Milligan professor recounts recent trip to Germany
by Jason Mullins
Elizabethton Star Staff
A Milligan College professor has returned to the area following a seven-week visit to Germany this summer. Dr. Ted Thomas, professor of humanities, European history and German at Milligan, represented the college at the 625th anniversary of Ruprecht-Karls University in Heidelberg, Germany.
Thomas and his wife, Jane-Anne, are alumni of the university. In addition to representing Milligan, the couple were able to continue their research on Hermann Maas. Maas, a Lutheran minister and a doctor of theology, was responsible for saving countless lives during the Holocaust.
Born in 1877, Maas served as pastor to the Holy Spirit Church in Heidelberg from 1915-1943, when he was “forced into retirement by the local Gestapo. He could not preach. He could not speak. He could not write and he could not publish. He was not allowed to do any of the things a pastor might do in retirement,” Thomas recounted.
The Milligan professor said the Nazi party took these steps against Maas following years of assisting German Jews. “Between 1933, when Hitler came to power, and 1943, when Maas was silenced, he was responsible for helping thousands of Jewish people get out of (Germany).”
Thomas has discovered numerous examples of how Maas assisted German Jews. In 1938, an office was established in the Holy Spirit Church to help Jews escape from the nation. Maas was asked to be the director of the office in Berlin, but he did not feel he could leave his parish in Heidelberg. Despite declining the offer to oversee the program, Maas still worked closely with them to assist Jews in their escape from the Nazi regime.
Thomas recounted the story of Paul Rosenweig. Although he was a baptized Christian, he was arrested by Nazi officials at the age of 17 or 18 and sent to Dachau, one of the most infamous concentration camps. Thomas said “after Rosenweig was there three months, they shoved a piece a paper under his nose and told him if he signed it, he would be freed if he agreed to leave the country in four weeks.” Rosenweig asked for help from the local Jewish community, but was turned down since he was a practicing Christian. “At this point, the official Christian church was an extension of the Nazis, so they would not help anyone who was Jewish. So for the Nazis, he was too Jewish and for the Jews, he wasn’t Jewish enough,” Thomas said.
The Jewish people did, however, give Rosenweig an option. They told him Hermann Maas may be able to assist him. Maas was already in the process of setting up the Kindertransport. This program was developed following a relaxation of immigration rules in the United Kingdom. Prior to this time, a quota system had been in place on the number of Jewish persons allowed in the country. “The Kindertransport allowed rescue organizations to send as many endangered children from the European continent as they were able to send,” Thomas said. Maas was successful in getting Rosenweig and his little sister into England. Thomas said on Rosenweig’s 20th birthday, he officially changed his name to Reginald Pringle. He later enlisted in the British Royal Army.
In the summer of 1944, the year after Maas was removed from his ministerial duties, he was taken to a forced labor camp in France. While not officially a “death sentence, under those circumstances, not just from the hard work, but from the disease that was rampant in those camps, it would not have been unexpected for him to die,” said Thomas.
Dr. Thomas has found documents showing Maas was only in the labor camp for approximately two weeks. In September 1944, a large portion of France, including the capital city of Paris, had been freed from Nazi control. Maas and his fellow prisoners woke up one morning and discovered the guards had fled the camp to escape the advancing Allied invasion.
Maas returned to Heidelberg in October 1944. Thomas said despite returning home, Maas maintained a low profile until the American forces entered the city on Good Friday, 1945. Germany officially surrendered to the Allies on May 8, 1945.
Following the end of the war in Europe, Maas acted in the capacity of a liaison between the American occupying forces and the German population in Heidelberg. Maas was placed on the American “White-List” of trusted Germans. Only those Germans who were recognized to be anti-Fascist and not members or sympathizers with the National Socialist Party (Nazis) were white-listed.
Maas’ heroism during the Holocaust was recognized on two notable occasions by the state of Israel. In 1950, Maas was honored by the newly formed country as the first non-Jewish German visitor.
In 1964, Maas was decorated as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, the Israeli’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The title is given to those who helped saved lives of the Jewish people without seeking personal gain or glory.
Throughout his life, Maas considered himself to be a Zionist and a Christian. During the 1930s, when the local rabbi was unable to attend synagogue, Maas served as the “de-facto rabbi,” according to Thomas. At one point, the local rabbi had to ban Maas from going to the Heidelberg synagogue as he feared for the pastor’s safety.
Maas died in 1970, at the age of 93 and is buried in Heidelberg.
Thomas said during his recent visit to Germany, his wife was able to find information on the Internet that led to an emotional visit with the daughter of a rabbi who escaped Buchenwald concentration camp. Hannah Rosenthal, the daughter of Rabbi Franz Rosenthal, is currently serving in the U.S. State Department. She is serving as a Special Envoy and head of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.
Thomas said Maas was instrumental in Franz Rosenthal’s departure from Germany. “It turns out after Rosenthal got out of Buchenwald, he and Maas worked together helping other people get out of Germany. Maas then arranged for Rosenthal to get across the border into Holland before the war had broken out there. Maas also helped secure a visa for him to get to (the United States).”
When Thomas and his wife returned from Germany last month, they decided to stay in Washington, D.C. for a couple of days to meet Rosenthal’s daughter. He said during their meeting, he gave her some material he uncovered at the Holocaust Museum about her father. Thomas was able to find “a PDF copy of the document that admitted him into Buchenwald with his prisoner number, name and signature…and another document about a 1946 inquiry about someone who was looking for (Rosenthal).” Thomas said Rosenthal “literally wept” when she saw the documents. Thomas, who is fluent in German, is working on translating letters and other papers Rosenthal gave him during their meeting.
Very little has been written about Maas in English. Dr. Thomas says this is one of the motivating factors in his decision to research his impact on history. Thomas concluded that “this is a story that must be told. Maas played too much of an important role in his lifetime for history to forget his name.”
MILLIGAN UNIVERSITY is a Christian liberal arts university in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The university offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs. To learn more about Milligan University, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.