In While Mortals Sleep, Jack Cavanaugh examines the moral choices Christians were forced to make when confronted by Adolf Hitler’s policies. Josef first intervenes on behalf of a church member, then rails against the Hitler Youth movement when it draws young men from Sunday services. In both instances, the Nazis punish him. Throughout the book, somewhat minor infractions progress into clearly moral choices about outright evil, and each character must overcome or give in to that individual’s fears.
Josef’s father-in-law, Olbricht, compromises to protect his family. He rationalizes away the value of Jewish and infirm lives and joins in the Nazis’ heinous activities. Josef’s wife, Mady, avoids calling attention to her family to preserve their safety. Her stance often creates conflict with Josef because he champions what is scripturally right.
When the Nazis purge unwanted races and infirm individuals, the Christians at the center of this story resist evil at great sacrifice, fighting for those who cannot protect themselves. Konrad endangers his leadership in the Hitler Youth to help his pastor. Wolff jeopardizes his SS position to prevent the horrors. Josef risks his life to save children from infanticide. Mady realizes evil that is ignored does not go away; she cannot remain silent. To rescue her husband and protect her daughter’s life, she must act. These fictional characters illustrate the plight of Christians in Nazi Germany who faced danger yet left behind a powerful legacy of doing right in the face of adversity.