Then They Came for Me

Martin Niemöller, the Pastor Who Defied the Nazis


By Matthew D Hockenos

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“First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out-Because I was not a Communist . . . ”

Few today recognize the name Martin Niemör, though many know his famous confession. In Then They Came for Me, Matthew Hockenos traces Niemör’s evolution from a Nazi supporter to a determined opponent of Hitler, revealing him to be a more complicated figure than previously understood.

Born into a traditionalist Prussian family, Niemör welcomed Hitler’s rise to power as an opportunity for national rebirth. Yet when the regime attempted to seize control of the Protestant Church, he helped lead the opposition and was soon arrested. After spending the war in concentration camps, Niemör emerged a controversial figure: to his supporters he was a modern Luther, while his critics, including President Harry Truman, saw him as an unrepentant nationalist.

A nuanced portrait of courage in the face of evil, Then They Came for Me puts the question to us today: What would I have done?



First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Communist.

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.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

ON A WINTRY NOVEMBER DAY IN 1945, A SIMPLY DRESSED, WHITE-HAIRED woman huddled beside a gaunt, somber man as they read a plaque affixed to a tree. The middle-aged German couple, man and wife, had suffered greatly during the war, and although the man looked particularly haggard, it was his wife who was close to fainting. The plaque itself was plain-looking: a white-painted board with black letters and numbers. The inscription, however, was anything but ordinary: “Here in the years 1933–1945, 238,756 people were cremated.” Overwhelmed, the woman leaned into her husband for support. She was visibly shaken, knowing that he could have been one of them. Her husband was Martin Niemöller. They were standing at the entry of the crematoria at Dachau concentration camp outside Munich, where he had been an inmate from 1941 to 1945.1

Martin Niemöller said that, upon reading the inscription, “a cold shudder ran down my spine.” But for him, unlike for Else, his wife, it was not only the number of people murdered that was upsetting. He was even more taken aback by the dates: 1933–1945. Dachau had opened in March 1933, when the Nazis began incarcerating their enemies, just one month after Hitler came to power. Niemöller had been a free man at that time, a prominent pastor of an influential parish, and he remained at liberty until his arrest in 1937. Imprisoned in a Berlin jail and a concentration camp from 1937 to 1941, Niemöller and other famous camp inmates were transferred by the Nazis to Dachau in 1941. “My alibi accounted for the years 1937–45,” he told a German audience a few months after he and his wife visited Dachau. “But God was not asking me where I had been from 1937 to 1945 but from 1933 to 1945… and for those [earlier] years I did not have an answer.”2

There is little doubt that the sentiments expressed in Niemöller’s famous confession emerged from this revelatory moment at Dachau. Throughout 1946, he repeated the confession frequently to his German compatriots, modeling for them how to admit to and repent one’s complacency toward and complicity in the Nazi era and the Holocaust.

The popularity of what is known as the “Niemöller confession” spread in the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the rise of the human rights movement. Today it is frequently invoked by a multitude of activists and others. Though it reflected Pastor Niemöller’s particular circumstances in Nazi and post-Nazi Germany, groups and organizations ranging from Black Lives Matter to the Tea Party have appropriated the quotation for their causes. Secondary school teachers employ it to instruct American youth on the virtues of diversity and good citizenship. College students adorn their dorm-room walls with posters bearing the German pastor’s words. Politicians and pundits on the left invoke it in response to crackdowns on undocumented immigrants and minorities, while the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Holocaust Memorial in Boston prominently display the confession.

Despite the wide use of Niemöller’s confession, its author’s life story remains largely unknown. Previous biographies (two in German and three in English, to date) have done little to probe the depths of this complicated man, preferring instead to present him in a mostly heroic light. Would his admirers in the American public embrace the confession so enthusiastically if they knew of Niemöller’s support for Adolf Hitler during his rise to power from the 1920s into the early ’30s? The Nazis’ stigmatization and persecution of minorities did not initially trouble Niemöller. He said nothing when the Gestapo arrested Communists, Socialists, and Jews—and not because he was timid. As we will see, he was anything but. He was silent because he shared the belief that these groups were anti-Christian and disloyal to Germany.

Then They Came for Me is a revisionist biography that weaves together Niemöller’s personal story with the great dramas of the twentieth century that drove his moral and political evolution. It seeks neither to vilify him nor to add to the existing hagiographies, but rather to understand him and his confession and to reveal what his transformation from Nazi sympathizer to committed pacifist tells us about how and under what circumstances such reversals are possible.

Born in 1892, Martin Niemöller lived to ninety-two, witnessing two world wars and the Cold War. He grew up during the German monarchy’s struggle for world recognition and served proudly as a submarine officer in Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Imperial Navy in World War I. After the war and the socialist revolution that overthrew the Hohenzollern monarchy, Niemöller entered the seminary. Ordained a Lutheran pastor in 1924, he remained an archconservative nationalist during Germany’s short-lived liberal republic, the Weimar Republic, casting his ballot for the Nazis in 1924 and again in 1933.

Although he welcomed the appointment of Hitler as head of the German government in January 1933, Niemöller soon recognized that Hitler and his followers sought to transform Luther’s church into a Nazi-led church—where Nazi storm troopers could pray to a blond-haired, blue-eyed, Aryan Jesus. It was this intrusion into church affairs and Nazi attacks on the Old Testament that sparked Niemöller’s turn. A stubborn Westphalian by nature and a skilled manager and administrator since his days as a naval officer, Niemöller took command of the Protestant Church’s opposition to Hitler’s repressive church policy and remained its undisputed leader until his arrest in July 1937. His unlikely survival after nearly a decade in concentration camps gave Niemöller the opportunity to remake himself and his reputation in postwar Germany.

The wiry, bespectacled, five-foot-eight Lutheran pastor lived for another four decades. In the immediate postwar years, he took the lonely stance of acknowledging the complicity of the German Protestant churches in the Nazi era, and indeed he confessed his own egregious failure to combat anti-Semitism. An outspoken critic of West Germany and its Cold War patron, the United States, he wholeheartedly embraced pacifism and called for a united, neutral Germany. As a leader in the growing ecumenical movement that sought better relations between churches with diverse traditions and from different countries, he spent the rest of his life campaigning against war, nuclear weapons, and Western imperialism.

Niemöller’s detractors remained skeptical that his postwar evolution was as thorough as the former U-boat commander and anti-Semite implied. In fact, Niemöller’s correspondence from the immediate postwar years confirms that his rejection of anti-Semitism did not come easily or quickly, despite his public comments. While the speed and extent of Niemöller’s conversion in the years immediately after World War II are debatable, one cannot deny the long-term changes.

On his ninetieth birthday, Niemöller joked that he had started his political career as “an ultraconservative” who loyally served the kaiser. Now he was “a revolutionary,” he said. “If I live to be a hundred, maybe I’ll be an anarchist.” While this tongue-in-cheek prophecy never came to pass, he had indeed embarked on tangled political and personal journeys. “Niemöller was always ‘on his way,’” Karl Barth, the world-renowned Swiss theologian, said of the pastor’s propensity for change. Martin Niemöller’s persona never quite changed, but his causes, all of which he served selflessly and passionately, did. He did not take them up haphazardly; there was a clear direction to his life. His transformation from nationalist to internationalist, from militarist to pacifist, and from racist and anti-Semite to champion of equality all evinced a more general transformation—from provincial, narrow-minded chauvinist to compassionate, open-minded humanitarian. In this, Niemöller is to be admired and his evolution celebrated. Committed as most of us are today to particular beliefs, we would do well to engage with the life of a man who changed his—even if that effort ultimately falls short of the truly heroic.3

– ONE –

With God for King and Fatherland (1892–1914)

