From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Night Will Soon Be Ending

Story behind an Advent hymn


Early winter sunset
Early winter sunset in Christian County, KY

When we lived in Germany, I experienced the shortest winter days and longest winter nights I've ever seen! In Berlin, the sun set before 4:00 p.m. in December and January and didn't rise until 8:00 a.m. Winter was a very dark time there. (Berlin lies about 7° farther north than Montreal, Canada, believe it or not.)

"The Night Will Soon be Ending,"  a German Advent hymn, was penned in 1938 by novelist and poet Jochen Klepper (1903-1942). Klepper's knowledge of long winter nights and his personal experience with the Nazi regime were surely on his mind as he wrote this poem about darkness, light, hope, and promise.  Here is the first verse (as translated by Herman G. Stuempfle, Jr.)

The night will soon be ending; the dawn cannot be far.
Let songs of praise ascending now greet the morning Star!
All you whom darkness frightens with guilt or grief or pain
God's radiant Star now brightens and bids you sing again.

In the new LCMS hymnal, "The Night Will Soon Be Ending" is set to the Welsh tune "Llangloffan." But in Germany, the hymn has been sung since 1939 to a melody composed for it by Johannes Petzold.

The story of  Klepper's life is tragic. Jochen Klepper was married to a Jewish lady named Hannah ("Hanni".) Hanni had two daughters, Brigitte and Reni, by a previous marriage. The Kleppers sent the older daughter Brigitte to England in 1938, the same year that Klepper wrote "The Night Will Soon Be Ending." They could not bear to send little Reni too, so she stayed with them in Germany. Later, they tried to get an exit visa for Reni, but they were denied repeatedly. They also faced a mandatory divorce because it was illegal for a Jew to be married to a German.

German postage stamp
German stamp honoring Jochen Klepper
In December 1942, Adolph Eichmann, the Nazi official in charge of Jewish deportation, personally rejected their request to leave Germany. Certain that death awaited them in concentration camps  Klepper, Hani, and Reni committed suicide. Klepper wrote a final entry in his diary minutes before they died: "Tonight we die together. Over us stands in the last moments the image of the blessed Christ who surrounds us. With this view we end our lives.”

Klepper's diary was used as evidence in the trial of Adolph Eichmann.* A collection of excerpts from the Klepper diary, In the Shadow of His Wings, was published in 1956. I could not find a copy at any of my usual internet booksellers.

Several short histories of Klepper's life are available online. One article explores the role of German Mennonites in World War II as related to some events in Jochen Klepper's life. Another article on a Lutheran website discusses Klepper's theology and spiritual life in addition to the story of his life.
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*I clearly remember news reports and adult talk about the Eichmann trial during my childhood, though I did not grasp the full significance of it at the time.

2 comments:

Stitchy Mc Floss said...

Oh how sad to have lived in times where you felt the only thing you could do was kill yourself. So very sad for the daughter left behind, too. Those were such horrible times.

His words still ring true after all these years....

You know, all this gets me to thinking....if I had lived during those times, I pray I would have had the courage to have stood up for all those innocent people being killed. For how else could you stand before God on your day of judgement without blood on your hands. I don't think people always think about those things. They figure, it's not them so who cares...but if you do nothing when evil abounds, then you condone it, so then you are just as guilty as they who do it.

So very, very sad. :)

Collagemama said...

Thank you for this powerful, sad post. I am again thankful for the Allied soldiers of WWII.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.