Lessons from Loving Nazi’s

Every now and then I’ll come across and article that is far better than I ever anticipated. This is one.

It has a little to do about baseball, since the 1946 World Series pit the Cardinals and Red Sox against each other. And I recognize this blog post would have been more apropos if constructed a week or so ago. But this is just flat out thought provoking and heart moving, heavy and hopeful, encouraging and challenging.

For the last 11 months, they had served as the chaplains at Nuremberg prison in Germany, offering spiritual counsel to the first Nazis to be tried for war crimes in the rubbed-raw wake of World War II. Among their flock were architects of genocide, responsible for the murder of many millions, most of them Jews.

Can you imagine being a chaplain for such criminals? I’m a fairly avid reader of WWII history, and its hard for me to have any compassion on such people this far removed from it all. I can’t imagine being there.

Here are a few takeaways from the article. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

1.) The very fact that such folks were even offered chaplains reveals to us that someone held to a core belief that no one is beyond redemption.  If you have a hard time believing that-which I really do-this article will reaffirm that truth.

2.) Love moves toward the unlovely. Jesus always moved towards those deemed unworthy of love: cheaters, liars, sexually immoral, unclean, ugly, disabled, marginal.

3.) Love is costly. A woman once told me that she brought in a needy little girl into her house and then became infected with lice. Obviously this wasn’t the way it was supposed to work, according to her property gospel thinking. But such couldn’t be farther from the truth. If you love well, you will will enter into into others mess and you will get messy. The chaplains heard confessions of the deepest atrocities. This took a toll. It hurt. It weighed heavy. It cost them much to love such folks.

Bonds developed, as did a fear among the inmates that Gerecke was planning to go home. This meant that a woman in St. Louis received a letter one day from 21 accused war criminals in Nuremberg, explaining how vital her husband’s presence and counsel were to them.
“Therefore, please leave him with us,” the Nazis wrote to Gerecke’s wife, Alma. “We shall be deeply indebted to you.”
The letter closed with: “God be with you.”
Alma Gerecke quickly sent a message to her husband: “They need you.”

4.) Loving some people means that you have to make the conscious choice to delay loving others. We all do this, I just don’t think we realize it. But in this story, it is pronounced. One of the chaplains was to be sent home, but the inmates begged her to let him stay. She obliged. Can you imagine being put in that spot? What would you do? He had to make a choice. The beauty is that his wife gave her blessing. But the cost was that he had to delay seeing his beloved wife. We cannot love some well without choosing to delay loving others. Spouses and families take priority, but they cannot take all of our attention. Unlovely needy neighbors (or in some cases bitter enemies) need Jesus and someone to love them. Yet if the spouse and family members are all on board with God’s mission, we can “loan” our loved ones out, and delay the love we receive for a little while. This fellowship from a distance is what Paul often refers to as “koinonia.” Sometimes we really can fellowship from a distance. Across the pond or across the town.

 5.) Loving others in a costly way will lead them to love you back. While there is a cost, there is also a blessing. Such war criminals, well, some of them, really loved him back. As a result of his labor, we’ll probably see some of these same folks again some day.

While cleaning out the pastor’s office shortly afterward, his eldest son, Hank, came across an envelope jammed with hate letters that his father had received but never mentioned.
“They were the worst things I ever read, directed at my father because of his duty at Nuremberg, calling him a Nazi,” Hank Gerecke, 92, said.

6.) Loving others who are unlovely and “unworthy” will lead others to not love you. It will lead them to hate you. If people have never tasted the grace of the gospel, we cannot expect them to understand why anyone would love such “unworthy” people. Jesus love drunkards and therefore was called a drunk. He was actually called much worse. If people question you for loving others, then listen. But remember, if people think you’re nuts or a Nazi, for loving nuts or Nazi’s, then there’s a good chance you’re doing something right.


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