Wiechert had faith like the Centurion.

One of modern Germany’s best stylists, Ernst Wiechert, left a rare legacy to Christian letters. His Der Hauptmann von Kapernaum (The Centurion From Capernaum), published in 1944 in Switzerland near the close of Hitler’s time, is a moving German war story dealing with Wiechert’s main concern—Christian faith. Major von Soden, of the title role, was so called by his men because of the deep lasting effect on him when he heard the preacher of the garrison church read about the great faith of the Centurion (Matt. 8:5–13). The Major had himself come to a trust in Christ so all-embracing that he gave his life for a prisoner whom he helped escape because the latter also knew that der Glaube (faith) is vital to “the truth of man as by God first spoken,” the truth Hitler had defiled.

Before World War II, Wiechert had achieved top rank in the novella, that exacting genre in which German writers excell. Born in Kleinort, East Prussia, 1887, his schooling was in the Gymnasium and the University of Königsberg. For two decades he taught in secondary schools in Königsberg and in Berlin. In 1933, the year of Hitler’s seizure of power, he resigned as teacher to devote his life to literature; as a short story writer, novelist, playwright, and poet, he became known throughout Germany and beyond. (In all he wrote sixty books.) But his profoundly religious spirit, and his sincere love of humanity brought him into conflict with the Nazis.

His defense of Pastor Niemoeller in 1938 had put him in a concentration camp. However, he was released after being nearly a year at Buchenwald—the year that had furnished him with the facts for his powerful Der ...

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