MARTIN NIEMÖLLER GREW UP IN THE SHADOW OF THE CHURCH—literally. “Its bells ushered in and closed each of our days,” he later recalled of his father’s church, “and we grew to love it as our second home.” Heinrich Niemöller was pastor of a small Protestant parish in rural Lippstadt, a town of thirteen thousand in Germany’s northwestern state of Westphalia. Lippstadt’s farmers were more likely to supply Germany’s nearby Rhine-Ruhr industrial hub on the Belgian-Dutch border with dairy products and farm produce than they were Germany’s distant metropolises of Munich and Berlin. The faithful parishioners of Heinrich’s church, the Great Church of St. Mary, were especially proud that their town had been the first in the region to accept the teachings of Martin Luther, in 1521. St. Mary’s, with its distinctive steeple and bell tower, was originally Catholic, consecrated to the Virgin Mary; in the years of the Reformation the church became Lutheran but kept its old name. The Niemöller home was a two-hundred-year-old parsonage on Brüderstrasse, next to another Protestant church, the Church of Brethren (Brüderkirche), where Heinrich occasionally preached, and just down the street from St. Mary’s. As an adult, Martin Niemöller said he understood the importance of the Christian spirit that pervaded his parents’ household and how it had influenced the direction his life would take.1

“The Lippstadt parish,” Martin’s younger brother Wilhelm remembered, “was father’s first love,” and his parishioners returned that love. His passionately delivered sermons with no ornamentation or deviations from Scripture earned him the respect and devotion of his flock. “God’s Word itself came to life,” Wilhelm reminisced, “and in such a way that parishioners understood it and absorbed it.”2

Heinrich, born in 1859, was typical of Protestant pastors at the time in that his devotion to God was matched only by his reverence for the Prussian-German Hohenzollern monarchy. In 1871, Wilhelm I—a member of the Hohenzollern dynasty who had been king of Prussia since 1861—became emperor (kaiser) of the German Empire (Deutsches Reich) and was known as Kaiser Wilhelm. “The national ideal was always foremost in Martin’s upbringing,” a friend explained. Asked later in his life by the journalist Günter Gaus if he had ever rebelled against this upbringing, Niemöller conceded, “No, I can’t say I ever did.” There were two reigning dogmas in his parents’ house that no one could even imagine questioning: “a good Christian is a good citizen and a good Christian is a good soldier.” Commenting on the politics of the church during the years of the Hohenzollern monarchy, Niemöller explained, “There was an unseen motto engraved above the church door: ‘for monarchists only’ or ‘for nationalists only.’ A Social-Democrat could not be a real Christian and a real member of the church. His conviction was regarded as incompatible with the Christian faith.”3

Heinrich instilled his love of throne and altar in his six children, five of whom survived to adulthood. He and his wife Paula nee Müller named their first son, born in 1890, after Heinrich. Their subsequent sons Martin, born in 1892, and Wilhelm, in 1898, were named after the two towering figures in their lives: Martin Luther and the current Hohenzollern emperors, Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II. The three daughters were Magdalene (1894), Pauline (1896), and Maria (1901). The Niemöllers were Protestant and Prussian through and through.4

Martin inherited his nearly black eyes and dark complexion from his mother’s side. Though Paula Müller herself was Westphalian, her Huguenot ancestors had been strangers to the region, having emigrated from southern France to escape the religious persecution inflicted upon Protestants by the Roman Catholic Church. Paula’s father ran a general store in the town of Wersen near Osnabrück. Heinrich, who was nine years older than his wife, had met her when she was a child. The Müllers were inordinately proud of their Huguenot heritage, which emphasized intellectual and artistic interests, and which no doubt was a factor in Martin’s success in school. Paula’s knowledge of Latin came in handy when she helped the children with their homework. Although artistically inclined herself, and endowed with inexhaustible energy, Paula was confined to the role of a pastor’s wife; Heinrich told her early in their marriage that her main duties were in the home.

