Thursday, July 30, 2015


What do you do if you, as a Christian, are called upon by governing authorities to do something that is in violation of your conscience?  What used to be a theoretical question about something foreign to our experience--reserved for Bible School debate or Sunday School discussions--is increasingly becoming a distinct possibility or reality for the Bible-believing Christian in America.

Believers are to submit themselves to the governing authorities.  That is the clear teaching of Scripture (Cf. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14).  But when asked to do something that is clearly immoral or unethical, the Christian has no choice but to reluctantly refuse and obey God rather than man (Cf. Daniel 6:1-10; Acts 4:18-20).  Church history is filled with examples of people who chose to do so, in spite of whatever opposition and threats they faced.  I recently came across one such example.  Here’s the story…

It was later deemed the Aktion T4 program.  The name T4 was an abbreviation of the address of a villa in Berlin which was the headquarters of the “Charitable Foundation for Curative and Institutional Care."  But there was nothing charitable or curative about the program.  The program was borne of a “trial” case in which a family petitioned the Nazi government to put their blind and disabled son to death.  The boy was evaluated by Hitler’s personal physician, Karl Brandt, and was killed in July of 1939.  Hitler then instructed Brandt to proceed in a similar manner in similar cases.  Three weeks after the boy’s death, The Reich Committee for the Scientific Registering of Hereditary and Congenital Illnesses was established.  Secret killing of infants began in 1939 and increased after the war started.  From August 1939, the committee began registering children with disabilities, requiring doctors and midwives to report all cases of newborns with severe cases.  Those identified or suspected to have serious hereditary diseases, malformations, or disabilities were to be killed.  Tens of thousands of children were eventually murdered under the program, and for a while, the government hid it from the public.  

Lest we suppose this kind of thing to be a moral anomaly, impossible in our day, consider the views of Bioethicist Peter Singer (A Princeton professor, abortion advocate, and animal rights activist).  In a radio interview on April 16th, he argued that it would be “reasonable” in some circumstances for the government and private health insurance companies to deny treatment – even life-saving treatment – for infants with disabilities.  He’s not the only one that thinks that way.  The founder of the American Birth Control League (which later became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America), Margaret Sanger, held similar eugenic views.  On average, nearly 3000 babies are murdered in abortion each day and in some cases for the cause of “fetal abnormalities.”   In the decades since Roe v. Wade, babies have been euthanized in America in numbers that far exceed those that occurred under the Nazi regime (~55 million babies have been killed in the “American holocaust”).  Horrifically, a recent undercover investigation unveiled evidence that Planned Parenthood has even been engaged in the practice of harvesting and selling body parts from aborted babies. 

It proved to be impossible to keep the Aktion T4 program secret from the German public.  Thousands of doctors, nurses, and administrators were involved.  Most of the children who were killed had families who were concerned about them.  In some cases, families could discern that the causes of death in certificates were false.  They sought out the truth.  Eventually, some of the staff at the killing centers started talking.  In the towns where the centers were located, people saw the smoke from the crematoria chimneys.  In a town called Hadamar, ashes containing human hair rained down on the town. 

Lothar Kreyssig was the one Judge in all of Germany who spoke out.  Lothar was born in Saxony, the son of a businessman.  After serving in WWI, he gained his law degree and eventually a judgeship in Chemnitz, Germany.  Though pressured to join the Nazi party, he refused, citing the need to maintain his judicial independence.  In 1934, he joined the Confessing Church, the church to which Dietrich Bonhoeffer also belonged. 

Before we can proceed with the rest of Lothar’s story, we need to explain how the Confessing Church came into existence.  More than anything else, it was borne out of protest to what was called “the Aryan Paragraph.”  The paragraph first appeared in the Third Reich in 1933 in a law which stipulated that only those of Aryan descent could be employed in civil service (thus excluding all Jews).  It was later broadened to exclude those married to a “non-Aryan.”  The Nazi party pressured other organizations to adopt the paragraph.  And most did.  Jews were thus barred from the public health system, lost their public offices, were driven from editorial offices and theaters, and were excluded from agriculture.  They would eventually face more horrific things.

