By Dietlinde Elke Spears
What an incredible and unforeseen journey it was from being a small child living under Nazism, to a married Christian woman coming to Nashville, Tennessee.
How does one put in a few words a period of over twenty-five years of life, especially when the two extremes were so long in the making and were filled with so many traumatic experiences? As a very young child, because my father was a high ranking Government official and a Nazi Party member, we lived a life of luxury and prestige. We had no worries about being put in a concentration camp, for my parents were not opposed to Hitler’s secular ideas or religious enough to oppose Hitler based on faith. The majority of the Germans elected Hitler in 1933 and believed in his ideology. My first five and a half years of life were filled with Nazi propaganda. Uniforms, marching music, portraits of Hitler, huge SS gatherings, talks and shows of power, belief in victory and Aryan rule, is what most Germans talked about at the dinner tables, walks in the park or while visiting friends. We avoided anything Jewish—including shops, doctor’s offices, or friendships.
Even though the cities were bombed heavily in the closing years of war, the hope for victory prevailed. The many scary hours we spent in air raid shelters did not diminish that assurance of hope. These were no longer happy days for me full of play and quiet times with my parents. At that point, as a five year old, I experienced an atmosphere of constant tension and fear. While lying in bed, I no longer heard my parents’ soothing voices lulling me to sleep, only expressions of fear for a hopeless future.
In November 1944, we were forced to evacuate on foot to Prague, Czechoslovakia, to escape the advancing Russian army. This was our death march, for many people died from starvation and exposure. Babies and old people died first – sadly left in the snow. Early in 1945, it was obvious that Germany had lost the war and our personal lives were ruined. Germany surrendered unconditionally in May of 1945. In the end, Nazism cost the death of many of my family and robbed me of my childhood, home and native country. What tragic consequences resulted from that godless society!
In 1943, at the Teheran conference and in Yalta in 1945, the Allies decided to partition Germany. Silesia, my home, was given to Poland, in compensation for the loss of a 200 mile wide area of Poland, given to Russia to appease Stalin. Upon our return to Silesia we encountered Poles living in our houses and lording over us. We were given no shelter, food or care. We lived in barns, sheds, under bridges and were treated very harshly (as the ones who had brought all the misery upon Poland, Russia and other lands). Small Polish children kicked and spat upon us. Germans had to sneak at night to search through compost piles looking for food; Most of the time we ate weeds, leaves, flowers, grass, berries or bark from trees. We also chewed on shoe leather to calm our hunger. We were forced to learn the Polish language, accept Polish citizenship and assume Polish names. My Papa was even imprisoned and tortured for many months.
I did not think there would ever be a brighter tomorrow for my family – a day where we had food, shelter and clothing and when I did not need to be hungry or any more. Slowly things improved in Polish Silesia – even for former Germans. However, life under Communism is always a struggle for basic needs and freedoms. Little did I know that at the age of 19, my family and I would be allowed to relocate to West Germany. With a suitcase in each hand, we took the journey into the unknown. We escaped Communism and I escaped total indoctrination into the slavery of its doctrine.
After two years of acclimatization to the Western way of life and thinking, I began to love my new home in Landstuhl, Germany and had no plans to move again.
The Lord had different plans for me. By His providence, I met Raymond while he was an Airman stationed at Ramstein. Raymond became my sister’s friend first and only after three months did we date. Raymond’s home was Nashville, Tennessee—a city which at that time meant nothing to me. I was new in the West and knew little about the USA. The thought of marrying and leaving my family frightened me. America was so, so far away. I believe God overruled my decision. I shudder when I think what a wonderful life I could have thrown away by not becoming a Christian, marrying Raymond, and coming to the USA. I found here a loving acceptance and a wonderful life with family and Christian friends. Even my accent is an asset. I love this country!
Not until Raymond introduced me to the church, did I learn to take personal responsibility for my salvation. Before, it was the Priest, or the Pastor who told me what to do and when, all according to tradition and not necessarily according to the Word of God. Not until I came to West Germany did I hold a Bible in my hands and study on my own. From birth, since my parents were Lutheran, I was taken to that church until I was six. Post WWII with the Polish taking over our homeland, the Catholic Church was predominant. At age eleven with my parent’s permission, I studied with a Catholic Priest and became a Catholic. I never questioned that someone other than me decided my salvation. It was an accepted tradition, that only the educated Priest or Pastor knew the way to heaven. As far as I recall, no one other than the Priest or Pastor of these churches ever tried to teach me anything. Under Communism, Bibles were neither sold in stores nor seen anywhere else.
The God I knew was a God I must fear and obey or else I would go to hell. He was not the loving caring Father, nor was Jesus my Savior. I learned this in later years while attending the church of Christ Bible classes and worship services. Since I was very active in the Communist youth organization from the tender age of 13 until 18, there was hardly any room or interest for God in my life. I attended Catholic services for social and recreational reasons. I feared the Communist authorities and obeyed them blindly. Thus when asked not to attend Christian services and sign my name to that promise, I foolishly, but obediently, ‘sold my soul’ to a Communist ideology.
Six months before my marriage to Raymond, I became a New Testament Christian, mainly because of Raymond’s influential, good example and clear, Bible-centered teaching. Because of the love from fellow Christians later met in Germany, I looked forward to a new beginning among Christians in Nashville. We arrived in 1962. We settled the second time in 1980 after Raymond retired from the Air Force. Today, I rejoice in my salvation in Christ. I am grateful to travel and teach across the USA in churches and schools. I encourage all to appreciate God’s spiritual blessings and appreciate our freedoms in America. We must recognize that taking God out of our society will lead us down the same hate filled, hopeless path that Nazism and Communism represent. May we cherish our freedoms and liberties by using them to promote Christ, His church, and the blessings found in Him (Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 1:3-14). Raymond and I have seen many beautiful cities in Europe and Asia but Nashville will remain my first home in America! Praise God.
Nazism to Nashville: The influence of one man and God’s Word
By Dietlinde Elke Spears