Meet Louis

Photo Taken 20 Apr 21

Meet Louis.  I’ve seen Louis a few times throughout my time in Germany.  Usually, we wave at each other while doing yard work.  Today, turned out to be an exception.  I was out in the yard once again, and I saw Louis approaching the fence connecting our two yards.  I walked up to him and greeted him.  

“You’re American?” He asked in clear English.  “I am,” I replied.  “You work so hard on this lawn,” he commented.  I smiled and explained to him that I enjoyed the work.  We exchanged a few lawn care strategies, and he chuckled while telling me that he was taking this year, “off” from yard work as he was turning 90 this year. 

And that’s all it took for the conversation to then take a fascinating turn.  

Louis grew up in Strasbourg (“Strassburg”), France.  Strasbourg was competitive territory between France in Germany.  Occupied by Germany in the late 1800s, then taken back by the French during WWI, and then occupied again during WWII.  Louis was still a child during WWII, but his father and uncle were drafted into the German Armed Forces.  Louis’ uncle was killed during the invasion into Russia. Until his death bed, Louis’ father remained committed to the belief that Hitler was the leader the world needed.  

During the war, Louis attended school.  They talked about the war in class, which was where Louis was first exposed to concentration camps.  He didn’t understand why people were being imprisoned when they hadn’t done anything wrong.  He asked his mother one day, and she told him that the people in the camps were Catholic, and because they were Catholic and their family was Protestant, they were better than them because they were closer to the Bible.  

But Louis was an observant child.  He remembered the day when he saw a wounded Nazi. Bleeding through the blanket he had been wrapped in, Louis remembered the soldier worrying about what would happen to his wife and child. No talk of Hitler. No talk of the cause.

Louis would never forget the day the Allied forces came into town.  So many tanks, but he smiled remembering when he received “chocolat au lait,” or milk chocolate, and also chewing gum from the US Army.  He began working in the US Army kitchens.  He remembered when he first brought the company real eggs from his chicken coup.  The men spoiled him thereafter, grateful to taste real eggs after living off the powdered version.  In the kitchens, he worked alongside African Americans.  He observed no differences in them as human beings, and he remarked that couldn’t rationalize why they were treated so differently.  

Then, he learned of the report Charles de Gaulle’s niece, Geneviève, had written from Ravensbrück concentration camp.  In reading her account, he took particular note of the presence of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Geneviève shared that this community consistently treated everyone with kindness.  They were not hostile, and they were only imprisoned because they would not conscript themselves into Hitler’s army. 

From then on, Louis began taking his faith in God seriously.  Carefully reading and studying scripture and closely observing the behavior of the world, Louis could not understand how a Christian could be a soldier – Allied, Nazi, or otherwise.  As Louis observed the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the command to “love thy neighbor” resonated so strongly with him, that he could not justify ever harming a human soul.  At the age of 18, Louis became a conscientious objector.  

The French were not impressed with Louis’ convictions.  When Louis refused to serve in the French Army, he was sent to prison for 15 months.  Louis got out at 13.5 months on account of his good behavior.  Again, Louis was asked to serve, and again Louis refused.  The French sent him back to prison a second time, this time for one year.  Louis was released after 11 months, again on account of his good behavior.  Again Louis was asked, and again Louis refused, this time, he was brought to a military court.  At his court martial, Louis was sentenced to two years in a military prison.  Each time he was sent to prison, he was only allowed to take one thing with him – his Bible.  Louis served 1.5 years in the military prison.  Remarkably, Louis was asked a fourth time to serve in the French Army.  Unchanged in his convictions, Louis refused, and he went back to prison for another 8 months.  

Louis was not asked a fifth time.  Finally left alone, Louis went on to become a mechanic for General Motors and Opel.  His work eventually led him to live and work in Germany.  

Fluent in French, German, and English, I’m sure Louis could share his remarkable story to just about anyone.  

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