|“First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the sick, the so-called incurables, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't mentally ill. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.” --Pastor Martin Neimöller |
ABOUT THE PLAY
Kurt Gerstein was born in Munster, Germany in 1905. The Gerstein family was not very religious but Kurt felt a close connection to God and the Protestant Evangelical Movement. In his late teens, he became a member of the German Association of Christian Students, the Evangelical Youth Movement and the Federation of German Bible Circles. Many of the younger members looked up to him. He spent a great deal of his time teaching and writing pamphlets on how German youth should relate to God and should approach matters of sex and purity. With Adolf Hitler’s rise to power (becoming Chancellor in 1933), a new beginning was signaled for Germany. Kurt was eager to be a part of the new regime and in 1933 he joined the Nazi party.
In late 1933, Hitler appointed Ludwig Müller as Reich Bishop. With the Church now under the authority of the State, the Bible Circles were dissolved and its members joined the Hitler Youth. Kurt was furious and sent telegrams to Müller and Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach, admonishing them for their actions which he felt were a “stab in the back” and would lead to the “destruction, the annihilation of German Protestantism.”
Kurt never protested against the Nazi leadership but certainly found himself in disagreement with their religious policies. His mentor, Pastor Martin Neimöller, also found himself in disagreement with the Reich Church and proposed a new Confessional Church. Neimöller was arrested and placed in a concentration camp where he remained throughout the war. Kurt still felt that the Party was, at the core, correct and if his voice could be heard there would be balance. Instead, he found himself arrested twice in 1936 and 1938 and, following his first arrest, he was expelled from the Party. The expulsion made it impossible for him to find work.
The second arrest made his life even harder. He was placed in the Welzheim Concentration Camp where he remained for three months. Following his release, his expulsion from the party was turned into a dismissal and, in 1939, the time of Germany’s invasion of Poland, Kurt got a job working at a Potassium mine. Things in Germany were moving fairly fast at this point as the war expanded on multiple fronts. Glory was in the air as Germany gained more and more land. Kurt was caught up in the excitement and no longer actively disagreed with aspects of the party. He petitioned and was reinstated into the Nazi party in 1940.
There was a dark side to the Party that was still not clear to the general public. Beginning in 1939, the Nazis instituted a euthanasia program, T4, in the Mental Asylums. The ill were deemed a drain on society and were sedated and then gassed. Kurt’s sister-in-law, Bertha Eberling-Gerstein, was one of the many to fall victim at the Hadamar Asylum. On hearing the news of Bertha’s death, Kurt decided to join the Schutzstaffel (SS), the military and security unit of the Nazi party.
The decision to join the SS is, perhaps, the most confusing aspect in the story of Kurt Gerstein. In the report given to the Allied troops he said he joined “to carry on an active fight and learn more about the aims of the Nazi’s and their secrets.” Kurt was not the only person who discovered and was morally opposed to the T4 program. The outpouring from the German population was so great that Hitler halted the program in August of 1941 in response to “Episcopal pressures against it.”
The ending of the T4 program no doubt gave Kurt great pride in the development of the Party and his country. Perhaps he even felt relaxed in his new job. In 1942, Kurt became head of the SS Technical Disinfection Services. As head of disinfection, he traveled to concentration camps throughout the Reich. On one of these trips to the Belzec camp in Poland in August of 1942, he first learned of horrors much greater than T4.
From that point forward Kurt had a split life. On one side playing the “good officer,” he ordered shipments of Zyklon B (a more humane yet quicker method of killing). On the other side, he frantically tried to get word out to the Allies and the Church. As the war neared the end, Kurt became more and more frantic trying to contact as many people as possible without getting himself in danger. On multiple occasions he was hospitalized because of overexertion. In April of 1945, less than ten days before Hitler committed suicide, Kurt turned himself over to the Allies. He compiled pages of testimony now referred to as “The Gerstien Report.” The report has since served as one of the most comprehensive detailings of the Nazi Extermination Camps. On July 25, 1945, Kurt Gerstein was found hanging in his cell at Cherche-Midi Military Prison in Paris. In 1950, a court found him posthumously “tainted” by the crimes of the Third Reich. However, in 1965, his case was reexamined and he was cleared of all charges.
--Hannah Hessel, Dramaturg
“The eternal quality in hatred. It cannot be extinguished, it merely migrates. Does this depress you?” -- Howard Barker
“Although the world stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.” --Bertolt Brecht
"We are all witnesses, silent or vocal, in our own times. When we admire those who stood up, or question those who didn't, are we standing?"
--Daniel DeRaey, Either Or Director
Sources: Counterfeit Nazi: The Ambiguity of Good, Saul Friedlander, 1969
Document 1553 - PS, French War Crimes
Nuremburg Military Tribunal, Volume 1, pp. 866-870
Other Nuremberg documents
The DEGESCH Manual
The Destruction of the European Jews, Raul Hilberg, 1979
Nazism, J. Noakes and G. Pridham, ed. 1988
A Spy for God; The Ordeal of Kurt Gerstein, Pierre Joffroy, 1971
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