Zion Church and World War I

Waves of immigrants from Germany poured into Baltimore. The founding of the German Empire in Europe had increased the racial consciousness of the Germans in America. At the turn of the century there were more than thirty congregations in Baltimore which had Sunday services in German. When the German immigration subsided somewhat during the first decade of this century, many German churches readily introduced English services, which gradually supplanted the German altogether.

German-Americanism, as we call this phenomenon of two generations ago, puzzled many observers. Most of these Germans in Baltimore were law-abiding citizens, and nobody actually questioned their loyalty. At the same time, however, they seemed to take such an alert interest in their old homeland that unknowingly they created the impression of being Germans first and Americans only second.

Zion Church had been German since its inception. Nowhere in Baltimore was an organization to be found where the spirit and the outer life were more genuinely patterned in the Teutonic style than in the old church on City Hall Plaza. Pastor Hofmann’s name appeared on the roll of most of the German societies. He was a much-sought-after speaker at rallies of the German-Americans. Members of the church were to be found everywhere in the activities of Baltimore’s Germandom. John Tjarks, the prosperous hotel owner and faithful son of Zion, for ten years headed the Independent Citizens’ Union, a group of German societies that constituted a potent political power in Baltimore.

When the World War broke out in Europe in August 1914, there was no question where the sympathies of the German-Americans stood. The awareness that the motherland was engaged in a life-or-death struggle at once prompted them to prove by acts of charity their attachment to the Old Country, where fathers and brothers were fighting for the Fatherland.

Pastor Julius Hofmann, who was active in the National German-American Alliance, placed the Zion Parish House at the disposal of the German-Austrian Red Cross Aid Society. Prior to 1917, almost a million dollars was collected for German and Austrian war widows and orphans, the congregation of Zion having contributed a considerable share of this amount. In the Adlersaal of the Parish House a German eagle was “nailed,” each nail bringing a contribution for the war victims in the Old Country.

The Stones and Monuments of Zion

These activities were observed by the non-German public with much distaste. Gradually public opinion tended openly toward the Allied cause. The entry of the United States into the war against Germany became more and more probable. The enthusiastic feeling of the German-Americans, who considered themselves the hyphen between Germany and America, “the living demonstration of the fact that a large population may be transplanted from one to another country and may be devoted to the new fatherland for life and death, and yet preserve a reverent love for the old,” as Carl Schurz once expressed it, greatly disturbed those who foresaw the war between the two countries.

In the midst of this situation, when the feeling ran high, Pastor Hofmann remained calm and sober. He never wavered in his profound faith in the values of his German heritage and culture, but, untiringly, he reminded his congregation of their oath of allegiance to the new country. In 1916, when he was serving as the Chaplain of the House of Delegates, he introduced English vesper services, which henceforth, for many years, were held regularly in the Parish House. This gesture of preaching in the language of the country attracted many Anglo-American hearers and convinced them that Zion was not a secret bulwark of the Kaiser.

On Good Friday of 1917, when a state of war between the United States and Germany was declared, there was no longer any doubt as to the loyalty of the people of Zion. Again it was the Parish House where hundreds of helping hands assembled—the Patriotic Helpers of Zion Church, and the Liberty Loan Drives, Zion Branch. Despite personal tragedy and torn hearts, surrounded by suspicion and often by hatred, Zion’s people fulfilled their duties. For the soldiers who spent days or weeks in Baltimore before being shipped overseas, Zion opened its hospitable doors.

After the end of the war, Charles H. Miegel thus characterized his pastor’s attitude during these years of storm and stress:

Pastor Hofmann was a great inspiration during the trying years. No opponent of his, however prejudiced or ignorant, can but admire this —that the man and his congregation performed sternly and loyally their duty as American citizens without prostituting the ideals of their Lutheran Christianity, and without surrendering one iota of that proud inheritance of our Germanic traditions as expressed in language, in literature, in learning, in music, and especially in our religious tenets. It was an heroic achievement, indeed—great because it was accomplished through glorious and mighty effort.

Link to Zion in World War One

Many sons of Zion were in the Armed Forces. Four of them did not return. A cross of wrought iron, standing between the graves of the old pastors in the church garden, was erected in their memory.

After the end of the war, the life of the church went on. The attendance at the services often was small. The stress on the members was too great. Racial hatred did not stop at the doors of the churches and schools. But when the pastor sent out an appeal to all members to return to the church for the Christmas service of 1918, he preached on Christmas Day to a church which could not have been fuller in the easy years before the war. What was most important, the youth remained faithful to Zion.

Expressed in numbers, Zion had lost some of its strength. Spiritually the church emerged stronger from the ordeal. The congregation had grown together in the face of hostility. It had also survived as a German church, soon remaining the only church in Baltimore where German was preached every Sunday. In the Gemeindeblatt Pastor Hofmann laid down his attitude toward the language question: “No prejudice, no refusal, and above all no hatred for the English language. Use it for your communication as you use money. The language is the medium to reach people: the more you master, the better it is. Therefore the Hebrew New Testament was lost, but the Greek which appealed to the world was preserved. But as we do not fight the English language we must demand that we be left alone, too. We should try to preserve our German way of looking at things and attempt to improve it by foreign factors. We are and we remain an American church of the German tradition. The German Gospel as interpreted by Martin Luther is and remains ours. We live on the impulses which it conveys.”

