Call me late to the party, but I have never read the English transcriptions of theologian Paul Tillich’s radio broadcasts to the German people during the Second World War. They were broadcast from the safety of the United States over the Voice of America. This was not propaganda (there were other specific programs for that) but actual commentary. Tillich broadcast 112 addresses between 1942-44. Largely unknown to those in the United States, the Tillich radio broadcasts embodied the Christian prophetic voice during a time of vast injustice. A German theologian named evil for what it was, denounced it, and attempted to encourage his fellow Germans to free themselves from the plague of Nazism.
No one could publicly say those things in Germany itself, of course. It had become a totalitarian state and all dissenting voices were liquidated. Anyone engaged in the publication of dissenting views in print or caught speaking against the Reich were arrested, imprisoned and executed. There was very little organized resistance possible. Tillich himself was dismissed from the University of Frankfort in the first purge of academics in 1938. Most of the faculty dismissed in the first wave were Jewish, though Tillich, a Gentile Protestant, was included among them. Might this special status have been related to his insistence that Christians should reverence the cross and what it means more than the swastika and what it meant? He narrowly evaded arrest and escaped to the United States.
During his addresses he always addressed his radio audience with “My German Friends …” His central themes were repeated throughout his conversational attempt to woo German minds away from the disaster of Nazism to a resurrection of true spirituality and lost culture. He always denounced the extermination and oppression of the Jews. He decried the culture of death and how it had infected the minds of the young. He described the way in which totalitarianism destroys the freedom of actual life and the human spirit.
Though only the Allies could physically liberate the German people they could not bring about resurrection. The liberation set the stage for a resurrection following the tragic death of a culture. As the Nazis and Japanese began to make tragic military mistakes such as attacking Russia and the United States, Tillich continued to address the mind of the German people, reminding them that Nazism was doomed and that they had to stop listening to their leaders. Instead they should prepare themselves for Nazism’s collapse and what would come next.
None of Tillich’s words could have been uttered, at least for more than a day or so, if he was living in Germany. Only the protection of exile and a radio broadcast made it possible. German Christians in the official Lutheran and Catholic churches who remained silent in the presence of the Holocaust heard his words. So did those who participated in the underground church. His was a voice in the wilderness. It is difficult to imagine in our time of vast communication what the impact of these broadcasts meant as people secretly tuned in on their wireless radios.
And here is an excerpt from one of his addresses, broadcast on May 11, 1942:
“Whoever destroys justice loses God. God is only one God, because he is a just God … the German rulers have fought against this God. They must dispose of him so that they can destroy justice. They must invent a god who protects the injustices of his people: the German god. But this god is an idol, and he will be smashed by the God of righteousness and of justice.”(Against the Third Reich, 29)