The following is the Preface written by Rhena Schweitzer Miller for The Albert Schweitzer-Helene Bresslau Letters, 1902-1912, published by Syracuse University Press in 2003.
It verges on the miraculous that a selection from the correspon¬dence between my parents, Helene and Albert Schweitzer, from 1901 to 1912, can be published.
In 1957, after the death of my mother, I had to move out very hastily from the house in Königsfeld in the Black Forest that my father had had built before he returned to Africa in 1924. All that I could do was to pack everything that appeared important to me as best I could into trunks and boxes, which were put into storage in various places in Switzerland for many years. I then spent ten years in Africa and later moved to the United States. From time to time, while visiting in Switzerland, I would rummage around in the boxes and trunks, but I never had much time for it. I did not even think of searching for any correspondence between my parents be¬cause I seemed to remember that my mother once told me that she had burned all my father””s letters. Thus, I was absolutely astonished when I found these letters a few years ago. I probably had misunderstood my mother. This correspondence contains far fewer letters from her than from my father, so she probably meant that she had destroyed a portion of her own letters.
To my great surprise, I found that both my father and my mother wrote a. large part, about two-thirds, of their correspondence in French. My father was probably following the tradition of cultivated Alsatian families, who spoke in Alsatian dialect but wrote their letters in French. My mother, who came from an old German family, spoke excellent French, which often earned her my father””s praise. She probably used this language to fit in with the custom of the country and to please my father.
For me, these letters were a revelation. I had known my parents only as older people because my father was forty-four and my mother forty when I was born. In addition, they both were rather reserved people, and while I was growing up, my father spent most of his time in Africa. In these letters, I got to know my parents as young people, with their idealism, their strug¬gles, and their strong will, which made it possible for them to achieve their goal of going to Africa together in spite of all obstacles.
These letters are the only personal testimony of the relationship be¬tween Helene Bresslau and Albert Schweitzer in the years before they jour¬neyed out into the African forest. In quick succession, the writers express their thoughts and feelings without restraint and in reading their words we can follow along as two extraordinary personalities find their way to one another over the course of a decade. In his wedding sermon for Elly Knapp and Theodor Heuss, my father said, “The great happiness of this moment is not that two human beings inwardly vow to one another, ‘We want to live for one another,’ but it means, ‘We want to live with each other for some¬thing.’” The same is true to an even higher degree of the couple Helene Bresslau and Albert Schweitzer. It was the common task that united them.
These letters also throw a new light on my father””s intellectual devel¬opment and the slow ripening of his decision to go to Africa. The young man who knew what he wanted but not how it could be attained became the man of action who knew his path.
We come to know his manifold areas of interest and can follow the de¬velopment of the important books he wrote during these years. He reports on the preaching activity that was so important to him but that has not yet received adequate consideration. He is intensively occupied with the prob¬lem of how Jesus”” message can be brought home to modem humanity. Music, too, is important to him, as indicated by his rendition of the works of Bach, his activities for the preservation of old organs and for the creation of new ones with beautiful tone. Later, medicine is added to the list of his interests. Amazingly, my father and my mother rarely mention this study of a completely new subject and the experience of contact with sick human beings; my mother writes only a little about her nursing experiences. Still less do my parents appear to have reflected on the black people in whose midst they would live. Academic activity is seldom mentioned. It is the re¬alization of his promise “to enter on a path of immediate service as a human being” that is close to my father””s heart.
Since his time in Lambaréné, my father has become world famous. My mother, although his life””s partner and an irreplaceable colleague in the first period of activity in their jungle hospital, has existed in his shadow from that time. Only a few people know what part she had in his development and what a significant role she played in his younger years. She was an im¬portant woman in her own right. Much has been written about my father, but these letters bear witness to the influence my mother had on his life. That is why making this correspondence accessible to the public is a project particularly dear to my heart. Out of the 460 letters exchanged between my parents from 1902 to 1912, those of purely local interest and those with re¬dundancies—that is, letters for holidays—have been omitted. Ellipses en¬closed within square brackets ([…]) indicate editorial omissions within the letters. All other ellipses throughout the letters are part of my parents”” writing style.
For the first publication of this book in German, I would like to give heartfelt thanks to Dr. Ingrid Lent, who lovingly saw this correspondence through the press, and to my cousin Gustav Woyrt, without whose help this edition would never have come about.
For the English edition, I am indebted to Antje Bultmann Lemke, with whom I made the selections and who lovingly translated the chosen letters with the assistance of Ann Martin, Kurt Bergel, and Kitty Bergel. Nancy Stewart also gave invaluable help with the manuscript. My deepest grati¬tude goes to them all.
Rhena Schweitzer Miller
Reprinted with permission by Rhena Schweitzer Miller
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