The first steps forward, when peace was again established, was the building of a new parsonage to conform with the old world style of the Parish House. Immediately after the armistice, Zion Church began to raise funds for the relief of thousands of destitute Germans—strangers as well as friends and relatives. Through the Lutheran church relief, Zion was drawn closer to the entire church. The Lutheran Inner Mission accepted the hospitality of the congregation and for many years held its annual lenten services in the Parish House, services in which many renowned Lutheran pastors preached.

The founding of the Church Club in 1920-21 was another proof of the reviving life in the congregation. Increased attendance, the liquidation of all debts through the willingness to help of all members from the richest to the poorer ones, and manifold activities around the church forged Zion’s people together. Amidst all these efforts stood Pastor Hofmann, his hair grey now, but his spirit seemingly unaffected by the trials through which he led his people.

To mention the whole scope of his work in the church, in the city, but also in the state and well beyond its borders, would require more space than this history can devote to him. The generation whom he baptized, confirmed and led on to life is present today in every endeavor of Zion Church. In their faith and in their actions his ministry is still evident. The buildings, the garden, the books, which his great mind devised and placed at the heart of Zion, bespeak the achievements of the man who served Zion for almost forty years. There is hardly one nook or corner at Zion where the touches of his hand cannot be sensed even today.

He continued the proud independence of Zion Church, of the Freikirche, but gently led his congregation toward a closer fellowship with the Lutheran Church at large. He banished rationalism from the pulpit and substituted for it an almost romantic, childlike faith which filled the hearts of his people with charity and kindness. When he rose to preach, his figure had something of the stature of the Reformer Martin Luther, whose picture above the altar gave Zion a rare distinction among the Lutheran Churches. Pastor Hofmann’s liturgy—his own creation, like so many other things— instilled a longing for the mystery of Christ which remained ever alive among the congregation.

For many new immigrants after the First World War, Zion provided a spiritual home and a harmonious introduction to the new American homeland. Bund Neuland, for many young Germans who came to Baltimore, was the first anchor they set in the unknown sea of America.

In spring 1927, the pastor went to Germany to recover from a serious illness. At the University of Giessen, which had conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Theology, he lectured and was enthusiastically received by the students. After his return from his old homeland he resumed his duties, which had been taken care of by the Candidate of Theology Heinrich Falk during his illness and absence. A few weeks later he collapsed at the altar of the church while instructing his confirmation class. On the next morning, May 19, 1928, he closed his eyes forever.

The congregation buried him under the linden tree amidst the works which he created. His grave is marked by the beautiful and simple monument from the hands of his friend Hans Schuler.

After a brief interregnum which was filled by Pastor August Bauer of Thuringia, Germany, the congregation called the pastor of Zion Church in Philadelphia, Fritz Otto Evers, to Baltimore. On January 27, 1929, he was installed as the regular pastor of Zion.

With the experience of a long pastorate at a church so similar to Zion in Baltimore, Pastor Evers was well equipped to continue the great heritage of Pastor Hofmann. The illness and absence of his great predecessor had left many scars, which had to be healed by untiring efforts. Within a short time the congregation had again reached its old height. Pastor Evers was granted permission to maintain membership in his Synod, and the clause of the constitution which expressly forbade synodal membership to the pastor as well as to the church was amended to that effect. Thus from the outset of his twenty-four-year pastorate, Pastor Evers remained in close contact with his Lutheran brethren in the pulpits of other churches. For Zion this fact proved beneficial and did much to help remove the old prejudice against the “chains of the synod” which dated from the days of Pastor Scheib.

Pastor and Mrs. Evers filled the parsonage with the exemplary life of a German Pastorenfamilie. Fifteen years ago when a newspaper correspondent visited Pastor Evers, he drew a sketch of the man whose work has meant so much to Zion: “The pastor is a gentle, kindly man with a sweep of long gray hair that distinguishes him in the midst of any company. Alone in his Sakristei, in a velvet housecoat, a long cigar in his fingers, he is definitely a part of Zion Church.”

Not only were the institutions which he found when he arrived in Baltimore continued, expanded and enlarged, but he ventured to create anew much that had been lost—and this during a time when many voices predicted the final doom of the German church in America. In 1929 the German Language School opened with a broadened scope, restoring the scholastic tradition of Zion Church, which dates back to the first schoolmaster, Moritz Wörschler. The school met with an unexpectedly large response. In the thirties it reached an enrollment of over 220 pupils. Miss Elsa Conradi, who was the principal of the school for many years, also wrote a delightful textbook, which was introduced in German schools in many countries. Never in the twenty-six years of its existence has the school lacked voluntary teachers; among these was the pastor’s wife.

The Julius Hofmann Memorial Foundation, a memorial to his predecessor, was created to further the interest in German Instruction in the public schools. Each year the foundation awards books and medals to outstanding students of the German language in Baltimore.
In 1930, Zion celebrated the 175th anniversary of its founding. The church was completely redecorated, without, however, impairing the character which Pastor Hofmann had given it twenty years before. Between the high holidays of the church year and the special festive occasions, Zion’s life went on in manifold ways. The outdoor services were repeated every summer. Even a service in Low-German was once held for those who had come from Northern Germany.

A dream long cherished by Zion’s people came to be realized in 1934. Through the generosity of Ferdinand Meyer, who left a bequest of $50,000 to his church, it was possible to create an endowment fund to assure the permanency of Zion Church in the future.

The peaceful development of the church was once again interrupted when the Second World War drew near.