↑ Return to My Mother’s Life

Postscript: Letters to Gollwitzer

By Martin Nicolaus

Among my mother’s papers was a letter she had written in May 1992 with some additional recollections.

Pastor Wendlandt of the Gethsemane Church in Berlin, and his two daughters — his daughter Ruth, then a theology student like me, was a friend of mine — hid a young Jewish man, Ralph Neumann, in his home for years, until the end of the war.  Ralph lost his entire close and extended family in concentration camps.  He emigrated to the United States, went to school and to college, brought his German (“Aryan”) girl friend Gretel over, married her, had two sons and lived, at my last contact with him some years ago, in Palo Alto, California.

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Ernst Gordon, of Jewish descent, was vicar to Gerhard Jacobi. In the year 1937 the Gestapo held him in its prison on the Alexanderplatz at the same time that I was there.  One day, as I was being led to interrogation, I saw him go down a stairway, singing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” at the top of his lungs in his deep, beautiful voice.  He succeeded in getting out of Germany just in time.  He went to England via Switzerland, became a member of the Church of England, and served for many years as a priest in a poverty-stricken parish in East London. I visited him and his German wife, also of Jewish descent, after the war when I was in London on an assignment from the Europa Union.  Many years later he became headmaster of a parochial school.

Helmut Gollwitzer ca. 1960

My mother’s papers contained no additional material about this period, apart from official documents such as birth, death, baptism, marriage and school certificates.  However, with the cooperation of staff members at the Evangelisches Zentralarchiv in Berlin and of the Archiv der Evangelischen Kirche im Rheinland and others I was able very recently to recover additional letters that my mother had written. Several of them were addressed to Helmut Gollwitzer . Gollwitzer was the pastor who took over the parish of the Bekennende Kirche (BK) in Berlin-Dahlem after the arrest of Martin Niemöller in 1937. At that time, my mother and Gollwitzer were on familiar terms, using “Du” instead of the formal “Sie” in correspondence, and she often addressed him by his nickname, Coedi.

Letters to Gollwitzer

Berlin, Dec. 27 1938

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Dear Coedi,

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The anticipated receipt of your sermons for Christmas has made me extraordinarily happy.  I had already received the sermon from Dahlem, and after reading it, forwarded it as usual.  Now you have given me the Christmas joy of owning it.

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That your birthday comes shortly before the New Year fits somehow with the whole picture of your existence; in any case this escatological birthday also fits well with the “terminus a quo and terminus ad quem” in other respects.  In any case, best wishes in the sense of Psalm 4, 7!

 Your Margot E.

Berlin W.15, March 31, 1939

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Dear Helmut,

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Unfortunately with the press of business before your departure you were unable to give me information about Zollikon. I ask you for this information now.  If it is negative, then it’s my opinion that I can easily do it on my own account.  I think the matter is really irrelevant and harmless.  Please don’t reply to me in Berlin, but until Easter Monday at the latest to Essen / Ruhr, Margaretenstr. 1, ℅ Nicolaus.  I’m leaving on Tuesday already, I have 3 months paid vacation and will not go back to the Fundamentum!  Hurray!

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I wish you a beautiful recovery in the capital city of the movement and a happy Easter season.

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Sincerely, your Margot

Berlin W. 15, Oct. 3 1939

Pfalzburgerstr. 83

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Dear Coedi,

 .

To begin with I have to honestly mourn the fact that I only get to see you any more at long distance in darkened churches.  But it’s (unfortunately) clear that you have more important things to do than to trouble yourself with insignificant details such as I am.  (Probably ten people write you this every day… )

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I only wanted to tell you that it is now perfectly clear that Nico was arrested only because he gave no answer to the questions about the completion and content of his exams, as directed by the Rhenish provincial council of brethren.  Furthermore, the Stapo in Frankfurt refuses to negotiate with the military authority that called him up, so that setting him free is out of the question.

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Someone should send you a bunch of beautiful flowers, so that you have something delightful to look at.  (Maybe I’ll do it myself soon.)

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Sincerely, your Margot E.

Berlin W. 15, April 2, 1940

Pfalzburgerstr. 83

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Dear Coedi,

 .

Pastor Busch in Essen would like to have your promised sermons, soon, and I would like to have my own volume of your collected works, as promised for Christmas.  Is it impertinent of me to remind you of this?

 .

Nico sends his warm greetings.  He was “beary” happy that you were in Essen and did everything so well.  He is now also a recruit in West Prussia …

 .

Now when I look properly at things concerning you from this distance, then your “private life” probably has been reduced to trimming your fingernails.  But what’s the harm?

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Warm greetings,

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Your Margot Eickhoff
in ℅ Nicolaus

[Essen, August 1941]

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Dear Helmut,

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Thank you from my heart for your kind condolences.  It is unspeakably hard.  Ask God’s help for me, as I ask that you be preserved.  Please send my greetings to Eva; I sat on a school bench with her and I have her in my most lively memory.  I am happy for you that you found this outstanding, excellent girl.

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Sincerely, your M.N.

Essen, April 18 1942

Von Einem-Str. 32

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Dear Coedi,

 .

