What God Joined Together: Chapter 2 — Don’t marry a foreigner

  1. What God Joined Together: Chapter 1 — Getting acquainted with God’s higher ways
  2. What God Joined Together: Chapter 2 — Don’t marry a foreigner
  3. What God Joined Together: Chapter 3 — Don’t get involved in politics
  4. What God Joined Together: Chapter 4 — The girl from Mühlacker
  5. What God Joined Together: Chapter 5 — Love grows where my Rosemary goes
  6. What God Joined Together: Chapter 6 — Miles apart
  7. What God Joined Together: Chapter 7 — A confession with serious consequences
Rosemarie with her mother and her sister

A serialisation of a new book by Cape Town missionary and author Ashley Cloete about love across the colour divide in the apartheid era. Each week we will publish a new chapter

In the meantime, a girl called Rosemarie was born in the South of Germany and was raised in a world utterly different from mine. Yet this very girl would one day cry out to God that “it would be the greatest miracle of all if I were to marry Ashley Cloete one day.” A true miracle is exactly what it would be. One that bears witness to a God who is capable of so much more than we can ever imagine.

Rosemarie and her sister Waltraud grew up as typical ‘post war’ children, with their parents often recalling their traumatic experiences of the war at home. A constant fear existed in their young hearts that another war could break out any time. Around the age of four, little Rosemarie was sometimes too afraid to go to the bathroom alone, fearing that the next war might break out right then.

One of the greatest dreams of Rosemarie’s father, who had climbed the ladder to a respectable position in the regional revenue office, was to own his own house. In order for this to be financially possible, her mother took a secretarial position at a school. As little children, the two sisters were left in the care of young women who were employed as housekeepers in their home. When Rosemarie got to primary school age, she and her older sister became latchkey children; each one of them had a key to the house around their necks, with nobody to welcome them when they came home from school.

Growing up, Rosemarie and her older sister Waltraud often witnessed their parents in conflict. These disputes were usually evoked by the differences in their respective upbringings and their very different views on life. Not understanding what the conflict was all about, Rosemarie often feared that her parents might get a divorce.

Throughout her childhood and teenage years, Rosemarie battled with the tension she felt between wanting to respect and obey her father with his somewhat rigid views on life, and the desire to forge her own ways, and create her own opinions. She was well-aware that her father wanted only what was best for his daughters, but also learnt that his idea of what was best may have been tainted by the unusual circumstances surrounding his upbringing.

To put things into perspective, let me share with you a little bit about the background of Rosemarie’s parents. Franz Göbel, Rosemarie’s father, grew up in the small town of Weißwasser in Silesia, a region in the east of Germany. During World War II, this part of Germany was taken over by communist-ruled Czechoslovakia, causing his family to flee to southern Germany. In the environment in which he had grown up, Adolf Hitler was regarded as the ‘Führer’ who provided solutions for all of the country’s problems. Rosemarie’s father, along with most of his community, was thus very much influenced by Nazi indoctrination. Years later, he still regularly defended the Nazis in conversation, even referring to what he termed “the exaggerated numbers asserted to have been killed” in the gas chambers.

Rosemarie’s mother Erika (née Marte), on the other hand, came from the city of Stuttgart with a completely different upbringing. She had been one of the best in the class academically, privileged as a girl to attend school right up to the ‘Abitur’. She was, however, not allowed to proceed onto higher education due to her refusal to join the Hitler youth. Her family had been critical of Adolf Hitler and his regime, and as a family the Martes respected Jews. Aside from this, the war had left Erika deeply traumatized in another very direct way; their house had been bombed when she was a young adult, and this was how she had lost her mother.

Erika was ‘evangelisch’, i.e. she was a member of the Lutheran State Church. Rosemarie’s father, however, had been raised as a Roman Catholic. In a general atmosphere of mutual distrust between the two big German ecclesiastic denominations, Rosemarie’s parents dared to get married nonetheless. They had mutually agreed that any children in the marriage would be raised as Protestants, not Catholics.

After fleeing to southern Germany, Rosemarie’s father’s family had found refuge at a former monastery in the small village of Maulbronn. The former Protestant monastery was used to welcome war refugees from both big church denominations. Rosemarie’s parents were very happy when they were allowed to stay on in the accommodation section of the monastery as a young couple. Housing for families was very scarce in Germany at this time, and they were grateful to find a solace there.

From a young age, Rosemarie had been an avid reader, and often used the time alone at home after school to catch up on some literature. But their father felt that reading was no pastime for young girls, so this became something she had to do in secret. It took many years for Rosemarie to overcome the sense of guilt and secrecy she felt while reading books. Still, it was largely through the literature she read that Rosemarie gained more and more compassion towards the Jews as a people. This was of course much to the dismay of her father.

As far as Rosemarie’s faith journey is concerned, Rosemarie was well-aware of spiritual matters from a young age. In her own words: “I recall my mother telling us Bible stories from an early age. Even as a child, I suffered from feelings of guilt because I felt that I could not live a life which lived up to God’s expectations. Very early in my life I had the secret wish to become a missionary one day, although I also had the impression that I could never remain faithful and steadfast if I would be required to suffer persecution. While still at primary school, I was confronted at a camp of the Liebenzeller Mission to accept Jesus as my personal Saviour. I experienced this step as a relief, to know that I was at last a child of God. The verse from Isaiah 43:1 I called you by your name, you are mine…, which was given to me at that occasion, carried me through into my teenage years, when the worldly things began to attract me increasingly.”

As Rosemarie approached the age of fourteen, she attended confirmation classes, as was customary for teens in the Lutheran State Church. The classes themselves were not particularly gripping or challenging. For the final confirmation event in the church, the pastor requested the learners to randomly pick a card with a Bible verse from a box, which was to become their respective ‘Konfirmandenspruch’ on the special day. Rosemarie picked Psalm 93:4; a verse that would become deeply meaningful to Rosemarie. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty! In later years she was often reminded of these words when it seemed as if she would ‘drown’ in yet another wave of life’s turbulent storms.

Rosemarie’s liberal Religious Studies teacher in secondary school seemed to attempt to counter other spiritual influences in her life. It was not easy for Rosemarie to stand firm in her faith when the teacher peppered them with critical perspectives on the Bible. Similarly, she needed steadfastness at home as she continued to gain a lot of sympathy for the Jews, opposing any influence her father tried to exert.
Rosemarie wanted to study physiotherapy, but this would mean moving to the town of Tübingen for her studies, and her father did not like that one bit. Besides the expense of studying there, there were too many foreign students in that university town for his liking. The thought of his daughter potentially meeting someone who was non-German seemed too great a risk. He had his own ideas about what his future son-in-law should be like. His negative experiences with southern European foreigners as part of his work in the civil service seemed to confirm all the prejudices he had picked up as a receptive young boy. Thus Rosemarie and her sister were requested to make a promise that they would get married only to a German. Although she had not met many foreigners in her life up to that point, Rosemarie refused to commit to any promise along those lines. She did not refuse so much out of conviction, but she just felt that she should not bind herself in such a way. When Papa Göbel scathingly mentioned that she also better not marry a pastor, she once again refused to oblige.

As she was not allowed to study physiotherapy, she settled for her second vocational choice, studying to become an ‘Erzieherin’, which would officially qualify her to become either a kindergarten teacher or a support worker in a children’s home. This training brought her to the city of Stuttgart in 1967, the very city where I would spend much of the year 1969.

Next week: Chapter 3 — Don’t get involved in politics!

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