ChantWorks presents Fear Not. Host Linda Hoffman speaks with Author and Speaker, Sigrid Weidenweber.
Transcript: FEAR NOT interview. Linda Hoffman with Sigrid Weidenweber, recorded September 23, 2021
Linda Hoffman: As in the Russian Revolution, the implementers of our PROGRESSIVE revolution have one thing in mind—kill the bourgeoisie with all its niceties and comportments. The cohesion of families, much as of the church, is a bulwark against totalitarian governments, therefore it must be destroyed.
These prescient words were scribed by Sigrid Weidenweber in her book, The Beauty of Liberty. My Life in Freedom.
The bourgeoise—or middle class—or in America I think the direct translation is religion-clinging Costco shoppers—believe in—not ourselves, or this world, or even science—the science—but in God and reason and universal truth. There’s been something of an underground revival of belief in the divine power of truth, beauty and goodness and its impact on mere mortals. It’s a common theme of countries that have prospered throughout history. As data scientists would say—there’s a pattern.
Truth, beauty and goodness are the bedrock of our existence. That upon which Christian intellectual tradition rests along with the timeless and universal attributes of being.
These are all important. But today—we talk about the thing that gives truth, beauty and goodness—oxygen. But for this attribute, “on earth as it is in heaven” turns to “on earth as it is on earth.” That one thing is courage.
We know it when we see it. We can’t help but be inspired by its stories. As humans, we intrinsically navigate toward courage and hope for its victory.
Once known for its courage, the U.S. is experiencing a slough. There remain many places around the country where church services are severely truncated and altered by state action. Sadly, complicity of the faithful makes this possible. You can’t overcome a reason-based, God-seeking people, right? The U.S. is truly at a crossroads, as is her church. The Holy Spirit descended in the upper room and turned a fearful lot into brave speakers of truth… it is clear, we also need such inspiration to courage.
Today, we have the great fortune of speaking with author, lecturer, perhaps one of the greatest persons of courage that I have met in my lifetime, Sigrid Weidenweber. Sigrid’s body of work includes 9 books, many columns, and more. Her’s is a voice of history and reason that is so greatly needed in today’s moment of chaos and nearly daily power grab for all that we hold dear. Sigrid, it is an honor to have you on the show.
Sigrid Weidenweber: Thank you so very much. It is a pleasure to be here.
Linda Hoffman: Your life has been touched in significant ways by courageous Catholics—maybe most notably during your escape from East Germany. Tell us that story.
Sigrid Weidenweber: Well, it was in 1961 when the Communists closed the border between East and West Berlin. I, unfortunately, lived in East Berlin at the time, and for a while some students and I tried to, still, escape through this wall that they had erected. And it was impossible. We tried for months. And then of when I had already given up, I got a phone call from a young man who wanted to have a blind date.
Blind dates were not my thing, so I had tried to discourage him. And he had such a nice way of telling me that I really should see him, and it would be just a movie and fun. We would meet in front of the movie theater, and if I didn’t like him I could leave.
And during this speech, something happened. I started to get these feelings that I should go. That something momentous was attached to this invitation to see him. And so, the next day—again—sheer intuition. I put on my best clothes and I went to this movie theatre. And he had told me he would see me and know me by a newspaper that I was to carry under my arm. He would do the same thing.
So, I arrived. There was no young man there, all older pensioners. And I was ready to give up when suddenly I got a little peck from behind on the cheek. And a voice, quite loudly said, Well, hello cousin. So good to see you again. And, when I turned around, since he had come over my shoulder, Just play along. And I did.
So, he said quite loudly, again, for everyone to hear because there were always spies who would report on other citizens, Let us walk across the street in the park and talk about so many things that we haven’t talked for a long time about. We still have half an hour before the movie starts.
And as we walked across the street into a little park, he then urgently told me, pick up this newspaper under my arm and replace it with yours. In the newspaper is a passport, a French passport. And your picture will be in it. And now I will leave you. You have to go into a restaurant. Go in a bathroom. Check all your clothes for labels. And if you want to leave, you can leave East Berlin today.
So, he left. And I went into a restaurant close by, and in the bathroom. Pulled the labels from my shoes that were labels of a communist factory. The clothes that I wore were my grandmother’s. She made my clothes. The coat also had a label from an East German factory. I tore this one out. And then I left for the border.
There were Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse. You could go through several double close, probably ten, of East German soldiers. And they directed questions at me, and of course, I couldn’t answer them. I was French. So, I just shook my shoulders, and kept on walking until the actual checkpoint came into view.
There were two tables. One was—on one, two women were seated and they looked ferocious. I think bulldog came to mind when I saw them. And on the other table, to the left, there was a man who probably also was not a very nice person, but he looked more approachable than the women. So, I stood there and, literally, prayed. I prayed that the person occupying the attention of the women would stay there for a few more moments longer so I would be able to go to the man.
