My mother is a strong woman. She was persuaded in the faith of the true path taken by her husband. Friends of the Confessing Church also strengthened her resolve. She found comfort in the great number of members of the Hunsrück congregations and pastors of the Confessing Church who attended her husband’s funeral. Despite the surveillance of the Gestapo, they traveled within three days to commemorate my father.
She also found security within the Confessing Church, which showed her great consideration when it later organized an illegal collection for her despite the danger. From the proceeds, we were able to purchase a three-story house in Wuppertal – Elberfeld, to which we moved in early 1940. “We” consisted of my mother, her sister Marie Luise Dietrich (our beloved Aunt Mariele), Sophie (who had been a member of my Grandfather Schneider’s household as a fourteen-year-old girl), and all six of us children, ranging in age from two to twelve.
We children spent three carefree years there in the spacious house and in the large garden behind the house, which offered marvelous trees to climb. The change from the one-classroom village school, with two to three children every year, into large classes was a challenge for my older siblings. The Liberal Arts school, which Dieter had attended during the time of my father’s imprisonment (Dieter had been staying with family friends, Pastor Lutze, in Barmen), had an administration and faculty that were critical of the Nazi regime. At the same time, my first two years of grammar school required that we begin each morning with a “Führerwort,” some doctrine of Hitler, which the class repeated together.
Mother soon assembled for herself a circle of women, who came together regularly every week for conversation, recollection, and singing. Probably because of the latter, we children referred to this group as the “blackbirds.”
The Rhein Church provided us with daily bread through the widow’s pension, because my father was still pastor of Dickenschied and Womrath until his death. Probably in order to protect us, we young children were told little about the circumstances of our father’s death, but I still clearly remember my father being mentioned in exemplary fashion a few times in the church service.
In Elberfeld, we “farm children” became acquainted with new smells in the narrow city alleys. The older siblings formed friendships, some of which continue today. The outings with Uncle Hermann (Pastor Lutze) in the Bergische landscape are unforgettable memories for all of us, as well as the nights of the chilly marches into the air-raid shelter at the howls of the “sirens”.
Ernst and I (the little ones) were at first naturally drawn to the garden, where, from the nearby Hitler Youth, the songs “Rumbling of the brittle bones” or “Today Germany belongs to us and tomorrow the world” rang boldly.
In summer 1943, while we children were on a long vacation in Hochelheim, Großenlinden, and Womrath, our house burned down after an air raid. The fire began in our neighbor’s house, and sparks spread to our house since the houses lay so close together. The fire took hold over our house very quickly. Only the ground level walls and the façade remained. Because mother and Aunt Mariele had long kept the roof wet, they were able to save a few documents. Later, Mother told us how she sat helpless in the garden and saw the flames move from room to room, consuming all the memories of her married life: the furniture which they had bought together, the pictures, the books, and the children’s play things.
The other bombed out Wuppertalers evacuated to Thuringia. Mother managed to drag us children and Aunt Mariele to grandmothers in her hometown of Tübingen. With loving care, our grandmother took us into her four-room flat. We were happy in the “spared,” and later completely spared, Tübingen, and spent the last two years of the war there. Sophie returned to her home village of Pferdsfeld.
Before taking his Abitur (final school exam), Dieter, the eldest, nevertheless had to serve as assistant in the “anti-aircraft auxiliary” and was drafted into the Wehrmacht in the last days of the war.
Naturally, this was a time when everyone experienced deprivation and ration cards. However, just as they had helped us early in the war, our father’s congregations in Dickenschied/Womrath and Hochelheim/Dornholzhausen continued to remain in contact with us and to help us survive again. During vacation, we children were sent to various farms where we were well accommodated.
At the end of the war, grandmother’s flat was seized. After the first wave of confusion, an apartment was assigned to us. At this time, it also happened that one day we had a package from the customs house. It came from unknown people in the United States, who found out about Paul Schneider’s widow and her children and had gotten our address. It did not stop with the one package. Repeatedly, a welcome customs notification arrived in the house. The packages, which came from all over, consisted of primarily used shoes and clothing, which mother with great skill altered to fit us. We experienced great joy every time one of the (greatly desired) cube-shaped packages, about forty centimeters in length marked with the four letters “C.A.R.E.” (Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe) arrived. I can still remember today the taste of the blocks of chocolate, powdered milk, powdered eggs, and primarily the corned beef. Never has anything tasted better. We recall this help with great thanks.
Around 1947, Pastor Bernhard Heinrich Forck of Hamburg asked my mother to write about the life of my father, and to put together dates and facts. He used this for a “commemorative book of the martyrs of the Confessing Church,” which appeared in 1949 under the title “Follow them in Faith.” On a convalescent holiday in Locarno in 1951, mother became acquainted with the Berlin publisher Hannemann (Lettner Publishing), whose interest in the history of my father was additionally awakened by an English woman. She arrived a day after the departure of my mother with the message from London, “Never forget Paul Schneider!” After friends advised her, mother decided to write her own recollections of the past from diary entries, letters, and the earlier recordings of “Preacher of Buchenwald.” The book appeared in 1953 and made my father widely known.
In Tübingen, mother cared for the poor and displaced people, up to the point of taking them into our already modest residence. She was active in the women’s auxiliary in Tübingen and organized the collection for the maternal recuperative mission, which Elly Heuss just called into being. The maternal and pastoral widows’ circle, which usually consisted of young war widows, demanded from her commitment. Until the late 1960s, mother was engaged in the winter months traveling in order to present lectures and bible lessons at women’s regional retreats.
Since 1959, mother has resided in a small house in Dickenschied, which we built on the plot that my father had bought for a garden shortly before his imprisonment.
She has lived for a long time with my sister Evmarie and her husband Dr. Hans Vorster in Liederbach near Frankfort, but she spends the summers in her beloved little Dickenschied house. At age 97, she can no longer stay there alone.
On her ninetieth birthday, she received the honorary citizen award from Dickenschied. In the year 2000, she was awarded the silver Johannes Brenz – medal of the Württemberg Regional Church as well as the great service cross of the Federal Republic of Germany.
We children found our way into various professions. Dieter (born 1927) studied theology and was a pastor for a short time in Duisburg. Gerhard (born 1933) had successfully completed his two law examinations and promotion when he and Dieter died tragically in an automobile accident which was not their fault (1960). Evmarie (born 1929) trained to be a teacher. Paul Hermann (born 1930) studied Agronomy, emigrated to Canada in 1954 wanting to establish himself there independently in agriculture. Later in Los Angeles, he successfully founded a small, flourishing firm for electronic alarm systems. I, Karl Adolf (born 1935), am an engineer and had a wonderful, creative career in a research institute at the University of Stuttgart. I still work a little with an engineering company in complex measurement and calculations. The youngest brother, Ernst Wilhelm (born 1937), as a businessman until his retirement, had many responsibilities in the management of a multinational group in the glass industry.
We siblings are all married and some of us are grandparents. Our mother has ten grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
We are thankful for the example that our father bequeathed to us and carry the commitment in us, upright and without inhibitions to go our way, to act as our conscience commands, and in Christian humility to hope that it is right.
September 2001 – Karl Adolf Schneider