Beginning in 1933, when the Nazis took power, tens of thousands of German Christians — baptized, confirmed, and church-going — received official letters informing them that they were now classified as Jews. For the Nazis, “Jew” was a race, not a faith. Nazi functionaries digging in church baptismal records had turned up a parent or grandparent who had belonged to a synagogue, and so the descendant was stamped a part or full Jew.
When they were suddenly made Jews, these Christians fell between two chairs. The official Protestant church, captured by the Nazis and often even more rabidly anti-Semitic than the Nazis themselves, drove them out and delivered them to persecution. But the synagogues did not know them, and the ongoing local and international aid efforts to help members of the Jewish congregations did not include them. Typical was the fate of Paul Heinitz, who suffered a perforated ulcer in 1942. The ambulance driver refused to take him because as a Jew, Heinitz could not be treated in a Christian hospital, and as a Christian, he could not be treated in the remaining Jewish hospital, either.
Suddenly Jews focuses on the efforts of a Protestant clergyman, Heinrich Grüber, to organize assistance to this doubly marginalized community. With the backing of a breakaway splinter from the official church, and always under the eyes of the Gestapo, Grüber put together a relief agency to help these victims emigrate, and to render other assistance where possible. Their work under nightmarish conditions makes a gripping story. Hundreds of individuals owe their lives to the Bureau Grüber’s work. For their service, Grüber and many of his associates were carted off to concentration camps, where many were murdered. Suddenly Jews includes an honor roll of those who worked on the aid effort.
The author, Prof. Hartmut Ludwig, is on the faculty of the Humboldt University in Berlin. He is a widely known authority on the 20th century German church and has numerous publications on this topic to his credit. Suddenly Jews was his 1988 PhD thesis, expanded on the basis of new sources in 2009, and updated by the author for this American edition. I have edited the original to highlight the dramatic story at its heart and make it readable for a nonspecialist American audience.
The paperback edition is available now for online purchase at this link. A Kindle e-book edition is also now immediately available here. To order it via your bookstore, the ISBN is 978-1517109912; the short ISBN is 1517109914.
— Martin Nicolaus