The Nazi Spy Pastor: Carl Krepper and the War in America

J. Francis Watson.

Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2014.

Reviewed by Roy Axel Coats on 10/23/2017

This book presents what facts we have about the life of a Lutheran pastor who became a Nazi spy. Born in Germany in 1884, Carl Krepper studied at the Ebenezer Seminary, also known as the Kropp Seminary, in order to serve as a German speaking Lutheran pastor in America. He arrived in America in 1909 and served as a pastor in various congregations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. These congregations were of the Pennsylvania Ministerium in the General Council, which later became part of the United Lutheran Church of America. These twenty-six years were a time in which the Lutheran churches in America were moving away from German language and identity. This was a trend that Krepper fought. He supported the use of the German language in the church and promoted German identity and heritage. Yet at the same time he also became an American citizen and even served in local governmental roles. His stress between German and American identity only paralleled the problems with the German speaking church as a whole. Krepper also became active in many German organizations such as the German-American Bund, the Association of the Friends of New Germany, and the German-American Business League which boycotted Jewish owned stores. Eventually, Krepper became so overt in his pro-Nazi stance that he hung a Nazi flag in his church in New Jersey and used Nazi orders of service.

In 1935 Krepper returned to Germany to serve as a pastor in a congregation of the German Lutheran Church. While there he was recruited into the Abwehr to return to America and to be a contact person for a group of saboteurs. This was all part of Operation Pastorius in which the saboteurs were sent to destroy factories and transportation hubs. Krepper returned to America in 1942, and the operation started soon there after. Yet from the beginning, Pastorius was plagued by problems, and eventually all the saboteurs were captured. Krepper played no real role in the Operation and spent most of his time until his capture living off the stamp collection he brought with him from Germany and leading a rather dissolute life. He was taken in by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New York City in 1944, and condemned as guilty during his subsequent trials.

Watson, who is himself a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, tries to unveil the sinister influences on Krepper as best he can. He traces the different friends and acquaintances that Krepper knew and the different societies that he was a part of. Nevertheless, one can only wish that there were more materials to flush out what Krepper believed, confessed, and preached as a pastor. This would help us understand why and how German identity was so important to Krepper. The clearest glimpse we have into the mind of Krepper is the last line of the book, a quote from Franklin Clark Fry, “Yes, Krepper was strongly pro-Nazi in sentiment. God and the Reich were closely identified in his mind.”