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The German Seamen's Mission in the Port of New York 1907 - 2001

The German Seamen's Mission in the Port of New York
1907 - 2001

by Herbert Patzelt

The German original may be seen at the Hoboken Historical Museum.


  1. Introduction
  2. Brief History of Seamen's Missions
  3. German Seamen's Missions
  4. In the Port of New York
  5. Opening Ceremony 1907
  6. Early Days
  7. Hermann Brückner, Son of Weimar
  8. Growing Responsibilities
  9. Housemaster Hoffmann
  10. Emil Boas and Gustav Schwab
  11. No Return to Germany
  12. After the First World War
  13. Renovations of 1925
  14. The Second World War
  15. Pastor Herbert Patzelt
  16. Looking Back, Saying Good-Bye by Hermann Brückner
  17. Selected Bibliography and Notes
  18. Footnotes
Dedication of the German Seamen's Home -- cover
Dedication of the German Seamen's Home
64 Hudson Street, Hoboken, N.J., Saturday, November 23, 1907, 3:00 p.m.

1. Introduction [1]

It was while a theology student at Tübingen that I decided to go to America to study. In the summer of 1952, I arrived in Fremont, Nebraska, roughly in the middle of the North American continent, where my cousin Dr. Richard Syre was Professor of the Old and New Testaments at Central Lutheran Theological Seminary. There I received my Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) degree in May 1953. I then went to the Germantown section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to attend the Lutheran Theological Seminary, where I earned the degree of Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.) with a thesis on Luther's teachings on law. At the time, in the wake of the enormous injustices of the Second World War, many of us were seeking a basis for jurisprudence in natural law, and thus looked to the works of Martin Luther and John Calvin, for example, to see if some theological doctrine of law could be derived from their writings.

My impressions of America dazzled me. The size of the country, the modernity of life, the many and stimulating professional opportunities that existed there sparked my enthusiasm and helped to shape me as a pastor. Then, unexpectedly, I was asked by Pastor Heinrich Arend Kropp (1892-1956) to take over the German Seamen's Mission in the Port of New York. I agreed, and began work on March 1, 1954. So that I could be properly ordained and appointed, the directors of the hitherto independent Seamen's Mission applied for and were granted membership in the New York and New England Synod of the Lutheran Church. I was ordained on June 17, 1954, in Johnson City, New York, by Frederick R. Knubel, President of the United Synod of New York and New England. This unexpected turn of events in my life, along with my official pastoral duties in the huge metropolis, led me to develop an interest in history.

2. Brief History of Seamen's Missions [2]

The first seamen's missions were started by an Englishman, Charles G. Smith (1781-1862), who had spent six years in the British navy. Smith's network of missions offered refuge and protection to English-speaking sailors in all major ports. In the United States, organized seamen's welfare work began in 1818; in 1820, a church was opened by the "Society for Promoting the Gospel among Seamen in the Port of New York." By the time the German Seamen’s Home opened in Hoboken in 1907, the Port of New York had 13 seamen’s welfare societies with five churches, 17 reading rooms, 11 pastors and 18 missionaries or deacons.

3. German Seamen's Missions

The first institutions devoted to the welfare of German seamen were established in the 1870s, the earliest being located in Great Britain and St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1885, the "General Committee for German Evangelical Seamen's Missions" was formed in Germany, and Lutheran societies in various ports began to implement the Committee's work. A directory published by the General Committee in 1909 listed 175 ports served by German seamen's missions. According to the 1909 directory, there were 29 seamen's homes (with living accommodations) at the time, with 44 reading rooms, 20 pastors, 40 housemasters and deacons, and about 90 part-time employees.

4. In the Port of New York

  Hermann Haars
Hermann Haars
The first House Father of the German Seamen's House in Hoboken, New Jersey, was Hermann Haars, who was educated at the Brethren's Home of St. Stephan in Hanover, Germany. Haars began his ministry in Hoboken on July 1, 1907. These photos were provided by his family.

In the United States, organizations to assist Lutheran immigrants had been established in Philadelphia and New York in the 1860s. In 1873, the German Lutheran Emigrants House opened at 26 State Street in lower Manhattan, near Battery Park and convenient to Castle Garden. The Emigrants House served German immigrants and seafarers alike. In 1905, Dr. Gottlieb C. Berkemeier, son of the Emigrants House director, became interested in seamen's welfare in particular. With the help of Pastor Dr. George Unangst Wenner of New York, Dr. Berkemeier persuaded a Lutheran organization in Hannover to send a representative to found a seamen's mission in the Port of New York. Pastor Wilhelm Thun (1872-1969) arrived with this assignment in September 1906.

Early meetings of the German Seamen's Mission in the Port of New York were held at the Imperial German General Consulate (11 Broadway) and at the Lutheran Emigrants House in lower Manhattan. The practical work of the Mission began in Hoboken, N.J., a municipality directly across from New York City referred to jokingly at the turn of the century as a "suburb of Bremen." In his first two months on the job, the energetic and enthusiastic Pastor Thun not only established contacts with the local Lutheran congregations, most of which were still exclusively German, but also managed to secure financial backing for the German Seamen's Mission in the form of large lump-sum and annual contributions from Hamburg-American (Hapag) and North German Lloyd. At its February 1907 meeting, the fledgling Seamen's Mission voted to buy the building at 64 Hudson Street in Hoboken, on credit, for a sum of $12,000.

