Probably none of my readers are familiar with the name Hermann Maas. But in 1952, having read about him, he immediately became one of my most respected heroes.
He was born in Germany in 1877 and received his Doctor of Theology degree from the famous Heidelberg University and was appointed as pastor (Pfarrer) of the Protestant church in Heidelberg.
He had long been interested in Judaism and often attended Shabbat services in a local Orthodox synagogue. He became completely fluent in Hebrew, both in modern conversation and in writing.
In 1903 he attended the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel and immediately became a Zionist. He visited Palestine and met with leaders of the Jewish community and with scholars such as Martin Buber. He insisted on speaking only Hebrew in his conversations with them.
In the late 1920’s he was a founder of the Committee of German Christians Against Anti-Semitism and after the rise of Nazism in Germany he founded, together with Pastor Martin Niemoller and Pastor Friedrich Bonhoeffer, a union of Protestant clergyman opposed to the Nazi regime in Germany.
His weekly sermons were censored by the Gestapo and on several occasions he was given stern warnings.
Because of his high status as one of the leading German clergy, he was able to use his efforts in obtaining permits for several hundred German Jews to leave Germany for Palestine. He accompanied many of them to the railroad stations and bade them farewell in both German and Hebrew.
His Jewish friends and colleagues in Palestine wrote to him urging him to save his life from the Nazis by leaving Germany to settle in Palestine. He was offered a teaching position in one of the universities.
However, he declined stating that it was his duty and obligation as a Christian to remain in Germany and to give aid to as many Jews as he could.
In 1942 he was arrested by the Gestapo and was sent to a forced labor camp in France. He was liberated by British troops in 1945 and returned to Heidelberg.
Shortly after Israel’s independence, Pastor Maas was officially invited by Ben-Gurion’s administration to be a guest of the new Israeli government. He was the very first German official to visit Israel shortly after the war.
Back in Germany, he continued writing and publishing. His lectures were filled with admiring listeners.
Yad Vashem awarded him the honor of a Righteous Gentile, something which he greatly treasured.
Many trees were planted in the JNF forests in his honor.
In 1952, while a student at university, I read a newspaper article about Pfarrer Dr. Hermann Maas of Heidelberg and was entranced by the story of his life as a Protestant pastor, a Zionist, a speaker, reader and writer of fluent Hebrew, an anti-Nazi resistance leader and one of the greatest heroes of Germany’s Jewish population.
I wrote a letter to him at Beethovenstrasse in Heidelberg informing him of my deep admiration and gratitude for the many years of his devoted work on behalf of Jews.
A few weeks later I received a two-page letter, hand-written in beautifully clear Hebrew script, thanking me for my kind words. It was accompanied by a German translation.
“Mein lieber junge Mann,
Es gibt keinen Grund mich zu tragen, Ich tat was ich sowohl als Christ als auch als Mensch tun musste. Die Juden sind die Auserwahten Gottes und durch ihre Tora haben sie Sein Wort in die Welt gebracht. Wir Christen schulden den Juden eine grosse schuld. Es ist mir eine Ehre, ein wahren Freund des judischen Volkes zu sein und zu leben um sie wieder in ihrer Heimat zu sehen”.
“My dear young man,
There is no reason to thank me. I did what I had to do both as a Christian and a human being. The Jews are the chosen of God and through their Torah they have brought His Word into the world. We Christians owe the Jews a great debt. It is my honor to be a true friend of the Jewish people and to live to see them once again in their homeland”.
From that day on, Dr. Hermann Maas, Protestant pastor in Heidelberg, became my hero.
He died in 1977. May his memory ever be for a blessing.