From Chaplain Alan Farley
(Hon Chaplain, 290 Foundation
GERMAN U-BOAT CAPTAIN FACED QUESTIONS OF FAITH IN BATTLE
Daniel 9:8-9, “O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. 9 To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him;”
Firing torpedoes at a French ship from his U-boat was a turning point for a Christian German sailor, Martin Niemoller.
The 23-year-old son of a Lutheran preacher in Westphalia, Martin joined the German war effort in 1915. He was immediately assigned to U-boats.
But on January 25th, 1917 his U-boat had to fire on a French ship that was trying to rescue the survivors of another torpedoed ship. It was an incident that was to change him forever.
He said, “The whole complex problem of war presented itself to us and we realized from this single experience of ours something of the tragedy involved.”
“We saw that situations could arise in war in which it was utterly impossible to preserve a clear conscience.”
“Assuming we survived,” he added, “the question of whether our conscience survived with us depended on whether we believed in the forgiveness of sins.”
The following year it was Martin whose life hung in the balance. His U-boat was hit three times by an Allied convoy.
It was forced to dive, leaking water, and wait until nightfall to emerge again. Everyone’s lives were at risk.
Martin said he asked himself, “Was there a God? Was there a purpose in life?”
His last act during World War 1 was to return his vessel to the naval port in Kiel following the armistice in November 1918.
But he got totally lost and ended up going through mine-infested waters near Corfu! Referring to his survival as “a miracle” he said, “I felt certain that some new task awaited me. Why otherwise would God Himself have taken over our helm?”
That future was in the Christ. Just like his father, Martin became a Lutheran pastor, hoping to bring the love and comfort of the Christian faith to a broken German society.
Later he was one of many church leaders who opposed the Hitler’s Nazification of Germany’s Protestant Churches.
It was to cost him his freedom, as he spent seven years in concentration camps in Sachenhausen and Dachau during World War II.
Here he reported that despite being imprisoned he ‘felt liberated and saw God’s promise fulfilled’.