Monday, July 4, 2016

Experiencing the Best and the Worst of Nürnberg

We have just completed the most wonderful weekend, full of miracles and tender mercies!

After returning from Spain on Wednesday, June 29, we spent a little time summarizing and following up on our visit, preparing for the coming week, facilitating our Finance group, filing expenses, etc.

On Friday morning, we took a P-Day as previously planned to go to Nürnberg to see the concert with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This is the second stop or their tour of Europe.  We had planned this six months ago and had decided to go to this concert so that we could go to the city where my grandfather had served his mission and had baptized my grandmother.  So we had decided to have a family history trip combined with the Tabernacle choir concert.

Also this past week, my second cousin, Sister Christine Rueckert Keyser arrived in Frankfurt as an Area Mental Health Advisor.  She is widowed and is serving with Sister Anne Lovell (also a widow) as her companion.  Sister Lovell will be spending some of her time helping us in different ways with the Self-Reliance initiative.  We will cover this more in future blogs.  The important thing is that we invited these two sisters to accompany us on our trip to Nürnberg, since we would be visiting family history sites that are also part of Sister Keyser's heritage.  They accepted and on Friday morning we began our adventure.

We decided first to visit the homes where our Grandfathers were born in and around Hochbach, Germany, a small village of about 8 or 10 homes.  We went not knowing what we would find, but trusting that our Heavenly Father could guide us to some new discoveries.

We started out at the house that was built by our Great, Great Grandfather, Georg Höfer in Bertshofen, about 2 km from Hochbach.

Elder and Sister Rueckert with Sister Christine Rueckert Keyser
In front of the house built by my great, great grandfather in 1853, Buchheimer Weg, 1

Sign above the door, with the name of my great great grandfather and grandmother and the year of 1853, when the house was built.

Our family history states that there has always been an ancestor of Georg Höfer in this house (last noted in 2003).  So we thought, 'let's knock on the door and see if we can find a relative".  So we knocked on the door and a Hungarian lady opened the door, obviously not a relative. She didn't speak any English so we tried to talk to her with our limited German.  She called a friend in Hungary that could speak English and gave me the phone to talk to her so that we could communicate.  

While we were taking our time to try and communicate, a young girl drove up in front of the house and got out. She spoke excellent English.  She said that she had seen us looking at the house and was curious why we were interested in the house where her grandmother had lived.  It turns out this was our living relative, Nina Schmidt.  The house had been sold after her grandmother died a few years ago, but Nina was living with her father just down the street.  We talked to her for awhile, she is a delightful young lady.  She shared with us her name and the name of her parents and grandparents, including the one that had lived in this home.  We shared emails and took the following picture, with her and her two relatives from the U.S.

Elder Rueckert, Nina Schmidt, Sister Rueckert Keyser

Within an hour she had sent me an email saying that she had given us the wrong email and wanted us to have the correct email.  I have since looked into and found that we had a Schmidt line down from Georg Höfer for three more generations.  Then I looked at the "memories" in family search and found two photos of the latest generation.  One of the photos shows that person in a wedding photo of Fritz and Gertrud Schmidt, which is the name of Nina's grandparents.  So I believe that we have discovered a full link from our ancestors to this young girl.  I have documented all of this and sent it to her today in an email.  Hopefully we can continue building a relationship with her and discover many more family history links.  This far exceeded what I had hoped for on this trip, but our Heavenly Father is so good to us, especially if we are trying to do what is right and trusting in his direction.  We also shared some pass along cards with Nina. She seemed to take them without any hesitation.  When we talked to her about Rückerts, she mentioned that there were several Rückert families in a neighboring village of Buchheim.

We decided to continue our trip onto Hochbach, where our grandfathers were born.  We had been there before, but it was good to be there once more.

Sign as we entered into the small village of Hochbach, less than 2 km from Bergtshofen

In front of the house in Hochbach where my Grandfather was born.  House number 4 on Hochbacher Strasse.

Date on Barn of 1819

After visiting the old family home in Hochbach, we decided to go look for Rückerts in Buchheim.  It was just a few kilometers away.  We drove into the small town (larger than Bergtshofen or Hochbach) and started looking for people.  Sister Keyser saw a lady in the back of one of the homes so we went to visit her.  As we tried to explain that we were looking for Rückerts, she yelled at her husband to come quickly and take us to the Rückerts.  He got in his car and told us to follow him.  He took us to another home and we knocked on the back door and a lady came to the door. She didn't speak any English as we tried to explain what we were looking for.  She was a Rückert by marriage, but her husband and daughter who spoke English were not home.  She went and got her mother-in-law who was also a Rückert and also did not speak English.  As we talked for awhile and showed them some pedigree charts, it didn't appear that we had a match.  Then her husband came home who spoke a bit of English and we started all over again.  He knew all about the Rückerts in Hochbach who had been there for generations, but told us that they had all left town.  We told him that was our grandparents who went to the U.S.  In the end he said that he is not from the Hochbach Rückerts but from a different line.  He shared with us his parents names for four generations.  While continuing in this discussion, the daughter arrived home with a little bit more English and an email account.  We also shared pass along cards with them.  While we were talking to the father and the daughter, Sister Lovell was trying to explain about the Book of Mormon pass along card that I had given them.  The mother seemed a bit interested. We're not sure what will come of this, but Sister Lovell was a great missionary.  In the end we took photos together which we sent to the daughter's email.  We're not sure where this will go, but really appreciated their kindness and willingness to help us find relatives.  The father gave us the address of the parish in  Bergbernheim where the parish records are kept and suggested that this would be a good place to look for relatives names.

With the Rückerts in Buchheim

After leaving this family we headed to Bergbernheim in search of Parishs records.  This was also the Church where many of our ancestors were baptized and married.  While there we stopped and finally had a late lunch.  When we arrived at the Church, the pastor was not able to stay so he asked us to make an appointment and come back another day.  Although we were disappointed, he was very kind and we will plan on a return visit appropriately scheduled.  He does have the books of all baptisms and marriages in the local area for the past 300 years.  If we come back prepared, we may be able to increase the information that we have about our relatives in this area.  While there we also went through the cemetery, looking for Rückerts.  We found a Rückert on one of the first headstones but found no more.  However, I did take photos of several of Schmidts, knowing that they may be helpful for that particular line.

Old church in Bergbernheim, where our ancestors were baptized and married
One of the headstones with Maria Barbara Lehnbeuter, who was born as a Rückert.

We decided that we had better get onto Nürnberg for the concert so we had to stop our family history efforts.  We did pass through the town of Steinach, which is where the Rückerts moved after losing the family farm.  We saved that exploration for another day.  What a wonderful and fruitful day of family history fun.

When we arrived in Nürnberg, we checked into the hotel and a few minutes to rest before heading to the concert hall.  We had made arrangements with the person in charge of tickets for us to pick up two additional tickets for Sisters Keyser and Lovell at the ticket booth.  When we arrived, this person found us and offered a new deal.  He said, please let me take your two tickets and I will give you four all together so that we could sit together.  He made the exchange without requiring any more money to pay for them and gave us four tickets in the VIP section.  It appears that they had a few open seats that they wanted to fill.  What a blessing for us, as we were able to have wonderful seats, 11 rows back from the stage, right in the middle. One more tender mercy after so many earlier in the day.

At the Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert, Sister Lovell, Sister Rueckert Keyser, Sister Rueckert, Elder Rueckert
The three sisters in their VIP seats.
The concert was absolutely fantastic.  I personally have never heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir this good.  They sang a wide range of music and with the Orchestra at Temple Square it was just marvelous.  This was the first time that they had ever sung in Nürnberg, Germany, the home of Alexander Schreiner, former organist of the Tabernacle Choir for many years.  The family of Alexander Schreiner was baptized by my grandfather in 1903. At the time Alexander was too young to be baptized.  At the end of the concert, the entire choir and orchestra and conductors sang God be With You in German.  It was amazing and such a special touch to end the concert.

Perhaps all of this helped me to enjoy it even more.  Perhaps it was our close proximity to the stage.  Perhaps it was just the culmination of a perfect day.  We went home totally fulfilled and grateful for the blessings that we had received this day.  

During the intermission and after the show I was able to make contacts with long term members of the Church in Nürnberg.  I wanted to see where the original location of the Church was, when my Grandfather was a missionary.  We had an address of his cousin's home, where he stayed during his entire mission.  It was on a street Kohlen Gasse number 15.  However, the only address of this sort that I could find was some 8 kilometers outside of Nürnberg.  It sounded like the early members had indeed been in this direction.  I left my business card with the Stake clerk who was going to see what they had in old histories of the ward and stake.  Hopefully we started some new contacts that can be helpful as I explore other parts of my family history.

The next day visited this address. We found the current owner of the site who thought that the house had been built in the 1930s which would not coincide with the mission years of 1902 to 1904.  So we are not sure if we actually found the right house, it fits some of the descriptions of the house, being a high pitched ceiling, close to a forest. etc.
In front of Number 1 Kohlen Gasse, Heroldsberg

A photo taken in a forested area near our hotel in Nürnberg.  It was in the forest of Nürnberg that my grandfather did most of his preaching.  I took a few moments there to contemplate my grandfather teaching people in the forest, hidden from the police who did not allow preaching at that time.  It was in the forest that he first taught my grandmother and her mother, who were baptized by him in September of 1902, in his first baptisms of his mission.
One location of the Pegitz River where my grandfather baptized the Schreiner family and many others, probably where my grandmother as baptized.  We don't know where along the river, but this is the same river.  It was also the river where some of my grandfather's siblings were baptized 8-10 years earlier.

