Germany, Hitler and Resistance

What we must know about opposition to the Nazis:

In my ongoing series of articles on resistance theory (and practice), I have looked at various figures and historical periods. One area I have already partially covered is that of Nazi Germany, Hitler, and those who opposed what was happening there at the time.

Most of us know about the main figures who did resist in various ways: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Martin Niemoller, the Scholls and the White Rose Movement, and so on. I have already written about many of these. See for example these pieces:

But here I want to also speak to ordinary and perhaps rather unknown resisters. We often wonder why it seems like no one resisted Hitler and the Nazis. Well, the truth is, some did in fact resist. They may have been in the minority, and they may have had limited success in their endeavours, but there were a number of Germans who took a stand against the Nazis, many of them paying for this with their lives.

Being aware of these brave individuals and groups should inspire and challenge us today. The idea that what occurred last century can never happen again is a fool’s dream. There are always would-be Hitlers around, and there are always rogue governments (whether democratically elected or not) that we must guard against.

So to learn about this small but committed group of Germans who did in fact resist is quite important. I will do this here by two means. I will offer a reading list of some of the better books on these matters, and then I will quote from some of them.

Recommended reading

There would be many more books on this matter than the ones I present here, but they are a good place to begin. I divide the list into two parts. The first 14 titles are specifically about the resisters in Germany in the 1930s and 40s. Some of these books look at resistance in general while others deal with individual resisters.

Aubrac, Lucie, Outwitting the Gestapo. University of Nebraska Press, 1993.
Dowley, Tim, Defying The Holocaust: Ten Courageous Christians Who Supported Jews. SPCK, 2020.
Gill, Anton, An Honourable Defeat: A History of German Resistance To Hitler, 1933-1945. Henry Holt, 1994.
Gragg, Rod, My Brother’s Keeper: Christians Who Risked All To Protect Jewish Targets of the Nazi Holocaust. Center Street, 2016.
Haffner, Sebastian, Defying Hitler: A Memoir. Picador, 1939, 2002.
Hallie, Philip, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed. Harper Colophon, 1979, 1980.
Large, David Clay, ed., Contending with Hitler: Varieties of German Resistance in the Third Reich. Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Loconte, Joseph, ed., The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler’s Gathering Storm. Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.
Mazzeo, Tilar, Irena’s Children: A True Story of Courage. Gallery Books, 2016, 2017.
Moorehead, Caroline, A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France. Harper Perennial, 2011, 2012.
Puritz, Christian, Christ or Hitler? Stories from My Life and Times by Pastor Wilhelm Busch (1897-1966). Evangelical Press, 2013.
Stroud, Dean, ed., Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich. Eerdmans, 2013.
Thomas, Gordon and Greg Lewis, Defying Hitler: The Germans Who Resisted Nazi Rule. Dutton Caliber, 2019.
von Hildebrand, Dietrich, My Battle Against Hitler: Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich. Image 2014.

And these four books are more general in nature, looking both at what happened back then, and whether such things can occur today. All these volumes are penned by Christians:

Andrews, Andy, How Do You Kill 11 Million People? Thomas Nelson, 2011.
Comfort, Ray, Hitler, God and the Bible. WND Books, 2012.
Lutzer, Erwin, Hitler’s Cross. Moody, 1995, 2012.
Lutzer, Erwin, When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany. Moody, 2010.

As to books devoted to Bonhoeffer, see the reading list found here:

And as to the Scholls, see here:


Here I want to present a few quotes from a few of the books I listed above. They will give you a feel for what took place back then, and what might be needed in our own day and age. First of all, it should be noted where much of the active resistance arose: “It was from within the Army that the main Resistance to Hitler came, as a handful of determined officers perceived the evil towards which the Fuhrer was leading the country.” (Gill, p. 3)

Image of Defying Hitler: The Germans Who Resisted Nazi Rule
Defying Hitler: The Germans Who Resisted Nazi Rule by Thomas, Gordon (Author), Lewis, Greg (Author) Amazon logo

As to a general overview of German resistance, a few paragraphs from the closing chapter of the Thomas and Lewis volume are worth sharing here:

In refusing to be dehumanized and crushed as individuals, [the resisters] sought to prove to themselves and to others that not all of the nation had submitted. They were keeping alive the part of the country they loved in their own actions. And to the civilized world today, their actions still matter, as they shine a message to us: decency and honour can be maintained, and the instinct for human solidarity will survive even in the most fascistic of regimes. When power and violence attempt to crush all into conformity, there will always be those who cannot be suppressed.