Now, I had a French passport, but I didn’t speak any French. And the priest had told me that there was a chance, there was a French interpreter at the border, and that might get me into trouble. I knew exactly what kind of chance I was taking because we all knew we either went to jail or we went to the uranium mines. A friend of mine had ended up there.
So, that moment, when the man became free, and I walked to his table, he asked me for money—currency. And he kept on repeating it in German, and I pretended not to understand, and he got frustrated, and then said, money, money? So, I knew he didn’t speak French, and I also didn’t speak English. So, that was probably the only word I knew. And I showed him my little purse. And I had a little bit of East German money in there, and I had three West marks with some change that had been in the passport for me to use on the other side.
Also, in the passport had been a card for the train. There were still two systems going: an underground and the S Bahn, which was above ground. And I wanted to be in the S Bahn because it would end out in the West quicker than the underground. If I had—if I was caught behind the lines, and there was no way I could have had a ticket that was already marked and stamped in the West. But I did.
They had thought about that, and he had also told me once I would safely be in the West, I should go to a certain room. He had given me a number at the Free University in West Berlin. Now the entire time while this most happening, I was quite brave, I thought. And I had this feeling there was a presence beside me, that was very protective. And once I had passed the male interrogator, and I was allowed to get up the steps to the S Bahn, I started to walk up the steps and I realized that I was free. And the presence disappeared. And that moment, my knees buckled because all my courage—everything left me. And I practically pulled myself up with my arm because I could hardly walk. I was so frightened and relieved, frightened, everything at once.
And once I was in the train going out, then I could recover a little bit. But, there was still enough fear in me, until I would be at the first bus station where I could get out—that they still could have apprehended me. Because they would go through the trains, and sort of do searches of the passengers.
Well, when I arrived in the West, I went to the University as I had been told. And in this room, some young people abated me already. They thought I might not have made it because I was a little later than expected. And they recognized, they welcomed me, and gave me 100 West German marks. And said, this is for you to get you through the first week. They also asked for the French passport back, and then they said, could we have 50 marks from your hundred because we need it to get other young people out? The hundred marks were from the state of Berlin. And, so, I gave them back half of that gift with a very happy heart. And I could not have foreseen what happened then, because four days later, with the same passport, and her picture in it—that young priest got my sister out, too.
Linda Hoffman: Wow. Do you have any idea what happened to the priest who helped you?
Sigrid Weidenweber: No. I, well he had given me the name Peter, but I assume that was not, was a pseudonym, because no one really wanted to deal with names, or places, or whatever. Because if you would be caught and interrogated, you didn’t want to give anything away. So, I don’t know.
Linda Hoffman: That’s amazing. You had mentioned, previous to this show, that you thought that he had actually, he was responsible for a number of other folks, including your sister?
Sigrid Weidenweber: Oh. Later on, in the camp, I heard that by December of that year these groups of young people, all were students at the Free University—had gotten close to 3,000 people out. All students. All young, wanting to leave, and Peter was a part of that, who probably got quite a few people out.
Linda Hoffman: That’s amazing.
Sigrid Weidenweber: Then, I also heard that late November or early in December, the communists found out how the system of getting people out had worked. And they found a way of marking the S Bahn cards, so, that they knew no one came in with it, that someone else had clipped it. Or, I don’t know, maybe they had marks in the passports. But they had found a system to find out who is leaving the state.
So, one large group of young people, I knew that they were caught. And they ended up in prison.
Linda Hoffman: That is tragic.
Sigrid Weidenweber: It was, for me who had made it out, you know, it was an indescribable feeling. When you think that you were lucky, and someone else was not. And, that—was it determined that you would get out and they would not? You think about these things for a long time.
Linda Hoffman: I can’t imagine that you would ever look at freedom the same way.
Sigrid Weidenweber: You are right. Freedom is something very precious and it disturbed me highly, all the years I’ve lived in this country that is so generous, and so welcoming. That the citizens thereof are so casual, and do not value what they have.
Freedom, really, should not be given without responsibility, and some appreciation for what it is. And I think we have too many people in this country who absolutely have no responsibility to what’s that, that is given.
Linda Hoffman: You grew up under communism, the ultimate secular humanist culture. Now I know you write in detail about this in your book, My Life in Freedom, but share with our viewers, if you would, how you see that culture infecting the U.S.
Sigrid Weidenweber: It is hard to describe what you feel when you see, in our country, certain cells being allowed to undermine what have here. The freedoms and all the wonderful things that go with it. And, yet, when I came in ’65, I noticed, already, communist cells in the universities, and in workers’ unions, and I was amazed that no one pulled the plug on them and just cleaned things out.
No one did. They were under this great freedom. They were allowed to flourish. And, like a cancer, they spread, and took over universities, first, and then the schools, and I know that my husband, for a while was a high school teacher. And I saw what was going on in the schools, and I was appalled. But no one ever found it to be a serious thing, and did no one did anything about it. Until like a cancer, it just grows. And now we are at the point that the cancer needs to be excised, and that will be very hard.
I can’t even imagine how we will do it.
