By Jean E. Peterson, ELCA Region 5 Archivist Volunteer, WTS
Our tour guide told us candidly that there was a time when his fellow citizens were so beaten down and shamed, with very little opportunity for self-realization, taking pride in one’s work, or developing any dignity or healthy self-respect, that they could not want to admit to their national identity as Germans. He reminded us that only in the last quarter of the past century have the East German people been able to say, not only, “I am Proud to be German,” but furthermore “I am Proud to be East German.” Our guide, Christian Eggert is owner-operator of Christian Tours Europe and of College Wittenberg which was home for ten nights of our Wartburg Seminary J-term trip to Germany, “Germany: Luther, Pietists, andBonhoeffer.”
To understand the significance of German people’s resilience and newfound pride in their present achievements, one must take into account the history of these people since 1914. For 75 of those years, East Germany was under oppression of war or foreign domination. As strongly as U. S. President Wilson was opposed to U.S. involvement in World War I., when it did eventually happen, Wilson was just as adamant that Germany should be punished for this war. The Versailles Treaty demanded that all Germans take responsibility for that war. It made them pay heavy reparations to other nations for war damages, leading to excessive, impossible inflation for individuals and families. This period of degradation, designed to suppress and humiliate the German people, gave birth to and facilitated the growth and domination of the National Socialist party, led by Adolph Hitler, who took office as Fuhrer in 1933.
Many times and in many places throughout our trip, we encountered signs or banners reading “1933-1945.” The most impressive of these to me was a “broken” marker in the Herrnhut Cemetery, a stone carved in two pieces with a “crack” running diagonally through these numbers.
Of course, the ubiquitous display of 1933-1945 was meant to denote the rise and power of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Regime (Third Reich) in Germany.
1933-1945 also marks the emergence of the Confessing Church, and the German Resistance movement. These years mark the span of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s significant ministry – from his speaking out on the radio against the Hitler Regime in February 1933, to his execution in April 1945.
Running concurrently with all these things, across the ocean, the years 1933-1945 define the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) administration in the USA.
For me, every time I saw “1933-1945,” I felt a strong personal twinge. These were the first 12 years of my life! Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only President I had ever known. He was elected in 1932 and inaugurated in 1933 before I was born. I was almost 12 when he died on 12 April 1945– a day I clearly remember.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged just three days prior to FDR’s death.
More of Jean Peterson’s reflections will follow in future blog posts.