Story of Nonviolence: Resisting the Nazis

Nazi Postcard (Front) by PUL.Nazi Germany is often mentioned when I have conversations regarding nonviolence, particularly related to it on the international level regarding war. I’m going to again quote The Powers That Be, by Walter Wink, at length. This is a great and brief summary of the nonviolent action that effectively resisted the Nazis:

The brutalities of the Nazis stand for many people as the ultimate refutation of nonviolence. Surely, they reason, only violence could have stopped Hitler. The facts indicate just the opposite. Nonviolence did work whenever it was tried against the Nazis. Bulgaria’s Orthodox Biship Kiril told Nazi authorities that if they attempted to deport Bulgarian Jews to concentration camps, he himself would lead a campaign of civil disobedience, lying down on the railroad tracks in front of the trains. Thousands of Bulgarian Jews and non-Jews resisted all collaboration with Nazi decrees. They marched in mass street demonstrations and sent a flood of letters and telegrams to authorities protesting all anti-Jewish measures. Bulgarian clergy and laity hid Jews. Christian ministers accepted large numbers of Jewish “converts”, making it clear that this was a trick to evade arrest and that they would not consider the vows binding. Ron Sider and Richard K. Talor comment, “Because of these and other nonmilitary measures, all of Bulgaria’s Jewish citizens were saved from the Nazi death camps.”

Finland saved all but six of its Jewish citizens from death camps through nonmilitary means. Of 7,000 Danish Jews, 6,500 escaped to Sweden, aided by virtually the entire population and tips from within the German occupation force itself. Almost all the rest were hidden safely for the balance of the war. Denmark’s resistance was so effective that Adolf Eichmann had to admit that the action against the Jews of Denmark had been a failure.

The Norwegian underground helped spirit 900 Jews to safety in Sweden, but another 756 were killed, all but 20 in Nazi death camps. German wives of Jews demonstrated in Berlin on behalf of their husbands in the midst of war, and secured their release for its duration. In Italy, a large percentage of Jews survived because officials and citizens sabotaged efforts to them over to the Germans.

During the Nazi occupation of Holland, a general strike by all rail workers practically paralyzed traffic from November 1944 until liberation in May 1945–this despite extreme privation to the people, who held out all winter without heat and with dwindling food supplies. Similar resistance in Norway prevented Vidkun Quisling, Hitler’s representative, from imposing a fascist “corporative state” on the country.

The tragedy is that even though nonviolence did work when used against the Nazis, it was used too seldom. The Jews themselves did not use it, but continued to rely in the main on the passive nonresistance that had carried them through so many pogroms in the past. And the churches as a whole were too docile or anti-Semitic, and too ignorant of the nonviolent message of the gospel, to act effectively to resist the Nazis. –The Powers That Be, Walter Wink, p.151-153

[photo credit] [quote typing credit]

4 thoughts on “Story of Nonviolence: Resisting the Nazis”

  1. It is misleading to state it non-violence worked "whenever it was tried" simply because the consequence for it not working was death, and no account would have been available. The fact that upwards of 16 million died at the hands of the Nazis is a testament to the fact that while it may have worked in specific instances, it did not as a general strategy prevent even a fraction of the killings. The "non-violent" resistance groups cited to have been most effective in both Norway and Holland were in reality extremely violent as well as extremely effective; the Norwegian resistance prevented Hitler from obtaining an atom bomb before the United States.

    I believe the key phrase to hone in on is "for the balance of the war". The examples used in the citation could not have been successful if the Nazis had obtained complete control of Europe, which they most assuredly would have if not for the destruction of the Nazis at the hands of the allies. Scores of civilians were saved not because of non-violent protest and resistance, but because they were smuggled out of sight of the Nazis long enough for their liberation by American and British soldiers.

  2. Non violent protest only succed when:
    1. There is large majority that do not want the protesters eliminated.
    ie. Bulgaria, Denmark, later India… NOT Poland, Russia, Germany
    2. There is PR that lets the majority (world) know what is going on.

    There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of times when non-violent protesters have been eliminated either without the world knowing or without the world caring.
    Example 1 Christians in North Africa during the Muslem rise to power.
    Example 2 Pockets of Jews in the way of the Crusaders
    Example 3 Christian Africans caught in Secular (Race) violence
    Example 4 Christians in Rome AD 33 to AD 300

    In the last example Non violence did work, but only after a couple of hundred years and tens of thousands of horrible deaths. And perhaps that is what non-violent protesters need to remember; they can win, but often they will not be around to enjoy the victory.

  3. I think that those two comments bring up the good point that when we talk about nonviolence from a Christian perspective, our ultimate concern shouldn't be whether it "works." If our Christian nonviolence has positive effect on the world, then we can surely praise God and give Him credit. (And I absolutely love what Ariah is doing here to show us some of the positive effects that nonviolence has had!) But no positive effect on the world is guaranteed to us, and that is not the primary goal or the primary evaluative measure of our nonviolence – obedience to Christ is.

  4. Phil, you read my mind or something. I just (like seconds ago) scheduled a post for tomorrow addressing that very thing. It's like you pulled some Jedi mind trick on me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.