Bishop Werner Krusche: Bishop who played a crucial role in reconciling the two halves of Germany

Werner Krusche was a bishop in the East German Protestant Church who clashed with the ruling SED, Communists as he sought to gain concessions for Christians in the German Democratic Republic, but was eventually credited for his part in advancing Germany's re-unification.

Werner Krusche was born in the small resort town of Lauter, Saxony, in 1917 to a clergyman father. After matriculation from a grammar school in Striegau, then in the Prussian province of Silesia, he served, after compulsory labour service, from 1940 to 1944, in the Wehrmacht. Severely wounded on the Russian front in 1942, he took up theological studies at the University of Leipzig. He was briefly a British PoW, and on his release he continued his studies at the Theological College Bethel and the universities of Göttingen, Basel and Heidelberg.

Graduating in 1949, he was appointed lecturer in Heidelberg. On gaining his doctorate, in 1954, he was appointed parson of the Evangelical Kirche Deutschlands (EKD, the Evangelical Church of Germany) in Dresden in the Communist-run GDR. This was a time of some hope for Christians in the GDR in that Stalin had died in 1953 and there was some relaxation, and even thoughts of reunification of Germany. In 1954 the EKD's annual conference was held in Leipzig where thousands from both parts of Germany met.

In 1945 more than 80 per cent of the East German population were at least nominal members of the EKD. Due to the secularisation of society and official discrimination against Christians by the SED, membership fell. But according to the 1964 census, the last to record this item, membership was still 60 per cent. From 1958 to 1966 Krusche served as director of studies at the EKD college in Lückendorf, and between 1966 and 1968, he was lecturer in the theological seminar of Leipzig University. He preached the gospel of reconciliation with the peoples of the Soviet Union and its allies, and recognition of German war guilt. To a degree, this recommended him to the SED leader, Walter Ulbricht. But in 1968, the year that Krusche was elected Bishop of Saxony, the crushing of the "Prague Spring" in neighbouring Czechoslovakia appeared to show that there was no going back on what Moscow called Socialism.

The Stasi chief Erich Mielke regarded the Evangelical Church as the "legal organisation of the enemy" in the GDR and tried to infiltrate it. Unlike some of his colleagues, Krusche resisted becoming an informer. Rather than trying simply to ban the Evangelical Church, Mielke's political boss, Ulbricht, pressured it to separate itself from the EKD churches in West Germany. In June 1969, the break came and GDR Protestants set up their own League of Evangelical Churches. Krusche was one of its leading members – a position he held until 1983.

Partly to appease West Germany and impress his own people, Erich Honecker, SED leader from 1971, met the Chairman of the League, Bishop Albrecht Schönherr, in March 1978; as deputy chairman, Krusche also took part in the meeting. Schönherr and Krusche appeared to gain concessions and presented their congregations as loyal citizens of the socialist society of the GDR. Yet only a few months later, in September, the introduction of compulsory military training in GDR schools hit the church leaders hard. They sought to protect their members when they refused to allow their children to be militarised at school.

In 1981 Krusche took over from Albrecht Schönherr as Chairman of the Conference of (Evangelical) Church Leaders in the GDR. It was a time of growing opposition in East and West to further rearmament; the SED was finding it difficult to deal with growing peaceful opposition to its militarisation agenda. In a speech in April 1982, Krusche openly criticised state measures against the unofficial Schwerter zu Pflugscharen [Swords to Ploughshares] peace movement.

Krusche retired as chairman in 1983 but remained active, giving help and advice to his colleagues. He is recognised as a co-initiator of the Friedensgebete, the prayers for peace, and of the growing mass movement, "Wir sind ein Volk" [We are one people], which led to the peaceful revolution of 1989.

Krusche was a bridge-builder between the churches of East and West, and received recognition, being awarded an honorary doctorate in theology by Basel University in 1977, an honorary doctorate from the Martin-Luther-University, Halle-Wittenberg (1988) and the Great Cross of Merit of the FDR for his services in the cause of German re-unification.

David Childs

Werner Krusche, bishop: born Lauter, Germany 28 November 1917; died Magdeburg, Germany 24 July 2009.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk