lay down in a beautiful meadow and read Romans 8, and thought again at length about the sermon that I wanted to deliver on Easter about verse 1, and so I found a reason for prayer and gratitude and joy.  It pains me always to reflect on the fate of our prayers. Our brothers are in prison, most of the parishes are wiped out by the draft, and the people are full of fear and trembling for bread and future.  Many women write now that life is harder now than before, and everyone is trying to get set for a third winter of war, full of inner doubts about all the pathetic speeches.

June 20, 1941. Get ready today for a pretty long letter, which will cost me the rest of my paper, because circumstances are rarely favorable, above all the fact that the beast of war has not broken out yet.  Let’s be clear:  it rages so savagely in its cage that nobody wants to take the risk of guarding it.

I’m reminded now of a Latin template for the placement of “cum”  — Ceasar cum Rubiconem transissat …  Ceasar and the Rubicon are close at hand, and so the “cum” hangs like a sword just over our heads.  Maybe you will have read the commentary about it in the newspaper before this letter reaches you.  In recent days, they’ve arrived at yet another ostentatious peace agreement.  We came, we saw, and now we still have to conquer.  In the meantime, we inherited a role that promises somewhat more bellum gallicum than before the turn of the year.  Without a doubt, the longest voyage remains before us.  I read your little Steppen book with growing interest, sharpened by the best local color — nous verrons.

When I look around me now, behold — all the players have taken their places, the chief playwright Ivan Ivanovich from the Lenin Opera peers through the cracks in the scenery — the director is coming.  Is the end nearer now?  Us?  Me?  Or is this the beginning of the end?  Can we also beat England on the sea or on the Volga?  — A deluded strategy, tenable only against the background of a striving for world conquest — thus spake Roosevelt.

But God has the last word.  Psalm 2:

He who sits in heaven laughs, and the lord holds them in derision —

“them” — that’s us!

You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel –

“them” — that’s us!

Us lords, we of the master race, and I am a soldier of Adolf Hitler, the Führer of these magnificent ones.  It really would have been easier to bear if nobody had “liberated” me from the Frankfurt Gestapo prison for the Wehrmacht. (I know it was a well intentioned friendly deed.)  Wasn’t the Gestapo clerk, this representative of the absolute state, correct when he answered your petition to set me free, because I had been drafted, by screaming in your face, “This pig is unworthy of the front!”  I thank you for the tears, you know I do, that filled your eyes because of this obscenity.

But what kind of soldier am I?  God alone knows how torn up is the heart of a Christian in this war on this side.  But He alone also lets me know with granite certainty that I can only live now and forever by his mercy.  Because I really survive from day to day, from hour to hour, only because and insofar as I am raised out of the death pit of guilt — my guilt and the guilt of our beloved people, this people that is persecuted, betrayed, and shamed, and suffers itself to be shamed — into life under his merciful freedom.  If this certainty were not more total for me than the whole totality of our State, which will one day be shattered to pieces like a clay pot, then I would have to commit suicide today, or, if I were a lesser man, I would have to drink myself unconscious.

Instead, I praise with all brothers in spirit the lord on the cross “who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned man, purchased my freedom from all sins, from death and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his sacred precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, so that I may be his and that I may live under him in his kingdom and serve him.”

That is my salvation from wrongdoing, and if I have a hope for our country, then it is this:  when it is shattered to pieces — and God does not suffer contempt, he is the true LORD — that it may know that God himself has done it, by his immeasurably hard grace, in order to wake it up once again, and this time hopefully forever, from its boundless dreams — dreams that cost too much blood, innocent blood — and, if it please HIM, to give it a new beginning.

Private Albrecht Nicolaus, have you gone totally mad?  Well, where am I?  Where?  I stand at the gates of Russia and I am supposed to be fanatically enthusiastic and win, win, win at any cost.  But if the censorship reads this letter, then I will be liquidated tomorrow, a saboteur of victory, a miserable traitor.  Quo vadis, Germania!

June 25, 1941:  Now the ominous sphinx has unveiled its grisly visage.  Before Sunday dawn, after a sleepless night, we waited in our trenches for the first shot.  The first drumbeat came at 3:15, and then it never stopped.  If you had been awake at 3:15 on Sunday morning you would have worried endlessly from then on.  But please, don’t do it.  Now we are being tested again.  Since 9 am on Sunday we are in Russia.  Even the flora shows it: we left fields of cornflowers behind us and entered into poppies.

