The Good Fight
By Felix Winternitz
Within days, the teen-aged Niemoeller found herself interrogated by the Nazi authorities. “My father was taken away by the Gestapo. My father never came home.”
The youth finally ended up, with her high-society equestrian skills, training horses for military service for the Russian front. “I was a horse-breaker, six months before the end of the war.”
Then came an escape plan. “I stole a horse from the cavalry school. I rode westward for 14 nights. Twice I fell asleep on this horse, a beautiful snow-white Arabian. I rode until I fell, outstretched, into the arms of the 82nd Airborne.” Fresh from the Battle of the Bulge, the U.S. Army 82nd division was marching through Germany. “They were a fantastic outfit.”
After the war’s end, she worked with British Intelligence to identify Nazi leaders. Keeping a promise to her father, she finally abandoned her native Germany and came to America, marrying NBC executive Ross Donaldson and working for the TV network as a researcher while raising their son in New York City.
In 1968, newly divorced, she ran into Pastor Niemoeller, whom she had known back in Germany as a girl. They courted, and in 1971, married.
After the pastor’s death, Niemoeller moved to Doylestown, Pa., in order to be closer to her son, a physician. She is a convert to Judaism and attends Temple Ohev Shalom in Bucks County, Pa.
Her Judaic conversion is a focal point in her new autobiography, “Crowns, Crosses, and Stars,” which is scheduled to be published by Purdue University Press in March 2012 (and includes an introduction by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, the survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald who wrote “Night”).
She also details how the Nazi final solution evolved from, first, deportation, then to ghettoization, and then to the death camps. “We need to remember,” Niemoeller told a packed hall of students at the Conaton Learning Common’s Kennedy Auditorium. “First, the Nazis said Jews should not live in Germany. Then they said Jews should not live among us.
“Then they said, Jews should not live.”
HER HUSBAND’S FAMOUS WORDS
Shoah and the Swastika
Rev. Martin Niemoeller became such an ardent critic of Nazism that he gained worldwide attention, so much so that Adolf Hitler was reluctant to have him executed. Instead, the Fuhrer imprisoned the pastor at Dachau concentration camp for seven years. He joined a group of imprisoned clerics that included Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Sarah Niemoeller, the pastor’s widow, has donated the typewriter that he used to write his most famous sermon (to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.). That sermon/poem reads:
“First they came for the Communists and I did not speak out – because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.”