What was known officially as the "Society for the Care of German Seamen in the Port of New York" was formally established as a post of the German Lutheran Seamen's Mission on June 19, 1907. On that date, at a meeting held at the Imperial German General Consulate in New York, the Society's by-laws were approved; in addition, the German General Consul, Karl Bünz, was named the Society's first chairman. Pastor Alexander Richter, head of the Lutheran pastorate in New York, was selected to be the first president of the German Seamen's Mission in Hoboken. On July 1, 1907, Pastor Thun was formally appointed to the position of Seamen's Chaplain, and a Housemaster, Deacon H. Haars, was hired. (Haars, like all deacons at the Seamen's Home in this period, came from the Brethren's Home of St. Stephan in Hannover, directed by Pastor Paul Oehlkers, formerly Seamen's Chaplain in Cardiff and on the Lower Weser.)

The original 15-member board of directors of the new Seamen's Mission included a representative of the German Empire (ex officio), General Consul Karl Bünz (succeeded in 1908 by R. Franksen); a representative of the Hamburg-America Line, Emil L. Boas; and a representative of North German Lloyd, Gustav H. Schwab. Attorney George Gravenhorst was the treasurer, and Pastor Hugo W. Hoffmann the secretary. The vice-president was Dr. Gottlieb C. Berkemeier. Dr. Jacob W. Loch and Dr. George Unangst Wenner, to whose dedication and wisdom the Seamen's Mission was much indebted, were also named to the first board.

5. Opening Ceremony 1907

The Seamen's Home at 64 Hudson Street was dedicated on November 23, 1907. Members of the Society for the Care of German Seamen attended the ceremony, as did officials from the German Consulate and state and local authorities. Also present were representatives of the shipping companies and business community; members of allied missions in New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore; pastors and congregants of various Lutheran churches; and delegates from ships anchored in the harbor. After welcoming remarks by President Alexander Richter, the Seamen's Home was dedicated by Pastor Thun, who took as his text Genesis 12:2, "I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing." Other speakers that day included Deputy General Consul C. Gneist of the Imperial German General Consulate; Gustav H. Schwab of North German Lloyd; and the Honorable George B. Steil, Mayor of the City of Hoboken. Finally, Vice-President Berkemeier reminded those assembled of the tasks that lay ahead, such as providing overnight accommodations for sailors and establishing auxiliary posts near Bushwick and elsewhere in the New York metropolitan area.

6. Early Days

In December 1907, a second Seamen's Chaplain was appointed to assist the successful and extremely busy Pastor Thun. The newcomer was Pastor Franz Trentepohl of Atens (Oldenburg). The extent of the Mission's work at this point is reflected by its reported statistics. From January 21 to April 26, 1908, the Seamen's Home in Hoboken was visited by 7,575 seamen. In the same period, 824 seamen attended religious services, while 279 received sick visits. There were 121 visits to ships. Two devotional services were conducted weekly, and at Eastertime two shipboard services were held. The Easter service for the men of the two North German Lloyd steamers docked in Hoboken took place on the Kronprinzen, while that for the crews of the three Hapag steamers was held on the Auguste Victoria. Each of these Easter services was attended by over 300 men.

As it happened, the many responsibilities and demands of work at the Seamen's Mission soon proved too strenuous for Pastor Trentepohl. Since Wilhelm Thun was scheduled to begin a new assignment in Germany as soon as possible, the Mission's board of directors instructed him to return to his homeland to seek his own successor. In Germany, Thun learned from Gustav Adolf Wendelin, a religious leader in Dresden, of a clergyman named Hermann Brückner, then an assistant at the Court and Garrison Church of St. Jacob in Weimar. On August 17, 1908, Hermann Brückner met in Bingen am Rhein with two members of the board of directors from Hoboken, Drs. Loch and Hoffmann. It was clear that the right man had been found. Brückner arrived in Hoboken in November 1908 and, along with a new Housemaster, Deacon A. Lammert of St. Stephan's, officially began work in March 1909. Pastor Thun, seeing that the Seamen's Mission in the Port of New York had established firm roots during his two years of work, turned responsibility for its future over to Pastor Brückner, who, after five months of training, performed his duties as Seamen's Chaplain with the greatest devotion for the next forty-five years.

The board of directors was highly appreciative of Pastor Thun's work, praising his energy, devotion and achievements. In a letter to the German Lutheran Welfare Society in Hamburg, President Richter spoke glowingly of Thun's gifts. A farewell dinner was held on March 15, 1909, for Pastor Thun, who returned to Germany soon afterward.