One must remember that the resistors operated in a society where the machinery of propaganda ensured that there was only condemnation of their actions and no reporting at all of the concentration camps or atrocities. There was no public, vocal opposition behind which a campaign could be built. Anyone whose conscience dictated that they must oppose Hitler had to overcome the fact that their neighbours saw only one picture of the Nazi state. The regime ran a perfect campaign of fake news, of which to question and oppose was a betrayal of the nation and the fighting soldier…. (p. 473)

Hmm, sound familiar? The authors continue:

An accusation of treason has always been hung over those who tried to bring down the Nazis from within. When a nation sinks to our moral low, it seeks to accuse those who speak out of disloyalty to its flag.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the dilemma that he and the others faced as having “either to hope for the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization might survive, or to hope for victory entailing the destruction of civilization.”


But the charge of treason is bogus. . . . Nazi Germany forfeited its right to be considered a legal state. Therefore the actions of the people in the pages of this book were resistance, not treason. They acted with tremendous courage, knowing the odds were stacked against them. They showed no personal ambition, only hopes for their nation and for humanity. Many represented the very antithesis of blinkered nationalism, knowing they were committing high treason as they sought a better outcome for all.


As Hans Oster told the Dutch officer to whom he had revealed the plans of Hitler’s invasion of Western Europe: “People may well say that I am a traitor but in reality I am not. I regard myself as a better German than all those who are trotting along behind Hitler. It is both my purpose and my duty to liberate Germany, and with her the world, from this plague….


As Henning von Treskow, a leading spirit in the movement to remove Hitler and the man who inspired Stauffenberg, said, “We must prove to the world and to future generations that the men of the German Resistance movement dared to take the decisive step and hazard their lives upon it. Compared with this, nothing else matters. (pp. 487-488)

While too few non-Jews helped the Jewish population during this hellish period, some did. Says Dowley:

When the Nazis started to destroy the European Jews, the millions of non-Jews in Europe had to decide their stance: would they help the Nazis, help the Jews, or do nothing. A very small percentage resisted or helped. The great majority did nothing. More than 16,000 rescuers have been recognized officially by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, yet no one knows how many there were in total.


The number of those who escaped the Holocaust by living illegally with the aid and support of non-Jews is extremely low in comparison with the number deported to the extermination camps. For example, in Berlin some Gentiles were ready and able to risk rescuing Jews, although they were very few compared with those who remained indifferent, looked the other way, became accomplices by denouncing people to the police or actively participated in the Holocaust.


It has often been wrongly assumed that all rescuers were Christian. In fact some were atheists or agnostics, some in south-eastern Europe were Muslims, and dedicated Communists also rescued Jews. Some rescuers had a Jewish friend, co-worker or colleague whom they wanted to help. Some were motivated by patriotism or politics: for example, the Danes aided the Jews of their country partly as an act of national resistance to the Nazis. Many of the rescuers acted out of a sense of justice or in straightforward response to the suffering of fellow humans. (p. 6)

We do know that the majority of German Christians were not active in opposing the Nazis. But some were, including those committed to protecting the Jews. Gragg says this in the opening pages of his book:

Many did nothing – even though they called themselves Christians. Others joined the Nazis and supported the Shoah, or the Holocaust – the dark, deadly storm that swept over Europe with the rise of Nazi Germany. In it more than six million Jewish men, women, and children perished, killed by starvation or illness, fatally tortured or beaten, shot by Nazi death squads, or executed in concentration camp gas chambers. Contrary to popular misconception, in many ways the Jews of Europe resisted the evil that befell them. Many Jewish leaders courageously protested the persecution before they were silenced. Countless numbers tried desperately to escape captivity. Others became resistance fighters or joined partisan bands. Some even tried to fight their way out of the gas chambers. Most, however, were women and children, often rendered helpless before the mighty force that overwhelmed them—but even they tried to resist. Every Jewish mother who gave her food ration to her child or shielded her infant’s eyes from looming destruction was a resister. And as the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust descended upon Europe, countless people who professed the name of Christ also refused to remain silent or inactive. Many risked everything to help rescue Jewish targets of Nazi tyranny. Some even made the ultimate sacrifice, faithfully fulfilling the words of Jesus: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (xi-xii)

And there were of course some Christian leaders and pastors who stood strong. Says Stroud:

Without a doubt, the church as a social and political institution failed the test of confronting Nazism. . . . However, the “institution” — intent on survival rather than sacrifice, as Victoria Barnett emphasizes — was also the mystical body of Christ, and some of her members did challenge Nazism, even at the cost of their lives. Although the majority of pastors in Nazi Germany may well have offered little or no overt resistance that we know of today, we know of some who did. Having conceded that too few did too little, I caution that only God knows for sure. In a terror state secrecy is vital for the protection of oneself and others. And what we will come to call the “Church Struggle” was fought out in the trenches of each parish for control of each pulpit and congregation in the German Reich. As obvious as it sounds, we know only what we know and we do not know what we do not know.


