Henry F. Gerecke

Reverend Henry Fred Gerecke (gɛrəki) was a Lutheran minister who worked as a pastor, evangelist, prison chaplain, and U.S. Army hospital chaplain. He is most well known for his work as a chaplain during the Nuremberg Trials[1][2][3][4] following the end of the Second World War, when he ministered to leading figures of the German Nazi Party who were on trial for war crimes.

Henry Fred Gerecke
Born(1893-08-04)August 4, 1893
Gordonville, Missouri
DiedOctober 11, 1961(1961-10-11) (aged 68)
Chester, Illinois
Saint John Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, Chester, Illinois.
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1943–1949
Battles/warsWorld War II

Henry Fred Gerecke
ChurchLutheran Church–Missouri Synod
Ordination24 January 1926
by Rev. A. P. Feddersen
Personal details
SpouseAlma Gerecke (née Bender)

Personal lifeEdit

Henry Gerecke was born in 1893 in Gordonville, Missouri. His mother Caroline "Lena" Gerecke (née Kelpe) was originally from Hanover, Germany and his father Herman Gerecke was an American farmer of German descent. Gerecke helped his father on the family farm in his youth as a farm labourer and when aged fourteen he heard Billy Sunday preach, the influential baseball player turned evangelist who inspired the young Henry Gerecke to pursue a calling in Christian ministry.[4] Herman disapproved of such a career and instead encouraged his son to become either a farmer (in the family tradition) or a teacher. Despite this, after some more years on the family farm Henry Gerecke started a ministerial course aged twenty, at St. John's Academy and College, in Winfield, Kansas. College degree in hand, Gerecke could then move on to the Lutheran Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, the city where he also met his future wife Alma Bender, who he married on 23 July 1919. Gerecke was forced to leave the Concordia seminary since it disapproved of students getting engaged or married during their studies. However, Gerecke was permitted to continue his studies privately, while also working in a teaching capacity at Emmaus Lutheran. With the support and tutelage of individual professors he graduated from Concordia in 1925[4] and was ordained as a Lutheran minister in January 1926.

Henry and Alma Gerecke had three children: Henry (known as Hank), Carlton (known as Corky), and Roy.

Pre-WWII MinistryEdit

After his ordination in 1926, Henry Gerecke remained in St. Louis where he became the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, the same church in which he had been ordained.[4] Gerecke remained ministering to his parish as the Great Depression began to bite in the 1930s but by 1935 he felt called to missionary work and left Christ Lutheran Church in 1935 to pursue a very different kind of Christian ministry. Rev. Gerecke joined the St. Louis Lutheran City Mission and became both its executive missioner and pastor of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in the North of the city which was owned by City Mission.[4] While working there, Gerecke founded a new arm of City Mission, known as Lutheran Mission Industries which established two charity shops and provided work for the unemployed during the difficult times of the Great Depression and simultaneously provided affordable second-hand goods to those in need. Alongside this, Gerecke began ministering at local prisons and local hospitals where he both ministered to individuals and led services, alongside his ongoing commitment to The Good Shepherd.

Not content with ministering to the people of St. Louis only in person, Gerecke also took to the airwaves, with his regular radio program Moments of Comfort which aired hymns, prayers, and Gerecke's own sermons.

Ministry During WWIIEdit

Late in 1940, Henry Gerecke's son Hank enlisted in The U.S. Army. Just a year later in December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and the United States joined The Second World War to fight alongside Britain and the other allied forces against the axis powers. Corky followed his older brother's example by joining the army in September 1942 while Henry Gerecke continued his work at City Mission. In June 1943 Henry Gerecke followed his sons to war and volunteered as an army chaplain. By August, Gerecke was already underway with his month of training at The Chaplain School at Harvard University following which he was promptly deployed to Hermitage in Southern England with the U.S. Army's Ninety-Eighth General Hospital, a hospital that received injured soldiers from the front-lines of The Western Front. After VE day the Ninety-Eighth were no longer required in England so along with Gerecke as their chaplain went to Munich, Germany to re-establish a damaged hospital in the war-torn German city.

Nuremberg TrialsEdit

The leading Nazi party leaders who were still alive stood trial after the war in the Nuremberg Trials. The commandant of the Nuremberg prison (where the defendants where detained) Colonel Burton Andrus personally requested that Henry Gerecke be assigned there as chaplain. Gerecke became the Protestant chaplain and Father Sixtus O'Connor was the Roman Catholic chaplain. The Lutheran church was the largest Protestant denomination in Germany and Gerecke was a Lutheran minister, his prior prison chaplaincy experience also suited him to the role, and he had studied German at St John's.

Gerecke's role was to minister to the defendants but also to members of the International Military Tribunal staff working in the trials. Gerecke ministered to fifteen of the defendants who preferred a Protestant minister while Father O'Connor ministered to the six who preferred a Catholic chaplain.

Hermann Göring was the highest ranking of the Nazi leadership to stand trial at Nuremberg. Neither Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, nor Joseph Goebbels survived the war so were not alive to stand trial, despite their high-up roles in the Nazi Party. Gerecke was keen to offer his flock communion if he felt they were ready to do so. Gerecke was keen to lead the defendants back to Christ while they stood trial. Fritz Sauckel, (the Nazi labour leader) eventually took communion during the trial, as did Albert Speer (Minister of Armaments and War Production), Hans Fritzsche (a Nazi propagandist) and Baldur von Schirach (leader of the Hitler Youth). Following their convictions, Joachim von Ribbentrop (foreign minister), Wilhelm Keitel (the Wehrmacht field marshal) all also took communion with Gerecke.

A fortnight after the executions of those convicted war criminals who had been hung at the gallows, Gerecke returned to the USA.

After NurembergEdit

Gerecke moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin after the trials and worked as chaplain at the disciplinary barracks there. Henry and Alma Gerecke left for Chicago, Illinois in 1949 where he briefly served at Fifth Army Headquarters. Then he left active military service and became assistant pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Chester, Illinois. While there Gerecke also ministered to the local Chester hospital and Menard penitentiary. While parking the car at Menard penitentiary in 1961, Gerecke suffered a heart attack and died later that morning. A thousand people visited his body as it lay in state in St. John's and a further eight-hundred prisoners paid their respects when his body lay in the Menard penitentiary chapel. Gerecke's body is buried at St. John's Cemetery in Chester.[5]


  1. ^ Townsend, Tim (20 November 2015). "The amazing story of U.S. Army chaplains who ministered to Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg trials 70 years ago today". The Washington Post. Retrieved 19 July 2020.
  2. ^ Religion News Service Religion News Service (2014-08-24). "The Strange Story Of The American Pastor Who Ministered To Nazis". HuffPost. Retrieved 2020-07-19.
  3. ^ Grossmith, Frederick T. (1984). The Cross & The Swastika. Worthing, West Sussex: Henry E. Walter Ltd. ISBN 0-85479-079-9. OCLC 15662880.
  4. ^ a b c d e Townsend, Tim (2015). Mission at Nuremberg : an Allied Army Chaplain and The Trial of The Nazis. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. ISBN 978-0-281-07482-2. OCLC 919488676.
  5. ^ Hopmans, Rob. "Gerecke, Henry Fred "Hank"". World War 2 Graves. Retrieved 26 July 2020.