How I Found the Answer to Injustice
As told by Ursula Menne
For as long as I can remember, I have had a burning desire to see everyone treated fairly and justly. This desire even resulted in my being sent to prison in Communist East Germany. And there, of all places, is where I found the answer to injustice. Let me explain.
I WAS born in 1922 in the German town of Halle, which has a recorded history of more than 1,200 years. Situated about 120 miles (200 km) southwest of Berlin, Halle was one of the earliest strongholds of Protestantism. My sister, Käthe, was born in 1923. Father served in the military. Mother sang in the theater.
It was from Father that I gained a strong desire to correct injustice. When he left the army, Father purchased a store. Since his customers were mostly poor people, he compassionately extended them credit. This noble gesture, however, forced him into bankruptcy. Father’s experience should have taught me that fighting inequality and injustice is much harder and more complicated than meets the eye. But youthful idealism is a hard flame to snuff out.
From Mother, I inherited artistic talent, and she introduced Käthe and me to music, song, and dance. I was a lively child, and Käthe and I had a wonderful life—that is, until the year 1939.
A Nightmare Begins
After finishing my basic education, I attended ballet school, where I also learned the Ausdruckstanz (expressive dance), as taught by Mary Wigman. She was a pioneer of Expressionist dancing, which requires the artist to express his or her feelings in the form of a dance. I also began painting. Thus, my teen years were initially happy and filled with excitement and learning. But then came 1939 and World War II. Another blow occurred in 1941, when Father died of tuberculosis.
War is a nightmare. Although I was only 17 years of age when the war began, I thought that the world had gone mad. I saw throngs of hitherto normal citizens get caught up in Nazi hysteria. Then came deprivation, death, and destruction. Our house was badly damaged in a bomb attack, and in the course of the war, several of my family members were killed.
When hostilities ceased in 1945, Mother, Käthe, and I were still in Halle. By this time, however, I had a husband and a baby daughter, but my marriage was strained. We separated, and since I had to support myself and my daughter, I worked as a dancer and a painter.
Post-war Germany was divided into four sectors, and our town was in the sector governed by the Soviet Union. Hence, we all had to get accustomed to being under a Communist regime. In 1949, our part of Germany, often called East Germany, became the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
Life Under Communism
In those years, Mother became ill, and I had to care for her. I took an office job with the local government. Meanwhile, I came into contact with student dissidents who tried to draw attention to some of the injustices being perpetrated. For instance, one youth was denied a university education because his father had been a member of the Nazi party. I knew the student well, since we often played music together. ‘Why,’ I thought, ‘should he suffer because of what his father had done?’ My involvement with the dissidents increased, and I decided to get involved in public protests. On one occasion I even attached leaflets to the outside staircase of the local court building.
My sense of justice was further offended by some of the letters I had to type as a secretary to the Regional Peace Committee. In another instance, for political reasons, the Committee planned to send Communist propaganda material to an elderly man living in West Germany in order to arouse suspicion against him. I felt so indignant at the dishonest treatment of that man that I hid the parcels in the office. As a result, they were never mailed.
“The Worst Person in the Room” Gave Me Hope
In June 1951, two men came into my office and announced: “You are under arrest.” They took me to the prison known as the Roter Ochse, or Red Ox. One year later I was charged with subversion against the State. A student had betrayed me to the Stasi, the secret police, informing them of my earlier protest with the leaflets. The trial was a farce because no one took any notice of what I said in my defense. I was sentenced to six years in prison. During that time, I became ill and was placed in the prison hospital dormitory with about 40 other women. After seeing all those extremely unhappy people, I began to panic. I ran to the door and struck it with my fists.
“What do you want?” the guard asked.
“I must get out of here,” I shouted. “Put me in solitary if you have to, but just get me out of here!” Of course, he ignored my plea. Shortly thereafter, I noticed a woman who was different from the others. Her eyes reflected an inner tranquillity. So I sat beside her.
“If you sit near me, you had better be careful,” she said, much to my surprise. Then she added, “Others think I am the worst person in the room because I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
At the time, I did not know that Jehovah’s Witnesses were viewed as enemies of the Communist State. But what I did know about them was that two Bible Students (as the Witnesses were formerly called) had visited Father regularly when I was a child. In fact, I recalled Father saying, “The Bible Students are right!”
I wept with relief to meet this dear woman, whose name was Berta Brüggemeier. “Please, tell me about Jehovah,” I said. From then on, we spent a lot of time together and often discussed the Bible. Among other things, I learned that the true God, Jehovah, is a God of love, justice, and peace. I also learned that he will undo all the harm caused by wicked and tyrannical humans. “Just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more . . . But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace,” says Psalm 37:10, 11.
My Release and Flight to the West
I was released in 1956, having spent just over five years in prison. Five days after my release, I fled the GDR to live in West Germany. By then I had two daughters, Hannelore and Sabine, whom I took with me. There, my husband and I got divorced and I met up with the Witnesses again. As I studied the Bible, I realized that I had to make a number of changes in order to align my life with Jehovah’s standards. I made these changes and got baptized in 1958.
Later, I remarried, this time to one of Jehovah’s Witnesses—Klaus Menne. Klaus and I had a wonderful marriage and had two children together, Benjamin and Tabia. Tragically, Klaus died about 20 years ago in an accident, and I have been a widow ever since. But I take much comfort in the hope of the resurrection, knowing that the dead will be raised to life in Paradise on earth. (Luke 23:43; Acts 24:15) I am also greatly comforted by the knowledge that my four children all serve Jehovah.
Thanks to my study of the Bible, I have learned that only Jehovah can provide true justice. Unlike humans, he takes account of all of our circumstances, as well as our background—details that are often hidden from the eyes of others. This precious knowledge has given me peace even now, especially when I see or experience injustice. Says Ecclesiastes 5:8: “If in some province you witness the oppression of the poor and the denial of right and justice, do not be surprised at what goes on, for every official has a higher one set over him, and the highest keeps watch over them all.” (The Revised English Bible) “The highest,” of course, is our Creator. “All things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting,” says Hebrews 4:13.
Looking Back Over Nearly 90 Years
People sometimes ask me what it was like living under both Nazi and Communist rule. Life under neither was easy. And both forms of government, as with all forms of human government, simply confirmed that humans cannot govern themselves. The Bible frankly and truthfully says: “Man has dominated man to his injury.”—Ecclesiastes 8:9.
When I was young and naive, I looked to humans for rulership that was just. Now I know better. Only our Creator can bring about a truly just world, and he will do so by getting rid of all the wicked and putting the rulership of the earth into the hands of his Son, Jesus Christ, who always put the interests of others ahead of his own. Concerning Jesus, the Bible says: “You loved righteousness, and you hated lawlessness.” (Hebrews 1:9) I am so thankful that God drew me to this wonderful and just King, under whose rulership I hope to live forever!
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With my daughters Hannelore and Sabine after we arrived in West Germany
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Today, with my son, Benjamin, and his wife, Sandra