Preaching was one significant way that some pastors did resist. Some radically proclaimed the gospel against Nazi ideology with little or no thought of personal safety. Their sermons provide historical documentation of Christian opposition to Hitler, and they deserve our attention. (p. 4)

To be inspired by individual stories of resistance, consult some of the books I list above. While we rightly look down upon the majority who did little or nothing to stop Hitler and save the Jews, we can be so very proud of those who did. Let us never forget the lessons of history.

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6 Replies to “Germany, Hitler and Resistance”

  1. Bill, your piece above is a stirring tribute to the brave Germans who resisted Hitler.

    It is also, if I may say, a wake-up call to today’s Christian church.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was put to death by the Nazis for his opposition to Hitler, said in 1938: “Only those who cry out for the Jews may also sing Gregorian chant!”

    He was warning his contemporaries that, once Hitler had come to power, it could no longer be “business as usual” for church-goers.

    Bonhoeffer himself refused to serve as a pastor in Germany’s compromised National Lutheran Church, which banned Jewish Christians from baptism and ordination.

    In today’s world, too, Christians have a duty to raise their voices against the ever-growing tide of evil surrounding us. We must not withdraw into private, personal and a-political “pietism”, as too many German church-goers did during 1933–1945.

    Since World War II, far too many Christians in the West have looked the other way as evil ideologies have captured our centres of learning and misled generations of impressionable youngsters.

    The result has been sadly predictable. Our parliaments have passed evil laws.

    Here, in what I call the Victorian state of Panem — proud host of The Killing Games (with apologies to Suzanne Collins’s trilogy, The Hunger Games) — homicide has been redefined as healthcare.

    In 2008, this state pioneered the most abominable abortion laws in the world, allowing the killing of an unborn child up to the moment of birth.

    In more recent years, the Victorian state of Panem, along with other Australian states, has allowed doctors to kill the elderly and terminally ill.

    Christians across Australia ought to have been horrified by these developments; but how many of them have shown the slightest awareness of the triumph of evil in our midst?

    Too many of them rely on the mainstream media and Hollywood, rather than on the Bible and incisive commentaries such as your CultureWatch blog, for their understanding of the world around them.

    They’ve gone about their own affairs as if everyday life can continue along the lines of “business as usual”.

    To look the other way and remain mute while the innocent suffer is the very antithesis of how Christians ought to behave, as Pastor Bonhoeffer warned in 1938.

    It constitutes a failure to protect the vulnerable from evil and to love our neighbours by promoting godly laws.

    For decades you’ve written particularly well on these matters, Bill, especially in your recent series of articles on resistance theory (and practice).

    They deserve to be widely read.

  2. Thank you Bill for this article. It is another powerful writing, as well your earlier ones: ‘Bonhoeffer, faith and resistance’ (Oct 2, 2023) and ‘Lessons from Bonhoeffer’ April 26, 2011. All your articles on the brave minority who dared to defy and resist Hitler, make for inspiring reading. Thanks for your deep research.
    I am reading ‘Metaxas, Eric, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Thomas Nelson, 2010 which I know you have read and listed. It throws light on the state of the unsuspecting country of Germany during Bonhoeffer’s early years at University during the gradual rise to power of Hitler and incredible changes made in a short time. He remained a man of great integrity who grappled with what was happening and sought God’s answers to an evil regime, without wavering and literally laid down his life, in that great battle against evil.
    He, like you, knew the church could not remain silent and took a stand to be ‘light and salt’.
    Thanks for the list of other books you have provided in today’s article, which mention the less known heroes who fought for the Jews, against evil and to vindicate their country in a time of take-over by one man who sought to kill all Jews and to silence the church and any opposition.
    There is so much we can learn from the example of others and history and it helps work out our own response in a time when anti Semitism has reached an all time record once again.

  3. Two quotes one Christian, one Christian adjacent:

    “If I profess with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except that little point which the world and the Devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” – Martin Luther

    “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” – Marley to Scrooge – A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

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