December 28, 2002

Margarete Schneider, widow of the “Preacher of Buchenwald,” Paul Schneider, died on Friday, December 27, 2002. She would have celebrated her 99th birthday on January 8, 2003. Margarete and Paul Schneider were married for thirteen years and had six children. Margarete Schneider’s burial will take place at the cemetery in Dickenschied in the Hunsrück on Saturday, January 4, 2003 at 1:00 PM.


Mrs. Schneider was recognized as an opponent of National Socialism alongside her husband and in the post-war period, for her admirable commitment as a contemporary witness for reconciliation and peace. For these, she was awarded the prestigious Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. The Evangelical Regional Church in Württemberg conferred upon her the Johannes-Brenz medal for her ecclesiastical involvement; she was an honorary citizen of Dickenschied and an honorary member of the Pastor Paul Schneider Association, as well as bearer of the honorary medal given by the VVN-Association of Anti-Fascism in Frankfurt.


In 1953, Frau Schneider described her husband’s life journey in her book The Preacher of Buchenwald. Twelve licensed editions followed the first publication in the early years of the DDR. Paul Schneider had already begun to raise his voice against National Socialism as pastor in Hochelheim in 1933. He was an unswerving opponent of the Nazi regime and spoke openly whenever he felt it necessary. His directness led to his disciplinary transfer to Dickenschied in the Hunsrück. After his fourth arrest in autumn 1937, Paul Schneider was transported from the Gestapo prison in Koblenz to the Concentration Camp Buchenwald. There in 1938, he refused to dignify the Nazi flag on Hitler’s birthday; Pastor Schneider was whipped and locked in a solitary confinement cell.


He remained in this so-called brig until his violent death on July 18, 1939, having suffered one and one-quarter years of cruel torture doled out by the sadistic SS man Martin Sommer. Nevertheless, Paul Schneider remained steadfast and did not acquiesce to the Nazis. Whenever he could, he called out and preached from his cell window to the prisoners or the SS. Each time, his captors tortured him mercilessly to force his silence.


Mrs. Schneider stood at the side of her husband, strengthened and supported him, and cared for their six children. The Schneider family lost their possessions through bombing in the war and had to begin anew. Mrs. Schneider lived for twenty years in Tübingen and during that time suffered another great loss (1960) – the death of two sons in an automobile accident. In the years after the war, she organized the religious women’s workgroup in the Württemberg region and witnessed to the courageous faith of her husband to whomever would listen. Later, the Hunsrück village of Dickenschied became her home.


With her radiating strength and character, Mrs. Schneider encouraged those who met her. Especially noticeable was her youthfulness of heart as she educated young people about the methods of the SS-state and the uncompromising stand of her husband. She always centered herself with the words of the bible, “Man must obey God rather than man.” The DDR called on Mrs. Schneider – often at the memorial at Buchenwald and especially many times in Weimar, since the Evangelical Community Center there was named for her husband at its inauguration in 1988. It was Mrs. Schneider who encouraged the placing of the bible passage in her husband’s former cell: “We are Christ’s ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, ‘Be reconciled to God!’” To help others with reconciliation was, for her, a great matter of concern. She saw herself as a pilgrim and a wanderer in this life. Her death closes the story of her life and faith, and brings to an end the age of a special woman.

Elsa-Ulrike Ross