Celebration

In Germany, Baha'is celebrate 100 years of crisis and achievement

In Brief: 

Featuring prayers, speeches, music, and theatrical performances, the program took note of the “dark” times when the Bahá’í Faith was banned under Nazism — and of the joyous highlights that have followed during modern Germany’s reconstruction and prosperity.

STUTTGART, Germany — Capping a multifaceted observance of the 100th anniversary of the Bahá’í Faith in Germany, some 1,800 participants gathered in this southwestern German city to commemorate a history both “darkened” by crisis and “highlighted” by achievement.

People 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.

Featuring prayers, speeches, music, and theatrical performances, the program took note of the “dark” times when the Bahá’í Faith was banned under Nazism — and of the joyous highlights that have followed during modern Germany’s reconstruction and prosperity.

Performances, including old film clips and photographs, depicted events such as arrival of the first Bahá’í in Germany in 1905, an historic visit by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in 1913, the interrogation of a Bahá’í at a police station during the Nazi regime, and the joyous consecration of the Bahá’í House of Worship in Langenhain in 1964.

The September commemoration followed significant events in April and May that focused on the outward relationships the Bahá’í community has forged over the last 100 years. On 10 May 2005, a centenary reception was held at the Berlin headquarters of the government of Hesse, the state in which the House of Worship and the Bahá’í national center are located.

That reception was marked by a congratulatory message from the German Minister for Home Affairs, Otto Schily, who praised the contributions of German Bahá’ís in the promotion of social stability.

“The protection and preservation of common values as well as the equality of all human beings are basic principles of the Bahá’í Faith, and its adherents support them actively in public discourse in Germany.”

— Otto Schily, German Minister for Home Affairs 

“The protection and preservation of common values as well as the equality of all human beings are basic principles of the Bahá’í Faith, and its adherents support them actively in public discourse in Germany,” said Mr. Schily.

Mr. Schily said that Bahá’u’lláh’s “extremely humane” principle guiding people to dedicate themselves to the service of the entire human race is valid for all the great religions of the world as well as for every country concerned with human beings and their rights.

“It is not enough to make a declaration of belief,” Mr. Schily said. “It is important to live according to the basic values of our constitutional state, to defend them and make them secure in the face of all opposition. The members of the Bahá’í Faith do this because of their faith and the way they see themselves.”

Further, he said, in view of the inflammatory slogans by some extremist groups, the 2002 message of the Universal House of Justice to the world’s religious leaders — which called on them to act decisively to eradicate religious intolerance and fanaticism — was of great importance.

Together, Mr. Schily said, Germans must abolish racial and ethnic prejudices and fight the nationalism that incites hatred of others rather than enriches the love of one’s country. “I wish the Bahá’í community in Germany a peaceful and dignified future for their members but also, true to their own guiding principle, for all humankind,” he said.

The May program included a panel discussion on the “Requirements of Social Cohesion” that focused on social integration and the role of religion in modern society.

In a keynote address introducing the discussion, a prominent member of the German federal parliament, Ernst Ulrich von Weizsaecker, commended the ideas of the German Bahá’í community on social integration, which were published in a statement in 1998.

Other participants in the panel discussion included: the state secretary in the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth, Marieluise Beck; the president of the Federal Agency of Civic Education, Thomas Krueger; the plenipotentiary of the Council of the Protestant Church of Germany to the Federal Republic and the European Union, Stephan Reimers; and the academic director of the Townshend International School in the Czech Republic, Friedo Zoelzer.

Among the invited guests were Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims.

On 22 April, a reception was held at the national Bahá’í center in Hofheim-Langenhain, next to the Bahá’í House of Worship.

Guests included representatives of the Federal and European Parliaments, the government of Hesse, the cities of Hofheim and Wiesbaden, and political parties.

At that reception, the state secretary of the Ministry of Science and Art of Hesse, Joachim- Felix Leonhard, praised the principles of the Bahá’í Faith, describing the Bahá’í message as “cosmopolitan, global, and modern.”

“The Bahá’ís,” said Professor Leonhard, “are seeking to communicate and understand at a time when others are talking about a clash of civilizations.”

The mayor of Hofheim, Gisela Stang, referred to initial opposition to the establishment of the House of Worship 41 years ago but said the Bahá’ís are now fully integrated into the community.

“They provide an important impulse for the city and for society,” said Ms. Stang, referring to the forums the Bahá’ís organize and to their cultural diversity.

Representing the city of Wiesbaden, Angelika Thiels thanked the Bahá’í community for its contribution towards nurturing understanding among religions. Ms. Thiels also referred to the contribution of the Bahá’í community in offering to the wider society regular children’s classes in which pupils learn about spiritual and moral values.

The September event was held in Stuttgart because that was where the German Bahá’í community was first established, by Edwin Fischer, a German-born dentist who emigrated in 1878 from Germany to New York, became a Bahá’í there, and then returned to his native country in 1905.

Dr. Fisher used every opportunity, including talking with his patients, to mention the Bahá’í teachings, and in time a number of Germans embraced the new religion. The community grew and in 1913 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u’lláh and the head of the Faith from 1892 to1921, visited Stuttgart. By 1923, the community had formed the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Germany, a national-level governing council.

From 1937 to 1945 Bahá’í activities were banned in Nazi Germany, in part because of the Faith’s progressive teachings, including the oneness of humanity. Local Bahá’í communities were dissolved and their literature was confiscated. Some of the believers were interrogated, imprisoned, and deported by the authorities. Some Bahá’ís of Jewish background were killed by the regime.

After World War II the German Bahá’í community reestablished its activities. Help in this effort came, in part, from American Bahá’ís, who sent their German co-religionists money, food and literature, and aided them in rebuilding their administrative structures.

One of the featured guests at the September commemoration was John Eichenauer, a US soldier and a Bahá’í who had been stationed in post-war Germany. He told participants of his experiences in helping the Bahá’í community of Germany rebuild after the war.

By 1950, there were Bahá’ís living in 65 localities in Germany. In 1964, the Bahá’í House of Worship in Hofheim-Langenhain near Frankfurt was dedicated. Open to people of all faiths, it is the first Bahá’í House of Worship on the European continent. In 1987, the State of Hesse declared it a cultural monument.

With the political reunification of Germany in 1989, the Bahá’í community was soon reestablished in eastern Germany.

Today, German Bahá’ís live in 900 towns and cities throughout the country. There are 106 local Spiritual Assemblies, as local-level Bahá’í governing councils are known. The Bahá’í community is active in the discourse on interfaith and gender equality issues, as well as in sustainable development and human rights education.

At the September event, for example, Stuttgart’s deputy mayor for social affairs, Gabriele Mueller-Trimbusch, thanked Bahá’ís 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 Bahá’í community, because it participates in the social life of our city in an exemplary manner,” Ms. Mueller-Trimbusch said.

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