A Bridge Builder and Persecuted Pastor
The Fellowship | April 16, 2020
In Heidelberg, Germany, you’ll find the Hermann Maas Bridge, built in honor of this week’s Advocate and Ally of the Jewish people. Pastor Maas not only built bridges between Christians and Jews during one of the darkest periods in history for God’s people, but saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
A Christian Friend of the Jewish People
Born in 1877 in Baden, Germany, Hermann Maas came from a long line of Protestant ministers, a calling he also followed. Soon after beginning his lifelong ministry, Maas became an early supporter of the Zionist movement. In 1903, he visited the Sixth Zionist Congress, where he heard the world’s Jewish leaders discuss their return to the Holy Land. He also met Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, and Martin Buber, with whom he then kept up a lifelong friendship. Not only did Maas support the Jewish people, his friendship with Jews set an example for reconciliation between Christians and Jews.
Speaking Hebrew in the Holy Land
In 1933, on the same day that Hitler ordered a boycott against Germany’s Jews, Maas set sail on a trip to the Holy Land. The visit made an impression on the German minister – visiting the Jewish settlements, seeing those German Jews who had already fled Nazi persecution, and meeting with Hebrew scholars. Those who Maas met were quite impressed with their new Christian friend’s ability to speak fluent Hebrew.
Pastor of the Jews
When Maas returned to Germany, the Nazis persecuted him as the “pastor of the Jews,” among other things. But Maas stood firm in his closeness to the Jewish people. In fact, the Nazi persecution only made him defy Hitler’s regime more. He wrote for a Zionist newspaper, translated Hebrew poems, and sent his daughter on a trip to the Holy Land to teach olim (immigrants)how to weave.
Maas also invited Jewish leaders to celebrate Christmas Eve with him, and in turn, he celebrated Passover with them. In fact, one rabbi warned Maas of his habit of attending Jewish prayer services, fearing the pastor’s life was in danger.
Maas’ friendship with Germany’s Jewish community also led him to help save those destined for Nazi camps. Using his connections to obtain visas for those being deported, he saved many of the oldest and most frail – those who would surely have been the first to die.
But Pastor Maas’ activism and advocacy for the Jewish people finally caught up with him. Using letters he had written against Nazi Germany and its treatment of the Jews, the Nazis forced him to retire from the pulpit in 1943, and sent him to a forced labor camp in 1944. Maas was imprisoned there until the Americans liberated the camp.
A Righteous Gentile
After the war, in 1950, Hermann Maas was the first German Gentile to be invited to the state of Israel. In 1964, Maas was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, for the advocacy, support, and love he had shown the Jewish people during a life lived well.