“A Happy Childhood”?

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Friedrich von Bodelschwingh’s memoirs of his childhood published posthumously in 1947 are entitled “Aus einer hellen Kinderzeit” (Memories of a Happy Childhood). Despite what the title suggests, Bodelschwingh was nevertheless confronted with human suffering at a young age. His mother suffered so greatly from depression after the deaths of her first four children within just a few days during an epidemic that she was eventually put in a home where she died when Friedrich von Bodelschwingh was seventeen.

Some of Bodelschwingh’s playmates in Bethel were gravely ill children. He had visited a terminally ill African boy on his sickbed several times and had attended his baptism. Bodelschwingh wrote about this encounter in his memoirs of his childhood. Through his baptism, the boy had become admittedly not a German or European but an equal member of the communion of Christ: “No longer guests and strangers but rather citizens with the saints and God’s housemates.”

Such childhood experiences probably shaped and made Bodelschwingh insusceptible to the inhumane Nazi ideology toward people with illnesses and disabilities as well as people with a different skin color.

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  • © Hauptarchiv Bethel, F 148