ZION CHURCH AND WORLD WAR I
Waves of immigrants from Germany poured into Baltimore. The founding of the German Empire in Europe had increased the racial consciousness of the Germans in America. At the turn of the century there were more than thirty congregations in Baltimore which had Sunday services in German. When the German immigration subsided somewhat during the first decade of this century, many German churches readily introduced English services, which gradually supplanted the German altogether.
German-Americanism, as we call this phenomenon of two generations ago, puzzled many observers. Most of these Germans in Baltimore were law-abiding citizens, and nobody actually questioned their loyalty. At the same time, however, they seemed to take such an alert interest in their old homeland that unknowingly they created the impression of being Germans first and Americans only second.
Zion Church had been German since its inception. Nowhere in Baltimore was an organization to be found where the spirit and the outer life were more genuinely patterned in the Teutonic style than in the old church on City Hall Plaza. Pastor Hermann's name appeared on the roll of most of the German societies. He was a much-sought-after speaker at rallies of the German-Americans. Members of the church were to be found everywhere in the activities of Baltimore's
Germandom. John Tjarks, the prosperous hotel owner and faithful son of Zion, for ten years headed the Independent Citizens' Union, a group of German societies that constituted a potent political power in Baltimore.
When the World War broke out in Europe in August 1914, there was no question where the sympathies of the German-Americans stood. The awareness that the motherland was engaged in a life-or-death struggle at once prompted them to prove by acts of charity their attachment to the Old Country, where fathers and brothers were fighting for the Fatherland. Pastor Julius
Hof-mann, who was active in the National German-American Alliance, placed the Zion Parish House at the disposal of the German-Austrian Red Cross Aid Society. Prior to 1917, almost a million dollars was collected for German and Austrian war widows and orphans, the congregation of Zion having contributed a considerable share of this amount. In the Adlersaal of the Parish House a
German eagle was "nailed," each nail bringing a contribution for the war victims in the Old Country.
These activities were observed by the non-German public with much distaste. Gradually public opinion tended openly toward the Allied cause. The entry of the United States into the war against Germany became more and more probable. The enthusiastic feeling of the German-Americans, who considered themselves the hyphen between Germany and America, "the living demonstration of the fact that a large population may be transplanted from one to another country and may be devoted to the new fatherland for life and death, and yet preserve a reverent love for the old," as Carl Schurz once expressed it, greatly disturbed those who foresaw the war between the two countries.
In the rnidst of this situation, when the feeling ran high, Pastor Hofmann remained calm and sober. He never wavered in his profound faith in the values of his German heritage and culture, but, untiringly, he reminded his congregation of their oath of allegiance to the new country. In 1916, when he was serving as the Chaplain of the House of Delegates, he introduced English vesper services, which henceforth, for many years, were held regularly in the Parish House. This gesture of preaching in the language of the country attracted many Anglo-American hearers and convinced them that Zion was not a secret bulwark of the Kaiser.
On Good Friday of 1917, when a state of war between the United States and Germany was declared, there was no longer any doubt as to the loyalty of the people of Zion. Again it was the Parish House where hundreds of helping hands assembled—the Patriotic Helpers of Zion Church, and the Liberty Loan Drives, Zion Branch. Despite personal tragedy and torn hearts, surrounded by suspicion and often by hatred, Zion's people fulfilled their duties. For the soldiers who spent days or weeks in Baltimore before being shipped overseas, Zion opened its hospitable doors.
After the end of the war, Charles H. Miegel thus characterized his pastor's attitude during these years of storm and stress: "Pastor Hofmann was a great inspiration during the trying years. No opponent of his, however prejudiced or ignorant, can but admire this —that the man and his congregation performed sternly and loyally their duty as American citizens without prostituting the ideals of their Lutheran Christianity, and without surrendering one iota of
that proud inheritance of our Germanic traditions as expressed in language, in literature, in learning, in music, and especially in our religious tenets. It was an heroic achievement, indeed—great because it was accomplished through glorious and mighty effort."
Many sons of Zion were in the Armed Forces. Four of them did not return. A cross of wrought iron, standing between the graves of the old pastors in the church garden, was erected in their memory.
The life of the church went on. The attendance at the services often was small. The stress on the members was too great. Racial hatred did not stop at the doors of the churches and schools. But when the pastor sent out an appeal to all members to return to the church for the Christmas service of 1918, he preached on Christmas Day to a church which could not have been fuller in the easy years before the war. What was most important, the youth remained faithful to Zion.
Expressed in numbers, Zion had lost some of its strength. Spiritually the church emerged stronger from the ordeal. The congregation had grown together in the face of hostility. It had also survived as a German church, soon remaining the only church in Baltimore where German was preached every Sunday.
Zion Church and World War II