Martin was an imaginative, self-sufficient, curious, outspoken boy who spent his days outdoors and taught himself all manner of things, including the names of the constellations. Before he was old enough to attend the local primary school, he had mastered numerals by using his mother’s tape measure and scribbling with chalk on stone slabs in front of their home. In a letter from later in their lives, Magdalene, his younger sister by nearly three years, wrote that playing in the garden of the Lippstadt parsonage was akin to playing in paradise, and that her older brother was her godlike hero. “I was convinced he could do anything.” Martin played the piano and the French horn, led the school band, taught his siblings to swim (“Just jump in. I will save you”), excelled at gymnastics, and always got the best grades in school.5

A small, thin boy with large protruding ears, Martin most enjoyed playing sailor along the Lippe River, a branch of which flowed through the parsonage garden, and exploring his neighbors’ farms. It was an idyllic childhood for the most part, the major exception being his older brother’s untimely death at the age of three and a half. Niemöller maintained at the end of his life that the death of his older brother had a lasting impact on his life because it stimulated his earliest thoughts about Jesus Christ and heaven. Heini died on Martin’s second birthday, which left Martin the oldest of the Niemöller children.6

Eight-year-old Martin Niemöller with siblings Wilhelm and Magdalene. (Zentralarchiv der EKHN, Darmstadt)

Animals, large and small, were part of their daily lives in Lippstadt and of great interest to Martin, who made fast friends with the neighboring farmers’ horses. It was a small creature, however, that took center stage in Niemöller family lore. Martin, like most young boys of the era, eagerly collected cockchafers, a European beetle (and pest). On the occasion of a doctor’s visit having to do with an injury to Martin’s nose, one of the beetles escaped from its hiding place in a box under Martin’s shirt. Not wanting it destroyed, Martin yelled, “That’s mine, that’s mine,” as the beetle flew about the examining room. Finally, when the doctor asked how Martin had injured his nose, the boy said he had fallen on it. “You definitely did not fall on your mouth,” the doctor responded.7

But Martin’s interest in nature came second to his love of the sea. By the age of five, he knew he wanted to be an officer in the kaiser’s navy, and like many German boys, he would wear a sailor’s uniform every Sunday. When asked what he wanted for Christmas, marine calendars and nautical posters topped the list. He shared with his siblings—perhaps foisted upon them—his enthusiasm for games of ships played in bed, using sheets for sails. He expected his sisters to memorize the types and names of ships in the German fleet from the large poster in his bedroom. Indeed, you could not see the wallpaper for the newspaper clippings, postcards, and photos of ships that covered it. Heinrich hoped that his son would take an interest in the priesthood, but during his early years Martin never wavered from his goal of a career on the high seas.8

Foremost, of course, in the pastor’s household was the time set aside daily for Bible stories and prayers to the image of Jesus above Martin’s bed. Magdalene later recalled the importance of religious holidays in their lives, with Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun (Pentecost) being celebrated with reverence and festivities. Their mother’s special biscuits were Martin’s greatest material delight at Christmas; his share usually disappeared on Christmas Eve. Acting a supplicant, he’d approach the other children with an empty plate saying, “A poor beggar asking for a small donation.”9

As pastor in Lippstadt from 1885 to 1900, Heinrich did his part to uphold the Reformation tradition in a region that was not always friendly to Protestants. Westphalia and its western neighbor, the Rhineland, acquired by Prussia at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, were strongly Roman Catholic. Protestants, who made up two-thirds of all Germans but less than half of Westphalians, felt outnumbered and were not particularly enamored of their Catholic neighbors. The feeling was mutual. Catholics, always conscious of being a minority in the new Germany, were still smarting over Bismarck’s anti-Catholic initiatives during the Kulturkampf—the state’s legal persecution of the Catholic Church during the 1870s—and the continued underrepresentation of Catholics in higher public offices.10

