(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In December, 1939, the Reverend Josef Schumacher intervenes when a young man from his church reports his father for listening to the British Broadcasting Corporation. Josef is taken for interrogation, making him late for the young people’s Christmas gathering. He determines to influence the members of the church youth group, including Lisette Janssen and Konrad Reichmann. At the party, he gives each youth a coin inscribed with a verse from Scripture. He encourages the young people to carry the coins and think about their verse. When Josef’s Hebrew teacher arrives as the youth depart, Konrad rudely bumps into Professor Meyerhof because he is Jewish.

In April, 1940, the Hitler Youth members are summoned during a Sunday service. Josef dislikes the disrespect the timing exhibits, so his father-in-law Wilhelm Olbricht suggests he attend a Hitler Youth meeting. Josef attends the Führer’s birthday celebration. The outstanding unit of the year includes some boys from Josef’s church youth group, and the Führer’s speech stirs Josef’s German patriotism. However, he cannot reconcile the inspiring words with the harshness of the Nazis. He interferes in the beating of an elderly man and absorbs a few blows until Konrad recognizes him and calls the altercation to a halt. Josef discovers the injured Jew is Meyerhof. He escorts him home and finds his professor has been granted permission to live in his former pantry since he can no longer own property. In his cramped quarters, Meyerhof keeps a photo of his wife and Josef’s mother-in-law; the women grew up together.

In May, Josef exclaims that they will not use the Nazi salute in church but greet each other as Christians. Josef locates Konrad on patrol. He leads him to Meyerhof’s living quarters. Konrad agrees to spend five minutes with the Jew, but when Josef knocks, no one answers. He finds Meyerhof hanging from the rafters. Later, SS agents haul Josef to Gestapo headquarters. They use torture to force him to practice the Nazi salute. Olbricht picks him up and warns him to leave the struggle to unmarried ministers. Mady, Josef’s wife, accuses him of being irresponsible, saying his actions will not change anything. Josef agrees. However, when Mady wants him not to cross the Nazis again, he maintains that it is his responsibility to speak against actions and beliefs that lead people away from God. The next Sunday, his in-laws and two SS officers attend services. He asks for casket bearers for Meyerhof’s funeral, but no one volunteers. The rest of the service progresses well, and Josef greets everyone with the obligatory “Heil Hitler.” At home, Josef stews about the cowardice of his congregation. He realizes he is no different than his church members. Josef wonders how to effect change without endangering his family. He recalls a note saying if he is a friend of Martin Luther to use the word “bulwark” in a sermon....

(The entire section is 1183 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

DeLong, Janice, and Rachel Schwedt. Contemporary Christian Authors: Lives and Works. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2000. Biographical sketch details Jack Cavanaugh’s credentials and writing accomplishments.

Duncan, Melanie C. Review of While Mortals Sleep. Library Journal 126, no. 18 (November 1, 2001): 74. Categorizes the novel in terms of books written in a similar vein.

Mort, John. Review of While Mortals Sleep. Booklist 98, no. 3 (October 1, 2001): 281. Evaluates the novel and recognizes Cavanaugh’s abilities.