What a wonderful experience it is to be in the places where my grandfather, Johann Adam Rueckert was born and where he served his mission.  My grandfather died when I was in my mother's womb, so I have never met him.  However, as I study his life, his mission and his testimony, I feel very close to him.  This has been a very rewarding experience for me.

Warning:  Temporary detour from family history light to thoughts to ponder from our past:

Visit to Nürnberg, the site of Hitler's greatest propaganda during his rise to power and during the war.

The city of Nürnberg was one of the most important cities to Adolf Hitler as he rose to power in Germany.  This is the city where he had some of his early successes in the 1930s.  As the Third Reich came to power, the greatest displays of German propaganda and military power were staged in Nürnberg.  This is also where the leaders of the Nazi party were tried after the war.  We took some time on Saturday, before returning to Frankfurt to visit the Documentation Center Nazi Rally Grounds in Nürnberg. The following description of this center comes from Wikipedia:

In 1994 the city council of Nuremberg decided to establish the Documentation Center. Austrian architect Günther Domenig designed the museum, winning the 1998 international competition with his proposal to spear through the northern head of the building with a diagonal glass and steel passageway. Inherent in the gesture of this project is a pun on the name and a refutation of the chief Nazi architect Albert Speer who had directed a masterplan for this site including a Zeppelin Field, a stadium to hold 400,000, a March Field for military exercises, a Congress Hall for 50,000, and a 55-metre (180 ft) wide Great Road.[1] This is where Speer had created the "cathedral of light" and where the Nazis drew nearly a million people in rallies between 1933 and 1938. These were captured on film by Leni Riefenstahl in Triumph of the Will. Domenig, the son of a Nazi judge, confronted his own personal history in addition to the history and Nazi architecture of the project's site.[2] On 4 November 2001 the project was unveiled by Johannes Rau, then President of Germany.

We spent several hours in this museum and on the Rally Grounds.  It was a sobering experience as it documents exactly how Adolf Hitler came to power and destroyed all government checks and balances to give him total power and control.  It also documents the propaganda and approach taken to convince the people to follow, including several eyewitness accounts.  As we arrived home last night, we happened to read Mosiah 29, in our companion study.  I thought it was interesting to read verses 25 to 27 on the same day that we had this experience.  What a wonderful scriptural account of government and a stark contrast to what happens when the voice of the people chooses differently.  In the beginning, Hitler only had 30+ % of votes, but it was more than others and he manipulated and exercised unrighteous dominion to achieve his results.

 25 Therefore, choose you by the avoice of this people, judges, that ye may be bjudged according to the clawswhich have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord.  26 Now it is not common that the avoice of the people desireth anything bcontrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the cpeople to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.  27 And aif the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.
A view of the inside of the Congress Hall, where may large gatherings and appearances with Adolf Hitler occurred
Looking to the inner court of the Congress Hall

In front of the Documentation Center, formerly the Congress Hall
Looking at the Congress Hall from across the river at the Rally Grounds

Stage and front bleachers of the Rally Grounds

Podium Area where Adolf Hitler would address others and view the Rally Grounds

Elder Rueckert standing at the podium area where Adolf Hitler addressed over a hundred thousand individuals at the rally grounds.  Sister Lovell is also up on the podium with him.

Panoramic view of the rally grounds from the podium area

Interesting side note:   The city of Nürnberg had one of the strongest branches of the Church in Germany prior to the 1930s.  After the war, it struggled for quite a long time.  It is now flourishing again and has a strong stake of Zion.  However, this strong influence of Hitler certainly had an impact on the growth and strength of the Church during those years.
Our very own Family Tree

Additional special effects of family trees.  The day before going to Nürnberg we received the long awaited vinyl "Family Tree" for our living room.  The night before we left, we took the time to install it on the wall of our living room.

On the Wall

Moved the chair back, the tree comes out of the chair

 After returning from Nürnberg, Sister Rueckert completed the placing of our 35 grandchildren on our family tree.  We hope that they will enjoy their family relationships as much as we do.  It is now a constant reminder of us in our home of each of our grandchildren.  There is still room to grow on this tree.

One more family history story to finish this blog.  Sister Rueckert's newly found second cousin brought us this picture of Heidi, her mother and her brother.  The mother lives in Berlin and is the niece of Sister Rueckert's great grandmother.

We can certainly say that we have the Family History bug, we are addicted.  We are committed to serving our Self-Reliance mission, but certainly reserve the right to some family history moments like these while we are in the country of our ancestors.