The Rev. Andreas Tasche, a pastor and board member of the Herrnhuter Missionshilfe (Moravian Mission Society in Germany), grew up in the former East Germany. Under Communist rule, Christians were under constant suspicion and sometimes even open hostility from the government. In this remembrance, initially published in The Moravian Messenger, Andreas shares a little of what church life was like before reunification of Germany.
While I didn’t experience systematic persecution by the authorities of the Communist state, called the ‘DDR’ (the German Democratic Republic), I did find that, time and again, the DDR systematically defamed committed Christians and often marginalised, disadvantaged or even criminalised them. They also drove them out of the country, after a prison sentence or, after a long wait, via an exit visa to West Germany. Of course, I also experienced the supervision of the State Security Service in all of my professional and private life.
The full extent of this supervision was only made clear to me after the fall of the DDR when I had access to the files held on me by the DDR-State Security Service (Stasi). Even completely harmless Christmas letters from the ‘West’ were intercepted and copied; all visitors from the ‘West’ were neatly recorded; sermons and prayers (in particular, for the ‘Decade of Peace’ marked annually in November), even prayer requests, were co-written in detail by a total of eight informers.
From a ‘safe house’ opposite the rectory, the agents could both see and listen into my private space. The State Security Service knew which books were in my personal library, that I enjoyed football but hated boxing and that I had never taken part in an (unfree) election. On the pretext of a border control check at Zittau on the German-Czech border, my entire address book was secretly copied.
My innocuous request to the congregation at Neudietendorf, on the occasion of a political memorial day, to walk in silent procession from the Moravian Church to the Lutheran Church 800 metres away, was construed as a seditious ‘call to a silent march’ which had to be stopped.
As long as the Church operated strictly in its own space, within the church and congregation buildings, the church in the DDR was allowed a certain degree of freedom. However, it was potentially dangerous when the church moved into the public arena.
My father was in the Silesian town of Görlitz which was the first to have an unobtrusive display case in which not only Church notices were displayed but also some home-made coloured posters. These occasionally referred to social issues, which greatly angered the State Security Service and which led to the church leaders being asked to admonish my father. However, those leaders supported my father and only asked him to be careful about the design of the posters and not to provoke the State unnecessarily.
In 1985, before my ordination as Presbyter, I came up against the anger of the DDR State machine, because I duplicated the Synod resolution ‘Making a stand for peace,’ a decision opposing the policy of increasing armaments in East and West, and distributed it in the Niesky congregation. Had I just put the decision into the hands of individual congregation members, all would have been well. But because the Niesky congregation, on account of the tourists and visitors to the market, is open all day, the authorities threatened a prison sentence.
Politically, especially in the important questions of war and peace, the State and not the Church was the responsible body. The Church should be content to preach, sing and pray. In my Stasi file it is written that, in 1987, shortly before their Confirmation, I had told a group of children that they should not believe everything bad that their teachers told them about God, faith and the church. They could be certain that God could help them not only in the church but also in school.
As a young person I was never a member of the State’s organisations (Young Pioneers or Free German Youth), nor had I participated in the ‘Youth dedication,’ a crafty measure introduced by the State to stand against Christian Confirmation. I also refused to learn and sing certain propaganda songs and poems which railed against the Christian faith and the Church. I would not salute the flag of the State-run Pioneer or Youth Organisation which was raised at certain times in school, nor was I prepared to serve in the armed units of the ‘National People’s Army.’
And so I belonged to a minority which in the 1960s and 70s, depending on region, numbered between two and eight percent of the population. I could not apply for higher education and so could not study journalism as I had planned. Even a vocational training as a maintenance engineer or as a mechanical technician was denied to me.
None of the requests of my parents to the school board, the local and then regional authorities, right up to the Ministry of Education in Berlin were successful. The recommendation of the Provincial Board counted for nothing. No school, university or firm wanted ‘an ideologically unreliable young person.’ Not even the highest grades could change anything. After two difficult years, it was clear to me that I should enter church service. I thank God that a couple of small niches were available: the tiny ‘Church pre-seminary’ in Naumberg, Saarland, where I could take a Classics School Leaving Certificate; and a slightly larger church academy in East Berlin where I could study theology.
The other 92-98 percent of children and young people who, with their parents, had turned their backs on the church, could forge careers in the DDR. There were very few ardent Communists among them but the State was content with comfortable yes-men.
Because my parents worked for the Moravian Church—both were employed in the Comenius bookshop—at least they didn’t have to be afraid of repercussions from the State. It was much worse for those who worked in State administration or in one of the State enterprises—and in the DDR there were State-owned enterprises and almost no private businesses. When an assembly worker in a State-owned company had a child who did not want to join the ‘Free German Youth,’ that worker was not sacked, but was often moved to a lower-paid job or was barred from the state-run holiday camps (and in the DDR, there were almost only state-run holiday camps and almost no private holiday opportunities). Or they might be put back two years on the years-long waiting list for a car.
The worst was when the penalty was not just imposed on the worker whose family was involved, but on the whole team, which was known in the DDR as a work-collective or brigade. In many instances, all members of a work-collective were denied the state’s Christmas bonus or the lucrative trip to Berlin, because a single team member or their spouse or child had refused to comply with some state regulation.
The discovery of a western publication such as ‘Der Speigel’ or ‘Quelle-Katalog’ in an individual’s briefcase at a state-run business could result in a career-long black mark. Almost none were held accountable for doing this to others, even after the fall of the DDR. Most held on to their high positions and many, unlike their victims, became very wealthy.
I was never an enemy of the State who wanted to destroy the DDR. I just wanted to make the State and its sad society better, more humane, more just and, above all, more open and honest. My parents always told me that ‘it is no accident, but it is God’s will that you spent your childhood and youth and your early church service in the DDR and not in the west.’
How wonderful that I could contribute in some small way to the so-called ‘Change.’ Along with others, I led the first demonstration procession through Neudietendorf. I chaired the Neudietendorf Round Table of those with influence within the community at the end of 1989 and the beginning of 1990. I presided over the first free vote in Neudietendorf and then, at midnight, drove the voting papers in the church car to the regional administrative authority.
I was able to be reconciled with some of the teachers and bureaucrats who had wronged me. I could work towards the founding of two free Moravian schools in Gnadau and in Herrnhut. And now, as a staff member the Public Relations department of the Herrnhuter Missionshilfe (German Mission Board), I am in daily contact with people all over the world. Now I am almost the journalist that I wanted to be nearly 40 years ago. Yes, God writes straight even on crooked lines. ■
Andreas Tasche, Public relations at HMH (Mission Board) in Bad Boll, Translated by Jackie Morton.