June 30, 1941:  I wrote you earlier about the “classical” overture of this military campaign.  Goethe would have said, “A new epoch in world history begins here and now.”  And this time he probably would have been right.  The Sunday morning hour is memorable for me also for another reason;  over the booming of cannon fire I had a truly fine conversation on our commanding hilltop with a lieutenant, who asked me to tell him in clear and sober terms what I believe.  This lieutenant is a teacher and propagandist, but an open spirit.  Well, since that hour we’re in motion — straight ahead sometimes, sometimes in circles for days, and standing still in between.  Pray for me.  I have not lost my faith, although I was shamed by a prisoner, who got a bowl of food from us, and stood up on the grass first and said grace.  I am thinking more and more that I am living in a country full of faithful witnesses of our lord.  The Bolsheviks killed the local pastor with his family, and every church goer was threatened and watched by agents in front of and inside the church.  Many have been sent to Siberia, so that I might well say, our noblest war aim could be the liberation of Siberia, but, but …. don’t we have ‘Siberia’ in our own country?  Madness, madness!

July 11, 1941:  In the course of my day, all personal things are choked off by duty, meetings, distractions and etc.  Certainly I am here, but the Prussians only have my body as booty.  So, you see, there is desolation but without hopelessness.  Didn’t we read Revelation 21 when we parted in the Spessart at Easter?  Isn’t that enough for you and me?  And for all time?  Including for our son, whom you are going to have, this dearly beloved one!

I am not going to be able to find the time now to write to other people besides you.  Please send my greetings to the dear parents, to the parish in Werden, and to the friends in Basel, Frankfurt(!), and Berlin.  Thank them for all the hours of work, fellowship, and prayer.

A bomb or a shell caught my father on July 16.  There is a journal by a surviving German infantryman, translated into English, that describes this particular campaign day by day; it says that on July 16, near Rzadkowka, “bombers attack our position around noon.  A stockpile of ammunition was hit.  The explosion tears eight comrades apart.”  Source.   Albrecht was buried somewhere nearby.  On September 30, 1942, his remains were moved to a mass grave in a cemetery in the center of nearby Zwiahel.  There is an old map on the web that shows both places, here.  Today, the former Rzadkowka has been absorbed as a suburb by Zwiahel, which  is now called Novohrad-Volynskyi, in the Ukraine.   There is a German nonprofit agency that tries to keep track of the graves of German soldiers killed and buried in other countries; it has no additional information.

Hans Schulz, the BK vicar who was arrested and imprisoned with Albrecht, was killed the following day.[122]

 (Continued in About my Father (3))


  1. [1]  http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helmut_Gollwitzer
  2. [2]The Gestapo intercepted it and translated it into German.  The original has been lost, but the Gestapo translation — actually, there were two — has survived.  I have translated the Gestapo’s surviving German translation into English.
  3. [3]The Gestapo translation of this passage is suspect.  Albrecht may have written “ächten” — to reject, rather than “achten,” to respect.
  4. [4]http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+11%3A2-10&version=KJV
  5. [5] Netter, a photographer, graphic artist and art critic, took a famous photograph of Karl Barth.
  6. [6]http://delegibus.com/2010,1.pdf p. 516
  7. [7]http://nicolaus.com/my-mothers-life/frankfurt-1939/
  8. [8]There was a special block set aside in the Dachau concentration camp for clergy
  9. [9]Reichsführer SS, the title of Heinrich Himmler
  10. [10]That would have been Oct. 2
  11. [11]The Gestapo did not get around to lifting the warrant for his arrest on the original 1937 charges until May 1940.[78]
  12. [12]See also the shorter English Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sondergericht 
  13. [13]I have been unable to find a law of that date in the German legal code, http://delegibus.com/2010,1.pdf
  14. [14]http://nicolaus.com/my-mothers-life/frankfurt-1939/
  15. [15]http://nicolaus.com/my-mothers-life/frankfurt-1939/
  16. [16]http://nicolaus.com/my-mothers-life/frankfurt-1939/
  17. [17]”Even if one-tenth remain there, they will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, which when it is cut down leaves a stump. Its stump is a holy seed.”

Leave a Reply