Gerstein was born in Münster on August 11, 1905, of an old Prussian family. By
mining engineer he was an active member of Pastor Martin Niemoller's
Confessional Church with close links to the Christian anti-Nazi
He joined the
Nazi party in 1933, but outspokenly critical of Nazi blasphemies, he was
arrested and expelled from the party in 1936. He was dismissed from the Ministry
of Mines, debarred from the public service and banned from public speaking
anywhere in Germany.
In 1938, he was arrested again by the Gestapo and
sentenced to a term in the concentration camp Welzheim.
Released after six weeks he wrote a letter to his uncle, Robert Pommer, who had
emigrated to the US: "Dear Uncle Robert, your many visits to Germany have
enabled you to see the undeniable successes of the Hitler regime in so many
fields - roads, unemployment, building. But you cannot have seen the tragedies
resulting from the loss of spiritual and religous freedom, and of justice
Gerstein reapplied to become a Nazi party member in order to gather
information about the Nazis and their dark secrets - but he was refused.
In 1941, Kurt Gerstein's
own sister-in-law, Bertha Ebeling, died mysteriously at the Hadamar psychiatric
hospital. He was
shocked by her death and Pierre Joffroy tells in his book A Spy for God
how Gerstein burst out to his brother and sister-in-law at the funeral: "Do
you realize what they did to Berta? Hadamar is a slaughterhouse. The Nazis are
clearing out all the mental hospitals in Germany by systematically exterminating
the patients. Berta didn't die a natural death. She was murdered."
Gerstein became determined to find out the truth about the
numerous deaths at Hadamar. On March 10, 1941, he applied for admission to the
Waffen SS after being told by the
Bishop of Stuttgart that mentally ill patients were being killed at the
institutions Hadamar and Grafeneck.
Gerstein explained in his report: "I wanted only one thing: to see to the
bottom of this witchpot and then tell the people what I would have seen there -
even if my life was then threatened."
questions were asked about his past, and on March 15, 1941, he was -
miraculously - admitted to
the Waffen SS and send to Hamburg for a training course.
In his book Counterfeit Nazi: the Ambiguity of Good, the historian Saul
Friedlander wrote that had there been in Germany hundreds of Gersteins, "then
surely hundreds of thousands of the intended victims would have been saved. But
there were non save Gerstein .."