7. Hermann Brückner, Son of Weimar

Hermann Brückner was born in Eisenach on May 12, 1883. His father, Otto Brückner, was the Grand-Ducal Surveyor in Weimar, while his mother, Wilhelmine Ernestine Ziegler, came from Biberach in Württemberg. Brückner grew up in Weimar at a time when a whiff of the classical era remained in the air. Born into an old Weimar family, he felt close ties to that city and its unique genius loci all his life. It was in Weimar that Brückner's spirit, as ardent and lively as it was refined and genteel, was truly at home.

During his theological studies in Leipzig, Greifswald and Jena, Brückner, out of personal interest, had done extensive work in French and English language and literature. His knowledge and skills made him seem especially suited for a foreign post. He was ordained in Weimar on October 14, 1906, and began work at the Court and Garrison Church of St. Jacob in Weimar in 1907. [3] Hermann Brückner was one of those people who throw themselves entirely into whatever they undertake. In Hoboken, he was able to establish good rapport with the seamen with whom he worked, eventually publishing two collections of stories based on his experiences with the well-travelled sailors.

Because Brückner was so talented, much was expected of him. After 1914, he added to his role as Seamen's Chaplain that of Pastor of St. Matthew's Church in Hoboken. He also became Professor of Church History at Hartwick Seminary (founded in 1815), and performed many other duties as well. In 1917, as Brückner was preparing for the Good Friday service, he was taken in custody and placed in internment by the United States Government. Not until seven months later did the authorities finally become convinced of his innocence and let him go, whereupon Pastor Brückner returned to the Seamen's Mission and St. Matthew's Church in Hoboken.

Brückner received his doctorate in theology in 1925 from the University of Jena. Over the years, he became quite bilingual, writing poems in English in addition to the German poetry he had composed since his youth. Brückner had come of age at the time of Impressionism, and his poems reflect the moods, pains and joys of the moment.

Seeing Weimar Again [4]

What has happened in the town I've not seen for so long?
Has it stayed the same, remained true?
Can I love it as dearly as ever?

Does classical air still blow damply through the Fürstengruft?
Do those we called "waifs" still wander around?
Does the weather prophet still stand at the Lotteplatz, gazing skyward?
Do those two earnest birds still promenade in the dress and style of Liszt?

Are the girls as nice as ever?
The old gentlemen as serious, as dapper?
Do evening strollers, deep in thought, still step in puddles?
Is art still honored, and the artist?

Do folks still get thirsty, love their bratwurst, go out after church?
Do they still use up their salaries and pensions properly, buying rounds?
Do they take walks in the park, the fields, finding refreshment in nature?

Are they still writing memoirs?
Telling stories?
Hazarding an article or poem that, if not too bad, might even get printed in the Deutschland?

Blessed were the golden summer days
When my hometown held me snug and warm
I know a house that still stands there
Where all was done for love of me
Where walls united us with friends
Forever blessed: my parents and their home.

Brückner was very loyal to Germany. During the First World War, Germans in America encountered difficulties as the subjects of a hostile power. Brückner wrote:

My soul senses peril
Is this your hour of need?
Woe to us in foreign lands, with no way, no sword
The struggle and cross and garlands are denied us
We are left with hearts to bleed, hands to pray
Left to die ourselves
Should the Fatherland die.

Brückner relinquished his dream of his German home and stayed in Hoboken, which he saw in a poem as follows:

Evening in Hoboken

Across the river
flood waves of people
on fast white boats
thousands upon thousands
and always more
the army of work pushes home
tired people: no dream of victory
livens their hearts
their souls ask only
not to be defeated
to how many does life grant this wish?
A day like all others
pressing cares
weigh on today, on tomorrow
all eyes on one thing
all minds with one thought: the yellow metal!
the only hope they know
to escape life's troubles
and at the end, betrayed
they have simply pulled their master's cart.

They do not see
what pours from heaven
how beauty flows from supernatural springs
how the narrow world widens
the earth: transient
the giant city: a fortress no longer
the greater eternity all around
telling us: you can't be constrained forever
only will it
and you'll take flight

They talk, stare, tired and flat
blinded by the heavens' glow
turning away from the golden light
they don't understand the language of the universe
alien the sun from which they sprang
alien the earth on which they walk
a poor people, a forlorn generation
they've lost their goal, thrown away their right.

In April 1911, Brückner was asked to speak on behalf of Christianity at a socialist meeting in Hamburg. Since it was to be a gathering of seamen, he felt duty-bound to accept the invitation. At the time, Social Democratic attempts to gain a political voice were considered dangerous agitation against Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German Empire and the Hamburg-America Line. In front of over 500 sailors, Brückner expounded his views. Predictably, the debate soon centered on one question: to have a bourgeois society or a socialist one? At first, Brückner had an uphill battle, but soon the audience let him speak in peace, with only a few habitual loudmouths continuing to heckle. Gradually, Brückner won over the men assembled before him. When he left at midnight, as scheduled, only the organizers were left in the hall. The socialist paper carried an account of the meeting, only to be forced by a letter of correction to acknowledge that the pastor alone had gone home vindicated that night. In widely-distributed leaflets, Brückner criticized the failings of various classes; his efforts found great resonance among the seamen.

