Gaebler Info und Genealogie
German Missions in British India
Even in repatriation and in the final process of release, the German Missions personnel from British India were again ushered through varied, unpleasant and political activities. For among the German nationals returning on the Dutch steamer 'Oldenbarnevelt', there were businessmen (whose wives were largely in Germany), Roman Catholic nuns and priests, as well as the Lutheran missionaries - theologians, pastors, teachers, business managers, nurses and evangelists - the substance of any missionary society. Lacking the necessary invitations to serve with their own mission churches had meant their ban from India, the compulsory repatriation and the further humiliation at Neuengamme.
Christmas had been celebrated, as much space and resources would permit on the Oldenbarnevelt. The Dutch ship pulled into the Hamburg harbour to unload the latest cargo of men, women and children from the British colonies. Being the end of December, "it was in the height of winter," (1) and one of Europe's coldest winters on record. For the British colonialists of India, who themselves were far too conscious and acquainted with the problems of climate - the tropics versus the European temperatures, the search for hill-stations in the hot season and also to have appropriate clothing and' topi-hats for the heat and the sun - then to send these families into the midst of a European winter, after their seven years of internment camps, was seen as a "real meanness on the part of the English." (2) After all that which these missionary families had experienced in India, this final stage - the voyage home on the transport, the arrival at Hamburg in sub-zero weather and finally the transfer to Neuengamme - seemed like a "base act", (3) a thoughtless deed and foreign to the usual nature of British considerateness. No one could have foreseen that the winter of 1946 - 1947 would be so extremely cold, but it brought added suffering to these accustomed to the Indian climate. Otto Tiedt (Leipzig) narrated about their arrival:
Martin Pörksen and Walter Freytag were present to welcome the missionary families. The Schleswig-Holstein Mission's director remarked, that these families had to leave practically most "everything in India. ... They brought what they had in camp. It was appalling then as they arrived. ... It was frightfully difficult," (5) considering what they had as their personal belongings and that they were permitted one cubic-metre of luggage for each person. (6) Thus, the arrival in the homeland, the experience of the extremely cold winter and the internment at the Neuengamme Camp, are remembered as practically the most brutal treatment which these men, women and children encountered in the war and the post-war period.
In the freezing winter weather, under a clear December sky, according to one missionary, "in Hamburg we were unloaded in the night." (7) Thereupon the repatriates "were loaded onto open lorries and then driven an hour through Hamburg, through all the fields of ruins in Hamburg." (8) Tiedt remembered that it was "in full moonlight, so that we could easily see everything," (9) while Lohse emphasized that it was "through darkened Hamburg which we were driven actually we could not see very much." (10) They were transported in lorries "with nothing in them - absolutely bare ('nackte LKWs'), covered with tarpaulin." (11) The cold only magnified the suffering for the women and children, as for the men; "We froze miserably, ... and then we did not know at all where it went from there." (12)
Rajah Manikam and Betty Gibson had expressed the hope to Walter Freytag in Hamburg, that in regards to the German families being processed, "... they may be released from the Transit Camp in Germany as soon as possible." (13) However, the transit camp was more than the missionaries had awaited. According to Gäbler, "we were taken to a different internment camp, a German internment camp. (14) The new transit camp was a former Nazi concentration camp situated between Neuengamme and Altengamme in the British Zone of Germany.
The very last chapter of the internment episode for the German missionaries of British India was staged at one of Adolf Hitler's Nazi concentration camps, namely at Neuengamme, a few miles from Hamburg, the British Zone. The internment narrative of these years had begun at the one-time concentration camp of Ahmadnagar in the Bombay Presidency of British India. (15) Now it was the concentration camp of Neuengamme, one of the lesser known, perhaps because it was not acclaimed as one of the "killing centers" directed "against the destruction of the European Jews." (16) Yet it claimed a record of nearly 50.000 exterminations, mostly political or prisoner of war cases from most of Germany's neighbouring countries.
