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Herbert Steinschneider


Phil Steinschneider


with the idea of reconciliation which I felt to be so important.

Between the end of my ministry in Lasalle and the beginning of the next school year at the seminary, I had a free month.  I decided that I would use this time for a tour of some German prison camps.  Since I had not advised any official church agency of my undertaking (the red tape would have taken months to unravel) I presented myself to the camp commanders as Jean Séguy, evangelist, and asked permission to address any German prisoners who would be willing to listen to me.  Most of the population of the camps turned out to hear me speak, as a religious service was a welcome relief from their daily boredom.  My theme, in these sermons, was reconciliation and new beginnings from a biblical point of view, as applied to their present situation and to the future.  The hatred and racism of the past would have to be replaced by a mutual understanding and by unity in love.  My charges listened intently, and some conversations after the service made me realize that a number of the prisoners were ready to make a new beginning, though others were still holding out and hoped to return to something resembling the authoritarian past.  I did not stress the point.  They would see for themselves the ruin that was Germany and the impossibility of returning to the past regime.

Having worked for Toureille's Chaplaincy for the German civilians, I thought for a while that I might put together one of my own, with the prisoners of war.  But the need to continue my studies limited this ministry to a brief tour of half a dozen camps.  I felt that this undertaking, in which I was able to present a Christian message opposed to the one with which the Nazis had indoctrinated their people, was really an extension of my participation in the resistance during the war.  I could at last speak directly to the Germans of the need to repent and to build a future of hope and reconciliation.


The Summer of 1945 brought me again into parishes in Southern France, but this time only as a replacement for pastors in Albi (a joyous reunion with the church which had nurtured me in 1940) and in Millau, a middle-sized town northwest of Montpellier.  It was at Millau that I received a request from the World Council of Churches in Geneva to visit the German prison camps at Larzac, in order to make sure that the German chaplains of these camps were not preaching Hitlerism and hatred to their captive parishioners.

I thus set out by bicycle on a beautiful August day for the high, desolate plateau of Larzac.  There, an officers' camp and an enlisted men's camp had been set up, separated, I heard, by a few strands of barbed wire.  Arriving in town about noon, I walked into the bakery of the small village, and presented my ration tickets to buy a baguette.  The baker waved my tickets off, noting that there was no need for them here.  Suspicious.  In such desolate surroundings, where did this baker obtain such a bountiful supply of flour, still rationed everywhere else in France?

Later, in the camp, I found confirmation of precisely the problems the World