“In a clear, gripping, and extensively researched narrative, Townsend raises the hard questions of good and evil, forgiveness and retribution; and, also, whether these killers, obeying orders and ignoring morality, deserved spiritual succor in what were, for many of them, their final days…There is much to ponder and bemoan in this detailed report of the trials and of a brave, kindly pastor moving through the ‘most frightening experience of his life.’”
“Townsend authoritatively addresses the excruciating moral and religious issues confronting wartime chaplains and deftly explains the role of a spiritual adviser in bringing the wrongdoer, even one seemingly beyond redemption, back to ‘a place of restoration.’” He “thoroughly understands and skillfully handles [this] rich, potentially explosive material.”
“Full of surreal moments,” Townsend’s “accessible account captures the strangeness and horror of Gerecke’s assignment…”
“Mission at Nuremberg confronts us with the deeper meaning of evil and of good and puts flesh and blood on concept like mercy, justice, forgiveness, and repentance.”
Interviews, Excerpts & Articles
A World Away, the Seventh Game; Close at Hand, Condemned Nazis
By Dan Barry
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. Now it was mid-October, and this initial phase of postwar judgment was nearing its climactic end in a courts-and-prison complex called the Palace of Justice. The pastoral work of the Lutheran, the Rev. Henry Gerecke, and the Franciscan, the Rev. Sixtus O’Connor, was almost done.
Book chronicles St. Louis Army chaplain’s ministry to condemned Nazis
At 12:45 a.m., the Nazis scheduled for hanging were told to dress and were given their last meal. Most didn’t touch the food. Keitel had made his bed and asked for a brush and duster to clean his cell. Since his capture by the Allies eighteen months earlier, he had played the part of a disciplined soldier. His bearing was erect, and his silver hair and mustache always perfectly trimmed. Each day in court, Keitel had proudly worn the plain tunic, blooming breeches, and black boots of a Wehrmacht officer.
This week’s must-read books
By Billy Heller
In his first book, religion writer Townsend explains that as the architects of the Holocaust went on trial at Nuremberg, the Geneva Conventions required spiritual guidance for them.
Spiritual counselor to the Nazis? ‘Mission at Nuremberg’ author Tim Townsend tells the unlikely story
By Marjorie Kehe
Spiritual counselor to the Nazis? The title seems almost ludicrous, and yet that is the role Henry Gerecke filled when he became Army chaplain to the Nazi leadership during the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials. Journalist Tim Townsend tells the unlikely story of Gerecke – a middle-aged Lutheran minister and one-time Missouri farm boy – and the men he ministered to in Mission at Nuremberg.
Ministering to the Nazis: A St. Louisan at Nuremberg – Q&A
By Jeannette Cooperman
What was Gerecke’s theodicy—how did he explain a loving God allowing such suffering to occur?
I don’t think he would have even known that word. He had a deep and profound theology, but it was not one he’d know how to wrap up in fancy words. I think he believed that every human being was created by God, and people have free will, and some make terrible choices that can lead them down a path to commit evil acts, but they can still be redeemed and saved. And that’s Christianity. And it’s pretty controversial.
The chaplain from Missouri who tried to save the black souls of the Nazis at Nuremberg
By Caroline Howe
Gerecke was an unlikely candidate for his mission in Nuremberg. “‘Here is this farmer’s kid from Missouri whose father never wanted him to be pastor,’ the author told MailOnline. ‘He shocked his wife and family when he told them: ‘I want to try to minister to the people who are destitute and living in the streets and jails’. He was clearly drawn to that.'”
American Chaplain’s Ministry to Nazi Criminals at Nuremberg Is Subject of New Book
By Michael Gryboski
Gerecke devoting “so much time to meeting the spiritual needs of individuals responsible for genocide was something Townsend told CP he ‘really had to grapple with.’” …”‘What was surprising to me was his willingness to set out down that road to begin with. For somebody who is not a Christian pastor…it was difficult for me, at first, to even conceive of why somebody would volunteer for a mission like this,’ said Townsend.”