In the beginning, the objections of the Confessing Church to the Nazi regime were not motivated by moral outrage over antisemitism.  What they didn’t like was the regime’s interference in their affairs.  The controversy was ultimately over the autonomy of the church.  In May 1934, the members of the Confessing Church met in a synod in Barmen.  The pastors denounced the leadership of the government sponsored church and declared that they and their congregations constituted the true Evangelical Church of Germany.  The Barmen Declaration re-affirmed that the German Church was not an "organ of the State" and that the concept of State control over the Church was doctrinally false.  The Declaration stipulated, at its core, that any State—even the totalitarian one— necessarily encountered a limit when confronted with God's commandments.  After the Barmen Declaration, there were in effect two Protestant churches in Germany: the officially sanctioned Church and the Confessing Church.  The Confessing Church did not offer resistance, in the political sense, with the intent of bringing down the Nazi regime.  It fought instead to keep its own autonomy and to preserve the independence of church doctrine.  Over time, they found themselves—in standing for truth--increasingly in a state of principled opposition to both the state and other German Christians.    

Back to Lothar’s story.  He was transferred to a lower district court in 1937.  His involvement in the Confessing Church resulted in an investigation.  Kreyssig’s superiors considered him to be a good judge–until he began a series of minor insubordinations such as slipping out of a ceremony in his court when a bust of Hitler was unveiled and publicly protesting the suspension of three judges who failed to follow the interpretation of “Aryan laws” favored by Nazi authorities.  Though the regime took no specific actions against him at that time, they undoubtedly henceforth kept him under close scrutiny.  One could imagine him to be tempted to lay low to avoid drawing attention to himself, but that’s not what he did.  His work as a mental health court guardianship judge made him responsible for several hundred mentally retarded children and adults.  After he observed that the number of death certificates for his wards was increasing, he began to suspect the deaths to be connected to the “mercy killings” that had begun.  He reported his suspicions in a letter to Minister of Justice Franz Gurtner, writing, “What is right is what benefits the people.  In the name of this frightful doctrine — as yet, uncontradicted by any guardian of rights in Germany — entire sectors of communal living are excluded from having rights, for example, all the concentration camps, and now, all hospitals and sanatoriums.”  He filed an injunction against the institutions, prohibiting them from transferring wards without his consent.

Four months later, Lothar was summoned by Gurtner, who laid before him Hitler’s personal letter that started the euthanasia program and which constituted the sole legal basis for it.  Kreyssig replied, "The Führer's word does not create a right," clearly signifying that he did not recognize this as a legal right.  Gurtner then told Kreyssig, "If you cannot recognize the will of the Führer as a source of law, then you cannot remain a judge.” In December 1940, Kreyssig was suspended.  Efforts by the Gestapo to send him to a concentration camp failed.  Two years later, in March 1942, Hitler forced Kreyssig to retire.

Public awareness and opposition to the T4 program grew and on 24 August 1941, Hitler ordered its cancellation.  Unfortunately, the winding-up of the T4 program did not actually put an end to the killing of people with disabilities.  Many more died after the program was officially terminated.

In his book, “Hitler’s Justice: The Courts of the Third Reich”, Ingo Muller writes of the courageous judge: “No matter how hard one searches for stout-hearted men among the judges of the Third Reich, for judges who refused to serve the regime from the bench, there remains a grand total of one: Dr. Lothar Kreyssig.” 

Lothar Kreyssig was the only German judge who attempted to stop the Aktion T4 euthanasia program.  Not only did he defy the Reich, he outlived it by forty one years.  Twenty years after his death, Germany held a memorial service honoring his bravery and compassion.  There are now four cities in Germany that have streets named after him.  In another city, there is a senior care center that bears his name.  The Lothar Kreyssig Peace Prize has been awarded every two years since 1999 by the Lothar Kreyssig Foundation in Magdeburg.

Thankfully, defending the sanctity of life and overreach of the government doesn’t now require anything of us like Kreyssig’s courage, but the time may come when it will.  There are things that we can now do in confronting evil.  We can pray, as one of our elders did in a recent prayer meeting.  With tears in his eyes, he prayed for the mothers contemplating an abortion—that their hearts might be turned so that they might value and preserve the life of their unborn child.  We can vote, for those who stand on the side of truth and value the lives of the most innocent and vulnerable amongst us.  We can lend our support to the ministries of pro-life groups and the pregnancy resource centers who work to assist and inform mothers who are wondering about what to do regarding their pregnancies.  We can wholeheartedly enjoin ourselves, in fellowship and service, to those churches who stand for truth and speak the truth in love.  We can speak to others of the innocent One whose own life was terminated, in bearing our sins, so that we might be forgiven and find eternal life in Him.  As has been said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Despite the threat to his livelihood and life, Lothar chose to do something.  And others were bettered for it.  Amongst all of the judges in Germany, it was his one contrary voice that worked to help “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).


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