Hermann Ludwig Maas (1877-1970), a Protestant pastor in Heidelberg, Germany, was a rescuer and clergyman who stood in solidarity with the Jewish community to an extraordinary degree.
Maas grew up in Gernsbach, a small Black Forest city where he played with and went to school and occasionally to synagogue with Jewish friends. His ordination in 1900 followed study at Halle, Straßburg, and Heidelberg. After a pastorate in Laufen, Maas moved to Heidelberg in 1915 to take the pulpit of the prestigious Holy Spirit Church, where he ministered for the next 28 years. In Heidelberg he cultivated an unusually close relationship with the synagogue, led by Rabbi Fritz Pinkuss.
A self-described political liberal, Maas welcomed the democratic Weimar Republic, and for four years held a minor political office in Heidelberg, representing the liberal Deutsch-demokratische Partei. Among the pioneers of the European Protestant ecumenical movement, in 1914 he participated in the founding convention of the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches, an organization that during the interwar years cooperated with other established European churches, Quakers, and American denominations to promote disarmament, international cooperation, and world peace.
Most unusual of Maas's ecumenical and liberal commitments was his Zionism, which had crystallized in 1903 when he participated as an observer of the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel. At the invitation of the Women's International Zionist Organization, he visited Palestine in the spring of 1933. That August he financed his daughter's efforts to establish a weaving school in Jerusalem, where she trained Jewish refugees. On Maas's return to Heidelberg in June 1933, the Nazi party denounced him as “the Jew Pastor,” and demanded that the church suspend him from his Heidelberg pulpit. Bridling at the state's interference in church affairs, Bishop Julius Kühlewein of Baden successfully deflected the party's demands.
As the Nazi antisemitic measures intensified, Maas began helping Jews escape persecution. He befriended members of the Heidelberg Jewish community, from university professors to cobbler's apprentices. He helped obtain the release of some prisoners from the Gurs concentration camp and provided them with emigration papers and money. He found foster homes for young people in England. He arranged for emigrations to Palestine. He found jobs for adults, and produced legal visas, work permits, and transportation.
His influence spread beyond Heidelberg. After Rabbi Pinkuss emigrated to Brazil in 1936, Maas led synagogue prayer services in Heidelberg, cared for the Jewish elderly, and officiated at Jewish weddings and funerals. Pinkuss described Maas as the de facto rabbi of Heidelberg.
Through his ecumenical connections in London and Geneva, Maas was able to work with a number of rescue organizations. As a Confessing Church pastor, he worked with his Berlin colleague Dr. Heinrich Grüber and others in the “Büro Grüber”, which helped hundreds of “non-Aryan” Protestants emigrate, in part by cooperating in the Kindertransporte to get endangered children out of the Third Reich.
Because helping Jews was a crime, Maas was under constant Gestapo scrutiny, but members of his Holy Spirit Church—some of whom worked within the Gestapo bureaucracy itself—stood behind him, he said, “like a strong wall.” In addition, his prominence as a leader in the international ecumenical movement made the Gestapo cautious about mistreating him. He was able to continue his work for ten years.
However, when in 1943 the police found irrefutable evidence against him, the Protestant church of Baden suspended Maas from all pastoral activity. A year later authorities sentenced the 67-year old retired pastor to hard labor in France under OrganisationTodt. After the liberation of France, Maas was able to flee the camp and was back home in Heidelberg when the US 63rd Infantry liberated Heidelberg on March 30, 1945.
For 25 years after the war, Maas worked tirelessly as a reconciler. Reconciliation began with confession. In April 1946, Maas wrote a confession of Christian guilt that Rabbi Ralph Neuhaus in Frankfurt published in the first postwar edition of the Jüdische Rundschau, and he reiterated that confession at the Council of Christians and Jews in England in the spring of 1946. The new state of Israel, aware of what Maas had done for Jewish Germans, invited him for a state visit, making him the first non-Jewish German to visit the Jewish state, and in 1967 he was recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations.
He became an unofficial ambassador between West Germany and Israel, persuading the German government to support Israel with money, technology, and diplomatic support. Maas published three books about his visits to Israel, and made countless speeches in churches and synagogues, explaining Israel to the Germans, and the new West Germany to Israelis.
The Protestant Church of Baden which had forced him into retirement invited Maas to return to ministry in 1945, this time as a consulting pastor (Prälat) in North Baden until his second retirement in 1965 at the age of 87.
Hermann Maas died in his sleep in the night of 26/27 September 1970 while visiting relatives in Mainz. His body lies in the Handschuhsheim Cemetery in Heidelberg.