Despite his fierce patriotism and nationalist leanings, Victor Kühn was forced out of ministry and had to take early retirement. An accomplished philosopher, theologian and pastor, his commitment to the spiritual and public life of Germany for some forty years could not be challenged or questioned. But his resistance to the rise of National Socialism, similar to that of Martin Niemöller, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and his support for non-Aryan (Jewish) Christians quickly put him out of favour. He had to resign early from his high-profile ministry and prestigious pulpits, his engagement in political life and discourse, and for the remaining years of his life in Dresden kept “under the radar”, eventually dying of malnutrition in 1945 in Dresden, the city that suffered most under the Allied bombings.
Prayer and reflection. Apart from his Jewish background (and it is unclear on what basis this assumption was made), Victor Kühn’s life might have been that of a typical and well-respected Lutheran clergyman. His qualifications in philosophy and academic work marked him out as one of the leading churchmen of his day. But popularity turned to disgrace, and he left his position and public role just in time to avoid arrest, deportation and death, at the age of 63. I write these words in my 63rd year, and do not wish to be prevented from writing many more, but Kühn was prevented from such a freedom of expression.
From Psalm 90:12-17 English Standard Version (ESV)
12 So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favour[a] of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!
Thank you, Lord, for the life and ministry, and also the patience, perseverance and suffering, of your servant Viktor Kühn, whose active and public ministry ended in turbulent times. Help us to learn to see you in all circumstances. As Jewish disciples of Yeshua we are caught in the ebb and flow of history, between the hostility and prejudice of communities that do not show love to you and your people Israel, and yet as servants of the Messiah we wish to be a blessing to our people Israel and to all humanity. For your grace, mercy, justice and love we pray – in every situation and relationship in which we find ourselves. In Yeshua the Messiah’s name. Amen.
Summary: Viktor Kühn * September 4, 1870 in Crimmitschau, † December 22, 1945 in Dresden-Bühlau, married. with Lisa Kühn, born Müller (1878-1963). 1891–1895 studied Protestant Theology in Leipzig and Berlin, 1894 Dr. phil. Leipzig, 1895 Vicar at the Realgymnasium in Freiberg; 1895–1897 teacher at the Realgymnasium in Freiberg and Zwickau; 1896 Lic. Theol. Leipzig; 1897 second theological examination; 1898–1910 deacon at the Martin Luther Church in Dresden, 1910–1921 pastor at the Jakobikirche in Dresden, 1921–1933 superintendent in Auerbach (Vogtland), Oberkirchenrat, 1933–1945 retirement in Dresden.
Viktor Kühn was the youngest son of a spinning mill owner who died in 1879. He attended grammar school in Chemnitz and Gera until 1891. He particularly enjoyed teaching Greek, which also aroused his interest in philosophy and ethical problems. In 1891 he began studying theology in Leipzig and also attended courses in philosophy. In 1894 his doctoral dissertation was on the philosopher Johann Friedrich Herbart. This was followed in 1896 by a study on Schleiermacher’s ethics.
After the Second Theological Examination in 1897, Kühn was appointed deacon (pastor) at the Martin Luther Church in Dresden in 1898. He held this office until 1910. From 1910 to 1921 he was a pastor at the Dresden Jakobikirche. In Dresden, Kühn participated in the Evangelical Union and in the Gustav Adolf Association. He published sermons and thematic small letters, among other things on the question of the historical Jesus and Haeckel’s monism.
On Monism -see
In 1917, Kühn expected social tensions to increase in Germany after the end of the First World War. The church as its “bulwark” would then be identified with the state, because the religious and ecclesial “rebirth” hoped for in 1914 had not come about. Kühn called for a church reform in the sense of a real people’s church. In 1921 Kühn was appointed superintendent in Auerbach / Vogtland. Here he continued to devote himself to building up the congregation through building work, raising money and reviving and supporting a wide range of ecclesiastical work, without hiding his German-national outlook.
In 1926 Kühn took a critical look at the Saxon Church Exit Act of August 4, 1919. Kühn, now also a senior church councillor, was considered a “half-Jew” during the Nazi era. On May 5, 1933, he published a series of theses on “The New Church in the New State” in the “Auerbacher Zeitung”.
In it he welcomed “that Awakening and becoming new in the German fatherland. «The associated reorganization within the church, however, should be done» with caution «. In his opinion, the plan pursued by the German Christians to “synchronize” the church with the new form of government contradicted the nature of the church, because Kühn did not want to give up the religious freedoms gained by the end of the sovereign church regiment since 1918. These thoughts moved in the sense of the Young Reformation movement that emerged almost simultaneously, a root of the Confessing Church, to which personalities such as Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Niemöller belonged. The only binding foundations of the church were considered to be “the gospel” and “their confession”. In contrast to the latter, Kühn believed, however, that church proclamation in the new state should take into account “German nature and German blood”, but it should “never forget that the gospel, from its source, brings great joy to all people “.
This implied not only the participation of German Protestantism questioned by the German Christians, but also the church membership of Christians of Jewish origin. With the statement “There is no salvation in anyone else, because it is only in the name of Jesus Christ”, Kühn not only anticipated the Christ-centredness of the Barmen Declaration of May 1934 in his theses, but turned against the leadership cult of Hitler and the call for German nationalism to see itself as a resurgence of the Supreme Man. Soon afterwards Kühn was asked by the state consistory in Dresden to retire early, officially for health reasons, on October 1, 1933, which was then brought forward.The »Auerbacher Zeitung« announced Kuhn’s farewell sermon on August 27, 1933 and dedicated a detailed article to the heavily attended church service. Kühn survived the Nazi era in Dresden. Nothing is known about his life and his ecclesiastical-political attitude after retirement. In 1945 he died of heart failure due to post-war malnutrition.
Gerhard Lindemann in Evangelisch getauft – als »Juden« verfolgt: Theologen jüdischer Herkunft in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus. Ein Gedenkbuch, 2014, Calwer Verlag, pp. 186.