Jews made up less than 1 percent of the population in Germany—approximately six hundred thousand people—and a mere twenty thousand lived in Westphalia. “I remember I was not a friend of the Jews,” Martin Niemöller admitted after World War II. “I had no hatred against Jews but this whole atmosphere of noncooperation with the Jews was just that in which everybody grew up.” Asked by Günter Gaus in the 1960s about his attitude toward Jews during his youth, Niemöller responded, “In my native Tecklenburg [a region of Westphalia near Osnabrück] there were many farmers who were in debt to Jewish moneylenders and livestock traders. At that time, the mood in this area was not systematically anti-Semitic, but it was intuitively and traditionally so, and I never especially questioned it.” In that, he was traditionally Protestant as well.11

The Germany of Niemöller’s youth was eager to flex its muscle on the international scene. “Like an unbridled wild stallion” is how one German historian described its posture at the turn of the century. The death of Kaiser Wilhelm I on March 9, 1888—two weeks shy of his ninety-first birthday—ushered in Germany’s Dreikaiserjahr: the year of the three emperors. His first successor was his only son, Crown Prince Friedrich III. Fritz, as he was known, and his “English” wife, Crown Princess Victoria—named after her mother, Queen Victoria of Great Britain—were notorious liberals in the deeply conservative Hohenzollern court. At the time of his ascension, Fritz was suffering from terminal throat cancer. He ruled just ninety-nine days, most of which he spent in bed. His death at the age of fifty-six left the crown in the hands of his impetuous and conservative twenty-nine-year-old son, Wilhelm II.12

There was little optimism regarding Wilhelm II’s suitability for the role. The new emperor’s own mother described him as “chauvinistic and ultra-Prussian” and confided to a friend that he was “stuck up, vain, proud, narrow minded, insolent & oh—so ignorant.” Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, a compatriot of Wilhelm I, groaned, “Alas, my poor grandchildren.” And Friedrich von Holstein, a diplomat in the German Foreign Office, wrote in his diary in May 1888 that Wilhelm II’s reign would be “the nemesis of world history.”13

Holstein would prove prescient. Convinced that the Hohenzollerns ruled by divine right and that God had appointed him emperor so that he could carry out the divine will, Wilhelm envisioned himself leading the German people on a Protestant crusade for global dominance. Instead, he led them into the abyss of war, humiliating defeat, and socialist revolution.

MARTIN NIEMÖLLER’S EARLIEST years coincided with the beginning of Wilhelm II’s reign. The 1890s witnessed unprecedented economic, scientific, and technological advance in Germany. But rapid modernization did not come without costs. All appearances aside, the unification of Germany in 1871 had not brought economic, political, and social unity. Economic advance and the concomitant emergence of a workers’ movement brought strife. Conservative industrial barons and politicians tried to rally the workers to their nationalist cause but had little luck. Rally the workers did, but not to the government’s conservative agenda. Instead, they joined the opposition Social Democratic Party of Germany in droves. On the eve of the First World War, the Social Democrats were the largest party in the German parliament. Class antagonisms threatened to undermine Wilhelm’s hegemonic aspirations.

Wilhelm’s was a personal style of rule: he ignored the responsible organs of government and made the vast majority of decisions based on his gut and the advice of his conservative entourage. The result was a zigzag course in foreign affairs as Germany lurched from crisis to crisis. Erratic, disruptive, and unpredictable as he was in handling Germany’s neighbors, Wilhelm remained steadfast on one matter: strengthening the armed forces until Germany was the supreme power in Europe.

Martin Niemöller was truly a child of Wilhelmine Germany, which yoked nationalism to Christianity. He shared the monarchy’s faith in the empire’s providential glory, and he was hardly unusual in his zeal. Many Germans encouraged their leaders to seek great-power status, which, at the time, meant colonial expansion. Racism and ethnic nationalism propelled German imperialism. Wilhelm and his supporters saw empire as their right and destiny, but fulfilling that destiny would require a transformation of the state and its priorities.