Linda Hoffman: Well, let me ask you, Sigrid, how were believing Christians treated in the East German state? And I ask this because, if this cancer does continue to absorb the country, we’re going to be first.
Sigrid Weidenweber: Well, you have been already for a while. I don’t know if the church is—the churches for the last 25, 30 years even, have been undermined and the secularization of the churches came along with an ideology that told everyone, well, you know are a Christian—you are stupid. Because you are indoctrinated and you believe things that cannot be substantiated.
And this tearing people down for their beliefs, it’s something that the Communists do because, when you have religion and faith—you cling to something spiritually higher than what is offered in daily life. And materialism, and communism, really wants to be the religion itself. And the funny thing was—when I was living in East Berlin and we had a few years when the communist had pretty well laid all the churches low. They did it through different things.
Some of it was materially because they had made sure that the judges had no money to run. They applied taxes to certain things. Another thing had been that Christians would tithe through their paychecks. That all fell flat immediately. So, the church really existed on what they took in during the Saturday-Sunday service. And, that was it.
Then I noticed that the Communists started to use sacraments, and gave them their sacraments. And gave them a different label. For example, the Jewish bar mitzvah, and the Catholic sacrament, when a young person becomes of full member of the church—they took that, and they came up with something that they called, jugendweihe. Well, weihe means, to consecrate, and youth consecration. And during that youth consecration, youths swore your allegiance to the party.
Now, that really shows where they are going. And that they just had substituted themselves for faith and religion and were going to undermine the family with that. Because in their religion, the family was really nothing. Anyone could be family.
Linda Hoffman: Sound familiar?
Sigrid Weidenweber: Sounds familiar.
Linda Hoffman: Which of those practices do you see in the U.S. today?
Sigrid Weidenweber: Well, practically all of them. I noticed years ago that in order to pretend everyone was equal, we took away all the titles. There was no more—because once you take away the achievement of a person, then you could bring them down. And so, suddenly overnight, by taking a doctor title, Mr. and Mrs.—all these things that made us what we really were, had achieved in or were our social standing—all that was taken away and now we were Carey, Joe, and whatever.
And any six-year-old could walk up to a professor, and say, hey, Joe. Even though that man had given half his life to some research, and been someone, and something, and had worked hard for it. It all fell flat. I noticed that, and that disturbed me greatly. And from then on it was just one thing after another.
Freedom of speech. Substitute—the re-formation of the language—so that you could not say certain things anymore that precisely described something. And connotations were applied to things that were absolutely outrageous. That’s what I have to say about that.
Linda Hoffman: I like that you speak the unspoken, Sigrid.
Sigrid Weidenweber: It’s the truth. You know, it’s so wonderful when you get older in life, and very little matters. And you can say what you want. You don’t have to impress anyone. It’s freeing.
Linda Hoffman: Well, you’re very impressive. I am wondering, so, and apparently it was underground, but, were the Christians in East Germany able to pass on their faith to their children?
Sigrid Weidenweber: Very good families. Very solid families, of course, they did. And they managed to keep families together, and they would still go to church. And it became almost—I personally, I went to church on many Sundays as a protest, just to show we were there.
And, in the end, even so, they had suppressed Catholicism, especially, for so many years. In the end, it was Christian belief and Christian faith that ended the law. Because, and no one here knows about this, but the Christians began, every Sunday, to go to church, and bring all their friends. Everyone would go to church, and especially in Dresdain and outlying districts. There were so many people in church for the Sunday sermon, that they stood outside and the listened through loudspeakers. And there were more and more every Sunday. And this, eventually, brought is to the point where Reagan said, Mr. Gorbachev, take down this wall.
And in Poland, there were the Polish Catholic, were probably the staunchest in all of Europe. And, they also demonstrated by nothing but their face, and showing up in their churches, being out in the marketplace, and showing their presence. And, this is how we, then, got a Catholic Pope; the Polish Pope.
Linda Hoffman: Absolutely. God bless him. Do you have a warning for today’s complacent Americans?
Sigrid Weidenweber: Yes. And that is if you vote for the way this country is going, you probably will suffer the most, because you have no idea what’s coming. The rest of us? We know. We can see it. We can feel it. And we will not be surprised.
But those who think that there can be this utopia of everyone being equal, and all the money going all over, and everyone living without working or doing anything to support themselves in any way, this will all come crashing down.
Linda Hoffman: Well, thank you, Sigrid. This has been a monumental show. I sure hope we can have you back.
Sigrid Weidenweber: Thank you. It was a pleasure being with you.
Linda Hoffman: Freedom is not free. Isn’t that the expression? The price is not always a solider taking up arms. Sometimes it’s leaving our comfort zone and simply speaking up, writing a letter, or taking a stand. Will we cower in the upper room or go courageously into the crowd?
That’s a wrap for today’s show. Thank you so much for joining us. We value your time and are working on more useful content on chantworks.com. If you like what you see, we’d love to know. For now, look forward to our next exciting episode of FEAR NOT.