Please forgive me for adding one more letter to your daily stack of mail.  But I wanted to thank you from my heart, finally, for the letter that you sent me earlier on the birth of my little son, and also for the two newsletters (Paris and Southern France) that Eva sent me, and which I studied with the greatest interest and much pleasure.  They will one day take up an honored place in your collected works.  I constantly observe with satisfaction that you are among the rare troopers who don’t get rusty in this business; but of course, given your nature, no one expected that to happen.  But above all I am happy that apparently to date you have not landed in the lap of little mother Russia, because this once so beloved little mother is slowly but inevitably becoming the mother of a kingdom of the dead.  Eva wrote me that you are now on the Channel coast and therefore in the field of war events.  The only thing I can do is to pray for you and for both of you that you may remain safe from all harm and every danger.

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It was good that you did not choose the officer career with promotion to reserve officer, but opted for the medical service instead.  Because there is a secret law that provides (based on a speculative victorious end to the war and the survival of the 1000-year Reich) that all theologians who are reserve officers “need not” return to their pastoral duties but will be required to become active officers in the Wehrmacht.  We should issue a timely warning to all those who naturally are happy to escape the lower levels and to finally receive “decent treatment,” in the words of his highness the former president of the church on Achenbach Street, who designated this as his most important wartime lesson.  (!)

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The news I have to tell from my part of the home front is unfortunately quite warlike and therefore sad.  The daily and almost all-nightly heavy bombing attacks with apparently American dive bombers and so-called air torpedoes are hitting us awfully hard.  Unfortunately the Krupp factory, which is truly not hard to hit, gets the least of it.  We “poor unarmed civilians” get all the more of it.  While I was moving to my new home, there were five air raid alarms in broad daylight, and heavy bomb damage.  The roof over my head gets holes in it every time, and one time the ceiling was broken through.  Of course that’s still harmless.  But this was awful:  My mother in law, who was staying in the hospital at the bedside of her dying husband, whose heart was broken by the death of his son, wanted to go home the morning after the night of his death, and finds, instead of No. 1 Margareten Street, only a pile of rubble.  A single air torpedo had ripped out the whole street, not to mention the countless roof shingles and window glass that lies broken in a circle of several kilometers.  The poor mother lost at one blow her son, her husband, and her home.

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For the inauguration of my new and finally my own home, which is very sunny and comfortable — there is such a thing as comfortable rubble heaps — I had the company of Ruth Wendland and Helmut Hesse from Elberfeld (those two still can’t find one another).   Do you know that the Hesses have already lost two sons in Russia, and that the third lies heavily wounded in a hospital in the East?  Yet another shadow fell over our beautiful days together, namely the death of Ruth’s only brother, Arnd, who also lost his life of 22 years in Russia.  He wanted to study theology … This war has carried almost all my human hopes to the grave.  The […?..] may well teach attention to the word, but it gives birth like a Hydra to new temptations, new wishes and hopes, which we can’t abandon even thought we know from the beginning that they are marked for death.  Old Adam is after all the most productive monster.  It is like a [..?..], which I just discovered for myself in the 84th Psalm:  “My soul demands and yearns for the Lord’s courtyard; my body and soul find joy in the living God.”

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By way of friendly conclusion to this much too long letter (and I promise you I will not write again so soon), I want to introduce to you my sweet little son.  I enclose two small pictures from his previous month, his sixth.  It is already clear that he is a real rascal, who can already play-act very nicely.  But his mother is no better, after all, and doesn’t get taken in by this swindle.  Apart from that he makes me very happy with his tenderness and — I have to say it — charm.  He doesn’t have the spontaneous familiarity that so many kids have; instead he is bashful and shy like a little deer when he sees a new person — he is filled with a respectful friendliness, and along with it he lowers his gaze, so that my heart always gets a lovely warm feeling.  Sometimes he makes such an earnest and thoughtful face, as if he carried all the problems of the world in the wrinkles on his forehead.  You see, I have great joy from this child of our dreams, and my only wish for you is that you too will one day be able to taste similar delights.

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My collection of sermons has not proceeded as far as I had hoped.  I will remember Harrald Diem.

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Since I don’t know your military post office number, I am sending you this letter via Eva and hope with all my heart that it finds you in good health.

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Many warm greetings in long-standing solidarity,

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Your  Margot Nicolaus

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 P.S. Did you already order Helmi Vischer’s 2nd volume?

Eva Bildt and Helmut Gollwitzer

 

After this letter, their correspondence came to a halt.  Early in 1943, Gollwitzer was posted to the Eastern Front.  Gollwitzer’s correspondence then was focused on his beloved, Eva Bildt.  Selections from the heart-rending exchange of letters between Gollwitzer and Bildt were published in 2008; in one of her letters, Bildt mentions my mother.[1]  Gollwitzer became a Russian POW in 1945, and in the same year, Eva Bildt committed suicide.  The Soviets released Gollwitzer in 1950, and he returned to Germany.

Frankfurt, April 20, 1950

Feststrasse 18 / IV

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Dear Helmut Gollwitzer,

 .

