Mary Mills is a retired teacher of French and German at County Prep High School in Jersey City, N.J., and a former member of Woodstown (N.J.) Meeting. She has served as a Mandel Teacher Fellow of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
In the April 2003 issue of Friends Journal (24-28), she published “German Quakers and the Trial of George Grosz,” an introduction to and translation of the 1930 deposition by German Yearly Meeting clerk Hans Albrecht which contributed to the acquittal of the Expressionist artist on blasphemy charges. Mary Mills is working on a book translating the spiritual writings of Hans Albrecht and describing his involvement with the Quaker School at Eerde.
The opening paragraphs of Albrecht’s deposition1 on behalf of Grosz present an articulate and powerful statement of the universalist core of Quaker faith and practice.
Hans Albrecht became interested in Quakerism when his young daughter, Etta, was helped by “Quaker Feedings”2 in 1920. In 1927, Albrecht joined the Society of Friends and, shortly thereafter, became clerk of the German Yearly Meeting, a position he held until 1947.
In 1930, as the Weimar Republic was tottering on the edge of collapse, Albrecht wrote a deposition on behalf of George Grosz3, who had used his artistic talent to give visual representation to the immorality of war. One of Grosz’ drawings, Christ with a Gas Mask4, was found to be especially offensive by the German government, and he had to stand trial. In Albrecht’s deposition, which was instrumental in Grosz’ acquittal, he emphasized that Grosz’ drawings were not blasphemous. On the contrary, their subject matter, war, was blasphemy against God.
Albrecht fiercely opposed the Hitler movement and had several Jewish friends. In 1931, as clerk of the German Yearly Meeting, he apologized to a Jewish congregation in Berlin, who, upon leaving their synogogue at the conclusion of the Jewish New Year’s services in 1931, were harassed by a group of storm troopers.
When the Nazis escalated their program of persecuting those they considered misfits, Albrecht represented the German Friends at the Berlin Center, where he provided advice to Jews, political dissidents, and anyone threatened by the Nazis. He offered suggestions about places to which they could emigrate, whom to contact, and where to obtain the necessary papers for emigration. As a result, Albrecht was pensioned off, because he was considered politically untrustworthy and was interrogated by the Gestapo several times.
Besides his work at the Berlin Center, Albrecht was one of the founders of Quaker School at Eerde5 near Ommen in the Netherlands. He helped with the manual task of setting up the school, was instrumental in hiring its staff, and visited the school often to check on what happened there. The school was intended to provide a haven for anyone persecuted by the Nazis. During its operation, the school enabled over 300 children to complete an education that would have been denied them by Nazi racial decrees.
Children of the German School at Eerde6
A parallel may be drawn between Hans Albrecht’s deposition on behalf of George Grosz and the actions of the children at Quaker School at Eerde, who formed the Little Gardeners’ Club. Albrecht views Grosz’ Christ with the Gas Mask as a representation of war as a blasphemy against God. Humanity and the earth itself were desecrated by the destructive war machine of Nazi Germany as it rolled into the Holland of Quaker School at Eerde on May 10, 1940.
Despite this violation of their host country, the Little Gardeners of Quaker School at Eerde continued cultivating their garden beds with utmost care. Through their songs, poems, music, plays, and festivals, which all focused on gardening, these children celebrated life. The last entry of the Little Gardeners’ journal is July 13, 1941. In September of 1941, the Nazis segregated the Jewish pupils from the rest of the school and sent them to De Esch, a house on the school premises.
By September of 1944, the German military was forced to leave Eerde because the Allies were advancing. The Nazi war machine, like quackgrass, was uprooted and withered. Eerde continued as a Quaker school for several years after the war until it became International School Eerde, which exists today.
Notes & Image Source
1 Opening paragraphs of Hans Albrecht’s deposition on behalf of George Grosz (quoted from Friends Journal, April 2003):
The Friends (Quakers), the group to which I belong and whose views I share, have never sought to formulate a doctrine or a dogma regarding God. For that reason they do not seek to make any declaration with respect to the personality or the essence of God but rather consider this an individual matter. It is left to each individual in the way that he/she experiences God inwardly. Friends strive to follow God’s commandments as best they can and for this reason reject war and violence. As far as Quakers are concerned, the concept of God’s power, which, if we wish, can work through us, and the actual effect of God’s working through people stand in the foreground.
The Churches have always sought to establish the essence of God through doctrines or beliefs in order to make the nature of God comprehensible. According to my experience, this approach has met with very little success, especially in our present time. I am of the opinion that today there is no longer a unified interpretation of God. The establishment of a conception of God would necessitate the inclusion of the deity of the Jews and the Muslims as well as that of other religions, large and small, for there is only one God for all people, only one concept of God that is the absolute truth although this truth can be expressed in a multitude of ways throughout humanity.
This absolute truth is so far elevated beyond all human knowledge and understanding that we humans cannot define it within concrete terms. Because of this condition, I do not believe that people can injure the sacredness and honor of such a God by harming my personal experience of God. This type of experience is peculiar to each individual and, for that reason, differs immeasurably even when it is apparently rendered uniform by a doctrine about God. Because of the countless ways in which God is experienced, I cannot imagine that I could transfer the protection of my personal religious feeling to a person or a human institution that is burdened with human weaknesses and fallacies as well as the inability to recognize the essence of God and to perceive his workings in this world. As soon as I do that, I am distancing myself from God and doing something human. (24-25)
2 Quaker Feedings (Quäkerspeisungen) – See “Quakers in Germany during and after the World Wars,” By Henning Mielke, on the Friends Journal website, April 1, 2010. See also Hans Schmitt’s Quakers and Nazis: Inner Light and Outer Darkness (1997).
3 George Grosz – See “George Grosz’s dada drawings show how the first world war upended art,” by Jonathan Jones, The Guardian, October 3, 2013.
4Christ with a Gas Mask, by Goerge Grosz – See page 24 of Mary Mills’ Friends Journal article.
6 Children, many of them German Jewish refugees, relax on the steps of a Quaker boarding school in Eerde. (US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Monica Lake)