Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A WITNESS IN TIMES OF WAR AND PEACE by Wilfried Hein: review by Elma (Martens) Schemenauer

Wilfried Hein [shown in the colour photo] is a Mennonite I "happened" to sit beside at a Christian writers' conference in Abbotsford, British Columbia last May. As we introduced ourselves, I discovered that he is the translator-editor of a book that beautifully helps fill a gap in my knowledge of Mennonite history.


I grew up hearing stories of Russian Mennonites, particularly those who emigrated to Canada in the 1920s. These stories, a precious legacy from my ancestors, inspired my 1940s-era Mennonite novel CONSIDER THE SUNFLOWERS [available from Chapters Online or Borealis Press  ].


I also spent time researching Mennonite history in general, especially while writing my genealogical book JACOB SIEMENS FAMILY SINCE 1685. However, I never heard or read much about Mennonites in Germany during relatively recent times. Then Wilfried Hein came to my "rescue."


Wilfried's father, Gerhard Hein [in the black and white photo], was a Mennonite pastor, historian, author, and editor working in Germany during the 1930s and after. His memoirs comprise the heart of the book A WITNESS IN TIMES OF WAR AND PEACE. Wilfried translated them from German and enhanced them with photographs, notes, editorial comments, appendices, and bibliographies.


A WITNESS IN TIMES OF WAR AND PEACE tells of Gerhard's happy childhood in the Ural Mountains of Russia and his emigration to Germany in 1925 at age 20. Gerhard stayed in Germany, unlike the many Mennonites who moved to Canada during the 1920s. After undertaking theological studies in various German cities from 1925 to 1931, he interned as a pastor in the early 1930s.


Gerhard Hein was ordained in 1935. A year later he married Lydia Hege from near Worms, Germany. Their sons, Eckart and Wilfried, spent the World War II years without their father since Gerhard was serving as a translator and code-breaker in Nazi Germany's Wehrmacht (united armed forces).


His involvement in the military raised and raises serious questions since Mennonites have traditionally held pacifist beliefs. However, Gerhard said, "I never questioned that under the present circumstances I had to obey the state and serve in the military, and I was convinced that God would give me opportunities, even as a soldier, to be a witness for Christ" (page 92).


This turned out to be the case. In the words of the book's back cover, "He displays courage in a terrifying and uncertain time by voicing his concerns about the National Socialistic ideology in both words and deeds, standing up for his beliefs by pointing to the One who can bring real peace. His story shows that in the darkness of war, rays of genuine love, care, and compassion can shine through."


After the war Gerhard returned home and continued his work as a pastor, serving in several German towns and cities including Berlin. Through his engaging memoirs, I gained new insights into German political, social, and spiritual life, especially among the Mennonite minority.


I was also impressed and inspired by Gerhard's prolific historical, writing, and editing activities. I found it especially interesting that he contributed to the Mennonitische Lexikon (Mennonite Encyclopedia), which I often consult in its modern and expanded form (Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, or GAMEO).


Another example: He was instrumental in having the Mennonitische Forschungsstelle (Mennonite Research Institute) relocated to its new home at the Weierhof near Kirchheimbolanden in Southwest Germany. I was privileged to spend several days there while investigating my family history.


Along with everything else Gerhard did, he somehow found time to write a number of poems based on Bible verses. One of his favourite verses, proven many times over his lifetime, was "Before they call, I will answer" (Isaiah 65:24).


The book can be obtained from , House of James in Abbotsford, BC, or directly from .


Elma (Martens) Schemenauer . CONSIDER THE SUNFLOWERS: 1940s-era novel about love, Mennonites, faith, & family. Set in Vancouver & rural Saskatchewan. Order from Chapters online or Borealis Press  . More info at  . Book trailer .


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