An Extraordinarily Successful Man

Baumann, Arnulf.  "An Extraordinarily Successful Man,"  Mitteilungsblatt, August 2009, 7-8.

This translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

Edwin Kelm - interesting and active as ever.

Edwin Kelm is Eighty Years Old

Celebrating his 80th birthday on August 8 is a man of our own people, a man who has achieved extraordinary things. To understand his life achievements one must delve into the dramatic events of his youth - events that marked him in the deepest way.

The child Edwin grew up in a respected family in Friedenstal. Of that time there exists a photo of him as a little boy amidst his parents and siblings. It was taken outdoors on their homestead. This was the setting that provided him with a secure and safe environment, although life was not all sweetness and light, for it placed rather serious demands even on children. Occasionally he has told how as a child he would ride on horseback through the corn fields for many hours, ever in peril of falling asleep and falling off the horse. This did not change entirely even after the resettlement. He continued to live in the bosom of the family even after settling in the Warthegau. There the bright lad attended a secondary school in Kutno, thereby setting the stage for higher education.

However, in January of 1945, everything changed with one fatal stroke. For days he meandered around the forest until he finally reached a German area. During these days of extreme danger, Edwin Kelm's future was decided. Many might have despaired in a such a situation. Not Edwin Kelm. He found security from the Christian faith he had received from his parents, and at a seemingly hopeless moment he met a Polish woman who gave him food and shelter, and thus she saved his life. Ever since that time he has held fast to this faith and has always sought ways of building bridges between different people and different countries. From this, the most serious test of his life, he emerged with an unbending will to prove himself and to achieve something important in life.

But for the time being at least he was a refugee without any means whatsoever. His first task was to earn some money. After he got himself established to some extent, he made his way to Canada. There, in the woods of the North he had an opportunity to earn good money by working incredibly hard as a lumberjack.

With a measure of savings he returned to Germany. There he looked for a line of work that suited him. He realized that after all the destruction the war had wrought on Germany and through the onslaught of refugees and exiles from the East, there was an immediate need of rebuilding. Consequently he strove to find work in construction and soon found that ha had chosen well. Regulations of the time made it possible that through diligence and energetic work it was possible for him to obtain the required certifications and eventually to establish his own construction business. One of his first projects was the building of a recreation center in Aichenbachtal for the Bessarabian Community Association near Schorndorf in Wuerttemberg. He became a very successful in the construction business, and in the course of several years he built many churches and public buildings and innumerable private homes within the area of his own home in Moeglingen near Stuttgart. Right from the beginning, he set up a Bessarabian "hour" in his own home, where gatherings have taken place for decades. At the same time he grew increasingly integrated into his environment, became involved in the community council, in the church council, and in other ecclesiastical  groups, which finally included the statewide synod. 

It was through a community association that he got to know his wife Olga, nee Eberle, who personified the happiness of his life and who has been at his side ever since. To be sure, their happy life together was not without its darker moments. The couple was unable to have children, but for them this did not mean resignation. Instead they used the time they would not otherwise have had to become active together on behalf of others.

A common area of activity for them since the earlier years has been the Alexander Stift [Foundation]. They participated in many of its events and, via many donations, they have supported the work and expansion of this Bessarabian place of assistance for the elderly.

Moreover, Edwin Kelm never forgot his Bessarabian homeland. As early as the 1960s he and his wife, in their own automobile, undertook the difficult trip - not without its dangers - into the Soviet Union to scout out old Bessarabia. He would repeat this trip again and again, until it was time to organize and conduct group trips for his countrymen. Thereby he gained an intense familiarity with his homeland that hardly anyone else could match. He established and has kept up contacts with many people there. Even today, he still particularly enjoys being a guide to Bessarabian-German folks and their descendants and to allow them to become more familiar with the area.

It was natural that he eventually took over responsibilities in the Landsmannschaft der Bessarabiendeutschen. In 1982 he was elected to head the Association. His first considerable task was the redevelopment of the "House of Bessarabian Germans" in Stuttgart's Florianstrasse  and the establishment of event spaces for his gatherings of countrymen. These have proven successful in many ways. From them emanated impulses for strengthening the solidarity of the Bessarabian Germans, e,g, via films on trips to Bessarabia, which he produced personally and presented to countrymen throughout Germany. And contacts in Bessarabia were always made deeper. The restoration of the "Cathedral of the Steppes," the church in Sarata in Ukraine, and of the church in Albota in the Moldovan portion of [the former] Bessarabia bear witness to this, just as the new construction of a church of the Evangelical Baptist community in Akkermann, as well as the construction of the "farmers museum" in his own home village of Friedenstal/Mirnopolye and his assistance in the restoration of the Medical Center in Shabo -- all of this bears witness to this fact. Not to be forgotten are the trips to places the Bessarabian Germans had lived in Poland, and the establishment of a memorial near Schluesselsee/Slesin to the victims of the refugee catastrophes of 1945, which cost the life of his father, plus the many memorial stones in former German places in Bessarabia, in which he was forever involved -- always with the goal of strengthening bridges between peoples, and between former and current residents.

For his varied efforts, numerous honors have been bestowed on Edwin Kelm: the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon and First Class; an honorary doctorate from a university in Kishinev/Moldova; an Order of the Russian Orthodox Church on the occasion of the dedication of the church in Albota; the Order of the Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise, Fifth Class, from the Ukrainian President Yushchenko -- the list goes on. An extraordinarily successful life has merited much recognition.      

As the merger of the three Bessarabian organizations approached, he was intensely involved in the negotiations, but he left the place at the top to a successor. It was Ingo Ruediger Isert who became the national chair of the resulting /Bessarabiendeutsche Verein/ {Bessarabian German Association]. But as the honorary national chair, Dr. h.c. Edwin Kelm continues as before to participate in most of its meetings and events. As the chair of the Committee for Bessarabian Aid he also continues to stay active in planning and conducting travels to Bessarabia and Poland, as well as in the arrangements for assistance activities of all kinds in the home of his childhood. A life of such complete engagement in such diverse areas cannot be led without some rough edges, and some people have certainly felt these. However, none of that diminishes the merits of this man's life. We accept him just the way he is: a man with some contradictions, but one ever filled with readiness to become fully involved for the good of the whole. 

"Tireless" is certainly a word that aptly describes this man celebrating a big birthday. As ever, he cannot imagine a life without full engagement, even though certain health problems are slowly beginning to affect him. As a long-time companion, my wish for him is that he may be able to work for many more years in his blessed way, and that he may be able to enjoy the blessings of retirement alongside his wife Olga.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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