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

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The Independent Online

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.