German Baha'is celebrate 100 years

26 September 2005

STUTTGART, Germany — More than 1,800 participants at the centenary celebration of the German Baha'i community commemorated a history both "dark" with crisis and "highlighted" by achievement.

Participants came from every region of Germany and at least 25 other nations for the day-long jubilee, held 10 September 2005 at the Stuttgart Congress Center.

Stuttgart was chosen as the host city because it was where the German Baha'i history had its beginning.

Featuring prayers, speeches, music, and theatrical performances, the program took note of the "dark" times when the Baha'i Faith was banned under Nazism in Germany -- and of the joyous highlights that have followed during modern Germany's reconstruction and prosperity.

For example, a series of performances, highlighted with old film clips and photographs, depicted events such as the 1913 visit of 'Abdu'l-Baha to Germany, the consecration of the Baha'i House of Worship in Langenhain, an interrogation at a police station during the prohibition of the Baha'i Faith under the Nazi regime, and the arrival of the first Baha'i in Germany, Dr. Edwin Fischer, in Stuttgart in 1905.

Dr. Fischer, a dentist, had emigrated in 1878 from Germany to New York, became a Baha'i there, and then returned to his home country to bring the message of Baha'u'llah. Dr. Fisher used every opportunity, including talking with his patients, to mention the Baha'i teachings, and in time a number of Germans embraced the new religion.

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John Eichenauer, center, was interviewed about the role he played just after World War II in helping the German Baha'i community re-establish itself. A United States soldier stationed in occupied post-war Germany, Mr. Eichenauer made efforts to track down Baha'is in Stuttgart and re-connect them with the outside world.

One of the speakers at the jubilee was Ian Semple, a former member of the Universal House of Justice, who represented the House of Justice at the occasion and read a message from it that referred to the arrival of the Baha'i Faith in Germany and its subsequent expansion.

"The spark lit in 1905," the message said, "has burgeoned into a conflagration."

The Universal House of Justice said "this is a moment for reflection, profound reflection -- one that recounts the highlights in contrast to the dark aspects punctuating the history of crisis and victory that depicts the evolution of the German (Baha'i) community."

Mr. Semple also delivered two talks in German which quoted from the writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi about the destiny of the German Baha'i community.

He said the central task for the German Baha'i community today lies in its contribution to the "vital task" for building a new, just and peaceful global society.

"In this age all the specific destinies are linked in the one enormous task of unifying the world and attaining the maturity of human society," said Mr. Semple.

Another speaker, Stuttgart's deputy mayor for social affairs, Gabriele Mueller-Trimbusch, thanked Baha'is for their initiative in starting World Religion Day.

"The respect you pay to other world religions, your openness for people who have different opinions, your message of peace for the world we live in, makes you a greatly appreciated partner for us," she said.

"Stuttgart highly values the activities of the Baha'i community, because it participates in the social life of our city in an exemplary manner," Ms. Mueller-Trimbusch said.

The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Germany also addressed the gathering, as did a guest, the chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, William E. Davis, who emphasized the "chain of deep and abiding love that binds our two communities."

After World War II the American Baha'is sent to German Baha'is money, food and literature, and aided them in rebuilding the administrative structures.

A US soldier stationed in occupied post-war Germany, John Eichenauer, who helped the German Baha'i community at that time, was a featured guest, and he told participants in the centenary festivities about his experiences during the first days of the reconvening of the German Baha'i community.

The festivities included a variety of musical performances and dances. A children's program for the event was also organized, in which participants sang, played games, and acted in plays.

The commemoration follows events in April and May to celebrate Germany's Baha'i jubilee. On 10 May 2005, the German Minister for Home Affairs, Otto Schily, addressed a congratulatory message to the German Baha'i community and on 22 April 2005 prominent parliamentarians attended a reception held at the national Baha'i center in Hofheim-Langenhain adjacent to the Baha'i House of Worship for Europe, which opened in 1964.

German Baha'is now live in some 900 towns and cities throughout the country. There are 106 Local Spiritual Assemblies. The Baha'i community is active in the discourse on interfaith and gender equality issues, as well as in sustainable development and human rights education.

(Photos by Alexander Schramm.)