Werner Sylten

Werner Sylten (b. 1863 in Basel, Switzerland – murdered in 1942 in the Nazi killing centre Hartheim near Linz, Upper Austria)

"'But now abide faith, hope, love, these three—but love is the greatest'. In such certainty, let us remain intimately connected and draw ever new courage and new strength from it."

Werner Sylten provided young girls with a new home in a reformatory—later, he helped Christians persecuted as Jews to flee abroad from the Nazis. 

Influenced by a liberal theology, Werner Sylten, a pastor, felt particularly committed to those dependent on relief and charity. For several years beginning in 1925, he ran a welfare facility in Bad Köstritz for socially vulnerable, underage girls. In the process, the staunch supporter of reform education modernised the Thuringian girls’ home with numerous training and leisure activities. 

Sylten was dismissed from his positon in Nazi Germany in 1936 due to his father Alfred Sylten—formerly Silberstein—being a Jew who had converted to Christianity. As a member of the Confessing Church, which acted against the Nazi-affine regional church leadership of Thuringia, Sylten actively resisted the National Socialist persecution of Jews. Together with his pastor colleague Heinrich Grüber, he helped Christians “racially” considered Jews according to Nazi legislation to flee to foreign countries considered safe at that time. By the beginning of the Second World War, more than 1,000 people had been rescued. 

In 1941, the illegal Berliner Büro für Fluchthilfe (Berlin Office for Escape Aid), headed by Grüber, was closed by the Nazis. Werner Sylten was deported to the Dachau concentration camp and put into forced labour. In 1942, due to illness, he was brought to Hartheim near Linz on the so-called Invalidentransport (lit. invalid transport, a.k.a. Action 14f13) and shortly afterwards murdered in the “euthanasia” killing centre in Hartheim Castle. His numerous letters from the concentration camp are a moving testimony to resistance. 

(Excerpt from his last letter, dated 02/08/1942; ten days later, he was murdered in Hartheim Castle.) 

Letters from Werner Sylten to his family from Dachau concentration camp, Dec. 1941, Feb. 1942, Aug. 1942 (private collection Walter Sylten, Berlin),  Konzentrationslager & Ermordung – werner-sylten-stiftung.de (17/11/2022). 

Credits: Privatbesitz Adelheid Sylten