Where Bismarck had championed cautious Realpolitik, Wilhelm’s “new course” was one of Weltmachtpolitik—global power politics, characterized by sea power and colonies. Once on the throne, he began building a world-class navy to challenge the British. In one of his first acts of international diplomacy, Wilhelm refused to renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia, opening the way for a Franco-Russian military alliance a few years later and the dreaded threat of a two-front war against Germany.

Wilhelm loved pomp and ceremony; contemporaries called his rule the “age of festivities and speeches.” When he couldn’t be found sailing the seas aboard the royal yacht Hohenzollern, where he spent approximately one-third of his reign, the emperor was crisscrossing his realm toasting his and his ancestors’ birthdays, laying foundation stones at new churches, christening ships, attending parades, and always preening for the cameras. The stream of national commemorations and official holidays had a clear purpose: to shore up Hohenzollern rule during a period of rapid change when domestic discord, including challenges to the very idea of monarchy, was mounting.14

Wilhelm sought whenever possible to make explicit the ties binding the German people to Martin Luther and the Protestant Church. Especially important to him was the supposedly unique role of Germans in the coming of God’s kingdom. To this end in 1892, the Hohenzollerns made elaborate plans for the 375th anniversary of Martin Luther’s alleged nailing of his ninety-five theses to the doors of the Schlosskirche (Castle Church) in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, inaugurating the Protestant Reformation. Wilhelm’s father and grandfather had embarked first on the partial rebuilding and later the complete renovation of the historic Schlosskirche, which had been damaged by fire during the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) and again during the Wars of Liberation (1813–1814). The younger Wilhelm and his advisers spared no expense making the rededication of the church on October 31, 1892, a moment of national prestige.15

Accompanying Wilhelm to Wittenberg were the empress, three of their young sons, the Duke of York, the Crown Prince of Sweden, and several German princes. At the head of the procession from the railway station to the church were all the highest clergy of the German Protestant Church, followed by pastors of lesser rank, military generals and officers in uniform, ministers of state, and government officials. The kaiser and his entourage brought up the rear, surrounded by the imperial guard. Throngs of well-wishers lined the streets. As the royal entourage approached Wittenberg’s center square, where two huge statues of Luther and his collaborator Philip Melanchthon stood, trumpeters belted out Luther’s most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (“Ein feste Berg ist unser Gott”).

With the crowds cheering, a young pastor in his robe and collar, overwhelmed by the patriotic religious experience, hurled his hat toward the kaiser’s entourage, where it landed amid the honorary guard. The captain in charge called to the pastor, “Herr Pfarrer! Enthusiasm is all very well, but you’ve spoiled my dressing!” The guilty pastor, now full of apologies, was Martin Niemöller’s father, Heinrich. Years later, when recounting the episode, he concluded, “But I would do the same again!” As far as Heinrich was concerned, his participation in the rededication of Luther’s church—in the presence, no less, of His Majesty, who also served as the supreme bishop of the church (summus episcopus)—was made possible by the will of God alone.16

The year of Martin’s birth, 1892, the German emperor set off on an ambitious effort to refashion Germany’s place in the world. Wilhelm II’s administration submitted to parliament a bill seeking the highest ever peacetime investment in the army. The emperor felt strongly that the threat of a two-front war against France and Russia justified drastically increasing the number of men in uniform. But even more important was a naval buildup. Also that year, Wilhelm appointed Alfred von Tirpitz chief of staff of the navy executive command. Tirpitz convinced Wilhelm that the British Royal Navy was the main obstacle to Germany’s power, necessitating construction of many new battleships.

