Forgiving the War Crimes of WWII

The Second World War brimmed with war crimes committed by Nazi officials, not surprising given the very nature of the Holocaust. These atrocities were given fair trails, and like with any murderer on death row, those who committed them had to right to have a minister pray for the forgiveness of their souls. One such minister was Henry Gerecke, who prayed for the souls of over twenty men accused of war crimes at Nuremberg.

For Gerecke to minister properly, he had to come from a place of forgiveness himself. Gerecke put the proper spiritual principles into his sermons long before his work in Germany, having always believed in an eternally loving God. In such a spirit, Gerecke preceded his work ministering to those accused of war crimes with a life full of prayer with those accused of lesser crimes in prison. With a sense of charity, he also prayed with those in hospitals who could not make it to church. He was a man who believed that helping others would keep his own house in order as well.

Gerecke joined the army during WWII and found his hospital visits to be a very different animal than they had been before. The men with whom he prayed were much closer to the afterlife. He saw first-hand the destruction that Nazi war crimes had wrought, which made it incredibly difficult to come to terms when he was asked to pray with the same criminals who were responsible for the terrors he saw done to those hospital patients. Yet when a minister was needed at Nuremberg, Gerecke’s name was submitted, the South East Missourian reports.

Ultimately, Gerecke felt it was his duty to pray for any who sought salvation, and he felt that the Nazis needed it more than anyone. Among those Gerecke prayed with at Nuremberg was Hermann Goering, the man who would have taken over the Third Reich had the war continued long after Hitler’s death. For those who truly seemed repentant over their war crimes, Gerecke offered communion. He found that the German soldiers to whom he ministered were every bit as capable of respect as anyone else, and respect is exactly what they gave him.

Henry Gerecke’s stint ended around the time several of the men charged with war crimes were sentenced to death. One of them was Goering, who took his own life after being denied communion for not accepting Christ. The denial of Goering’s communion was one of the most difficult decisions Gerecke made since his decision to preach at Nuremberg in the first place. While Gerecke did not find his stay with the men who committed such war crimes to be enjoyable, he found himself thankful at the end of it. It reminded him that sympathy can be found for any human being, and that the worst of suffering is always temporary.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE