In 1941 the Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalender (Christian
Congregational Calendar), an annual publication of the South
German Mennonite Conference, published a poem by the well-known
German Christian writer and poet, Jochen Klepper. 1
However, because of his marriage to a Jew, Klepper had been declared
persona non grata by the Nazis. In the 1930s and during
World War II, German Mennonites did not distinguish themselves
by their opposition to the Nazi regime and Germanys war
against her neighbors and other nations. However, publication
of this poem could be considered an affirmation of a German who
in the eyes of the Nazi regime had disgraced himself and his
race because of his marriage. This article will try
to discuss the poems author, the Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalender,
and its 1941 editor, Abraham Braun.
Jochen Klepper was born in 1902 to a Lutheran minister and his
wife in Beuthen located in the former German province of Silesia,
an area that since 1945 has become part of Poland. Upon finishing
gymnasium, Jochen attended the University of Breslau (now called
Wroclaw) where he studied theology. However, he did not finish
his studies and decided to embark upon a radio and literary career.
In Wroclaw he worked for a local radio station and in 1931 moved
to Berlin. Here he was offered a position by the radio station,
Berliner Funk, and was also employed by the Ullstein publishing
house. However, in June, 1933 he was dismissed from his radio
position and in September, 1935 by Ullstein. The reason for his
dismissals was his marriage in 1931 to a Jew, Johanna Stein.
Johanna, or Hanni as she was more commonly referred to, was a
widow with two daughters, Brigitte and Renate or Reni. 2
Marriage to a Jew made Klepper persona non grata in the eyes
of the Nazis who had come to power in January 1933.
Anti-Semitism was an integral part of National Socialisms
ideology. While anti-Semitism could be found in many
parts of Europe and the New World, in National Socialist Germany
it became official policy enacted into law. In the 1930s a host
of anti-Jewish measures were issued to make life unbearable and
miserable for German and later Austrian and Czech Jews.
National Socialist anti-Semitism affected Jochen Klepper in
different ways. Not only was he dismissed from his positions,
but he also experienced obstacles in his efforts to publish his
writings when in March, 1937 he was dismissed from the state
literary office.3 This office granted permits
to publish manuscripts. All of this came at a time when Klepper
reached a period of considerable literary productivity. One of
his most important works at this time was the historical novel
Der Vater (The Father),4 a fictionalized
biography of the Prussian King Frederick William I (1713-1740).
In it Klepper depicted the king as a prototype of a Gottesknecht
(servant of God), but also as an autocrat and father who
forced his subjects to wear the uniform of duty and faith. To
him Frederick William was the ideal Protestant Prussian ruler
who founded his reign on the God-sanctioned authority of the
father and embodied three ideals: family, the state and the church.
No doubt, some of these values had Nazi appeal. The book, published
in early 1937, sold very well and helped Klepper establish his
literary reputation.5 However, it did not
prevent him from being excluded in March of the same year from
the state literary office. Kleppers publications were considered
unfit to influence the spiritual and cultural
development of Germany. He was now prevented from publishing
his Christian poems. Klepper appealed his case, and in December,
1937 even wrote to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda,
signing his letter with a Heil Hitler. Nazi officials
finally relented and, although sometimes delaying their decisions,
permitted publication of all his poems in the next few years.
Klepper felt that especially the popularity of Der Vater
had influenced this decision. He concluded that he stood under
the protection of his book.6
In spite of the harassment and persecution of the Jews, the
Kleppers did not believe that it was urgent to leave the country.
It is not clear why they did not do so. Was it fear of losing
Hannis considerable property? Did Jochen feel, in spite
of everything, some loyalty to Germany? Was he reluctant to give
up his social and cultural status? After all, in spite of everything,
his home in 1939-1940 was still one of the most stimulating
centers of poetry in all of Germany.7 Did
he think that God would lead him safely through his ordeal? Or
did the Kleppers feel safe after the Christian baptism of Hanni
and Reni?8 However, Christian Jews were
not immune from Nazi persecution. Whatever their reason for staying
in Germany might have been, the Kleppers did consider it imperative
for their daughter Brigitte to leave. She left on May 9, 1939,
for England. Her departure was a farewell, and end so without
fulfillment, Klepper lamented in his diary.9
Both girls could have left with a youth transport to England,
but Jochen was unable to see both of them go; that was too much
for the parents, he stated.10 Yet, in 1940
the Kleppers did try to have Reni emigrate to Switzerland, but
Swiss authorities were unwilling to grant her a permit.
In September 1939, a few months after Brigittes departure,
war broke out in Europe. The war would make the German Jews
position more precarious and later also those of many other European
Jews. They were now trapped.
Klepper felt the war against Poland to recover Upper Silesia
and the so-called Polish Corridor was justified and showed no
sympathy for the suffering Poles and later Danes, Norwegians
and others who had become victims of the Nazi juggernaut. However,
he did express serious reservations about Germanys victories.11 In December 1940 Klepper was drafted into
the German army. He was elated over his draft call. He envied
every man who is a soldier. War was something a man
had to experience not as a civilian but as a soldier, he felt.12 He also believed that his position in the
German army would provide extra protection for Hanni and Reni.
Actually his draft notice had been an error. Germans married
to Jews were not to be drafted.13
Initially Klepper served with a horse transportation unit
and was later part of an infantry supply division in Bulgaria,
Poland and Russia. He did not see actual combat, but did observe
the miseries of war in Russia. Apparently, he was not moved by
the wars destructive force. In fact, he enjoyed military
life and its camaraderie. It was Hanni who had to remind him
of the inhumanity and horror of the Russian campaign. She wanted
him home as soon as possible.14 Her wish
was fulfilled. In August 1942 Klepper was discharged and sent
home because his marriage had disqualified him for military service.15
In August 1941 Renate, who was now nineteen years of age and
soon had to wear the yellow star, had been forced to work in
the defense industry in Berlin. Would she soon be deported? In
October 1941, a very concerned Klepper decided to see Wilhelm
Frick, the minister of the interior and admirer of his book,
Der Vater. Frick assured Klepper that Renate most likely
would not be deported and would be allowed to go to Sweden, but
he could not exempt her from wearing the yellow star.16
In spite of this reprieve, Klepper remained very pessimistic;
step by step the catastrophe descended
upon them, he concluded. Even if Germany were to lose the war,
the Jews were doomed.17
For some time, Klepper had been trying to obtain a Swedish
visa for Reni. Finally, on December 5, 1942, the Swedish government
granted her one. On the same day the Kleppers received news about
the birth of their first grandchild in England. Again Klepper
called upon Frick to help. Frick informed him that he could not
help him. On December 9-10 Klepper saw Adolph Eichmann of the
Reich Security Main Office, the agency responsible for the administration
of the final solution. Eichmanns office supervised
the deportation of the Jews, but he refused to grant the visa.
On the evening of December 10, 1942, Klepper, Hanni and Reni
committed suicide by opening the gas valve in the kitchen of
their home. The destruction of German Jews, Klepper concluded,
had entered its final phase and there was no hope for Hanni and
Renate. Tonight we die together. Over us stands in the
last moments the image of the blessed Christ who surrounds us.
With this view we end our lives. With these words Klepper
ended his diary.18
Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalender and Abraham Braun
The Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalender began publication in
1892 and had a circulation of around 2000.19
It provided information on congregations in south Germany, France,
Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Poland as well as articles on a
variety of different subjects. Prior to 1933 it was not neutral
in matters of the nations political and military leaders
and reflected the German Mennonites total integration into
the mainstream and surrender of opposition to military service.
For instance, it had much praise for Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898),
the founder of the modern German state, as one of the greatest
statesmen of all times.20 During
World War I it published pictures and names of Mennonites fallen
at the front who, it felt, had died a heros death.
In addition, it showed pictures of leading military men such
as Paul von Hindenburg and August von Mackensen.21
In the 1930s the Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalender remained
neutral, too neutral according to one Nazi official.22
In World War II it again published pictures and names of those
fallen in battle, expressed sorrow over the Polish murder of
German Mennonites in Schönsee, a Mennonite congregation
near Gdansk, and joy over the return of countrymen to that part
of Upper Silesia, which had been given to Poland in 1921 but
was retaken in 1939. The Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalender
ceased publication in 1941, most likely a victim of the German
In 1941 its editor was Abraham Braun. Braun was born in 1882
in Alexanderwohl, located in the Mennonite Molotschna colony
in Russia. He was baptized in 1897 and in 1901 went with his
parents to Siberia. After having completed his compulsory forestry
service and study at a Bible school, Braun went to Berlin where
he enrolled in the Allianz-Biblelschule in 1910. After completion
of his studies, Braun remained in Germany. In 1920 he became
secretary of a missionary society and in 1922 became head of
German Mennonite Aid to assist Mennonites leaving Russia. In
1928 he became pastor of the Mennonite congregation of Ibersheim-Eppstein-Ludwigshafen.
Here he stayed until his retirement in 1957. In the course of
time Braun served on numerous committees and boards and in 1933
became editor of the Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalender. In
the post-World War II era he became very active in the Mennonite
World Conference and became a bridge builder among European Mennonites.
He died in 1970. During his long life and ministry Braun embodied
genuine Mennonitism, and was an inspiration for many. Among the
latter was his Canadian grandnephew, Mennonite historian, Abraham
Friesen, to whom Braun became the grandfather he never had.24
A more thorough and comprehensive study of German Mennonites
in the Nazi era is needed. However, it is safe to conclude German
Mennonites did not oppose the Nazi regime. Some joined the Nazi
Party and many served in the German war machine. No Mennonites
were listed among Germans who refused military service in World
War II. We do not know how many became war casualties. Although
some Mennonites were briefly incarcerated for aiding Jews or
for other reasons, none suffered in concentration camps.25
Braun did not sympathize with the Nazi movement. He kept political
discussions out of the pages of the Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalender
and dared to defy the local Gauleiter. He also tried to
persuade, unsuccessfully, his sons from enlisting in the German
armed forces. His son, Jakob, was killed on the eastern front
in March 1944.26
Publication of Kleppers poem, Neujahrslied (New
Years Song) was not necessarily an act of courage or defiance.
The poem had been published as early as January 1, 1938. Klepper
completed the poem in late 1937 and submitted it to the state
literary office for permission to publish. The poem was based
on Psalms 90 and 102 and Deuteronomy 28:1-6. Initially, the reaction
of the state literary office was very negative. The censor
concluded the poem conveyed an absolutely Jewish
disposition. Todays Germany needed a Neujahrslied
that did not fall back on the slavish attitude of the Psalms,
he alleged. However, Kleppers special appeal to Goebbels
resulted in final approval to publish the poem.27
We do not now if Braun knew about Kleppers ordeal. We
may assume he did since Klepper was well known in German Christian
circles at this time. Publication of Neujahrslied at a
time the Nazi regime was heavily bearing down on European Jews
was not an illegal act. However, its publication in the Christlicher
Gemeinde-Kalender can be construed as a subtle kind of affirmation
of a German poet who was facing the storm. It was exactly
something Braun was capable of doing, according to Friesen.28
1. Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalender,
1941. Hereafter cited as CGK. I would very much like to thank
my brother, Rev. B.K. Homan, Enhuizen, the Netherlands, for calling
my attention to the publication of this poem in CGK.
2. There are many biographies of Klepper. Among
them are: Rita Thalmann, Jochen Klepper: Ein Leben swischen
Idyllen und Katastrophen (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1978)
and Ilse Jonas, Jochen Klepper: Dichter und Zeuge by Ilse
Jonas (Berlin: Christlicher Zeitschriftenverlag, 1967). The most
recent one, based upon heretofore unpublished materials, is by
Martin Wecht, Jochen Klepper: Ein christlicher Schriftsteller
im jüdischen Schicksal (Düsseldorf: Archiv der
Evangelischen Kirche im Rheinland, 1998). The best source for
Kleppers life and work during the 1930s and 1940s is his
very extensive diary: Unter dem Schatten deiner Flügel.
