Note: I am working off of google translations from the German for much of this material. I would greatly appreciate any clarifications from German speakers on points where my understanding is confused or mistaken.
Updated: to clean up confusion about terms.
In an ominously symbolic gesture for October 31 2006, Reverend Roland Weisselberg, a retired evangelical protestant
priest minister, doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire in the ruins of the library (or in an excavation next to the library, the reports vary), next to the church of the Augustine monastery in Erfurt in Thuringia in the former East Germany. He lit the match at 10:45AM, during a musical service. His self-immolation was to prove fatal. He died, shortly after noon, in the burns unit of the hospital in Halle.
Before he struck the fatal match, the last words he spoke were “Jesus and Oskar.” [link]
There is no mystery in why a 73-year-old retired
priest minister would call to Jesus before committing suicide. But why did he call to Oskar? Who was Oskar?
Before answering that question, let’s explore Reverend Roland Weisselberg’s background.
Weisselberg studied in the 1950’s in Jena and Berlin, and afterwards worked as a reader for a publisher. He was known as a very well read and active Christian. In 1965 he took orders and worked until his retirement in 1989 as a minister in the Windischholzhausen in Erfurt. [link] As an active Christian minister in the Evangelical Protestant church in East Germany, he would have been very involved in the church’s advocacy for increased freedoms and against the totalitarian oppression habitually practiced by the East German state. The identity of Oskar Bruesewitz and the symbolism of his actions would have been well known to Reverend Roland.
Oskar Bruesewitz was an
priest evangelical protestant minister who on August 18 1976 set himself on fire “in the busy market square of the town of Zeitz in Saxony, East Germany”[link] in order to protest increasingly severe restrictions placed on Christianity by the hardline Communist East German government.[link] His suicide proved to be a turning point the beginning of the end for East German Socialism, for it empowered the Evangelical Protestant church as an advocate for freedom.
The Evangelical Protestant church of East Germany played an increasingly important role in the collapse of the East German communist government. Per Professor Frederick O. Bonkovsky, Sources of East German Revolution and German Unification:
More than any single institution, the East German Protestant Church was mother and midwife to the revolution of 1989 and hence to the reunification of Germany in 1990. Through highly courageous action, which risked its own identity, the church in 1988 served human rights and social dissent by exploiting the fissures in East German socialism. As the events of October and November, 1989, showed, when the push came, the supposedly concrete wall and will of the East German regime crumbled, having previously been undermined and compromised.
The first fissures appeared in the wall of east german socialism back in 1976, as a direct result of Oskar Brueswitz’s self-immolation.
After the 1976 self-immolation of Pastor Bruesewitz protesting state pressure against Christians, the SED became more accommodating. In 1978, for the first time, the top leaders of church and state met personally. Each acknowledged the other’s legitimacy. A year later, when the church criticized the increased military training in GDR schools, the state took the opportunity to call for peace leadership through East-West church cooperation.
Self-immolation is an effective way to draw attention to a political, ideological, or religious cause. If someone is willing to kill themselves by self-immolation, thus not only damning themselves to eternal punishment according to most religions around the world, but also suffering one of the most painful and agonizing deaths which one can suffer, then people pay attention. In 1962 and 1963, and continuing through the Vietnam War, buddhist monks made a practice of it in Vietnam. The sight of it on the evening news stunned and gob-smacked Americans, who wondered who were these insane people in Vietnam and why American kids were over there trying to save them.
What was on Weisselberg’s mind as he lit the match? What bothered him enough, what had him so exercised and troubled, that he put his own eternal soul in jeopardy in order to make a political protest?
In a word, Islam.
At a news conference, the provost of the church, Elfried Begrich said that Reverend Weisselberg had detailed in a letter that the Protestant church should be more aware of the threat posed by the spread of Islam.[link]
Weisselberg expressed the same concern in a letter written to his wife. According to der Spiegel, Weisselberg had been expressing much the same concern for the last three or four years.
The provost at Erfurt and the Bishop of Saxony admitted to confusion and embarrassment over Weisselberg’s act. Their concern was that while there had been some, slight theoretical discussion of the relation between Christians and Islam, there had been no practical dialogue or understanding, and they didn’t want this to cause any unrest. [link]
It is not only clear that the provost and bishop wish to avoid controversy at any cost, but also clear that unrest was exactly what Reverend Roland wanted to provoke. Pretty words did not overthrow the East German socialist state: Unrest and civil disobedience did. Germans must stop resting and start resisting. Some unrest or restlessness or resistance would be good for Germany. Awaken to the dangers of encouraging Islam to form insular enclaves in Germany that breed more jihadists like Mohammed Atta, who was born in Egypt but radicalized in Germany.
Reverend Roland was a disturbed man. He committed a mortal sin. I grieve for his widow, who did not deserve to lose her husband like this. And he embarrassed the church hierarchy by his politically incorrect words and his sinful death.
However, he was right about one thing. Islamic Jihadism in Germany is something to be concerned about.
There are no photos (that I could find) of Reverend Roland’s self-immolation. We will not see his picture on the evening news with the teleprompter-reading, blow-dried, vapid descendants of Walter Cronkite. But that doesn’t prevent us from seeing a picture of him within our mental camera, remembering what he did, why he did it, and that we must care.
Say a prayer for Reverend Roland Weisselberg.
Friends, Germans, all you descendants of the great European civilizations, awaken from your slumber. The Jihad is here, it’s a real threat, and it’s not going to cure itself.