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October 29, 2020
In my sermon on October 11, I referred to a 1937 photo of shipyard workers in Hamburg offering the Nazi salute. There was one man in the crowd who is pictured as having his arms folded, not participating with the crowd. I encouraged us to be like that man,
Pastor Emeritus Fred Wenner sent an email connecting this story with Fran Wenner’s family. I share it with you, with their permission:
In 2008, Fran and I, along with one of her brothers and his spouse, spent a couple weeks in Germany exploring places related to her family’s history. In the town of Thaleischweiler-Fröschen in the Palatinate we found a handwritten note from 1737 that confirmed family lore that a young blacksmith, Reinhard Alspach, had impregnated a teen-aged girl named Magdalena. They were effectively kicked out of Germany and emigrated to America, but not before they were married in the town’s Protestant Church.
Here’s were Fran’s story and your sermon converge. When we approached that old church (1st photo), we were struck by a bronze plaque next to the church door (2nd photo). A translation of the plaque follows:
March 6, 1906 — May 16, 1980
From 1933 to 1953 Heinz Wilhelmy was pastor of the Protestant parish of Thaleischweiler. He was one of the few pastors in the Palatinate who courageously opposed the National Socialists (Nazis). In his sermons, he publicly denounced their godless and inhumane ideology. For him the standard was the biblical Word. Beginning in 1935 he was an active member of the Confessing Church. From 1953 until his retirement in 1969, he developed a strong program of Men’s Work for the congregations of the regional church of the Palatinate.
Imagine discovering this bit of family history — 200 years after the Alspach’s left Germany, the pastor of the church where Reinhard and Magdalena were married boldly preached the Gospel and “did not salute” the Nazi flag. In that place and in that time, he may have been the only one.
That’s our story, brought back to life by the story you told on October 11. Thanks for triggering this bit of family history.