Neuengamme, as its sister village to the south - Altengamme, is situated in the marshlands southeast of Hamburg. It is comparable to an island, situated in the broad valley of the Elbe river. The dikes along the south bank of the Elbe and the flat meadowed landscape behind the elevations stretch as far as Hamburg and give one the impression of Holland. In the heart of this peaceful, tranquil setting, a mere 15 kilometres from the center of Hamburg, stands the evidence of the once-powerful Nazi Government and the ideology which left such a scar upon German and world history. The concentration camp still stands, used in our times as a correctional institute for the youth of the city and the state. The city of Hamburg has constructed a memorial to the thousands who suffered and died at Neuengamme. (17)
In December, 1946, and into January, 1947, the Neuengamme concentration camp became the British transit camp for the two shipments of German nationals returning from British India. Considering the amount of damage on Germany's cities, the British authorities saw every justifiable reason for using the Neuengamme facilities as a process station. The Nazi regime had constructed the camp for that very purpose. Otto Tiedt recounted what occurred following their disembarkation at Hamburg:
Again "the men and women were separated;" (19)
For the German families the processing phase at the Neuengamme Camp was remarkably short in comparison to their years in India. Christian Lohse remembered; "We were only there a good eight days." (21) Nevertheless, the last internment station is likely one of the best held in the memories of certain individuals. This infamous concentration camp stands out as vividly as the many detention centers of British India. Paul Gäbler added these remarks:
Though the missionary families' sojourn at Neuengamme might be confined to a matter of days, it is still possible to categorize this closing stage into three phases:
The German repatriatees from British India soon found themselves confronted with the task of another round of investigations of their political leanings and their past activities. Due to their arrival at Neuengamme in the holiday season, as "New Year's Eve and New Year's Day came in between, naturally in these days the British officials were not working." (23) No longer under the colonial British Raj, these men and women entered a defeated Germany and the jurisdiction of the British occupational forces.
For some of the internees Neuengamme was very much a repeat performance of Ahmadnagar of seven years earlier. Christian Lohse (Breklum) gave this commentary:
The grading process of the investigations at Neuengamme (27) appeared to have had six categories. The first three groups (1-3) offered little chance for a person gaining immediate freedom, and likely were channelled into the denazification program. The remaining groups 4-6 signified an early release, and the missionary families all had the more favourable discriminations by the camp authorities. (28)
In defense of his patriotic attitude, Bareiss added:
Nineteen months following the collapse of the Third Reich, or seven years after Ahmadnagar, the investigations of Neuengamme renewed the unpleasant memories, and all because they were not invited back by their mission churches. Paul Gäbler offered this personal sketch of the hearings:
At the Neuengamme Concentration Camp, scarcely anything could compare to the torturous, cold temperatures which saturated the internees' bodies and minds, and so shortly after their return from the tropics. The consequence of these days at the transit camp was the heavy toll on the German families, in particular on the children and the babies. With a few exceptions, the missionary families would have preferred to remain in India. Renate Klimkeit (Gossner), though remaining in India, commented on those frightening days;
Martin Pörksen also remembered the arrival of the German Missions personnel, among whom were the six Breklum families. With Walter Freytag he visited these returnees from India;
The rampant illnesses of colds and pneumonia, and the death of one of the missionary children, became the overriding reason for the immediate processing of these re-patriatees. Christian Lohse (Breklum) gave this personal account regarding his family's predicament:
Likely the most agonizing story from Neuengamae was the unexpected death of an innocent missionary child. Often death alone is the primary mover of many officialdoms. This time, under the British authorities, a further death was registered at the concentration camp. Renate Klimkeit gave this narration of her colleagues:
No single person was as important and as influential as Dr. Walter Freytag in the direction given the German families returning from India. As Chairman of the German Evangelical Mission Council (DEMR) situated in Hamburg, Freytag, along with Martin Pörksen and other Missions leaders, visited Neuengamae on more than one occasion in the Christmas holiday season of 1946 - 1947. Pörksen's endeavours for the missionaries' children were remarkable feats in themselves.
