Gaebler Info und Genealogie
German Missions in British India
On November 27th, 1946, the Dutch steamer 'Johan van Oldenbarnevelt' sailed from Bombay out into the Arabian Sea and headed in the direction of Europe. (1) Among its passengers were several hundred German civil prisoners of war, internees from the internment and parole camps of British India. It was the second repatriation ship of German nationals. (2) Among these German internees there were fifteen missionary families, three single ladies and two brethren from the Missionary Societies represented in India.
November, 1946, became the final month of residence for the larger number of the German Missions personnel once working in the British colony. Then came the repatriation chapter, and the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt became the transport ship for these families. One of the missionary repatriatees gave this description:
Thus, in the post-war era, the Dutch ships on the main route between Holland and the Dutch East Indies called in at the Indian ports. Obviously due to the naval skirmishes in the war, there existed a shortage of British shipping tonnage in this period.
At any rate, Otto Tiedt (Leipzig) remembered, that at Bombay "we then all came together again, as they also arrived from Satara, so we" (4) from Dehra Dun. "We were all collected together then," (5) and for an entire month on the seas, the Oldenbarnevelt became another form of internment.
Apparently "there were many Dutch people travelling home" (7) on the steamer as well.
The Government of India had obviously had some problems finding accommodations on the few ocean liners serving the Asian routes following the war. And in this case, the once luxurious steamer, the Oldenbarnevelt, became comparable to the 'Golconda' of the World War I era and the memories surrounding the journey home for the repatriated families. Once again, and vivid in the minds of the missionaries, there was "this sort of freighting; and it was as if one was simply thrown in there with the masses." (8)
Upon embarkation at Bombay, the British failed to recognize an important error in their own planning for these German families and men, so one missionary noted:
The repatriation journey on the Oldenbarnevelt was a marked contrast to the pre-war trip out to India. In those years these younger missionary men, followed then by their wives, had journeyed out on the 'Potsdam' (10), the 'Koblenz' (11), the 'Gneisenau' (12) and other luxury liners. For these the journey out to India had been one of mixed emotions, uncertainties and yet one with the greatest anticipations for service in the foreign work of their Missionary Societies. With the exception of one or two missionaries, the repatriation was the first return trip from British India. In contrast to the pleasant journey out, a missionary wife noted:
To be sure, there had been a devastating war which had shattered and shaken modern civilization; yet with peace again in the world, it appeared that the repatriation journey itself became another in the long series of ordeals for these missionary families. How little did their fellow Christian leaders in that land know about these German families in the hold of the Oldenbarnevelt for those four weeks. Decades later the excruciating experiences remain as memories of "the ship (which) was converted from the passenger steamer to a troop transport." (14) Karl Bareiss (Basel) spoke of the general conditions, which were
Dr. Paul Gäbler (Leipzig) gave a very parallel description:
The "very long voyage" (17) of the 'Johan van Oldenbarnevelt', carrying British and Dutch passengers, as well as the German internees, had begun at Bombay. It made its first stop at the port of Mombasa, Kenya. On account of the stop-over at the African city, these internees experienced the meaning of being "over-crowded," (18) and it only intensified their hardships and the treatment which made them as human freight.(19) Christian Lohse (Breklum) commented on the significance of Mombasa:
Karl Bareiss (Basel) gave a comparable description:
In the week or so, as the steamer journeyed from Mombasa, through the Suez Canal and on to Naples, the Odyssey of the 'Oldenbarnevelt' reached its most gruelling and agonizing stage for the German families being repatriated home. On this phase of the journey, Paul Gäbler (Leipzig) remembered that "it was not exactly cold; there was shelter and yet of course, there was occasionally terrible sea-sickness." (22) "Then we had a dreadful storm near Crete; (and) what all happened then!" (23) Under the crowded human conditions and confined to sections and decks of the ship, the stormy weather has scarcely been forgotten. One of the mothers related, that "then on board, actually all the children were sick; everyone became sick in some way." (24)
Some relief came to the German repatriatees when the 'Oldenbarnevelt reached Naples. (25) As the Italian prisoners of war reached the port city and disembarked,(26) "they were welcomed with cries of joy from the Italians who had waited outside the quay" (27) area.
