If you remember, back in Germany, Opa was a member of a Quaker youth group. Not only have we been in touch with some of them, but Sarah has met three of them, Bern Brent, Gisela Halle Faust, and Anni Halle. We have letters that Opa sent to the Halle sisters. Their whole family was an important part of Opa’s teenage years and so we wanted to do one spotlight on the whole family. You will hear about Bern a little later! Although the Halle family is a bit larger, we are going to just focus on "Gis" and Anni and their parents, Gerhard and Olga. All quotes will be from the book, “Quakers and Nazis” by Hans Schmitt unless otherwise noted. I will give some info about Gis and Anni’s parents and Sarah will share her reflections about meeting Anni and Gis and a bit about their lives.
Gerhard and Olga Halle can best be described as two people who were connected with the rich history of their country, living that out through their love of their country and its people. Olga was part of a famous German family, the Lillienthals. Otto Lilienthal was her uncle and Otto Lilienthal has been described in books as Germany’s equivalent of the Wright Brothers in America. Otto created some of the first gliders. Needless to say, the Lilienthal family was quite well known.
He and his engineers carried out the scorched earth-policy ordered during the German retreat to the Hindenburg line in 1917. They leveled ‘handsome, well preserved villages’ and mined the city hall of Bapaume, which blew up two weeks after their departure, causing great loss of life.
In three meetings, held between May 20 and 22, 1932, near these battle sites, Halle asked his victims for forgiveness. Before an audience of seven hundred in Douai, he acknowledged his country’s part in unleashing World War I and accepted a “moral duty” to make reparation for the destruction.
When Gerhard was notified by local police in 1937 to report for the purpose of determining his military status, he did not follow that order. Instead, he wrote a letter to the Berlin Army Command, enclosing his World War I record, and declared himself ready to to give his life in the service of Germany “unless a higher duty restrains me.” But since his conscience also dictated respect for the life of others, he professed his inability to “participate in military service or its preparation.” This petition fell, however, into a void of silence.
In 1942, Halle was summoned again...the interview ended with his affirmation that before aiming a rifle at another human being he would turn it against himself.
At the end of 1941, after emigration had been stopped, a group of twenty-eight clients remained who were in the process of getting the necessary papers together. Two of these were hidden at the Halle home in Lichterfelde and were then spirited out of the country. The rest were doomed. The memory of these desperate petitioners pursued Halle to the end of her life; a delirious Olga Halle recited their names on her deathbed.
One Berlin Quakeress, voice trembling, phoned Olga Halle to reveal that her son-in-law had found a copy of "Der Quäker", the magazine of the Yearly Meeting, at her home. He was a loyal Nazi who had been out of work until the Party found him a small post at the Air Ministry. The political contents of the magazine so horrified him that he marked all the seditious passages with the intention of exposing them to the Gestapo. That seemed certain to mean the end of the Yearly Meeting. Olga calmed the woman, and went straight to the son-in-law’s office. There she chatted first about aviation, explaining that she was the niece of Otto Lilienthal and telling of some of her uncle’s famous flight experiments. The son-in-law knew who Otto Lilienthal was. He seemed honored to be talking with so near a relative. Then, with her social status clearly established, Olga insisted he had misunderstood the passages in "Der Quäker", and that if he read more copies he would realize the contents were religious, not political. When she left, she took the marked copy with her. The son-in-law did nothing to stop her, nothing more against German Friends.
The case came up of an elderly Jewess in southern Germany. A Swiss Catholic relief worker had thought that baptizing the woman would protect her. In fact it meant that neither the Jewish nor the Catholic agencies felt she was their responsibility. But the Quakers discovered she had been born in America, and could reclaim her American citizenship if they could get her to the embassy in Berlin. She would not travel on her own - she was too frightened after Kristallnacht - and Olga had to go fetch her. On their way north, guards entered the train compartment to inspect papers. The woman was too frightened to speak, but Olga chatted with them at length, told them this was a deaf relative she was bringing to Berlin, and after a while the guards wished them a happy journey and continued on their way. The woman reached the U. S. via Portugal, some months later.
*Update: I met Anni in July of 2013. I found out in November of 2014 that she had died in her historic home. May she rest in peace.*