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Suddenly Jews

Suddenly Jews is the story of baptized, church-going Christians who one day in early 1933 found themselves classified as Jews by the Nazi authorities, because their ancestors had belonged to a synagogue. The sudden Jews were between a rock and a hard place. The synagogues did not know them, and the official church did not want them. In this perilous time, a fraction of the church split with the official church and set up an agency to try to help – the Bureau Grüber, named after the courageous and resourceful pastor who founded it.

In 1961, Pastor Grüber was the only German called as a witness in the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. He testified:
One evening I arrived very worn out in the Kurfürstenstrasse, and there I had the impression that the accused [Eichmann] had had, if I may say so, a good day. Perhaps he even took pity on me. I don’t know if the accused remembers this incident. He said, ‘Why are you bothering with these Jews, anyway? No one will thank you for this work. Why all this big fuss for the Jews?’
I answered him, ‘Do you know the road that leads from Jerusalem to Jericho?’ And then I said, ‘Once there was a Jew lying on this road, who was the victim of robbers. And then someone came along who was not a Jew and he helped him. The Lord whom alone I obey says to me, “Go thou and do likewise.” That is my answer.’

Hartmut Ludwig is Professor of Church History at the Humboldt University in Berlin. He specializes in the church of the 20th century and is the author of numerous articles and books on the topic.

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Translator’s Preface

This book contains a moving story about one thread in the larger fabric of German resistance during the Nazi era. It centers on the efforts of a Protestant clergyman, Heinrich Grüber, to act as a biblical Good Samaritan toward people who were persecuted on account of what the Nazis defined as their “race.” Among these were tens of thousands of baptized and church-going Christians who, under Nazi decrees beginning in early 1933, were suddenly classified as “Jews” because their parents or grandparents, or some of them, had once belonged to the Jewish faith.

Hartmut Ludwig wrote this work originally as his doctoral dissertation in church history at the Humboldt University, Berlin, in 1988. He expanded and updated it in 2009 with newly available archival sources. I have edited the work to make this heart-rending story more accessible to the non-specialist American reader who is interested in this historical period.

Ludwig’s German language original, as befits a doctoral dissertation, included an extensive array of footnotes and references. The American reader who is an expert in this field will of course have access to Dr. Ludwig’s original title. Because this American edition is aimed at a non-specialist audience, I have summarily redacted the entire voluminous scholarly appendix. I have made some other edits, namely:

The American reader who is not a specialist may not be familiar with some well-known German names such as Karl Barth, Friedrich von Bodelschwingh and others, as well as with German church institutions that Ludwig mentions in the original. I have added explanatory material from other sources wherever it seemed appropriate to give the characters — including Grüber himself — more dimension, and I have supplied some introductory and transitional passages.

Dr. Ludwig’s readers undoubtedly knew the parable of the Good Samaritan from childhood. I cannot assume the same knowledge in a modern American audience. I have therefore quoted it in full at the appropriate place in the text, along with one or two other Bible references that would be obvious to a religiously trained person but perhaps not to a general American audience.

Dr. Ludwig’s thesis separated the institutional history of the Bureau Grüber from the biographies of a handful of the individuals who made it go. I have taken the biographies of the individuals up to and including their involvement in the project and merged them into the institutional history. I have moved their fate after the closing of the project into the following chapter, subtitled “Honor Roll.” This list of names contained many gaps. Based on information not available earlier, Dr. Ludwig has expanded these thumbnail biographies for this American edition. Many participants in the Grüber project whose fate (and in some cases even full name) remained unknown in the 2009 edition are now fully identified and their fates tracked to the extent current sources
permit. This is therefore not merely a translation but a further expanded edition of Dr. Ludwig’s already expanded edition of 2009.

I have merged the substance of Dr. Ludwig’s original academic introduction into the body of the work where it fits chronologically or thematically. I have also taken the liberty of moving some paragraphs of the institutional history into other sections where they fit chronologically. I have changed the sequence of some subsections, and livened up some of the titles, including the title of the book. I have also abandoned the photographs and the strict
numbered outline format of the doctoral thesis. I have condensed Walter Sylten’s closing retrospective of the post-war period, eliminating details of lesser interest to American readers.

Dr. Ludwig’s text variously refers to the events of November 9-10 1938 as the November pogroms or Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass). I have adopted the uniform label of the November 1938 pogroms.

In conclusion, a personal note. After translating Karl Marx’s Grundrisse from German to English in the early 1970s, I have avoided further translation work. I have made an exception for Dr. Ludwig’s book because of a marginal but meaningful family connection. My mother and father met in Switzerland as students of Karl Barth, became members of the BK, were friends with some of the individuals named in this book, helped with some of the kinds of rescue activities described in it, and spent time in some of the prisons mentioned here. Dr. Ludwig, who is today a very well known and prolific authority on modern church history, and a Dozent at Humboldt University, was kind enough to include a short chapter about my father in one of his other church-historical works, and I had the honor of meeting with Dr. and Mrs. Ludwig in Berlin a few years ago. Thus my work on this text is a small repayment of a debt I owe its author for shedding light on this dark period of history.

– Martin Nicolaus, Berkeley, July 2015