Pastor Brückner chose his own ending. On February 3, 1957, in his own Church of St. Matthew's, he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination and, at the same time, retired. Only two days later he went to his eternal rest. [5]

8. Growing Responsibilities

From the beginning, the work of the Seamen's Mission in the Port of New York had a limited focus, but a wide and encompassing scope. In Hoboken alone, an average of 2000 sailors could be found at any given time on the German ships docked there. The reading and writing rooms and the offices of the Seamen's Home were always full. Over 18,000 people visited the reading room in 1908; over 19,000 in 1909. In 1908, 1313 sailors attended religious services; in 1909, this number grew to 1708. Such figures vividly convey the extent of the Mission's activities.

Of special importance were the services rendered to "tramp" ships and other ships that seldom made port in Germany (such as those of the Atlas Line, which sailed to the West Indies, South America and West Africa). The crews on such vessels, like those on ships under a foreign flag, had a high rate of turnover. The sailors who "signed off" were always in urgent need of accommodations, given the housing conditions on shore. Not all of the shipping masters were honest or reliable, so helping sailors to fight for their rights was also part of the Mission's work. Moreover, many seamen, in the spirit of the old saying, "What good is a sailor's money if he falls overboard?" would drink or gamble their wages away in a few days. The Seamen's Mission tried to help the men save their money. So successful was this effort that, in the peak year, half a million dollars was saved, most of it being sent home to the sailors' families. Progress like this made the seamen happier and more independent. Indeed, some who now live comfortable lives with families and businesses of their own first saved their money at the Seamen's Home.

The Seamen's Mission always warned the men: Anyone who deserts his ship, misses its departure, or fails to report back to his line after being released from the hospital will be in the United States illegally. To legally immigrate, an individual had to prove what ship he came on. Such proof could be obtained only from the shipping line or the German Consulate. Shipping lines would not provide such evidence for deserters, who had, after all, broken their contracts; nor would the Consulate offer help, since the men in question no longer wished to be subjects of the German Empire. But the illegal immigrants could not become American citizens. Only legal immigrants who had been in the States more than five years were eligible to be granted American citizenship. In America the good jobs and better-paying career opportunities were open to American citizens alone, while anyone deported to Germany could expect to be punished there. Not a day went by at the Seamen's Home without an inquiry from someone whose reckless behavior had brought trouble upon himself.

9. Housemaster Hoffmann

  Deacon Heinrich Hoffmann
Deacon Heinrich Hoffmann was educated at the St. Stephan's Foundation (Stephansstift) in Hanover, Germany, and became Port Missionary at the German Seamen's House in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1913, when he was twenty years old. In 1919, he was appointed "House Father" (Hausvater) of the Seamen's House. He died in 1971 at the age of 77.

The Seamen's Home was enlarged twice in its early years. In 1910, the Mission bought a second building; in 1911, a third. Finally, the old dream of having a boarding house for the sailors could be realized. Initially, there were forty beds. Then a new building opened with fifty-six single rooms, which were completely filled after only fourteen days. The number of deacons at the Mission grew, too. The newcomers, all of whom came from St. Stephan's, were capable men who, out of dedication, worked hard for little pay.

Heinrich Hoffmann began work at the Mission on December 3, 1913. Born in Doelau near Greiz on October 12, 1893, Hoffmann had been trained as a locksmith. His father was a well-educated merchant in Doelau. In 1909, Hoffmann went to live at St. Stephan's, where he gained experience in sheltering transients, educating school-aged children, and caring for the elderly. Hoffmann became a permanent member of the Brethren of St. Stephan in 1915. He died on July 30, 1971. Hoffmann was of great service to the Seamen's Mission, particularly during the difficult times of the First and Second World Wars. On April 1, 1919, he was entrusted with the highly responsible position of Housemaster.

10. Emil Boas and Gustav Schwab

Two prominent German-Americans, Emil L. Boas and Gustav H. Schwab, were especially supportive of the German Seamen's Mission in Hoboken. Associated with Hamburg-American and North German Lloyd, respectively, Boas and Schwab were instrumental in founding the Seamen's Mission, and both served on its original board of directors.

Boas was born in Goerlitz on November 15, 1854. He attended school in Breslau and Berlin, then went to work in Hamburg at the bank of C.B. Richard & Boas, in which his uncle was a partner. After a year in Hamburg, Boas was sent to New York, where his bank represented the Hamburg-American Packet Shipping Company, or Hapag. Founded in 1847, Hapag did not yet have its own offices in New York. When the company did open a New York office in 1892, Boas became its general manager and then, five years later, was put in sole charge of it. Initially Boas had only a few staff members, but by 1912 he worked with hundreds of employees.

Boas was active in many local societies and organizations, among them the New York Chamber of Commerce, the Legal Aid Society, the Maritime Association, the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, the New York Zoological Society, the American Museum of Natural History, the Lawyers' Club, the Unitarian Club, the New York Yacht Club, the National Arts Club, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the German Club, the German Society, the German Chorale and the Germanic Society. He had a large library in his home at 128 West 74th Street, with especially rich holdings in the fields of floriculture and geography. Boas was an enthusiastic flower lover, and his Greenwich estate, "Bonniecrest," had magnificent gardens and greenhouses.

Like Boas, Gustav Schwab was a civic-minded businessman and patron of the arts. Born in New York on May 30, 1851, Schwab was educated in Stuttgart, then completed his commercial apprenticeship with North German Lloyd in Bremen. Although his life's work was the promotion and expansion of North German Lloyd, Schwab was also active in many other venues, serving, for example, as a director of several banks. His work on the New York Chamber of Commerce deserves mention, as does the role he played, as Chairman of the New York State Canal Improvement Committee, in the construction of the Erie Canal.

11. No Return to Germany

The Seamen's Mission opened its new 56-room building in Hoboken in May 1914. The new reading room welcomed its first visitors on August 3, 1914. In other words, just as the Mission was truly coming into its own, the First World War arrived with its enormous challenges and trials. A flood of German sailors--men unfamiliar with the language or customs of the United States and with no family or friends here--poured into the German Seamen's Home. And the Home was expected to help. At the very start of the war, some 250 German sailors who had been expelled from their ships and had no way to get back to Germany camped out in the main hall of the Seamen's Home. They slept in crowded rows, head by head, foot by foot, and side by side on mattresses donated by the German passenger liners.

It soon became clear that these sailors would not be able to return to Germany on neutral ships, as hundreds of German seamen attempting to do just that were seized from Dutch ships and imprisoned in England and France. The stranded sailors--there were 10,000 of them in the New York area alone -- had somehow to be accommodated in the States. It was no easy task. At the Seamen's Home in Hoboken, they were fed simple wartime fare: coffee, bread and sausage for breakfast and lunch; potatoes, peas, and soup with meat or sausage at night. The food was prepared at the Seamen's Home by ships' cooks. Some men tried as many as three times to reach home. Each time, however, they were discovered in the bunks or above the boilers of neutral steamers, taken ashore and beaten.

As the fame of the German cruiser Emden spread, some of the stranded men set up a small factory where they produced lead models of the celebrated ship. The men painted the models attractively. About 30,000 of these models, bearing the words "Seamen's Aid 1914-1915," were sold for 50 cents apiece throughout the United States. The income sufficed to support about a hundred sailors for a year and a half. Later, when lead became scare and more costly, the men carved wooden Easter rabbits and dolls. The tremendous work being done at the Home inspired Pastor Brückner to write a somewhat naive poem, which appeared on an invitation to the 8th Anniversary celebration of the Seamen's Home on November 3, 1915:

Flowers stand on the table today
The Seamen's Home is having a birthday
It has flourished for eight years
Though battered by the storm of war
It remains a rock of refuge for thousands
Storm or sunshine, we'll stay the course!

Though dollars are scarce
No one's had to go without
We make do with what we have
No party this year, as in the past
It's time to be serious and frugal
We simply pause, gratefully, pensively
To look back and say: My, my, how time flies!

But someone wanted to mark this day
And brought the Home a birthday gift
So we'll have a day for gifts
When anyone who wants may give one
The last Tuesday in November
We believe: Aliquid haeret semper --
In other words: whoever sees the Seamen's Home
Is glad to contribute a little something.

In 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. The German sailors in the Seamen's Home were taken from their lodgings and interned on Ellis Island. Nor did the Home itself escape the war neurosis. In the spring of 1918, the building was confiscated, then occupied by 300 American soldiers. Although the authorities allowed the Mission proper to remain open, it had to find emergency quarters. On October 14, 1919, however, the Mission, with twelve men, moved back to its beloved Home.

Roughly 40,000 German seafarers had been stranded in the United States by the outbreak of the First World War. Of these, about 3000 were sent home to Germany from internment camps, about 1000 escaped on their own during the war, and about 1000 died. After the Armistice in 1918, perhaps another 2000 returned to Germany. The remainder, some 30,000, stayed in the United States.

12. After the First World War

Plutarch reportedly said: "Navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse." In any case, so reads the inscription over the entrance to the Seefahrt Building in Bremen. Perhaps Plutarch's observation explains why the post-war recovery -- though too slow for the many German seamen who had turn to foreign ships for work -- occurred as quickly as it did. Indeed, the Seamen's Home soon could not accommodate the great numbers of German sailors who arrived there. There was never enough room; again, it was necessary to buy and to build.

German shipping itself was slower to revive. The first German passenger liner to come to New York after the war was the Hamburg-American steamer Bayern under Captain O. Schwamberger, which arrived on October 1, 1921. A reception was held at the Seamen's Home for the Bayern's crew. German-American brotherhood was pledged, and speakers celebrated the revival of the German merchant marine and the solidification of relations between the United States and Germany. The first Lloyd steamer, the Seydlitz, under Captain F. Rehm, was welcomed just as warmly, as was later the Hannover. On January 15, 1922, Captain P. König, head of the nautical department of North German Lloyd in Bremen, described these receptions in the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung und Herold, then the leading German-language newspaper in America: "The German Seamen's Homes not only are a place of rest and refuge for German seafarers, but also represent a little piece of home soil in a foreign country. Each one is a little German overseas colony."

13. Renovations of 1925

After the First World War, traffic in the Seamen's Home was heavier than ever, requiring yet another expansion. A new four-story building with 170 beds, built at a cost of $90,000, was dedicated in 1925. Two other new buildings were purchased at the same time, and the old ones were renovated. At the dedication of the new Seamen's Home, General Consul K. von Lewinski, speaking for the German ambassador, congratulated the Mission on its success, as the German flag flew next to the Stars and Strips for the first time in America since the war. The General Consul noted that the German shipping lines had been among the first companies to lend a hand in rebuilding their country. He also commended the unfailing courage of German New Yorkers, who, he said, had contributed decisively to the success embodied by the new building. As the German fleet grew, men were again putting to sea under the German flag.

Around this time, however, a movement to limit immigration began in America. Conditions for German sailors on American ships became highly uncomfortable. Many German vessels went on tramp voyages. Their crewmen, who would show up in port unexpectedly and leave quickly, never knew when or if they might get home again. They appreciated a shipboard visit, a book, a helping hand with supplies and errands.

Then the world economic situation worsened. There was no panic, but there were hardships. As the shipping industry declined, the faithful and hard-working seamen who had sacrificed so much to escape the hard times of the post-war period suffered as well. The Seamen's Mission and the Seamen's Home also experienced setbacks. Resources shrank, while needs grew.

14. The Second World War

When the Second World War began, the Seamen's Home again faced a critical time. Again income dropped, while welfare activities increased. In contrast to 1914, this time there were no German ships in the harbor when hostilities started. Nonetheless, 40 German sailors staying at the Seamen's Home were arrested one morning at 5:00, while 67 other guests were roused from bed and interrogated on the ground floor. Everyone was fingerprinted, including Pastor Brückner, Housemaster Hoffmann and the six-person staff.

As the war came to an end, the Seamen's Mission saw its decades of hard but successful work on behalf of German seamen in the Port of New York collapse. The American authorities monitored the Mission's income and spending; two of its buildings had to be sold. When the war was almost over, the Seamen's Home was seized and its library confiscated. Though many sailors returned to the Home a few days later, others preferred to simply disappear. Work at the Home went on, but there was little the Seamen's Mission could do. There were no more German ships. And this time, many years would pass before German shipping recovered.

About 50 naturalized sailors from American ships lived at the Seamen's Home in this period. Ten of these seamen spent their final years there, breathing the little bit of salt air that remained. The Home rented out some of its large, empty, front rooms to the Waterfront Commission, a labor exchange for longshoremen. Doing so kept the Seamen's Mission solvent; in those days, no one wanted to ask for donations. The United States Government released the German Seamen's Home just days before a case requesting its return to the board of directors was to be heard. With God's help, the Mission had survived.

Finally, after 1950, German ships again sailed into the harbor of New York. It was a new beginning for the Seamen's Mission as well.

15. Pastor Herbert Patzelt

  Pastor Hermann Brückner (left) and Pastor Dr. Herbert Patzelt (right)
Pastor Hermann Brückner (left) was born on May 12, 1883 in Eisenach, Germany, and grew up in Weimar, where he was ordained a Lutheran Pastor in 1906. He served as Pastor of the German Seamen's House in Hoboken, New Jersey, from 1909 until 1954 and also as Pastor of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church on Hudson Street in Hoboken beginning in 1914. He is shown here in 1954 with his successor in the ministry to seafarers, Pastor Dr. Herbert Patzelt. Pastor Brückner died in 1957.

In March 1954, Herbert Patzelt took on the job of reinvigorating the Seamen's Mission. Patzelt received help and support from Pastor Brückner as well as from Heinrich Arend Kropp, President of the Seamen's Mission, and Kropp's successor, Dr. Heinrich Paul Suhr (1908-1990), Pastor of St. Paul's Church, 315 West 22nd Street in Manhattan.

Pastor Patzelt's work differed significantly from that of his predecessors. Many of the German ships that now arrived in the Port of New York were charters operated by American companies; most stayed only one or two days. Each week, about 10 such vessels would come to New York. Patzelt tried to visit each ship and meet face-to-face with as many crewmen as possible. Nor was this the only change:

The Seamen's Home in Hoboken was situated far from the central berths of the German ships. After 1950, the two largest German shipping companies no longer had their own representatives in New York. More and more, the Home in Hoboken took on the character of a retirement home for elderly naturalized seamen. The crews of German ships no longer had any reason to visit, especially since the trip over there was too expensive for them.

In light of these developments, Patzelt initially reached an agreement under which German sailors could use the YMCA in Brooklyn. In 1956, after becoming Pastor of Zion-St.Mark's Church in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, he established space for seamen in his rectory at 424 East 84th Street. At the same time, the Seamen's Mission continued to look for easier-to-reach quarters in Manhattan. A house at 348 West 22nd Street was eventually purchased with funds from the sale of the Lutheran Emigrants House. The newly-acquired building was renovated and, on April 1, 1959, rented to the Seamen's Mission.

