Fritz Rinder served his society as councilor, and his work in the German peace movement demonstrates the holistic view of his calling. His focus was not on internal church activities alone. It extended to society by engaging in meaningful activities that contributed to a collective effort for peace, and rehabilitation for a society that had experienced the traumas of war.
Fritz Rinder was born to August and Johanna Rinder on October 19, 1897, in Angerburg, East Prussia, the sixth child of his parents. The year before Fritz was born his parents came into contact with Adventists through a literature evangelist who introduced them to the Herold der Wahrheit (Herald of Truth) magazine. They were baptized April 1897.
After baptism, August Rinder became a book evangelist. At the time of her baptism, Johanna Rinder, a full-time mother, was pregnant and had already given birth to five girls. Family tradition has it that she promised God that if her next child was a boy, he would become a servant of God. Johanna went on to have four more children. The large family in which Fritz grew up in often sang hymns in the evening before going to bed. Music would later form a significant part of Fritz’s life. The music from the Rinder family often attracted some neighbors, while others resented their peculiarities. In general, the Rinder family was respected in their community.1
In the fall of 1909, Fritz left school and took an interest in caring for a neighbor’s car. The owner allowed him to drive along with him to Russia. His parents permitted this on the condition that he would be back on the Sabbath day. In 1912, he was baptized as an Adventist.
First World War
Fritz was employed by the Reichsbank for some time. Because the director head of the house fled with his family to Berlin, he asked August Rinder, Fritz’s father, to manage the house. The Rinder family accepted the offer gratefully since the apartment was one of the farthest from the battlefront and near to the train station.
This apartment was soon recognized as the “best developed” in town, therefore the highest officers were quartered there with their aides-de-camp. Fritz was given the responsibility of obtaining butter for the soldiers from the next town, twenty kilometers away. During this time, the family also cared for disabled children lodged at a facility in Angerburg.
In the summer of 1917 Fritz was conscripted to the army. Fortunately, he got Sabbaths off from his superiors. He was wounded in August 1918 and taken as prisoner to a military hospital in Paris. When he was able to return to work, the doctor advised him to rest one day a week. Since he was allowed to choose the day, he naturally chose Saturday.
A year after the end of the war, Fritz was still held as a prisoner of war in France. Frustrated, he planned an escape. He cooked steel chips and dyed his prisoner uniform. Then he forged an identification card with which he set off. However, he was caught just before crossing unoccupied territory. There he made a vow: “If God has mercy on me and brings me back to my homeland, then I want to do everything for him that is in my power.” He came home in the spring of 1920.
Ministry and Marriage
As the Adventist community in Angerburg expanded, Fritz saw an opportunity. He arranged musical pieces and taught other young members music. Then he began preparing for a district youth festival. The first district youth festival of his congregation was celebrated on the first Sunday in March 1921. The current youth leader of the conference attended with enthusiasm to listen to the music conducted by Fritz. Together with his brother Kurt, Fritz worked as a literature evangelist in his hometown from 1920 to 1922.
In January 1922 Fritz began pastoral training at the mission school in Friedensau. After completing his training in 1926, Fritz returned to East Prussia where he began working as an assistant pastor, presumably in Danzig. That same year, while in Friedensau, he was married to Luise, called Lilly, née Sieling, who was also musically gifted and had attended a music program. Together, they formed a music ministry in their home where teens came for music and song nights. From 1935 onward,2 Fritz worked in the districts of Rastenburg (current day Kętrzyn), Rhein, Stürlak, and Sensburg. In 1939 he went to work in Wittenberge (a town in the current day federal state of Brandenburg).
Second World War
In 1944 Fritz was drafted for military service. During his service year, he organized a season of Christmas carols for his fellow soldiers, which he used to explain the meaning of Christmas. August 1945 saw the release of Fritz from French captivity. While a prisoner of war in the French army, he spent seven weeks without a coat, a blanket, or camping tarpaulin. This experience greatly exhausted him, yet he soon began working again as a pastor.
Around 1950, Rinder was transferred to Zwickau, a town in Saxony, Germany where he continued to pursue the gospel ministry, although he was in and out of the hospital due to feeble health after the war. He was relentless in giving public lectures and organizing music festivals for the youth. In 1955 he was transferred to Frankfurt/Oder, where he remained until the end of his life.
Later Life and Contribution
While living in Frankfurt, in 1961 he spearheaded the reconstruction of a damaged chapel building. His wife Lilly assisted greatly in the project by cleaning and improving the appearance of the building. As a result, the GDR government presented Fritz with a golden award for national construction. He was later elected as city councilor because of his services in the town. However, he did not last long in this capacity because his ideas did not match those of the political leaders. According to relatives, he was a pacifist, an anti-nuclear advocate, and an idealist.3
In 1965 Fritz suffered a heart attack, which he miraculously survived and lived for twelve more years. During this time he was involved in the Committee for Peace, Disarmament and Cooperation (Komitee für Frieden, Abrüstung und Zusammenarbeit-KOFAZ). KOFAZ was an organization of the German peace movement founded on December 7, 1974 as part of the “Congress for Peace, Disarmament and Cooperation.” KOFAZ played a major role in the campaign against the NATO double-track decision in the early 1980s.4 One of the eleven leaders was Martin Niemöller, with whom Rinder worked closely.
As music ministers, Fritz and Lilly Rinder were instrumental in the affective life of their denomination. They organized music festivals and events that attracted young German Adventists.
Cooper, A. H. Paradoxes of Peace: German Peace Movements Since 1945. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1996.
Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1931, 1937, 1941.
According to family memories, a teacher who taught the children of the Rinder family once said: “It is as if a very special blessing rests in every way on this family. I cannot understand that so many people, and even clergymen, have such a prejudice against the church community to which the Rinder family belongs. If it were up to my wish, all human beings would belong to it, I think the whole world would get a different face and not to their detriment.”↩
“East Prussian Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1937), 83.↩
According to an interview with Manfred Gelke, Rinder’s son-in-law. Manfred Gelke, interview by author, Berlin, undated.↩
See a discussion on this by Alice Holmes Cooper, Paradoxes of Peace: German Peace Movements Since 1945 (Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1996).↩