My father the Nazi

The son of an Austrian SS officer discovers a deep love for Jews.

Holocaust survive 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Holocaust survive 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Given some of his earliest memories, it's hard to believe Werner Oder is a Christian pastor today, much less one who loves the Jews and Israel. His father was Wilhelm Oder, a notorious SS officer who trained others in the most efficient methods of executing Jews. After World War II, he managed to elude capture for a while before being jailed in his hometown of Linz, Austria. It was upon his release that a young Werner got to know his father for a brief period - an encounter that haunted him for decades. Werner was only three, but he remembers it clearly. "When he came home, he brought all his demons with him. My sister and I were totally traumatized." Werner had been born into a family infested with an obsessive anti-Semitism. His maternal grandfather worked for the German ambassador in Bratislava and helped deport 22,000 Jews to the death camps. He was later arrested by the Americans and hanged for war crimes. As a young man, Wilhelm Oder joined the national socialist party in Austria, which was banned until Hitler staged the Anschluss (annexation) in March 1938. To destabilize the country, the Germans had been sending in agitators to commit violent acts against the government, and Wilhelm was one of their local collaborators. When Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated in 1934, the government arrested the Nazi agitators, including Wilhelm, who was about to be executed when the Wehrmacht marched in and "merged" Austria with the Third Reich. Wilhelm then joined the Waffen-SS and was trained at Dachau concentration camp. Afterwards, he was sent to the Polish village of Rabka, where the Nazis turned a girls' school into a center for training the Einzatsgruppen death squads operating throughout Eastern Europe. They rounded up Jews and Poles and shot them in the woods behind the school. Children were used as live targets for machine-gun practice. For the duration of the war, Wilhelm stayed at the training center and became an expert in killing Jews. In fact, he developed the Genickschuss method of shooting victims in the nape of the neck - considered the most efficient means of execution other than the gas chambers. When the Russians pushed the German army back into Poland, Wilhelm was captured and put in a prisoner of war camp. Fearing execution if his SS past was discovered, he managed to escape and make his way back to Austria, where he hid out near Linz with other Nazi fugitives. But eventually American forces arrested him with the help of Simon Wiesenthal, who had survived the nearby Mauthausen camp and immediately started his hunt for the perpetrators of the Holocaust. In his book, The Murderers among us, Wiesenthal mentions that Oder was one of the first Nazis he sought to track down. For the next few years, a probe was conducted and he was finally put on trial in Linz. The court archives show that the witnesses against Wilhelm Oder were neutralized by positive testimonials, resulting in a relatively light sentence of six years hard labor. Within a few short months, he was free and living as a hero in his home town, known as an early breeding ground for Hitler's Nazi movement. Wilhelm was a womanizer, and was still imprisoned when he fathered Werner. Now three years old, the lad was soon to dread the very sight of his father. "My family lived then in a beautiful country estate, but he was incredibly violent, had five women at the time, and sired many children," says Werner. "When he came home from prison, I became insane, intensely violent, aggressive, and developed a blind hatred toward the Jews. This is not something which just happens; it is a learned behavior. I started to develop nightmares. I was screaming every night because I saw beings in our home that I thought had came to kill me." These nightmares lasted six years, every night the same. "I became very sick and frightened, was out of my mind, and I knew sooner or later I was going to die." Finally at the age of nine, he cried out to God for the first time in his life: "I do not want to die, I want to live!" "Although there was no God in our home, and I knew nothing about who He was or where He was, that was my first prayer." Sadly, his situation only got worse, but unbeknownst to Werner, God had heard his prayer. It took seven more years until he met Peter Wiegand, a young German Christian who had been called to be an evangelist in Austria at the same time as Werner's desperate prayer. Peter was the first person who told Werner about the love of God. "This was an incredible concept for me, that somebody called God loves me! I could not believe what I heard," recalls Werner. "From that moment the torment and nightmares left and I changed. I was not just forgiven, I was set free!" Nevertheless, giving his life to Jesus was not a quick fix. "I had to allow God time and space to work on me. My moral and psychological life had been such a mess." For the next seven years, he trained at a Christian youth center in Austria. Slowly, his life got back on track, and then he made another big discovery - Jesus was a Jew! An inexplicable love for the Chosen People started to grow in his heart. Werner began to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. "I went back to my family, who were still leading Nazis, and I said: 'Do you know that Jesus is a Jew, and what you did to the Jews?' It was like throwing a hand grenade. All hell broke loose. I was accused of things; I was shot at. I still have the wound where a bullet grazed the back of my head. The police picked me up for no reason. It was really bad." In the midst of the turmoil, God provided a way out. In 1972, He called Werner to the north of England to attend Bible school in Capernwray. A few years later Werner, with his wife Avril (a native of Yorkshire), returned to Linz, where they lived a normal middle-class life for a few years. Then Werner felt drawn back to England for more Bible college, and eventually became the pastor of Tuckston Christian Fellowship in Bournemouth. [] Werner has now visited Israel several times and developed warm relations with the Jewish community in England. "Because of my love for Israel, which has grown over the years, God gave me a lot of opportunities to speak at Holocaust memorial days, where I've met a lot of Jews. Once I shared my testimony in London, in the presence of almost 1,000 people, many of them Jewish businessmen. People are friendly, and they respect me for my belief in Jesus as the Messiah." In Austria, everyone he spoke to pretended not to know anything about the country's anti-Semitic past. "There is a conspiracy of silence which strangles the Austrian people," he explains. "The first generation died without repentance and the second and third have therefore inherited the curse." Nevertheless, Werner has a deep love for his homeland. He feels a stirring in his heart to share his testimony in Linz, where Eichmann was born and Hitler went to school. "Whenever I share my testimony, God does amazing things. I'd like to take it to Linz. I believe the Lord can create an amazing bridge to Israel from there." This article was taken from the May 2009 issue of The Jerusalem Christian Edition.