Berlin, 20 February 2018 – The burial place of Juliusz Bursche (1862–1942), the Polish Protestant bishop who died in a Nazi concentration camp in Germany, was unknown for decades. Last year the German researcher Klaus Leutner and his Polish colleague Pawel Woźniak managed to locate the spot where the urn had been buried, on the basis of documents discovered in Berlin. This caused a sensation, particularly in Poland.
On Tuesday 20 February, the day of Bursche’s death, his closest relatives and invited guests from Poland and Germany gathered for a memorial service at the Berlin-Reinickendorf cemetery (in Humboldtstr.). It was conducted jointly by Bishop Markus Dröge of the Evangelical Church of Brandenburg and Upper Lusatia (EKBO) and the Bishop Jerzy Samiec, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland. In his sermon Dröge said: “Now that the grave has been found at this cemetery, we have the chance to commemorate Bishop Bursche and reflect together on his life and work. His goal was to build up a strong Protestant church that would unite both Poles and Germans. In the last twenty years, a partnership has developed in a completely different way between Protestant Christians on both sides of the German-Polish border. The slender threads of reconciliation have become a close network of good relations among us, for which I am very grateful.”
To conclude the act of commemoration, a wreath was laid at the burial spot.
Afterwards, the Evanglical Church in Germany (EKD) invited those present to a reception for the family and relatives in its premises in Berlin Mitte. Those giving a greeting included Praeses Annette Kurschus, Bishop Jerzy Samiec and Sawsan Chebli, the international affairs spokesperson of the Berlin state government. Juliusz Gardawski, the grandson of Bishop Juliusz Bursche, spoke officially on behalf of the Bursche family, which was represented with ten members.
Bishop Samiec warned: “After the war, the crimes committed during the war came out into the open. That was the only way to achieve reconciliation. Today, too, we need public figures like Bishop Juliusz Bursche to work for reconciliation between Poland and Germans. It is love that leads us to the foundations that bind us together. Love enables us to forgive and to ask for forgiveness.”
Praeses Annette Kurschus, deputy chair of the EKD Council and its spokesperson for German-Polish relations, recalled the significance of the 40-year-old relationship between the EKD and Poland:
“We are grateful for the community that has developed in past decades between the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Polish Ecumenical Council. The good relations between our churches are a sign of reconciliation between our peoples, a signal that resounds into our societies. Christian faith does not separate, it unites. It does not create barriers but opens us up.”
Juliusz Bursche, from1904 general superintendent, then from 1936 bishop of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland, was a resolute advocate of the existence of Poland. He is held in high esteem in Poland to this day. A descendant of German immigrants, he stood up for Poland, which Nazi ideology regarded as “betrayal of German Volkstum (customs and traditions)”. Consequently he was arrested in 1939 and first taken to the Gestapo prison in Berlin (Albrechtstr.). Later he was moved to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he died in 1942 under unclear circumstances. The authorities refused to hand over his mortal remains or inform his relatives where he was buried. All memory of him was to be completely obliterated. This disgraceful policy was supported by what was then the Church Foreign Office of the German Evangelical Church. Accordingly, in 1992, the Evangelical Church in Germany marked the 50th day of Bursche’s death by expressing its horror and shame at the involvement of church bodies in the persecution of Bishop Bursche, and asked for forgiveness.
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