Review by Sheila Havard, December 15, 2013
Book: “From my Demi-Paradise: Memoirs” by Kathleen Schmitz-Hertzberg
This book will appeal to any Quaker history buff. Canadian Quakers not only span a wide range of beliefs and come from many different religious backgrounds; they also come from a wide range of national heritages. This book describes Kathleen’s geographic journey from England to Canada and her life-long commitment to Quakerism.
Rather than being a review, this article is a selection of outstanding events I have picked out of Kathleen’s memoirs in the hope of piquing the interest of Friends. From my Demi-Paradise is available from the Quaker Book ServKice.
It was both my interest in Second World War history, and Germany in particular, and a personal motive that led me to this book. Kathleen’s life intersects so many momentous world events – the Second World War, the Berlin air lift, for instance – and also so many landmarks in European and Canadian Friends’ history – Canadian Friends Service Committee, Grimstone Island, Camp Nee-Kau-Nis, the Canadian Friends Historical Association; you name it… As for my personal interest, my mother was born within six years of Kathleen. Both Friends were dispatched to pre-war Germany by the British Quakers to gain first-hand impressions of the persecution of the Jewish population. Both assisted emigrating refugees before the outbreak of war. Did their paths cross? Probably not: my mother visited East Prussia, now part of Poland, while Kathleen travelled extensively in what became West Germany and the German Democratic Republic. Both were in Berlin, but at different times.
From my Demi-Paradise is a kaleidoscope of people and events, fast moving and engrossing. Kathleen sure has a story to tell! The chronological account takes the reader on a journey from prewar Lancashire via Germany to post-war Canada. From Catholicism to Quakerism
As if in premonition of Kathleen’s future work, when she was a child and witnessed an anti-Semitic incident, her mother admonished her “Never be anti-Semitic”. But the main influence leading to her international work was the defining time she spent at Woodbrooke (a Quaker College in Birmingham), where she worshipped, studied and served the local community from 1937 to 1938.
During her pre-World War II time in Germany from April 1938 to January 1939, Kathleen studied German and made many contacts with both Jews and Aryans, Quakers and others. (Her report can be found in the Canadian Quaker History Journal, No. 74, 2009.) She meets Germans of all political persuasions and from all walks of life: ardent Nazi supporters, passive acquiescers in the regime and pronounced opponents Some were hardened outwardly, confused inwardly and wearing a mask. Others had retreated into personal morality and adopted the least line of resistance. Refusing to pass judgment as she fully understands the fear of Nazi reprisals that made decent citizens cope by clamming up, Kathleen concentrates on providing assistance to those desperate to emigrate. Despite her distress at the fanaticism, the atmosphere of hysteria and the
looming crisis of war, she gains spiritual sustenance from her contacts with Friends scattered throughout the country and attends Yearly Meeting. How I wish I could have joined that jolly Wanderung from Bad Pyrmont to Kassel, hiking through the Weserland with Young Friends after Yearly Meeting! Her faith is sustained by the conviction that German culture, in particular Goethe’s vision of universal brotherhood would overcome the dire situation in the long run.
Kathleen’s bravery is striking. She does not hesitate to speak her mind to SA officers in public or drive in a Jewish doctor’s car, marked on the back with a conspicuous “J”. She remains in Berlin after most non-Germans had left, wanting to remain in touch with the many friends she had made. She demonstrated similar bravery in the Soviet Zone when attending the Young Communists’ Freie Deutsche Jugend gathering, travelling via a detour not authorized by her travel docs.
From June 1948 to May 1949, Kathleen helped to provide spiritual and material sustenance to up to 200 destitute Germans and foreign refugees, along with some 40 other workers in the Charlottenburg “Warming Room”.
The Second World War was spent doing case work in England and Wales and Kathleen worked briefly for the British Friends Service Committee from 1947 to 1948. In 1949, her beloved Fritz finally returned from imprisonment in the Soviet Union. The couple left for Canada in 1952, where they founded a family of three children. Kathleen nevertheless continued her commitment to Quakers by her 7-year role on the Canadian Friends Service Committee. She was also one of the founders of the Canadian Friends Historical Association and was recognized as such at the Association’s annual gathering in 2012. She has been a regular attender at Toronto Meeting for Worship and even at Canadian Yearly Meeting and we hope to continue to see her there in years to come.