Freytag first appeared at the concentration camp with Betty Gibson's letter containing a list of the missionary families repatriated. (36) It was certainly an assurance for the British authorities, that the I.M.C. had expressed its trust and confidence in this Missions statesman. And once the investigations and the discriminations of Neuengamme had been carried through to their accomplished goals, Freytag, Pörksen, Dr. Thade, Martin Witte and other leaders were better able to process these families. (37) In spite of the list sent to Freytag, "he was not exactly sure who had remained out (in India) and who had come along." (38) Otto Tiedt (Leipzig) remembered Freytag's visit:
The German families were informed concerning the "guidelines in relationship" (40) to the Allied authorities, to the new order in the country with the four different zones and to the difficulties already arising between the Russians and the three Western powers. (41)
Following World War II, Freytag corresponded steadily with Betty Gibson of the I.M.C. On January 24th, 1947, Freytag wrote to her regarding the fate and the approximate addresses of those families released in that month:
Freytag's letter confirmed the fact that the missionary families from India, finally after the many years, had been released by the British authorities. His letter simultaneously indicated, that in spite of the Gossner Mission's headquarters being in Berlin and the Leipzig Mission's in Leipzig, both in the Russian Zone, all addresses in the interes of the missionaries were located in the British and the American Zones. Gradually these clergymen, with their families, would be absorbed into the state churches as the parish positions became available.
The departure of the above-listed German missionaries from the Neuengamme Concentration Camp near Hamburg was the very last 'cantonment' and the final detention in the long narrative of the German Missions personnel from India. These internment years were not devoted to the preaching of the Christian Faith to the Indian people; neither did these missionaries, with one or two exceptions, have another chance to see active service in the mission churches of India. By the guidance of others and the leading of God, these who were repatriated to Germany and banned from India found a ministry with the revitalized German Church of the post-war era.
It would be an incomplete study were one to abruptly leave the internment tale of woe and ennui on the note that those returning on the steamship 'Oldenbarnevelt' were released from a Nazi concentration camp. Some brief sketches might add meaning to this chapter on the relocation and the Christian ministry of these once-active missionaries of India. Once as resourceful leaders, teachers, evangelists, language specialists and pastors of the mission church ventures, in their homeland they began a new life and entered the parish ministry. For over seven years much human kindness and personal considerations had been deprived them. Meanwhile at home they received acceptance and recognition for what they were and for what they had achieved in India. They were obviously classified as ineligible for release, a contrast to those who were "eligible for release." (43) The years of internment were already a form of ineligibility, a pre-mature banishment or seclusion imposed by the British Raj; but even more disconcerting for the German missionaries was the knowledge that they had in essence been excommunicated from the mission churches which they had served and had loved so dearly.
In Germany these men and women found a world of approval again, what might be seen in two spheres:
1. Called to serve as pastors in the German Church, and
2. Welcomed by their State Church in special services.
It would be a consuming study in itself to review the beginnings of each person's re-entrance into the active ministry with the German Church. Thus, two missionaries might be drawn out as purely symbolic of the others who also faced the same conditions and trials after the years in India.
The Rev. Christian Lohse of the Breklum Mission in the State of Schleswig-Holstein gave a parallel sketch, and spoke of his start at Joldelund as
As a pastor of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Lohse served to his retirement in 1972 at the Schwesing parish.
Another aspect of the approval and the acceptance of the men and women from the Indian mission fields began by the welcome extended by the German Missions leaders. Freytag, Pörksen, Thade, Witte and others had assisted the repatriatees in locating pastorates and duties in the State Churches. As overwhelming and thereby evoking renewed spirit for them were the welcoming services held by the various missionary societies. For whether it was the Basel Mission in the Stuttgart area, the Breklum Mission in Schleswig-Holstein and the Gossner and Leipzig Societies in the British Zone, a gratitude to God was expressed for the safe return of these men and women. One such welcoming occasion, held by the Leipzig Society, might help to convey the joyous spirit over their missionaries' arrival. Many factors and much effort, as a background, went into the preparations.
Pastor Martin Witte, a Leipzig missionary to the Tamil Church until the spring of 1939, was one of the church leaders in Freytag's welcoming committee. Witte had a small parish in the towns of Hackenstedt-Sottrum, though because of the concern for and the contact with his colleagues from India, the parish church took on added significance in the Leipzig Mission life. Witte related:
Due to Witte's acquaintance with the Indian mission work, his ecumenical contacts with non-Germans in India and at Tambaram, as well as his association with Dr. Hanns Lilje, the future Bishop of the Hannover State Church, many missions personnel from far and near were sent to him.
