May 2, 2002

Due disobedience

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, a non-governmental organization created in Argentina, pays tribute in one of its educational programs dedicated to the saviors of people persecuted during the Nazi regime, the other side of the tragic coin called the Holocaust.

The Holocaust -Shoah- took place in spite of the determination of a minority who flagrantly disobeyed, at their own risk, the orders of the Third Reich. It is precisely this concept of disobedience to aberrant orders and regimes which violate individual freedoms, which must be rescued as a lesson given by these heroes of modern times.

The Grüber case

Heinrich Grüber was the only German witness who testified in the Adolf Eichmann trial, in Jerusalem. The fortieth anniversary of his execution is on May 31st . Interrogated by Dr. Robert Servatius, Attorney for the Defense of the war criminal, Grüber declared: ”Shortly after the November pogrom, when Goebbels said that Kristallnacht was the spontaneous will of the German nation, I said in two large meetings: I declare herewith solemnly and publicly that I do not want to have anything to do with this German nation.”

Heinrich Grüber was a protestant dean in Berlin who has gone down in history not only for his determined opposition to Nazism but also for having risked his life to save Jews condemned to extermination.

He was born in Stolberg, on 24 June 1891. Of Huguenot stock, he studied Theology in Bonn, Berlin and Utrecht before becoming an active social worker and the director of a home for handicapped boys.

He staunchly opposed Hitler from the moment he arrived at the German Chancellery in January 1933. Soon he came in contact with who would be one of his best friends for the rest of his life, Pastor Martin Niemöller, founder in 1934 of the Confessional Church (”Bekennende Kirche”), which opposed the official church, allied to National-Socialism.

It was precisely this new church, nucleus of the protestant resistance to Nazism and the craddle of distinguished professors of theology after the war, which entrusted him with the setting up of an organization, known as the ”Bürö Grüber”, at his vicarage in Kaulsdorf, near Berlin, to help save Christians of Jewish descent and Jews in general.

The Büro dealt with emigration and employment abroad, care for the aged, welfare and the education of Jewish children. Grüber personally negotiated with the Nazi authorities, including Eichmann´s Gestapo office, on behalf of Jewish organizations.

With the outbreak of war he became frequently harassed by the Gestapo. In December 1940 he was arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, then transferred to Dachau. There he suffered from a heart complaint and in an incident with two guards he was beaten and had his teeth knocked out.

He was liberated in 1943 and immediately resumed contact with clergymen in exile.

When the war was over he founded the Evangelical Aid Society for Former Victims of Racial Persecution. From 1949 to 1958 he was the chief representative of the Evangelical Church in East Berlin, resigning his position in protest against anti-Christian smears in the DDR.

He was not the most popular figure in West Germany either. His advocacy of nuclear disarmament and his attacks on West German militarism, not to mention his insistence on the collective guilt of the German nation for Nazi crimes, caused him the rejection and dislike of many people. Grüber argued that every German ”who glosses over his past failings is a potential criminal of tomorrow”. He also denounced the official whitewashing of the German people in the post-war period.

During the rest of his life, Grüber continued to emphasize the moral obligation of the Germans to the Jewish people and to warn the authorities against minimizing the neo-Nazi activity in the Federal Republic.

His book of recollections, ”Memories of Seven Decades”, was published in 1968. He died in Berlin of a heart attack at the age of 84, on 29 November 1975.

* Baruch Tenembaum is Founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation