No Longer in the Shadow of Hitler
by Tomas Dixon

She was the daughter of a Nazi general and Adolf Hitler?s own goddaughter. But after Rosemarie Claussen embraced faith in Jesus, she found a supernatural grace to forgive her Russian enemies?as well as the Nazis who killed her father.

When the heavy gates of the prison closed on her with a sharp, intimidating clang, Rosemarie Claussen?s fear of the Russians resurfaced. As a child in 1945 she had lived through the horrors of the Russian invasion of Germany?the bombs, the dead, the wounded, the fires, the filth, the hunger, the anguish, the flight. And especially the desperate fear of becoming the victim of Russian revenge against Nazism. Would Germany?s conquerors find out that Rosemarie was the daughter of a Nazi general and the godchild of Adolf Hitler himself?

Since the war ended 40 years ago, Rosemarie had been haunted by nightmares of Russians that she imagined were coming after her. Now here she was, locked-in behind prison walls with real-life Russian rapists and robbers. The fact that she had been invited to this prison to share her testimony with the inmates did little to comfort her.

?Last week these men killed somebody in a riot,? the prison chaplain told Rosemarie as they walked down the corridors toward the chapel where she was scheduled to speak. Rosemarie panicked inside. God, why did you send me here? she questioned.

Water dripped from the ceiling. The whole place was shabby and filthy. Even the chapel had a dismal look to it and was barely lit. The criminals who were gathering to hear her speak looked every bit their part.

?God, how could I possibly impart your love in this place?? Rosemarie prayed desperately.

Suppressing her fears, Rosemarie started doing what she had come to do?share her life?s story. Little by little the faces softened. Some of the men even embarrassingly shed a few tears.

Rosemarie relaxed a little, but her worst test was about to come. A young man in the first row was getting very emotional?sobbing openly. Suddenly Rosemarie felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to put her arm around the prisoner?a simple act of comfort for him, but a great test of obedience for her.

Lord, she prayed silently, do I really have to do this?embrace a Russian? In reluctant obedience she put her arm around the young criminal, and the man collapsed onto the floor.

After the meeting he told her his story. The young prisoner was the son of a fearless Pentecostal pastor in the former Soviet Union. The son developed into a devoted communist and eventually reported his father to the police for ?illegal religious activities.?

When he was arrested, the father had turned to his son and said: ?I forgive you. And as a sign to you from God, one day a foreigner will come and put his or her arm around you.?

When this prophecy was fulfilled through Rosemarie, the young man?who ironically had ended up in jail himself?realized that he was truly forgiven and cleansed of his sin. When she heard his story, Rosemarie knew for certain nothing on earth could bar God?s reconciliation and that she had indeed been handpicked to represent it.

Conquered by Hate

Over a cup of tea in her small apartment outside Nuremberg, the German city where the war-crimes tribunal was convened after World War II, 65-year-old Rosemarie Claussen tells the story of her long journey from fear to forgiveness. Her eyes are warm and eager as she explains how God turned her hatred into love, a testimony that keeps opening people?s hearts to the healing power of forgiveness and reconciliation just the way it did with the Russian prisoner.

Together with her husband, Tilo, Rosemarie runs the Josuamission, a ministry that focuses on German-Russian reconciliation but also targets unforgiveness in the church. Rosemarie was 52 when Josuamission started in 1986. She had become a committed Christian 17 years earlier and had ministered with Aglow International. Forty-one years had passed since Hitler?s death and the end of World War II, but in her heart there was still bitterness and hatred against Hitler and the Gestapo?and above all against the Russians.

And she was still afraid. Often in the dark of night, Rosemarie woke up screaming aloud.

?But in 1986 God cornered me,? she says. ?I heard His voice saying that unless I forgave, He could not forgive me, and He could no longer allow me to minister in His name.?

Forgive? she questioned. After all that she and her family had gone through?

Rosemarie was born in Hamburg in 1934. Her father was a Nazi general and police commander. Hitler favored her family, and when he heard of Rosemarie?s birth, he spontaneously offered to be her godfather.

One could not resist an offer by the fuhrer, and at the time it was a very special honor. Before long it turned into a nightmare?when Rosemarie?s father began to realize the true nature of Nazism.

?Father was a Christian,? Rosemarie explains. ?He was always against anti-Semitism and had many good Jewish friends. I do not really know his reasoning?he must have assumed that the anti-Semitic campaigns did not originate with Hitler. Obviously he thought for a number of years that Hitler was a good man.?

During the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Rosemarie?s father was the police commander in the German capital and Hitler?s personal bodyguard. Spending so much time around Hitler opened his eyes. He started opposing the fuhrer, and in 1937 he was dismissed.

By then Hitler was getting ready to play his cards, and the last thing he needed was a well-informed dissident. In 1938 Rosemarie?s father died a sudden but seemingly natural death and was buried with all due military honors. It took years before the family learned the truth about his death.

To protect his wife and children, the ex-general had confided only in the family?s old nanny and told her to keep the truth to herself until it was safe to tell.

?My father was poisoned by the Gestapo.? Rosemarie recounts. ?After his dismissal he was put under pressure to renounce his ?treacherous ideas? and swear loyalty to Hitler again, but he refused.

?One night the Gestapo came to our house and presented Father with two options. Either his wife and children would be taken to a concentration camp the next day or he agree to swallow the pills that the officers had brought with them.

?Next day Father died,? Rosemarie continues. ?And we all thought it was a heart attack.?

It wasn?t until after the war that the family learned the full measure of their father?s civil courage. In the first phase of the Allied occupation of Germany, travel to and from the Russian zone still was permitted, and one day Rosemarie?s youngest brother went to East Berlin to recover a few belongings that had been left with friends.

The Russian officer at the checkpoint started to make trouble for Rosemarie?s brother on his return. Unexpectedly the American officer on the other side intervened, and her brother was allowed to pass.

?My brother asked the American why he had vouched for him,? Rosemarie says, ?and the officer explained that he had heard my brother?s name.

? ?I?m Jewish,? the American had said, ?and in 1936 a man by the same name?a police commander in Berlin?saved my family. I thought you might be related to him.??

Rosemarie?s father, as a Nazi police commander, actually had helped many Jews to escape. Even after his dismissal, when he was constantly under Gestapo surveillance, Rosemarie?s father had continued to obey his conscience.

When the war had come to German soil, fear and hunger soon replaced the luxury that the general?s family had been accustomed to.

?We used to live in very big and fancy houses with lots of servants, delightful food and nice clothes,? Rosemarie recalls. ?Now we spent more and more nights in bomb shelters and had barely enough to eat.?

But there were worse things to come. Toward the end of the war Rosemarie lived with her mother and brothers on the eastern border of Germany, in today?s Poland.

?We heard about the Russian army coming but did not flee in time. In the end we were caught between the fronts. This was the real nightmare,? Rosemarie says. ?The only escape route was by ship, but of course the Russians were bombing the ships.

?Somehow we got on board a ship. I remember standing on the deck, 10 years old, watching the bombs fall. Many ships were hit, and I saw burning wrecks sinking all around me.

?There was nothing to eat. For a week we had nothing to eat. We were sick with diarrhea. We were unspeakably dirty.

?During those days Russenhass?a deep hatred for all things Russian?was planted and firmly rooted within me. It stayed with me and blocked God?s love for more than 40 years.?

Their ship escaped the bombs, and Rosemarie?s family made it to West Germany. But the nightmare for the 10-year-old child was not over. ?We were starved and sick, and we had lost everything,? she remembers. ?We had escaped, but we were still in defeated Germany, and there was still war.

?We were full of lice, and we had only one change of clothes. One day we undressed to have them washed. We wrapped ourselves in blankets, waiting. At that very moment the air-raid siren went off.

?We escaped in time, but the bombs?this time American bombs?destroyed the house, and we were left without any clothes. I remember that Mother removed the Swastika from a Nazi flag and somehow sowed two dresses, one for herself and one for me.?

For Rosemarie?s mother, this particular experience was ?utterly humiliating.? Officials placed the family on a farm near Bremen for five years.

?Thousands of East Germans sought refuge in West Germany, but our compatriots did not welcome us,? Rosemarie says. We were held as slaves on that farm and housed with the cattle.

?My job was to tend the pigs and the geese,? she says. ?A deep fall for the general?s daughter! I grew more bitter.?

Liberated by Love

Now it was the 1980s, and God wanted Rosemarie to forgive.

Forgive Hitler, who had brought it all upon them?

Forgive the Gestapo, who had murdered her father?

Forgive the Russians, who had seared her soul with terror and haunted her dreams for 40 years?

After Germany?s defeat, when the hunt for Nazi war criminals was on, even Hitler?s name on Rosemarie?s certificate of baptism was a deadly threat to the family. Her mother crossed it out, fearing the Allies would find out how close the family had been to the fuhrer. The certificate still carries the black spot, painfully symbolic.

Since the 1950s?when Germany started war recovery and life reassumed some measure of normality?Rosemarie had been doing like most Germans suppressing her memories and denying her recurring nightmares. She never confided in anyone, not even in her husband, Tilo, whom she had married in 1960.

In 1969 Rosemarie surrendered her life to Jesus?but again she withheld the recesses of fear and hatred buried deep inside her. God was patient with her, and 17 years went by in which Rosemarie ministered and matured in many ways.

?In 1986 I had a heart attack and suffered considerable pain,? Rosemarie recounts. ?I cried out to God for healing and asked a good friend to pray for me as well. She called me saying that God had showed her that there was unforgiveness in my heart.

?I got quite upset and told her off. But her words stuck with me, and I knew she was right,? Rosemarie said.

Finally God got through to her. Rosemarie repented and decided to forgive ?even Hitler, the Gestapo and the Russians.? She had reached the place where God could reveal His plan for her life.

?God said that He would send me to the Russians as a messenger of forgiveness,? Rosemarie says.

?Whatever you have been through, God wants to heal and restore you!? she exclaims. ?But the key is forgiveness, and there is no way around it. God cannot forgive and heal unless we forgive first. It does not matter how much we have been sinned against; we are sinners ourselves unless we forgive.

?I keep telling people to forgive, or bitterness will destroy you. My brothers have not forgiven. Instead they have fallen prey to the alcohol. The more you have been hurt, the less you want to forgive, and the more you need it.?

Rosemarie emphasizes that all things, even evil experiences, work for the good of those who love God.

?Once a reporter from Estonian TV asked me how being Hitler?s godchild had influenced my life,? she reflects. ?I have asked myself the same question many times.

?Psalm 126 says that he who goes out weeping will return with songs of joy. The message of the cross is that God can use Satan?s worst for His best.

?It is my experience that this is true. If my testimony helps others to get right with God and be restored to His purpose, then the tragedies of my childhood were not meaningless.?

Forgiving her worst enemies started a healing process in Rosemarie?s life, but God was not yet done with her. She had stopped hating the Russians. She knew God?s will was for her to love them. The prophetic encounter with the young Russian prisoner had been a key experience for her.

?It broke up the remaining ice, and my heart was flooded with love for the Russians,? Rosemarie says. ?Today I love being with them and serving them.?

Rosemarie and Tilo travel frequently in Russia and the Baltic states, and Rosemarie?s testimony keeps opening doors?and hearts. Once, she was invited to speak at a Communist Party congress, and the atheist audience received her message about reconciliation through Christ with tears, thanking her with roses.

On another trip Rosemarie visited the family of a Russian army major. All the family members were Christians except for the major.

?Late at night he and I sat down to talk,? Rosemarie recounts, ?and he started off by telling me that he was an atheist with no interest whatsoever in any god. I told him that I was the daughter of a German general and that I had always feared and hated Russians, especially Russian soldiers like him, but that God had changed me now. Something broke in him, and he gave his life to Jesus.

?On the following day he came with a fellow officer to the church where I was preaching. During the service this second officer also gave his life to Jesus.?

Rosemarie Claussen points out the today?s Europe is in desperate need of the ministry of reconciliation.

?There is Volkerhass?literally, ethnic hatred?and nationalism all around us?and not just in the former Yugoslavia,? she says. ?Many West Germans despise East Germans. Westerners oftentimes scorn Russians and other east Europeans.?

Emphatically Rosemarie states that ?we keep sowing evil, and unless we repent we will surely reap what we are sowing.?

But, she adds, if we repent and forgive our enemies, ?My own life shows that God can turn fear and hatred into love and mercy.?

Reprinted with permission by Charisma, June 1999. Strang Communications Co.