Saturday, October 15, 2011

The wisdom of an East German Pastor

The pastor in whose home we met was, G√ľnter Reymann. He and his wife were among a small group of dedicated Christians who had given up a relatively peaceful and prosperous life in West Germany to move to the East where they felt they were needed. Now they lived in East Berlin behind the Berlin Wall and suffered all the restrictions that brought with it. His English was excellent because during World War II he had been a prisoner of war in a British POW camp West of Edmonton in Canada. Three things he told us stuck in my mind.

The Brandenburg Gate in 1962
 First, he talked about his treatment as a prisoner-of-war in a very positive manner. The story I remember is that about a year before the end of the war the prisoners had asked permission to go on a hike up a local mountain. To their surprise the Canadian commander gave them his permission although a couple of guards went along too and they had to agree to be back fairly early in the evening.

On the hike his party lost their guards and then got lost themselves. As a result they returned to the camp very late at night expecting to be punished. But, the Canadian officer in charge understood what had happened and told them that they were lucky not to have encountered a bear. This episode impressed Reymann with the humanity of Canadians and the importance of trust in human relations something he observes was missing in Nazi Germany and the Communist German Democratic Republic.

Chackpoint Charlie one of the ways in to East Berlin

The second thing he said was that he saw Communists as members of a secular religious sect. His reason for this was simple. Sects, he said, are always teaching and rarely crack jokes about themselves. Committed communists he observed acted in the same way. Fanatics, he added, lack a sense of humour and have an urge to lecture others. At the time this observation seemed trivial. Over the years I came to increasingly appreciate its wisdom.

His third word of wisdom concerned the Confessing Church. His father, he told us, was a pastor during the Nazi era. After 1933 he became increasingly skeptical and worried by the Nazis. Following the formation of Confessing Church his father seriously considered joining it. But, the local Confessing Church minister demanded an immediate decision and told him that anyone who did not join was as bad as the Nazis. This confrontation, which was intended to jolt him into joining the Confession Church, had the opposite effect to the one intended. Although he grew increasingly opposed to the Nazis he refused to join the Confessing Church because some of its members seemed as fanatical as the Nazis.
A small discussion group in the East Berlin Church where Diedrich Bonhoeffer, one of the leaders of the Confession Church was the pastor. His photo stands in the background.

From this story Pastor Reymann drew the conclusion that in dealing with Communists, or anyone else he disagreed with, it was necessary to be patient. People must be allowed to make decisions for themselves in their own time and ought not to be pressured or condemned if they do not agree with one’s point of view.

These very humane and wise observations remained with me. After returning to Britain I kept up sporadic contact with Pastor Reymann and his daughter Jutta for a number of years, but sadly we lost touch as time passed. When I attempted to contact him again during a visit to Berlin in the early 1990’s I learned that he had died a few months earlier.