Aus den Tagebücher der Jahren 1932-1942 (Stuttgart:
Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1983). His dismissal is recorded on
3. Kleppers problems with the Reichsschriftskammer
(state literary office) are discussed in Ernst Reimschneider,
Der Fall Klepper: Eine Dokumentation (Stuttgart: Deutsche
Verlags-Anstalt, 1975), passim.
4. Jochen Klepper, Der Vater: Roman eines
Königs (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1937).
There have been more editions since 1937.
5. Thalmann, Klepper, 92; Klepper,
Unter dem Schatten, 234.
6.Reimschneider, Klepper, 57ff.; Klepper,
Unter dem Schatten, 545.
7. Thalmann, Klepper, 253; Wecht to
author, April 27, 1999.
8. Hanni was baptized in December, 1938 and
Renate in June, 1940. Klepper, Unter dem Schatten, 688,
9. Klepper, Unter dem Schatten, 761,
10. Wecht, Klepper, 224.
11. Klepper, Unter dem Schatten,
789, 871-872, 877, 898.
12. Ibid., 925.
13. Ibid., 809, 932; Thalmann, Klepper,
287, 319, 321; Riemschneider, Klepper, 119. By Hitlers
decree of April 8, 1940 many offspring of mixed marriages involving
Jews and all Germans married to Jews were dismissed from the
14. Klepper kept a very extensive diary
during his short military career. It was published after the
war under the title: Überwindung: Tagebücher und
Aufzeichnungen aus dem Kriege (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt,
1958). Wecht sheds further light on Kleppers military career
on the basis of Klepper-Hanni correspondence, Wecht, Klepper,
15. Klepper, Überwindung, 225ff.
16. Klepper, Unter dem Schatten,
17. Ibid., 1002.
18. Ibid., 981ff., 1032; Thalmann, Klepper,
372-380. Klepper had often considered suicide as an option. The
earliest reference is June 23, 1933. He did not consider suicide
a sin because such a deed did not offend the Holy Spirit. Klepper,
Unter dem Schatten, 76-77.
19. Mennonite Encyclopedia, 1:585.
20. CGK, 1892-1941, passim.
21. Ibid., 23 (1914): 145-146; vols.
22. Dietrich G. Lichdi, Mennoniten
im Dritten Reich. Dokumentation und Deutung (Weierhof/Pfaltz:
Mennonitischer Geschichtstverein, 1977), 62; Dietrich G. Lichdi,
The Story of Nazism and Its Reception by German Mennonites,
Mennonite Life, 36 (March 1981): 24-31.
23. CGK, 49 (1941): passim;
vol. 50 (1941): passim. Very interesting is CGK advertising,
which offered i.a. rum, cognac, arrack, tobacco and cigars.
24. Irmgard Hörner-Braun, Abraham
Braun, Mennonitisches Jahrbuch, 1998, pp. 83-88;
Abraham Friesen, Historical Research in the Anabaptist/Mennonite
Tradition (North Newton, KS: Bethel College, 1994), 5ff.
25. Lichdi, passim. No German
Mennonite is listed among conscientious objectors in: Norbert
Haase and Gerhard Paul, Die anderen Soldaten: Wehrkraftersetzung,
Gerhorsams-Verweigerung und Fahnenflucht im Zweiten Weltkrieg
(Frankfurt a.m.: Fisher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1995); Heidi
and Albrecht Hartmann, Kriegsverweigerung im Dritten Reich
(Frankfurt a.m.: Haag and Herchen, 1986); Karsten Bredemeier,
Kriegsverweigerung im Dritten Reich (Baden-Baden: Nomos
26. Abraham Friesen to author, June 6,
27. Wecht, Kleppper, 163-164;
Riemschneider, Klepper, 52-55.
28. Abraham Friesen to author, June
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, July 2000