It was now well into December, 1946, as the steamship headed westward from Naples. According to one missionary, "we then passed around the Bay of Biscay and then we arrived at Southampton. ..." (28) The Dutch ship "touched England on Christmas Eve." (29) However, an incident which grew out of the desire to celebrate Christmas 1946 on board the steamer, depicted the lingering war mood and the role of the internee and his lot on board. Gäbler related this yule-tide occurrence:
With an intermediate call at a Dutch port, the Oldenbarnevelt journeyed on to Germany. In spite of the disastrous conditions surrounding the harbour city on the Elbe, river, the missionary families "reached Hamburg. It was the second day of Christmas," (31) December 26th, 1946.
(1) Rajah B. Manikam, Proceedings of the Tenth Meeting of the National Christian Council (Nagpur: NCC Offices, 26-29 November, 1946), p. 13; Karl Bareiss, P.I. (Ebingen: 23 May, 1973), Tr. p. 9; Theodor Lorch, P.I. (Ludwigsburg: 13 April, 1973), Tr. p. 10; Otto Tiedt, P.I. (Erlangen: 27 September, 1973), Tr. pp. 19-20.
(2) Betty D. Gibson, Letter to Walter Freytag (Geneva: WCCA-IMC File, 15 November, 1946); Erich Klappert, Erlebnisse - 2375 Tage im "Paradies" und im "Wunderland" gefangen (Wiehl: Selbstverlag Erich Klappert, 1978), pp. 99-101, gives a first-hand account of the earlier repatriation.
(3) Tiedt, op. cit., p. 19; Bareiss, loc. cit. A brief commentary might be made here concerning the person's name associated to the steamer transporting the German civil prisoners of war, based on the following sources: Jan den Tex, Oldenbarnevelt (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1973), Vol. II, pp. 446-489; and Athelstan Ridgway, ed., Everyman's Encyclopaedia (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., Vol. II, 1949-1950), p. 95, under "Barneveldt, Jan van Olden (1547-1619). Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was a Dutch statesman and Grand Pensionary of Holland, a courageous man both in the history of the Dutch state and in the Christian Church. He had studied at Heidelberg and the Hague in the fields of law and divinity, and had taken an active role in supporting the Arminians against the Calvinists. As the republican party leader he brought about the peace with Spain in 1609; his political influence even reached England. But in the great struggle of Arminianism, also known by the Remonstrants, at the national Synod of Dort (Dordrecht), 1618-1619, Oldenbarnevelt was found guilty of the Arminian heresy and beheaded on May 14, 1619, in the Hague. The Remonstrants Oldenbarnevelt, Grotius, Hogerbeets and others had fought for the freer concepts advocated by Jacobus Arminius (Jakob Harmensen), asserting that "God bestows forgiveness and eternal life on all who repent of their sins and believe in Christ," and simultaneously opposed Calvin and Theodore Beza's position of the predestination of the elect. Jan den Tex closed the chapter on the "Trial and Execution" with the words, "The tragedy which had cost the Netherlands their greatest statesman was ended."
(4) Tiedt, loc. cit.
(6) Christian Lohse, P.I. (Husum: 18 July, 1972), Tr. p. 12.
(7) Paul Gäbler, P.I. (Erlangen: 9 November, 1970), Tr. p. 1.
(8) Traugott Jungjohann, P.I. (Wedel: 17 July, 1972), Tr. p. 10. Though the Jungjohann family was invited back to the Breklum Mission Church, the letters received from their colleagues described the atrocious conditions and the gruesome journey home on the Oldenbarnevelt.
(9) Bareiss, loc. cit.
(10) Lohse, op. cit., p. 1.
(11) Selma Heller, P.I. (Erlangen: 28 May, 1970), Tr. p. 1.
(12) Johannes Klimkeit, P.I. (Bierde, near Minden: 23 August, 1973), Tr. p. 1.
(13) Ursula Ahrens, P.I. (Lübeck: 29 September, 1970), Tr. P. 4
(14) Bareiss, loc. cit.
(16) Gäbler, op. cit., pp. 1-2.
(17) Ibid., p. 1.
(18) Lorch, loc. cit.; Lohse, op. cit., p. 13; Bareiss, loc. cit.
(19) Ahrens, loc. cit.; Jungjohann, loc. cit.
(20) Lohse, loc. cit.
(21) Bareiss, loc. cit.
(22) Gäbler, op. cit., p. 2. It is solely through the interviews of the missionary families that we have this narrative of the Oldenbarnevelt Odyssey.
(23) Bareiss, loc. cit.
(24) Ahrens, loc. cit.
(25) Gäbler, op. cit., p. 1; Lohse, loc. cit.; Tiedt, op.cit., p. 20.
(27) Gäbler, loc. cit.
(28) Lohse, loc. cit.
(29) Gäbler, loc. cit.