It’s hard to imagine now what the influence of the Gestapo was like … This state police was a giant organisation, which monitored the whole of life in Germany. We often asked ourselves whether the Gestapo were omniscient or not?
They liked to spread the aura of ‘We know all’. They knew a lot. If I spoke a sentence without careful thought, then that could be reported to the state police. At that time we learned the so-called ‘German look’. When people spoke, they looked round to see if anybody was listening.
Yes, the Gestapo knew a lot. They had created so much mistrust that when two were talking together each could never be sure whether the other wouldn’t report some silly sentence. So everyone hid his real thoughts and only said things that the state police were allowed to know.
The people became a nation of hypocrites. That produced gruesome complexes and warped mentalities, and gave my generation soul-wounds that are still not healed. We had extraordinary experiences with the state police.
One Sunday, pastors in the Confessing Church were going to read out a declaration from the pulpits against euthanasia, that is, the idea of killing mentally weak and epileptic people. The declaration was also to be distributed to the congregations in leaflet form.
The state police got wind of it. On Saturday came two gentlemen; they always came in pairs. One was the companion, who stayed standing at the door, and the other sat down on a chair in my study. There on the table were the leaflets, a great stack of them.
The officer laid his arm on the stack and asked, ‘Have you got the leaflets?’ I said, ‘I’m not obliged to give you any information as to that’. ‘Then I must do a search of the house’.
I said, ‘I can’t stop you. Have a search. Here are big bookcases, each one of them could have leaflets behind it. I can’t stop you’.
The man stood up, went furiously through the whole house, then sat down again on the chair, laid his arm on the stack of leaflets and said, ‘There don’t seem to be any’.
I would like to believe that he was a friendly man, who didn’t want to see anything; but I knew the fellow. If he had found the leaflets, he would have taken them with him. That was the uncanny thing. When the people started the fight against us, they were starting a fight with the living Lord. We read in the Bible that people had ‘their eyes restrained’ (Luke 24:16). Surely that man’s eyes were restrained. He simply didn’t see what was there under his arm. But it didn’t always go so well…
My brother Johannes was once arrested and expelled from Stuttgart after he had held a lecture about Jesus. They had nothing against that, until the lecture closed with the words, ‘My confidence is in you, in you alone, and apart from you I have none’.
The state police latched on to that. ‘Our confidence is in the Führer! And you say, “I don’t have confidence in any but Jesus”? Unheard of!’ That was a blow right at the central teaching of the Third Reich, and of every totalitarian state.
I once spoke in a huge hall in Wuppertal together with the old pastor Niemöller, the father of Martin Niemöller. Shortly before the beginning the state police came and said, ‘Niemöller, you are not allowed to speak, that’s been forbidden from Berlin. Pastor Busch is allowed to speak, but not you. The only thing that you are allowed to do is read from the Bible’.
‘Good’, says old Niemöller in his deep voice. ‘First we’ll sing, then we’ll pray, then I’ll go to the front’. ‘Here is a word from Psalm 73’ (I can still hear his voice today). ‘For I was envious of the boastful when I saw the prosperity of the ungodly…
‘They stand fast like a palace, therefore their defiance must be regarded as a precious thing and their wrongdoing must be called well done. They boast themselves like a fat paunch, they do whatever they think … Therefore the masses run to them, they run to them in heaps like water’.
At this the two state policemen began to rummage in their briefcases, for they had a Bible in there and of course they had to check. They looked over Niemöller’s shoulder. ‘Does it say that in the Bible, “therefore the masses run towards them”?’
Then they found the place: it actually does say that in the Bible. Then it became still, deathly silent, while Niemöller continued: ‘Until I went into the sanctuary and considered their end. How do they suddenly become nothing! Like a dream when one awakes, so you, Lord, make their picture to be mocked in the street’.
At this, even the state policemen shuddered. ‘If they’re right then we’re lost!’ You understand: they had no problem with a general ‘field, wood, and meadow Christianity’. They had nothing against that; they even supported it. The Führer said in his talks, ‘May the Highest bless us and Providence be with us’. But the Bible speaks of the fact that we are lost sinners before God.
The Führer, a sinner? The Aryan man, a sinner, under God’s judgement? No salvation except in Jesus? This they could not stand.
When my friend Hennes gives you a handshake, you know what you are getting, both in the handshake and in the man himself … ‘Hennes’ is an abbreviation for Johannes — the Rhenish abbreviation! And he is a real cheerful Rhinelander, too.
I feel very close to him. He comes into my vestry every Sunday morning before the service, along with a few other men. Then we call on our heavenly Father to make his Word mighty in the service.
In the year 1934, Germanic religious ideas were sprouting everywhere like grass after rain. Professors, gauleiters, Hitler, youth leaders, all were competing with each other to present their abstruse notions as Nordic religion.
The poor people just waited to see which of the many directions would be chosen by the Führer. Only one thing was clear, biblical Christianity was dismissed!
One day Hennes was standing talking with a great crowd of workers in the Krupp factory yard during a break. Soon the talk turned to religion. One of the other workers took himself very seriously. He spoke great words, and then he poured out his scorn on Hennes for still going to church. He was sure that would soon finish.
Hennes answered as best he could. The discussion quickly became heated. More and more workers started to crowd around the two. Then Hennes said, ‘I have the impression that we are talking past each other. Now let each of us declare just what he actually believes, so that it’s clear where we stand. I’ll start, and then you say what you believe.’
Faith and folly
And then Hennes began loud and clear: ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord…’
Suddenly everyone was quiet. In the church — yes, this Apostles’ Creed had often been spoken there. But here in the factory yard? Among rough men in working clothes?
Hennes left nothing out: ‘…the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen! — So, that is my confession of faith. And now it’s your turn. Tell us what you believe!’
The other began to stutter: ‘Listen! Pay attention!’ But now Hennes was ice cold. ‘Never mind “Pay attention!” You are to tell us what you believe’.
Again the other man began to stutter: ‘So, regarding Christianity — that is after all — that doesn’t work’.
Hennes was relentless: ‘You are not to tell us what is wrong with Christianity. We already know that you are against us. You are to tell us quite positively what you do believe. Come on, get on with it!’
With bated breath the people round them listened to the battle of words. Then came encouraging voices. ‘Come on, Karl! Just say it!’
He stood there with a bright red face. At last it came out of him: ‘What I believe? What I believe? Well, that hasn’t quite come out yet! They’re still working on that in Berlin!’
Laughter erupted. And into the noise and guffaws the poor man cried out angrily: ‘But when it’s out, then I’ll believe it. You can rely on that!’ No one doubted him any more!
I have often thought that we should do it more like Hennes. We should ask the opponents of the gospel about their own belief. Then we’d soon see that most of them are big on negatives, but when it comes to producing something positive they are very, very poor. O Hennes! I would give you a chair in practical theology!
This is an extract from Christ or Hitler? Stories from my life and times by Pastor Wilhelm Busch (1897–1966), compiled and translated by Christian Puritz; EP Books, 260 pages, £10-99; ISBN: 9780852349144.