Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis

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The gripping story of the American army chaplain sent to save the souls of the Nazis incarcerated at Nuremberg

Lutheran minister Henry Gerecke was fifty years old when he enlisted as an army chaplain during World War II. As two of his three sons faced danger and death on the battlefield, Gerecke tended to the battered bodies and souls of wounded and dying GIs outside London. But at the close of the European theater, with Hitler defeated and scores of American troops returning ...

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Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis

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The gripping story of the American army chaplain sent to save the souls of the Nazis incarcerated at Nuremberg

Lutheran minister Henry Gerecke was fifty years old when he enlisted as an army chaplain during World War II. As two of his three sons faced danger and death on the battlefield, Gerecke tended to the battered bodies and souls of wounded and dying GIs outside London. But at the close of the European theater, with Hitler defeated and scores of American troops returning home to resume their lives, Gerecke received his most challenging assignment: he was sent to Nuremberg to minister to the twenty-one imprisoned Nazi leaders awaiting trial for crimes against humanity.

A crucial yet largely untold coda to the horrors of World War II, Mission at Nuremberg unearths groundbreaking new research and compelling firsthand accounts to take us deep inside the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, into the very cells of the accused and the courtroom where they answered to the world for their crimes. Never before in modern history had man accomplished mass slaughter with such precision. These twenty-one Nazis had sat at the right hand of Adolf Hitler; Hermann Goering, Albert Speer, Wilhelm Keitel, Hans Frank, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner were the orchestrators, and in some cases the direct perpetrators, of the most methodical genocide in history.

As the drama leading to the court's final judgments unfolds, Tim Townsend brings Henry Gerecke's impossible moral quandary to life: How, having risked his own life (and those of his sons) to eliminate the Nazi threat, could he now win the confidence of these men? In the months after the war ended, Gerecke had visited Dachau. He had touched the walls of the camp's crematorium. He had seen the consequences of the choices these men had made, the orders they had given and carried out. As he worked to form compassionate relationships with them, how could he preach the gospel of mercy, knowing full well the devastating nature of the atrocities they had committed? And as the day came nearer when he had to escort these men to the gallows, what comfort could he offer—and what promises of salvation could he make—to evil itself?

Detailed, harrowing, and emotionally charged, Mission at Nuremberg is an incisive new history of the Nuremberg trials as well as a nuanced reflection on the nature of morality and sin, the price of empathy, and the limits of forgiveness.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Henry Gerecke's service as a U.S. Army chaplain during World War II was stressful, but nothing he had experienced before was more morally vexatious than his ministry at Nuremberg to the souls of imprisoned Nazi war criminals. The prospect of grappling with the consciences of the likes of Hermann Göring, Albert Speer, and Joachim von Ribbentrop did not seem promising, but the Lutheran cleric did eventually learn new things about faith, forgiveness, and humanity. Tim Townsend's well-researched account of Gerecke's encounters possesses an almost Dantesque vividness.

Publishers Weekly
Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran minister from St. Louis serving as an Army Chaplain at the close of WWII, received a startling opportunity: ministering to the Nazis who would be charged with war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials. Gerecke, who had given well-attended sermons for years, had also struggled during the war to bridge the divide between his country and his faith, refusing a request from Office of Strategic Services officials to extract information from prisoners during confession. Townsend, a three-time Religion Newswriters Association Religion Reporter of the Year, examines Gerecke’s struggle and the uneasy path toward prosecuting Nazi officials, with Churchill at one point recommending Nazi officials just be shot within six hours of capture rather than be prosecuted. Townsend’s account is full of surreal moments Gerecke witnessed during his time in Nuremberg, from watching a congregation full of Nazis singing “Silent Night” on Christmas to Goering’s last letter to his daughter, an innocuous note wishing her a happy birthday. Townsend’s accessible account captures the strangeness and horror of Gerecke’s assignment, and examines what it’s like to spend the day around men who had committed such monstrous acts. Agent: Eric Simonoff, William Morris Endeavor. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Just when you think there could be nothing new to say about the Nazis, here's a unique account that raises pressing moral and spiritual issues. After serving as a U.S. Army chaplain, Lutheran minister Henry Gerecke was asked to minister to 21 Nazi leaders standing trial at Nuremberg, among them Hermann Göring and Joachim von Ribbentrop. Townsend was thrice named Reporter of the Year by the Religion Newswriters Association; with a 50,000-copy first printing. Big new thrillers from two veterans, set in New York City and FloridaNovelist Ackroyd revisits Sixties London; two New York Times reporters track a war criminal
Kirkus Reviews
In his first book, Townsend, a writer and editor with the Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project, examines World War II's most unusual ministry: the pastoring of the architects of the Third Reich. On Nov. 20, 1945, the Allies commenced the Nuremberg Trials, an unprecedented proceeding that charged Hitler's top lieutenants—Goering, Kesselring et al.—with conspiracy to commit crimes against humanity. Due to the strict security surrounding the prisoners, the Chaplain Corps was called upon for the first time in its 230-year history to supply religious counseling to America's enemies. Assigned to this controversial task since he was Lutheran (like so many of the German prisoners), spoke the language and had experience with prison ministries, Chaplain Henry Gerecke (1893–1961) worked for nearly a year to rescue the souls of some of history's most notorious defendants. Gerecke's prewar life story, a quick review of the Chaplain Corps' evolution, scene-setting to explain the Nuremberg tribunal's composition and mission, thumbnail sketches of the Nazi henchmen and a recitation of the atrocities they engineered, and prison life for the war criminals are all part of Townsend's story. However, he focuses most on Gerecke's delicate interactions with his highly unusual flock. Passages recalling the middle-aged St. Louis preacher's counseling of Goering (and the decision to deny the Luftwaffe commander Holy Communion) and Gerecke's first meeting with Rudolf Hess are especially well-done. Townsend authoritatively addresses the excruciating moral and religious issues confronting wartime chaplains and deftly explains the role of a spiritual adviser in bringing the wrongdoer, even one seemingly beyond redemption, back to "a place of restoration." Gerecke's story is only a footnote to "the trial of the century," but Townsend thoroughly understands and skillfully handles the rich, potentially explosive material it contains.
Daily Mail (London)
Christianity Today
“Engagingly told…Townsend illuminates a hidden gem of World War II history and brings to light the life and career of a truly heroic Christian man…an important book. It deserves a wide audience.”
Wichita Eagle
“A gripping story... puts the reader inside the cells of various Hitler henchmen.”
America in WWII Magazine
“Sheds light on a little-known player in an iconic episode of world history. ... A well-written study about a subject matter that can’t help but hold a reader’s attention.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061997198
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/11/2014
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 114,077
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Tim Townsend, formerly the religion reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, holds master's degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Yale Divinity School. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Rolling Stone, among other publications. In 2005, 2011, and 2013, he was named Religion Reporter of the Year by the Religion Newswriters Association, the highest honor on the "God beat" at American newspapers. He recently joined the Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project as a senior writer and editor in Washington, D.C.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2014


    An excellent piece of nonfiction.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2015

    No text was provided for this review.

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