Sani: Russian Church Reopenings by the German Army in WW2

Saturday (June 12) is the last day to get my novel Sani free on Kindle. A dear friend pointed out a few “omissions” so I have uploaded an updated version. Thank you K. K.!

There are many parts of this book that I love, but I thought tonight I’d write about Chapter 20, the church reopening. It was an interesting thing that I came across in my research (a Cambridge article by David Harrisville entitled “Unholy Crusaders”) about a phenomenon that apparently went on when the German Army first entered Russia. The Russians had been under communism for 24 years already, and many of the churches had been closed, turned into warehouses or even theaters.

I really enjoyed putting myself into the situation with Frederick, Klaus, Pieter, Johann and the other boys, imagining them walking into this beautiful old Russian Orthodox church that had been turned into a warehouse and then abandoned. While Pieter’s hayfever acts up, Johann and Klaus cook up this great idea about using the place to hold their worship services. Meanwhile another landser is climbing on boxes and throwing sheets off of the stained glass windows, letting in the beautiful multi-colored afternoon sunlight.

One could say a lot about the army’s agenda in reopening these buildings for worship, and it varied depending on the particular regiment/battalion that was involved. But in some instances it was the soldiers who initiated it, and in some instances they would even worship with the Slavic peoples, until their commanding officers or the Regime itself put a stop to it. This is documented in their letters home. It goes to show that even though they had been taught that they were superior for many years, time spent with these people began to break down those walls of prejudice, and real relationships were formed. I think this has implications in every age.

Chapter 21 goes on to talk about a baptism, in which some of the landsers (what German soldiers called each other) carried children on their shoulders to be baptized. This was something I came across in my research too, and again indicates how quickly walls of prejudice can be broken down. One can also assume that not every German soldier went in with prejudice to begin with. They also knew that the Communists were not necessarily treating these people well either.

In the book I had to hold it up to the rest of the reality of the situation, and of course that reality is difficult for my protagonist Frederick to swallow. However, the situation gives way to my absolute favorite quote in the entire book, and really captures the heart of what this book is about: God’s love for, and Christ’s identification with the unworthy.

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