Until Wilhelm’s ascension to power, the navy had been the nation’s “junior service,” commanded by army generals. But the new Imperial German Navy—the High Seas Fleet—would be the darling of the young kaiser, the source and symbol of his globe-spanning might. Where Wilhelm I had used the Prussian army to make Germany a great power (Grossmacht


  • "[A] clear-eyed biography.... Hockenos's portrait sheds valuable light on a man and a society willing to overlook the sins of a leader whose interests initially seemed to dovetail with their own."—New Yorker
  • "A supremely nuanced account of an enigmatic figure."—Winnipeg Free Press
  • "Hockenos provides an honest view of Niemöller's heroic and not-so-heroic sides."—CHOICE
  • "Using extensive research, Hockenos writes a nuanced, well-rounded analysis of Niemöller's transformation from fervent nationalist and supporter of the Nazi regime to opponent of Hitler's attempts to control the Lutheran Church in Germany."—Library Journal
  • "Hockenos's impressively nuanced study captures a major 20th-century religious leader and his contradictions."—Publishers Weekly
  • "A valuable study in individual resistance to tyranny."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "In this engaging biography, Matthew Hockenos explores the many lives of Niemoller as he evolved from U-boat captain to clergyman to critic of Hitler to defender of the German people. Combining historical empathy with honest critical analysis, Hockenos masterfully demonstrates how a deeply flawed religious activist challenged an authoritarian political leader and changed the course of history."—Matthew A. Sutton, author of American Apocalypse
  • "Martin Niemoeller is best-remembered as an outspoken critic of Nazi Germany. As Matthew Hockenos shows in this penetrating and fast-paced biography, he was also an ardent early supporter of Hitler. By showing how strongly Niemoeller identified the Nazi regime with Germany's spiritual as well as political rebirth, Hockenos asks us to rethink what we understand about the nature of consent and opposition in Nazi Germany."—Nicholas Stargardt, author of The German War
  • "In this riveting and searingly honest work of humane scholarship, Matthew Hockenos shows how a deeply flawed figure can nevertheless bequeath a moral legacy of timeless relevance. The complex, if 'ordinary,' Niemoller merits a superb biography, and now has it."—James Carroll, author of Constantine's Sword and The Cloister
  • "Niemoller sunk Allied ships and called out for a Führer. He put God above Germany even though it was the same God who had cursed the Jews. In many ways, he was 'too German' and 'too Lutheran'--even in a concentration camp for the dissidence of his sermons, Niemoller volunteered to fight in Hitler's army. Hockenos makes sense of these jarring contradictions, portraying a remarkable, self-critical man in a highly readable but also critical biography. Readers will turn the pages of this book just as history turned the pages of Niemoller's life."—Peter Fritzsche, author of An Iron Wind
  • "Then They Came for Me is a moving and surprising look at Martin Niemoller. Based on extensive research and a profound understanding of history, it reveals Niemoller as a complex and flawed hero who embodied the nationalism, antisemitism, and militarism of his German Protestant surroundings but nonetheless proved able to change. Hockenos's wise and unsentimental biography is sure to challenge, inform, and entertain every reader."—Doris L. Bergen, author of War and Genocide
  • "A well-told story of faith, personal courage and repentance that speaks to a nation's journey through delusion and horror to contrition. With skill that weaves his deep research and knowledge of German history into a finely-knit biography, Matthew Hockenos takes us swiftly through Martin Niemoller's nine decades, from his origins in a family of monarchist, anti-Semitic, Lutheran ministers through his career as a naval officer and U boat commander, from his early support for the Nazis to his disillusionment and 8 years in concentration camps through his evolution into a pacifist icon and moral authority in turbulent post-war Germany."—Ethan Michaeli, author of The Defender

On Sale
Sep 18, 2018
Page Count
336 pages
Basic Books

Matthew D Hockenos

About the Author

Matthew D. Hockenos is the Harriet Johnson Toadvine ’56 Professor in 20th-Century History at Skidmore College. The author of A Church Divided: German Protestants Confront the Nazi Past, he lives in Round Lake, New York.

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