Herbert Patzelt left his call as Seamen's Chaplain in 1958 and was succeeded by Hans Otto Zbinden. Deacon Hoffmann also retired at this time, and Alexander Birnbaum became the new Housemaster in Hoboken. Five years later, on April 1, 1964, Pastor Otto Winter took over the job of Seamen's Chaplain. The 60th anniversary of the Seamen's Mission was celebrated at St. Paul's Church in New York on November 12, 1967.

In 1974, the Seamen's Mission, still formally known as the "Society for the Care of German Seamen in the Port of New York," combined with two other charitable organizations to form a single new entity. The two other charities were the "Lutheran Emigrants Association" and the "Association for the Relief of Indigent Germans." The new, merged organization became known officially as the "German Seamen's Mission of New York."

Pastor Winter was succeeded in 1978 by Pastor Clint Padgitt. Padgitt, who is assisted by a colleague, Pastor Bill Fensterer, has held the position of Seamen's Chaplain until the present. By the end of the 1990s, most arriving ships docked in the large "container" centers of Port Newark and Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, and rarely remained in port for more than 24 hours. The house on West 22nd Street was sold. Since 1983, the German Seamen's Mission in New York has worked especially closely with "Seafarers and International House" at 123 East 15th Street in Manhattan and is housed in its building.

16. Looking Back, Saying Good-Bye

by Hermann Brückner

My work as Seamen's Chaplain in the Port of New York began on November 11, 1908, when I was welcomed by the successful founder of the Hoboken-New York Seamen's Mission, Pastor Wilhelm Thun, with whom I soon formed a life-long friendship. My first Housemaster was Brother Haars from St. Stephan's in Hannover. That very afternoon, we held our first meeting to go over the monthly treasurer's statement and balance the books. In the evening, as rain turned to heavy snow, I met the president of the Seamen's Mission, Pastor Alexander Richter of St. Matthew's Church, who until 1915 remained our kindly friend and advisor.

Our resources were small, but our responsibilities and tasks were frighteningly large. In Hoboken alone, there were always six to eight large North German Lloyd and Hapag ships with a total of 3,000-4,000 crewmen; in New York, two or three Atlas ships; along with Hamburg-Süd vessels and tramp ships in South Brooklyn and the German sailors on American ships. Sick men had to be cared for -- in Hoboken, in New York (at the German Hospital), on Staten Island, and at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn -- and religious services had to be held aboard ship and at the Seamen's Home. There were prison visits and stints as interpreter and spokesman in court. Once I went to get one sailor paroled and came home with four. Thank God they didn't take off on me!

There was also the great issue of deserters. Many men would decide, especially in summer, to try their luck in America. When they ended up in jail, we were expected to help. Wintertime and unemployment showed me the comradeship of the seamen. The only white shirt with a collar in the entire Seamen's Home was always lent to the man applying for a job. All we could offer were tickets for meals and a bed. I'll never forget the little sailor who one bitterly cold night gave up his ticket, the last, to an old man: "Let the old man stay tonight, Padre, I'll find a girl."

Discussions in stokers' quarters, arguments with hostile socialists, bearing witness for the faith at mass meetings, doing battle with shipping masters--and always the need to build, to expand the overcrowded Seamen's Home. Once we'd finished our first boarding house, the First World War came. The German ships lay in the harbor for four years. Hundreds and hundreds of the men found work on land. But a handful always stayed on board; and the Seamen's Home and the sailors became close friends over those long years. Thousands had been stranded in 1914 in the Port of New York, reservists who couldn't go on and couldn't go back. Hundreds slept on mattresses in our great hall and were taken care of by the Home. We found work for hundreds, but there were always new ones to take their place. Eventually we were able to employ about 200 men -- sailors and stokers -- making models of the Emden and the like. The stewards were the salesmen. We had buyers as far away as the Midwest.

The difficult time came when America entered the war. The Chaplain, who had naturally been a fervent supporter of all the German relief efforts, was interned. (The authorities found it suspicious that when he appeared on Ellis Island, the interned men put him on their shoulders and carried him triumphantly into his cell.) When the sailors were sent to an internment camp down South, the Chaplain was released to his work. In the meantime, a young deacon from St. Stephan's named Heinrich Hoffmann had become a valuable assistant. He is still the Housemaster today.

After the war, the Mission rebounded quickly. Many Germans found work on foreign ships, as sailors or in other capacities, but weren't really welcome any place on land. The Seamen's Home was truly their home, always overflowing. When the first German ships arrived, what a transformation! Wages and conditions were so much better, and the sailors had a new way of carrying themselves. Socially, too, things only got better, thank God. It was wonderful to see the Bremen coming through the Narrows one fine summer evening, greeted by hundreds of thousands. We couldn't help ourselves--we cried. We thought: You did it, and so fast!

