Otto Haemmerling

One of the Bessarabian "Men on the Forefront" Has Been Called Away

Baumann, Arnulf, Ret. Pastor. "Otto Haemmerling." Mitteilungsblatt, May 2009, 12-13.

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

Otto Haemmerling, one of the formative personalities of our Bessarabian-German Society, has been called away. In Bessarabia, we called this type of people "Vordermanner men on the forefront," those who were always engaged in various ways and in various places toward the cohesion of our ethnic group. Without question, a man like Haemmerling was one of these. Over many decades he gave of himself, in various ways, but consistently, with wholehearted effort. Among our people he gained many merits regarding the keeping us together.

He was born in Lichtental, about 83 years ago on April 20, 1926, a son of Christian and Marie Haemmerling. His father was a farmer and teacher, a respected man. Otto was the eldest among a large number of children. He too wished to become a teacher and therefore attended the Werner School, the Bessarabian-German educational institution in nearby Sarata, and he became one of its best students. Via the evacuation and resettlement 1940-1941 the family came to Germany and, after a period spent in a transition camp, was resettled in Muehlingen in western Wartheland, Poland. There he met his future wife, a local resident; theirs would become a love for life. After an "emergency" HS-equivalency graduation, he was able to attend places of teacher formation in Lodz (called Litzmannstadt at the time) and Wollstein (today's Volsztyn). But in 1944, barely 18 years of age, he became a soldier. He was deployed during the final battles for Berlin, where, completely exhausted and having fallen asleep, he was taken as prisoner of war by the Soviets. This lasted five years and brought him to Siberia, where he was able to use his knowledge of the Russian and Romanian languages to work as a translator, and with his abilities with a harmonica and other forms of entertainment he was able to help himself and others. His Olga waited for him all those years,  unable for some time even to know whether he was still alive.

When he was finally freed, the two lovers found each other and were married on October 17, 1950 in the city church of Nuertingen, with the scriptural theme "O Lord, help us! O Lord, let things go well!" (Psalm 118, 25); both sets of parents were living in East Germany and were thus unable to attend. The beginnings were difficult: the couple lived in an attic room; Otto worked as a steel laborer, Olga in a large kitchen. Continued  studies in pedagogy were unthinkable, but instead Otto was given the opportunity to study social work in a subsidized school. Afterwards he landed a position in Reutlingen, with responsibilities for taking care of refugees from former German regions in the East. An additional child arrived after the first ones, and they lived in a kind of row house. Life appeared to have taken on some aspects of normality.

However, things changed. Otto Haemmerling had made early contacts with Bessarabian-German people. In 1953, a very modest, rebuilt home for the elderly, the "Alexander-Asylum" in Neufuerstenheim, was looking for volunteers for all sorts of tasks. Still based in Reutlingen, Haemmerling at first got involved in the building committee, a task that would take up more and more time and strength. When the position of director of the home opened up in 1970, Pastor Albert Kern, a state official, offered it to Otto. It was a difficult decision for him, for he would have to give up a secure position and, at the same time, take cut  in pay. However, the task challenged him, for he wished to make something out of this home for elderly Bessarabian Germans. He threw himself into the task with all his strength and, with support from his wife, who would later become Housemother, and from many others, he succeeded, step by step, in consolidating the home and in transforming it into modern home for assisting the elderly.

I heard much about this active director of the "Alexander Asylum," a man rich in ideas, when Edwin Kelm and I, in conjunction with a lecture tour, were finally able to meet and appreciate him in person. After my election to national chair of the Welfare Committee in 1977, we would develop a close partnership and even a close friendship that included our two wives and one which has lasted until his death. During visits to Neufuerstenheim we had intensive conversations, during which he reported on the latest developments and about his latest plans -- he always had plans. These conversations always resulted in some good ideas, for example, the renaming of the home to a more contemporary "Alexander-Foundation." I was impressed with the technical competence he had attained, with his alert mind, which he used in observing the social landscape, and with the intensity with which he pursued new ways to bring progress to the home and to expand it. Working with him was a joy. In this man, a deep rooting in the Christian faith was paired with a genuine Bessarabian pioneering spirit and with a warm-hearted humanitarianism, which he also demonstrated to each individual resident of the home. Thus the "Alexander-Foundation" increasingly became an attraction for his Bessarabian-German countrymen; and he also succeeded in opening it up to the immediate surrounding area. A great role in this development was played by the religious services for residents and for the Neufuerstenheim locality, and the many celebrations -- some of them unforgettable --with participation by volunteer assistants of both genders.

Not to be forgotten is Haemmerling's engagement on behalf of Bessarabian Germans as a group, his work in the state and national organization, as chair of the southern region, and in various other functions he was involved with. He was tirelessly available for working where the need was the greatest, and he always had something to contribute. He also worked in the church council and in the community council. The Federal Order of Merit was a well-deserved recognition for his tireless efforts for the common good. His word carried much weight.

It was unavoidable that such engaged and successful work would have its critics. The authorities took notice and issued at least nine different investigations into the "Alexander Foundation," all of which ended positively for the home and for himself. Still, these investigations left a bitter taste in him. Since retirement was at hand in any case, he soon resigned from his offices.

But it would not have been Otto Haemmerling, had he allowed himself to rest from then on. Immediately after retirement, he took on the request from a private firm to act as a consultant for homes for the elderly, for schools, and for similar institutions in all of Baden-Wuerttemberg in matters of hygiene and cleanliness. This task took him on travels across the entire state on a nearly daily basis. Merely physically this proved to be a considerable effort. But it was in this capacity that for several years to come he was able to apply his knowledge and rich experiences, his vision for the doable, and his organizational skills to the benefit of the entire community.

All the while, he did not forget about the "Alexander Foundation." As before, he participated in religious services, and he took over the chairmanship of the home's advisory council. He did not meddle in anything, but always stood prepared to be of help, even in personal matters. He had advice to impart in many different situations. It was a great joy for him to be succeeded by a similarly dynamic man, Guenther Vossler, who would keep the "Alexander Foundation" on the path toward progress.

The Haemmerlings had built their own home and put up a respectable garden in Neufuerstenhuette. Here he was able to entertain visitors, especially from his own family circle. The four children eventually provided him with six grandchildren -- all a great joy for him. He was and would always be the focal center for the family.

His unstinting efforts over the years were not without consequence. Years ago he suffered a heavy heart attack, from which he was able to recover relatively well. However, in the early morning hours of March 17, he finally succumbed, and on March 21, a large community of mourners took leave of him at the cemetery of Neufuerstenhuette. Pastor Kuttler framed his remarks around Psalm 91:1 and 91:2 - "He who abides under the umbrella of the Most High will reside under the shadow of the Almighty, who speaks to the mighty: my confidence and my fortress, my God, in whom I hope." Several others made remarks in his honor.

Otto Haemmerling, even though not one to suffer injury lightly, was basically a cheerful man. This clearly came from his faith. I will never forget his broad smile.

In conclusion, there remains only gratitude: gratitude for his 59-year marriage and exemplary family life. Gratitude for a life spent in service for others, freely and with pleasure. Gratitude for a life of achievement that took the "Alexander Foundation" to a level that proved to be the basis for even further expansion during the last decade. Gratitude for his support of our group's cohesion. Gratitude for a deep and a very personal friendship. Gratitude for a life of faith-based conviction.

Retired Pastor Arnulf Baumann, Wolfsburg, Germany

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

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller