Niemöller initially supported the National Socialists and voted for the party beginning in 1924. After Adolf Hitler came to power in January 1933, however, Niemöller became concerned about Nazi attempts to control the churches, and he opposed government interference in religious matters. He helped lead religious opposition to the regime and helped to found the Pastors Emergency League in September 1933 and the Confessional Church, formed in opposition to Nazi-imposed church organization, in May 1934.
After a verbal confrontation with Hitler during a meeting in January 1934, Niemöller found himself targeted by the Nazi regime. Arrested in July 1937 by the Gestapo and tried on charges of "attacks against the State" and "abuse of the pulpit," he received a sentence of seven months, but the court considered it already served. Immediately after the trial, the Gestapo again seized Niemöller and sent him to Sachsenhausen concentration camp as "the Führer's personal prisoner." In 1941, Niemöller was transferred to Dachau, where he remained for the rest of the war.
Surviving the concentration camps, Niemöller helped draft the Stuttgart Confession of Guilt. This document stated that German Protestant churches had been morally responsible for failing to resist the Nazis. He also opposed German rearmament and became a peace activist. Martin Niemöller died in Wiesbaden on 6 March 1984.
R. Kyle Schlafer
Bentley, James. Martin Niemöller, 1892–1984. New York: Free Press, 1984.; Locke, Hubert G., ed. Exile in the Fatherland: Martin Niemöller's Letters from Moabit Prison. Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1986.