Then came the time of bewilderment, 1933 to 1945. We on the outside, our hearts broken, felt we must somehow stand by Germany. But we couldn't; nor should we have violated our duty to the country that had become our home. We were suspected, arrested, released, placed under observation as "enemy aliens." But God's help led us, chastised but alive, through that bleak time. We were able to save our handiwork for the new day, which is now here. A new generation with a new character is manning the German ships. The Seamen's Mission has approached them in new ways and found them open. May God bless our young brother, Pastor Herbert Patzelt, who has begun his work with love, understanding and devotion. For the old Chaplain, however, after 46 years, it remains only to say thank you for all the help and love he has been given, especially by his congregation at St. Matthew's, who allowed him all these years to continue serving the Seamen's Mission, and to ask God's forgiveness for all his failings, and to humbly thank God for his blessings, of which he was always aware.

17. Selected Bibliography and Notes [6]

Brückner, Hermann. Der Weg des Erich Bolten. Hamburg, 1928.

Brückner, Hermann. Von Seefahrt und Seefahrern. Hamburg, 1928.

Brückner, Hermann. Hinterlassene deutsche Gedichte. Hrsg.: "Der Karlsruher Bote," 1958.

Clais, Andreas. Zerfall und Aufbau im New York Hafen. In "Neue Züricher Zeitung," April 12/13, 1980.

Dreifert, Barbara. Endstation Sehnsucht in Little Germany. Elend, Abenteuer and Karrieren: Ein großer Exodus und seine Folgen. In "Rheinischer Merkur," April 22, 1983.

Hahn, Wilhelm. Die Wandlung des amerikanischen Luthertums und der Wechsel seiner Sprache. In "Monatsschrift für Pastoraltheologie," Göttingen, 1954.

Harms, Friedrich Martin. Die Geschichte der deutschen evangelischen Seemannsmission. Stettin, 1909.

Herzog, Valentin. Aufbruch in eine neue Welt. In "Basler Magazin," December 22, 1979.

Kropp, Arend. Ein Jubiläumsrückblick der Seemannsmission. In "Sonntagsblatt Staats-Zeitung und Herold," November 26, 1967.

Moeller, Dietrich. Deutschland liegt so fern. In "Deutsches Allgemeines Sonntagsblatt," May 22, 1983.

Padgitt, Clint. 80 Jahre Deutsche Seemannsmission. In "laß fallen anker," Hamburg 4/1987.

Padgitt, Clint. What's happening in New York? Report from the German Seamen's Mission of New York. In "laß fallen anker," Hamburg 3/1998.

Patzelt, Herbert. 50 Jahre Deutsche Seemannsmission im Hafen von New York. 1957.

Protokolle des Deutschen Seemannsfürsorge im Hafen von New York. I. Band 1907-1912. Auch: Jahresberichte der Deutschen Seemannsmission.

Stahr, Ernst-Heinrich. Das Jahrzehnt der Deutschen auf dem Atlantik. Als "Kaiser Wilhelm der Große" das Blaue Band errang. Im Wettbewerb der Werften siegte der Stettiner Vulcan. In "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," April 28, 1998.

Thun, Wilhelm. Deutsche Seemannsfürsorge: Was sie ist und treibt, was sie will und soll. Hoboken, 1909.

Thun, Wilhelm. Werden und Wachsen der Deutschen Evangelischen Seemannsmission. Bremen/Hamburg-Altona, 1959.

Wenner, George Unangst. Sixty Years in one Pulpit 1868-1929. New York, 1929.

Wiborg, Susanne. Sein Feld war die Welt. Vor 80 Jahren starb Albert Ballin, der Chef der Hamburg-Amerika Linie. In "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," November 7, 1998.

Winter, Otto. 60 Jahre Deutsche Seemannsmission im Hafen von New York. 1967.

Zoff, Otto. Stippvisite nach großer Fahrt: Die deutschen Seeleute in New York. In "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," May 31, 1958.

18. Footnotes

[1] Translator's note: This English version of Die Deutsche Seemannsmission im Hafen von New York 1907-2001 by Herbert Patzelt (Munich, n.d.) was prepared for the Hoboken Historical Museum by Beth Jackson Berman.

[2] Translator's note: Throughout this document, italicized text represents a summary, rather than a translation, of the original.

[3] Author's note: When the Grand Duke attended divine service in Weimar, the Municipal Pastor demanded that Pastor Brückner shave off his beard, which resembled that of the Grand Duke; but Brückner refused, he told me. In Hoboken, Brückner knew quite well the Austrian peasant liberator Hans Kudlich (1823-1917), who lived there as a physician.

[4] Translator's note: Only the literal sense of Brückner's poem has been translated; no attempt has been made to preserve its poetic qualities. This applies equally to the other poems by Brückner in this document.

[5] Translator's note: Pastor Brückner took his own life. Author Patzelt cites in a footnote a letter dated March 13, 1957 that he received from Director Johannes Wolff of St. Stephan's in Hannover: "In the face of such an event, we will not pass judgment, but think instead of what the Apostle John wrote in his first letter, Chapter 3, Verses 19-21."

[6] Translator's note: Only items considered of potential interest to the Hoboken Historical Museum have been included.