Whenever I teach the history of 20th-century Europe, I incorporate stories from Christians who resisted the evils of totalitarianism. That list always includes martyred anti-Nazis like the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the university student Sophie Scholl. But thanks to theologian James R. Edwards, this fall I can add one more name to that cloud of witnesses: the German Lutheran Ernst Lohmeyer, who stood fast against Nazism and survived fighting in two world wars, only to be executed by Soviet authorities in 1946.
Having first encountered Lohmeyer’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark in graduate school, Edwards’s interest was kindled on a 1979 visit to Greifswald, East Germany. A local pastor told him that “we cannot mention the name of Ernst Lohmeyer” in the city whose university Lohmeyer served as theology professor and president. As he began a decades-long research project, Edwards “joined the small company of people dedicated to remembering, recovering, and recording the life of Ernst Lohmeyer.”
His labors have resulted in a new biography, Between the Swastika & the Sickle: The Life, Disappearance, & Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer. I hope it finds an audience among many Christian readers, for whom Lohmeyer’s life should serve as both an inspiring and cautionary tale.
The story begins at the turn of the 20th century, in the home of a Lutheran pastor whose fourth son followed him into the clergy. Young Ernst concluded his 1912 ordination sermon with Jesus’ admonition that the “truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The liberating power of truth became a recurring theme in his life, forming him, as Edwards writes, “to follow a unique course ...1