Of course, Witte also was responsible for the preparations surrounding the missionaries' welcome. He confirmed that
At the conclusion of the welcoming service there was just as great a surprise and an outpouring of Christian love and kindness for these missionary families who had suffered the years of internment and seclusion from friends. Tiedt's words described this closing scene:
There was much else which these German missionary families from British India would never forget and their memories often remain as the only source. Much more has already been forgotten, which will also never be recorded for Missions history. Yet through the memories of these men and women, and through the material available in the form of letters, records and printed memorabilia, there was just cause and abundant substance to research into the narrative of the internment of German Lutheran families in British India during and following World War II. Out of the account the case of nationalism repeatedly overshadowed the individual's Christian imperative of brotherly love and sacrifice, and herein existed the threat to and the crisis in Christian Missions.
(1) Renate Klimkeit, P.I. (Bierde, near Minden: 23 August, 1973), Tr. p. 17.
(3) Otto Tiedt, P.I. (Erlangen: 27 September, 1973), Tr. p. 20.
(5) Martin Pörksen, P.I. (Hamburg: 24 August, 1973), Tr. p. 13.
(6) Christian Lohse, P.I. (Husum: 18 July, 1972), Tr. p. 12.
(7) Ibid.. p. 13.
(8) Tiedt, loc. cit.
(10) Lohse, loc. cit.
(12) Tiedt, loc. cit.
(13) Betty D. Gibson, Letter to Walter Freytag (Geneva: WCCA-IMC File, 15 November, 1946).
(14) Paul Gäbler, P.I. (Erlangen: 9 November, 1970), Tr.p. 1.
(15) C.H. Swavely, ed., "The Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church 1845" by Joel Lakra, The Lutheran Enterprise in India (Madras: At the Diocesan Press"J 1952), pp. 71-72. According to the publication, the Gossner Church leader Lakra regarded the British camps as such; "As the result of the war, all the missionaries except Rev. J. Stosch, Miss Diller and Miss Schmidt, were taken to concentration camps." Or, "Government remembered that German missionaries were yet out of the concentration camps." (p. 72).
(16) Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1967), p. 573.
(17) Photographs by writer; Appendix.
(18) Tiedt, loc. cit.
(19) Lohse, loc. cit.
(20) Gäbler, loc. cit.
(21) Lohse, loc. cit.
(22) Gäbler, loc. cit.
(23) Tiedt, op. cit., p. 21.
(24) Karl Bareiss, P.I. (Ebingen: 23 May, 1973), Tr. p. 7.
(25) Gäbler, loc. cit.
(26) Lohse, loc. cit. Christian Lohse's reference to the 'Jugendverbot' points out the emphasis which the Nazi regime placed upon the girls joining the 'Bund Deutsche Madchen' (BDM), or upon the youth participating in the 'Hitler-Jugend' (HJ). Obviously the forbidding of the German youth to participate in certain church activities, the CVJM (YMCA), etc., removed any serious competition.
(27) Gäbler, loc. cit.
(28) Lohse, loc. Cit .
(29) Bareiss, op. cit., pp. 7-8.
(30) Ibid., p. 9.
(31) Gäbler, op. cit., p. 2.
(32) Klimkeit, loc. cit.
(33) Pörksen, op. cit., p. 10.
(34) Lohse, op. cit., pp. 13-14.
(35) Klimkeit, loc. cit.
(36) Gibson, loc. cit.
(37) Gäbler, loc. cit.; Walter Freytag, Letter to Betty D. Gibson (Geneva: WCCA - IMC File, 24 January, 1947); Martin Witte, P.I. (Betzendorf: 20 July, 1972), Tr. p. 12.
(38) Tiedt, loc. cit. In spite of Betty Gibson's letter to Walter Freytag, Tiedt felt that Freytag wanted to confirm the list of the mission families who had arrived home.
(40) Pörksen, op. cit., p. 9.
(41) Witte, op. cit., pp. 1-2; Tiedt, loc. cit.
(42) Freytag, loc. cit.
(43) Rajah B. Manikam, Letter to Betty D. Gibson (Geneva: WCCA - IMC File, 20 August, 1946).
(44) Gäbler, loc. cit.
(45) Lohse, op. cit., p. 14.
(46) Witte, op. cit., p. 11.
(47) Ibid., p. 12.
(48) Tiedt, op. cit., p. 22.
(51) Witte, loc. cit.
(52) Tiedt, loc. cit.
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