Please forgive me if, by writing you, I seem to want to reconnect with what is past.  And I don’t dare to resume use of the familiar “Du” that was the rule between us in the past.But I may tell you how happy I was when, after only hearing a few rumors about your return from Russia, I had the positive proof of it in my hand, when I opened the mail for Dr. Kogon (whose secretary I have been for a year) and found your letter with the manuscript.  [….]

Frankfurt, May 29 1950

Feststr. 18

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Dear Helmut Gollwitzer,

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Many thanks for your letter of May 15.The situation with your manuscript is this.  It has meanwhile gone through the “editorial mill” and will probably appear in the next issue.  (It was already planned for May but then dropped out for reasons unknown to me.)  You will hear particulars from the editors after Pentecost.[…]

 .

I will soon be in Bonn for some Europa-Union conference.  Shall I dare just to telephone you when there?  Or is there no telephone where you live?  I’m certain to have no time other than late at night, because the sessions in Germany still tend to go on much too long.  Can one descend on you at that hour?  In the old days you were a night owl, but now?  Who knows?  Or should I announce myself beforehand in writing?  But why such formality, I want to know.

 .

All the best wishes for your great and beautiful work,

 .

Your  Margot Nicolaus

 .

PS.  If you have a telephone somewhere, will you send me a little card?

 

The omitted portions of these letters concern my mother’s effort to set up a meeting between Gollwitzer and an unnamed medical student she had taken under her wing.  I suspect this was “Uncle” Wolfgang S., who was our boarder on the Feststrasse in Frankfurt.  Apparently nothing came of this effort.

A few months after this letter, my mother wrote a letter to her boss, Eugen Kogon, advising that she has just been notified by the American consulate in Frankfurt that the application for immigration she had filed two years earlier had moved to the front of the line, and that if her paperwork were in order, she could count on emigration as early as the spring of 1951.  But things took longer.  Two years later, my mother — still in Frankfurt — again wrote to Gollwitzer, who had meanwhile married Brigitte Freudenberg:

Oct. 16, 1952

Frankfurt, Feststr. 18

Dear Brigitte, dear Helmut,

Many thanks for your letter.  For quite some time I am no longer with the Frankfurter Hefte, but still with Master Kogon, since I am working in the Europa-Union.  Naturally I still have contacts with the FH editors, and so today I connected with Dr. Walter Maria Guggenheimer, the editor in chief, but in writing, since in the next few days I won’t be physically in the FH offices.  I would consider it extraordinarily desirable if you were to finally find out why the FH have not yet reviewed the book, and that of Bonhoeffer.

The only explanation that makes sense to me personally is that Guggenheimer, who has numerous other interests and responsibilities outside the FH, is so buried under work that he can’t see straight and so the matter has somehow got killed, at least in his memory.  Besides, for some time he has had a secretary who is totally disinterested in these things, and who cannot liberate him from his chronic Austrian disorder, so that important matters such as yours are lost through simple sloppiness.

I haven’t looked in on you yet because I have never had time to do so during my visits to Bonn.  Each time I hope that I am able to pay you a short — short in your interest! — visit.  But one of these days I will drop in on you!  Many thanks for keeping your invitation alive.Kolja and I now have the emigration visa for the USA in hand.  We have to be there by February 2 next year, at the latest.  We will depart in the middle of January.

Kolja is doing fine.  He is now 11 years old.  For the past couple of months I have put him in a boarding school in the Taunus, where he gets outstanding instruction and — so far as is possible outside the home — excellent care.  Unfortunately I can see him only on weekends, but it is a better solution than to have him left to himself more or less the whole day.  His school work is excellent, so that I have so far had no worries on this point.  And he is such a good, sweet guy that he is a real joy for me.

My mother has not been with me for some years.  She is cared for in an old folks’ home in Weilmünster in the Taunus.  She is actually in rather bad condition, but she has no pain and does not experience her condition as negatively as it must appear to a healthy person.

I am sorry to hear that Pastor Fricke is so ill, and if I can manage it somehow I will bring him a couple of beautiful flowers on Sunday.

It’s almost midnight, and I ask you to allow me to take leave of you for today with these somewhat tired lines, and with my warmest greetings to you both,

Your
Margot
That was my mother’s last letter to Gollwitzer that has survived.  Gollwitzer became a prominent public figure in postwar Germany.  The book that my mother mentions in her letter was undoubtedly Gollwitzer’s 1951 best-seller, translated as  Unwilling Journey, an account of his Soviet imprisonment. In addition to his work as an academic theologian, Gollwitzer took an active part in protests against nuclear weapons, against the rearmament of Germany, against the Vietnam War, and in support of the 1968 student movement and other causes.  He is remembered for his aphorism: “A socialist may be a Christian, but a Christian must be a socialist.”

  1. [1] Ich will Dir schnell sagen, daß ich lebe, Liebster: Helmut Gollwitzer, Eva Bildt, Briefe aus dem Krieg 1940-1945, Friedreich Kunzel & Ruth Pabst, eds. ISBVN 978-3-406-57381-1, p. 111

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