Vengeance may be the Lord’s domain but that hasn’t stopped dramatists from Aeschylus to Tarantino from making it the lynchpin of countless story arcs. In classic westerns or film noir movies from the 1940s, and 1950s, the bad guys usually get what they deserved. It is a blueprint that continues to satisfy modern audiences even if the good guys, like in so many modern films, are not necessarily all that good.
When it comes to the real-life, not reel-life horror that was Nazi Germany, vengeance seems almost too timid a term. This mad regime seemed to be conjured straight out of central casting. They had black uniforms, wore lightning bolts on their collars, had hats adorned with skull and crossbones — and they proclaimed their evil intentions from the highest points of their culture with hundreds of thousands of jack-booted “carnivorous sheep” cheering at outdoor rallies choreographed to Wagnerian excess. The “V” in in their superweapon rockets stood for, you guessed it, vengeance.
Of course the Reich that was to live a thousand years lasted, thanks be to God and the Allied Powers, only twelve. In that blink of historical time, vengeance was the overriding theme as the Nazi regime sought to avenge a laundry list of wrongs, visiting their rage upon all points of the compass only to have it came back to them in a macabre return on investment with their cities in rubble and their nation on its knees.
To the victors go the spoils and to them also comes a desire for revenge. With the outrages of the Nazi regime so thoroughly chronicled and awful, it is easy to understand the Allies’ wish for some kind of justice and closure. So they rounded up the highest ranking officials still alive and held the Nuremberg trials. The dress uniforms full of regalia, were stripped of every scintilla of rank or honor and men who once commanded millions of men under arms and ordered millions of innocents murdered, stood before a tribunal of victors. It made for a good movie in the mid-1960s starring an all-star cast of the likes of Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster and Richard Widmark.
But no Hollywood casting agent was ever going to put Henry Gerecke up for the starring role in a movie like Judgement at Nuremberg or in a war movie action film where he would lead a rag-tag band of hardened soldiers on a courageous mission behind enemy lines. That was a job for Errol Flynn or John Wayne. The United States government, and if you think about it, maybe God too, had other plans for Henry.
Gerecke, (pronounced Cherokee), was a 50-year-old man with a pudgy body and wire framed glasses from St. Louis, Mo. He was a Lutheran minister who followed his sons into the great conflict of World War II in his spiritual capacity as chaplain and, due to his German heritage and ability to speak the language, was assigned to be the spiritual counselor to the former members of the Nazi high command who were awaiting execution after the Nuremberg trials.
The book Mission at Nuremberg tells the story of Henry Gerecke - dedicated man of God given an almost impossible assignment…bring spiritual comfort to men who were responsible for the slaughter of millions of innocents…men who the world was demanding be hanged for their crimes…men who embraced a neo-pagan worship of power that brought destruction to their nation and to their own souls.
Into this cauldron stepped portly middle aged Henry Gerecke bringing the ultimate message from God…that His Son had died for our sins…everyone’s sins. Some of the condemned stayed true to their Nazi ideology all the way to the end of the hangman’s rope. Others, we learn in the book, like Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel seemed to repent. With Henry’s spiritual care, Keitel began reading his bible and would fall to his knees weeping begging for forgiveness. The stuff of a pretty good movie even if the “star” is a middle-aged man from the Midwest. The book has been optioned by a film company and I hope they handle it with care. Jesus is very clear about hell and the wages of sin. He is also adamant about the saving grace of His love, there for the taking whether you’re a Roman Centurion, or Nazi Field Marshall.