Paul Robert Schneider (1897-1939) was the first Protestant pastor to die in a concentration camp at the hands of the Nazis. His story is one of unmitigated courage, self-sacrifice, and martyrdom. Only in recent years has he begun to receive some of the recognition he deserves.
Schneider was not a theologian of first rank like Karl Barth or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, nor a hero like the Polish friar Maximillian Kolbe, who sheltered thousands of Jews and eventually exchanged his own life for one of his Auschwitz cellmates. Nor did Schneider live in a large urban center like Martin Niemöller, the Confessing Church leader in Berlin or the Catholic bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen, the “Lion of Münster.” Paul Schneider, rather, was an obscure village pastor who could have escaped persecution completely had he simply been willing to keep his mouth shut.
The son of a German Reformed pastor, Schneider followed in his father’s footsteps, succeeding him in 1926 as leader of the Protestant church in the small town of Hochelheim. By that time, his early flirtation with liberal theology had given way to a more vigorous biblical and Christocentric faith, influenced in part by his teacher Adolf Schlatter. In 1933, the year of Hitler’s assumption of power, Schneider ran afoul of local Nazi leaders in his community who forced his transfer to the even more remote village of Dickenschied…
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